The UK looks on course for some house price falls

As ever there is plenty of news about the UK housing market around but let us start with a consequence of government action which led to this reported by the BBC at the end of last week.

The boss of house building firm Persimmon has walked off in the middle of a BBC interview after being asked about his £75m bonus.

“I’d rather not talk about that,” Jeff Fairburn said, when asked if he had regrets about last year’s payout.

The £75m, which was reduced from £100m after a public outcry, is believed to be the largest by a listed UK firm.

The BBC even provides a pretty good explanation of why this is a hot topic.

A combination of rising house prices, low interest rates enabling people to borrow more cheaply and government incentive schemes have been credited with driving all housebuilder shares higher.

In particular we find ourselves looking at a bonus scheme set at £4 compared to a payout based on one of £24 in case you wonder how we got to such an eye watering amount. But the real problem is that Help To Buy provided what is called in economic theory excess profits for housebuilders. We have looked before at how it helped them to make high profits on the sale of each house and it also boosted volumes in a double whammy effect. So in turned into help for housebuilders profits and bonuses. Sadly it also showed the weakness of shareholders these days as only 48.5% of Persimmon shareholders voted against this at their annual general meeting, which begs the question of what would be enough greed to provoke a shareholder revolt.

What about now?

Here is the result of the latest Markit Household Finances survey.

UK households are generally projecting higher
house prices over the forthcoming 12 months in
October, but the degree of optimism regarding
property values dipped to the lowest since the
immediate aftermath of the EU referendum in July
2016.

Sadly for Markit recorded time seems to have started in July  2016 because if we look back we see some interesting developments. For example the reading in early 2014 at around 75 was the highest in that series. This means that those surveyed not only realised the UK economy was picking up but seemingly had figured out the determination of the Bank of England and UK government to drive house prices higher.

Also another piece of news hints at a change. From Financial Reporter.

The proportion of homes in England and Wales bought with cash fell to 29.6% in H1 2018, according to Hamptons International, the lowest figure since its records began in 2007.

In H1 2007, 33.6% of homes were purchased with cash, peaking in H2 2008 at 37.8%.

In H1 2018, 113,490 homes were cash purchases, totalling £25.3 billion in value according to Land Registry – the lowest level in five years and a drop of 21% compared to H1 2017.

You may not be heartbroken at the main reason why.

Hamptons International says the downward trend in the proportion of homes bought with cash reflects a drop off in investor and developer purchases. Countrywide data shows that in H1 2018 investors accounted for 24% of cash purchases, down from 32% in H1 2007 and a peak of 43% in H1 2008.

The same goes for developers who purchased just 2% of the homes bought with cash in H1 2018, down from 6% in H1 2007.

What about the house price indices?

The official data released last Wednesday told us this.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 3.2% in the year to August 2018 (down from 3.4% in July 2018), remaining broadly stable at a national level since April 2018 .

So a welcome slowing from the period where annual growth remained about 5%. But the truth is that a lot of the change is represented by one place.

 The lowest annual growth was in London, where prices decreased by 0.2% over the year, down from being unchanged (0.0%) in the year to July 2018.

London has affected the area around it to some extent as well but much of the rest of the country has carried on regardless.

A somewhat different picture was provided on Friday by LSL Acadata.

At the end of September, annual house price growth stood at 0.9%, which is the lowest rate seen since April 2012, some
six and a half years ago.

They take the Land Registry data of which 35% is available now and have a model to project that as if 100% was in. They then update the numbers as for example around 80% should now be in for August. So taking what should be, model permitting, the latest data shows a much clearer turn in the market and they expect more.

Our latest outlook for the 2018 housing market suggests that the annual rate of house price growth will be in negative territory by the end of the year.

One reason for that is simply the trend is your friend.

This was the sixth month out of the last seven in which monthly rates have fallen, with the combined decline since February totalling some -2.0%. The average house price in England & Wales now stands at £302,626. This price is already some £2,240, or 0.7%, below the level of £304,866 seen last December, meaning that it will take a number of months of house price increases to make up this shortfall.

Also they point out that this has taken place in spite of the economic environment still being very house price friendly.

All this comes at a time when interest rates are at almost historic lows, mortgage supply is good, the number of people in work is higher than a year earlier, and average weekly earnings have increased by 2.4%, on a year-on-year basis. The housing market should be booming.

They would be even more bullish if they realised wage growth was 2.7% rather than 2.4%. There is also an element of “reality was once a friend of mine” below as we wonder what it would take for them to notice that this has been happening for some time?

While current initiatives (Help-to-Buy and Stamp
Duty relief) have relatively minimal overall effect on prices, as government continues to ratchet up the initiatives, the
risk is that these in turn could simply add to the affordability problem by causing prices to rise

This has particularly affected younger people which they do seem to have noted.

highlighted the falls in home ownership amongst 25-34-year-olds over the last 20 years, despite endless government initiatives to rectify the situation. As the report notes “Since 1997, the average property price in England has risen by 173% after adjusting for inflation, and by 253% in London. This compares with increases in real incomes of 25- to 34-year-olds of only 19% and in (real) rents of 38%.”

Some night think that raising prices some 173% above inflation was quite enough to cause an affordability problem!

Comment

UK house prices have proved to be very resilient and I mean that in the commonly used version of its meaning, not the central banking one. I thought that the real wage decline in 2017 would send annual growth negative but so far it has resisted that. However the LSL data set suggests it may finally be quite near.

As ever the danger is of the UK establishment panicking just like they did in 2012/3 and pumping it up, one more time. Or as LSL Acadata put it.

Announcements on Help-to-Buy, Starter Homes and possibly a Rent-to-Own programme based around giving CGT relief to landlords have all been mooted.

Personally I think we have had way too many announcements and initiatives which via windfalls to existing house owners and especially house builders have made the situation worse rather than better. For now the Bank of England at least seems stymied but of course this is the one area where they can be both inventive and innovative.

 

 

 

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Much better UK public borrowing gives the Chancellor an extra Budget option

Sometime we find ourselves with the opportunity to look at things from a different perspective and learn from it and this morning is providing that. Let me illustrate with this tweet from @SunChartist.

Are 4.5 year high in Italian bond & 52 week high on Spanish bonds yields bullish Euro? Asking for a friend.

It did not need to draw my attention to the Italian bond market which has been falling again and set new lows for this phase today. In futures terms its BTP December contract is a bit over 118 which means the ten-year yield has reached 3.8%. I forget which investment bank said that between 3,5% and 4% was the point of no return. That is over dramatic in my opinion, but it is what Taylor Swift would call a sign of “trouble,trouble,trouble”.

There is now a hint of contagion as we note that the Spanish bond market is falling today and its equivalent yield is now 1.8%. Context is needed as it is less than half the Italian equivalent and rises were always likely as the ECB scaled back its purchases under its QE programme but a change none the less. However and this is my main opening thrust today there is a small or medium-sized island depending on your perspective which has seen its bonds doing well over the last week or so. It is the UK where the ten-year Gilt yield has fallen from above 1.71% to 1.53%. Again memes can be overdone but looked at in isolation there is a case for suggesting there has perhaps been what is called a flight to quality or a move towards a safe haven. Of course safer haven would be a better description for a market once described as being on a “bed of nitroglycerine” but however you spin it UK Gilts have been in demand.

I have looked at it this way because this week the media have been looking at it in a different way as this from the Financial Times highlights.

Even if Mr Hammond sticks to his current target of balancing the government’s books by the mid 2020s, government debt will fall only slowly as a proportion of GDP, because the long-term outlook for growth is so lacklustre.

Actually this misses out that the national debt to GDP ratio is falling which has been demonstrated by this morning’s official release.

Debt (Public sector net debt excluding public sector banks) at the end of September 2018 was £1,789.5 billion (or 84.3% of gross domestic product (GDP)); an increase of £3.4 billion (or a decrease of 2.4 percentage points) on September 2017.

As you can see we are seeing a fall and economic growth is lacklustre as the recent rally is not yet in the figures. In essence the outlook for the public finances is always poor if you have a weak economy. Anyone who did not know that has been taught it by the experience of Italy.

If we move onto the other parts of the FT quote there is the reference to the ongoing fantasy that the government has some plan to actually balance the books. Personally I think it has been surprised by the recent better figures as it was continuing the past philosophy of George Osborne where a balanced budget was perpetually 3/4 years away.

So in fact something which is being spun as unlikely is if we look at the facts above quite possible especially as we note that the UK Gilt market has not only ignore such reports it has rallied.

“Increasing borrowing is clearly the line of least resistance,” said Paul Johnson, the IFS’ director, noting that Conservative chancellors have historically been more likely to announce giveaways when the public finances were better than expected, than to raise taxes when finances were worse than expected.

Still there is something refreshing which is the acknowledgement of this, and the emphasis is mine.

debt could rise as a share of national income over the longer term, because periodic recessions would hit the public finances.

I do hope that this is not a one-off and that the IFS will continue on this road as I am reminded of a bit in the film Snatch which explains the economic consequences.

All bets are off!

Today’s Data

We had another month of improved figures.

Borrowing (Public sector net borrowing excluding public sector banks) in September 2018 was £4.1 billion, £0.8 billion less than in September 2017; this was the lowest September borrowing for 11 years (since 2007).

This meant that the deeper perspective continues to look good as well.

Borrowing in the current financial year-to-date (YTD) was £19.9 billion: £10.7 billion less than in the same period in 2017; the lowest year-to-date for 16 years (since 2002).

This was due to the fact that tax receipts are solid and spending increases have been below the rate of inflation.

In the current financial YTD, central government received £352.4 billion in income, including £265.6 billion in taxes. This was around 4% more than in the same period in 2017.

Over the same period, central government spent £368.0 billion, around 2% more than in the same period in 2017.

If we look into the detail we see that VAT receipts are strong being up £4.4 billion at £74.7 billion. Also Income Tax is doing well as it is up £5.8 billion at £81 billion in the tax year so far. Given the state of the UK housing market you will not be surprised to see that Stamp Duty receipts have fallen by £0.5 billion to £6.5 billion.

On the other side of the coin you could argue that the fall in spending is flattered by lower debt costs of £3.1 billion as the impact of past inflation rises washes out of index-linked Gilts to some extent.

Comment

As you can see the UK Gilt market has been on the opposite path to the rhetoric of the mainstream media and those presented by them as authorities. One way of looking at this is to consider the phrase “put your money where you mouth is”. But it is also true that markets are not always right which has been highlighted this year best by those who bought Italian bonds at a negative yield. That is not going to be so easy at the next investors conference “Wait, you actually paid to hold Italian bonds?”. It is also perhaps revealing to note that the media seems to have taken Paul Simon’s advice about the Gilt market rally.

No one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

It is, however also wrong to say it is plain sailing as whilst we have entered a better phase it could quickly change if the economy stopped ignoring the weakness in the monetary data. Actually some of the tax receipt data above hints the economy may have done better than we have been told. So on that note let me leave you with the words of Avril Lavigne.

Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?
I see the way you’re
Actin’ like you’re somebody else, gets me frustrated

The Bank of England is facing the consequences of its own mistakes

Yesterday brought us some new insights into the thinking of the Bank of England and indeed the UK establishment. This was because what you might consider the ultimate insider gave evidence to Parliament as Sir John Cunliffe joined the Department of the Environment as long ago as 1980. Intriguingly his degrees and lecturing experience in English Literature apparently qualified him to high level roles in HM Treasury. So he is also an example of how HM Treasury established the Bank of England as “independent” but then took back control. Actually I think all the Deputy Governors have been at the Treasury at some point in their careers. Also if we return to his degree we see another feature of modern life where those on the lower rungs have to be highly qualified in their sphere whereas it is no issue at all for those at the top. That is because they are considered to be – by themselves if nobody else – so highly intelligent that qualifications are unnecessary.

Sir John gave us a warning about the future.

One pocket of rapid growth that the FPC is monitoring closely is in leveraged lending which appears to have been driven by strong investor demand for holding the loans,
typically in non-bank structures such as CLOs (collateralised loan obligation funds). Gross issuance of leveraged loans by UK non-financial companies reached a record level of £38 billion in 2017 and a further £30 billion has already been issued in 2018. And lending terms have loosened with only around 20% of leveraged loans now having maintenance covenants, which used to be standard for all loans. The global leveraged loan market is larger than – and growing as quickly as – the US subprime mortgage market was in 2006.

The Bank of England Financial Policy Committee of which Sir John is a member ( he has nearly as many jobs as George Osborne) also posted a warning according to BusinessInsider.

Leveraged lending to corporates has ballooned in recent years, with the global market reaching a value of around $1.4 trillion, according to recent estimates.

Thus we see the establishment at play. Let us note that the ground is being prepared to blame “Johnny Foreigner” and also that as Nicola Duke points out below another deflection technique is at play.

This is how central bankers prepare for the next financial crisis. They take no action while ensuring they have their excuses in order. “We warned you in 2018”.

Let us take her point and see what is actually being done and the answer as usual appears to so far be nothing.

The FPC is planning to assess any implications for banks in the 2018 stress test and we will also review how the
increasing role of non-bank lenders and changes in the distribution of corporate debt could pose risks to financial stability.

As ever this is reactive and frankly a lagged reactive at that. These bodies never act in advance and are invariably asleep at the wheel whilst it is taking place. Of course if their real role is merely to describe what has happened then I may have been mistaken about Sir John’s qualifications for the job as suddenly English Literature becomes useful.

But there is an elephant in the room which is way that the Bank of England itself has fed this. It slashed interest-rates in response to the credit crunch and even now they are only 0.75% or around 4% below where they were previously. It has deployed some £435 billion of conventional QE and £10 billion of corporate bond QE. Then in 2012 it did this too.

The Funding for Lending Scheme is designed to encourage banks and building societies to lend more to households and businesses. It does this by providing funding to these firms for an extended period, with the quantity of funding we provide linked to their lending performance.

So the system has been flush with cash or to be more technically accurate, liquidity. Can anybody be surprised that like the ship of state the monetary system is a leaky vessel? Or to use a word from a couple of decades or so ago we are seeing another form of disintermediation. But wait there is more.

Since the referendum, the Bank of  England has augmented these capital and liquidity buffers by making available more than £250 billion of liquidity and by lowering banks’ Counter-Cyclical Capital Buffer to facilitate an extra £150 billion of lending.

This is from a speech given by Chief Economist Andy Haldane which was liked so much it was if you recall published twice just to make sure we got the message. Well perhaps the leveraged loans industry did! We’ve got your backs lads ( and lasses). But wait there was even more.

Put differently, I would rather run the risk of taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut than taking a miniature
rock hammer to tunnel my way out of prison – like another Andy, the one in the Shawshank Redemption………And this monetary response, if it is to buttress expectations and confidence, needs I think to be delivered promptly as well as muscularly.

The Bank of England has claimed some 250,000 jobs were saved/created ignoring that it would have been perhaps the fastest response to a monetary policy change in history. That leads it into conflict with the ECB that thinks the response time slowed. But if we return to what we might label in this instance as disintermediation there have been two clear examples.

  1. A surge in unsecured lending pushing into annual growth in the double digits that is still above 8%
  2. Corporate lending now increasingly leveraged with underwriting standards dropping like a stone.

Peter Gabriel may have done this but the Bank of England merely repeated the same old song.

I’ve kicked the habit
shed my skin
this is the new stuff

I go dancing in, we go dancing in

Comment

There are plenty of familiar themes at play today as we look again at how the establishment operates. There is a clear asymmetry between the way a move sees even fantasies proclaimed as triumphs but failures get ignored. It is the same way that “vigilant” means asleep and “we will also review” means a review will be necessary as by then it will probably have blown up. Fortunately we can then claim to be experts and specialists ( in failure to quote Jose Mourinho ) and sit on the various committees set up to discover what went wrong? That will of course make sure that those asleep at the wheel do not get the blame, as long as they can manage to stay awake during the meetings of the new committee.

Meanwhile the UK economy continues to bumble along. Whilst today’s headline may appear not so good it is in fact pretty strong.

In September 2018, the quantity bought declined by 0.8% when compared with August 2018, due mainly to a large fall of 1.5% in food stores; the largest decline in food store sales since October 2015.

That made the Office of National Statistics uncomfortable enough to delay it to the third paragraph of the release. But actually with a little perspective and somewhat amazingly the UK consumer continues to spend.

In the three months to September 2018, the quantity bought in retail sales increased by 1.2% when compared with the previous three months………When compared with September 2017, the quantity bought in September 2018 increased by 3.0%, with growth across all sectors except department stores.

Presently in economic terms ( as opposed to political) the main dangers to the UK economy have been created by the Bank of England.

Core Finance TV

 

 

 

 

 

Inflation reality is increasingly different to the “preferred” measure of the UK

Today brings us a raft of UK data on inflation as we get the consumer, producer and house price numbers. After dipping my toe a little into the energy issue yesterday it is clear that plenty of inflation is on its way from that sector over time. I have a particular fear for still days in winter should the establishment succeed in persuading everyone to have a Smart Meter. Let us face it – and in a refreshing change even the official adverts now do – the only real benefit they offer is for power companies who wish to charge more at certain times. The “something wonderful” from the film 2001 would be an ability to store energy on a large scale or a green consistent source of it. The confirmation that it will be more expensive came here. From the BBC quoting Scottish Power.

We are leaving carbon generation behind for a renewable future powered by cheaper green energy.

We will likely find that it is only cheaper if you use Hinkley B as your benchmark.

Inflation Trends

We find that of our two indicators one has gone rather quiet and the other has been active. The quiet one has been the level of the UK Pound £ against the US Dollar as this influences the price we pay for oil and commodities. It has changed by a mere 0.5% (lower) over the past year after spells where we have seen much larger moves. This has been followed by another development which is that UK inflation has largely converged with inflation trends elsewhere. For example Euro area inflation is expected to be announced at 2.1% later and using a slightly different measure the US declared this around a week ago.

The all items index rose 2.3 percent for the 12 months ending September, a smaller increase than the 2.7-percent increase for the 12 months ending August.

There has been a familiar consequence of this as the Congressional Budget Office explains.

To account for inflation, the Treasury Department
adjusts the principal of its inflation-protected securities each month by using the change in the consumer price index for all urban consumers that was recorded two months earlier. That adjustment was $33 billion in fiscal year 2017 but $60 billion in the current fiscal
year.

The UK was hit by this last year and if there is much more of this worldwide perhaps we can expect central banks to indulge in QE for inflation linked bonds. Also in terms of inflation measurement whilst I still have reservations about the use of imputed rents the US handles it better than the UK.

The shelter index continued to rise and accounted for over half of the seasonally adjusted monthly increase in the all items index.

As you can see it does to some extent work by sometimes adding to inflation whereas in the UK it is a pretty consistent brake on it, even in housing booms.

Crude Oil

The pattern here is rather different as the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil has risen by 41% over the past year meaning it has been a major factor in pushing inflation higher. Some this is recent as a push higher started in the middle of August which as we stand added about ten dollars. Although in a startling development OPEC will now be avoiding mentioning it. From Reuters.

OPEC has urged its members not to mention oil prices when discussing policy in a break from the past, as the oil producing group seeks to avoid the risk of U.S. legal action for manipulating the market, sources close to OPEC said.

Seeing as the whole purpose of OPEC is to manipulate the oil price I wonder what they will discuss?

Today’s data

After the copy and pasting of the establishment line yesterday on the subject of wages let us open with the official preferred measure.

The Consumer Prices Index including owner occupiers’ housing costs (CPIH) 12-month inflation rate was 2.2% in September 2018, down from 2.4% in August 2018.

For newer readers the reason why it is the preferred measure can be expressed in a short version or a ore complete one. The short version is that it gives a lower number the longer version is because it includes Imputed Rents where homeowners are assumed to pay rent to themselves which of course they do not.

The OOH component annual rate is 1.0%, unchanged from last month.

As you can see these fantasy rents which comprise around 17% of the index pull it lower and we can see the impact by looking at our previous preferred measure.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 2.4% in September 2018, down from 2.7% in August 2018.

This trend seems likely to continue as Generation Rent explains.

The experience of the past 14 years suggests rents are most closely linked to wages – i.e. what renters can afford to pay.

With wage growth weak in historical terms then rent growth is likely to be so also and thus from an establishment point of view this is perfect for an inflation measure. This certainly proved to be the case after the credit crunch hit as Generation Rent explains.

As the credit crunch hit in 2008, mortgage lenders tightened lending criteria and the number of first-time buyers halved, boosting demand for private renting – the sector grew by an extra 135,000 per year between 2007 and 2010 compared with 2005-07.  According to the property industry’s logic, the sharp increase in demand should have caused rents to rise – yet inflation-adjusted (real) rent fell by 6.7% in the three years to January 2011.

Meanwhile if we switch to house prices which just as a reminder are actually paid by home owners we see this.

UK average house prices increased by 3.2% in the year to August 2018, with strong growth in the East Midlands and West Midlands.

As you can see 3.2% which is actually paid finds itself replaced with 1% which is not paid by home owners and the recorded inflation rate drops. This is one of the reasons why such a campaign has been launched against the RPI which includes house prices via the use of depreciation.

The all items RPI annual rate is 3.3%, down from 3.5% last month.

There you have it as we go 3.3% as a measure which was replaced by a measure showing 2.4% which was replaced by one showing 2.2%. Thus at the current rate of “improvements” the inflation rate right now will be recorded as 0% somewhere around 2050.

The Trend

This is pretty much a reflection of the oil price we looked at above as its bounce has led to this.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 3.1% on the year to September 2018, up from 2.9% in August 2018….The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process rose to 10.3% on the year to September 2018, up from 9.4% in August 2018.

So we have an upwards shift in the trend but it is back to energy and oil again.

The largest contribution to both the annual and monthly rate for output inflation came from petroleum products.

Comment

It is indeed welcome to see an inflation dip across all of our measures. It was driven by these factors.

The largest downward contribution came from food and non-alcoholic beverages where prices fell between August and September 2018 but rose between the same two months a year ago…..Other large downward contributions came from transport, recreation and culture, and clothing.

Although on the other side of the coin came a familiar factor.

Partially offsetting upward contributions came from increases to electricity and gas prices.

Are those the cheaper prices promised? I also note that the numbers are swinging around a bit ( bad last month, better this) which has as at least a partial driver, transport costs.

Returning to the issue of inflation measurement I am sorry to see places like the Resolution Foundation using the government’s preferred measures on inflation and wages as it otherwise does some good work. At the moment it is the difference between claiming real wages are rising and the much more likely reality that they are at best flatlining and perhaps still falling. Mind you even officialdom may not be keeping the faith as I note this announcement from the government just now.

Yes that is the same HM Treasury which via exerting its influence on the Office for National Statistics have driven the use of imputed rents in CPIH has apparently got cold feet and is tweeting CPI.

Of hot air, wind power and UK real wages

Today brings us to the latest UK labour market data but before we get there we see two clear features of these troubled times. One is in fact a hardy perennial referred to in Yes Prime Minister by Jim Hacker over thirty years ago although he was unable to arrange one. From Kensington Palace..

Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are very pleased to announce that The Duchess of Sussex is expecting a baby in the Spring of 2019.

Who says the UK has no plans for Brexit when a Royal Baby is in the process of being deployed?

Next comes some intriguing news from Scottish Power reported by the BBC like this.

Scottish Power to use 100% wind power after Drax sale

My first thought was to wonder what happens when the wind does not blow? Or only weakly as for example if we look at UK electricity production this morning where according to Gridwatch it is 5 GW out of a maximum of around 12.5 GW? There is little extra on this to be found in the detail.

Scottish Power plans to invest £5.2bn over four years to more than double its renewables capacity.

Chief executive Keith Anderson said it was a “pivotal shift” for the firm.

“We are leaving carbon generation behind for a renewable future powered by cheaper green energy. We have closed coal, sold gas and built enough wind to power 1.2 million homes,” he said.

As you can see the issue of when the wind does not blow gets entirely ignored in the hype. Indeed one part of its past production which could help to some extent by being used when the wind does nor blow which is hydro power has just been sold! As to the claims I see that this provides cheaper electricity that is rather Orwellian as we know that the green agenda is driving prices higher but tries to hide it. Still the good news for Scottish Power customers is that if all the statements are true then there will be no more price rises because energy costs are now pretty much fixed.

As you might expect raising such thoughts on social media leads to some flack. According to @Scottishfutball I am a stupid man although that tweet has now disappeared. Here is a longer answer to show the other side of the coin from Is anybody there on Twitter.

When the wind doesn’t blow they have hydroelectric power, wave power, solar, biomass, pumped hydro storage. Add in micro grids, battery storage and deferred demand and it’s very achievable.

The hydro power they just sold? And what’s “deferred demand”?

Wages

Here the news was a little better.

Latest estimates show that average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain in nominal terms (that is, not adjusted for price inflation) increased by 3.1% excluding bonuses, and by 2.7% including bonuses, compared with a year earlier.

So we see that on this three-monthly measure total pay has risen at a 0.1% faster rate and basic pay by 0.2%. The balancing item here is bonuses which fell by 1.3% in August on a year before.

Let us take a look at this as the Bank of England wants us to. Here is its Chief Economist Andy Haldane from last week.

A year on, I think there is more compelling evidence of a new dawn breaking for pay growth, albeit with the
light filtering through only slowly……….Looking beneath the headline figures, evidence of an up-tick in pay is clearer still. Private sector pay growth (again excluding bonuses) has been grinding through the gears; it recently hit the psychologically-important 3% barrier. Private sector wage settlements so far this year are running at 2.8% and in some sectors, such as construction and IT, are running well in excess of 3%.

Someone needs to tell Andy that if an average is 3% some will be above and some will be below. Also is the growth 3% or 2.8%? But let us ignore those and Andy’s lack of enthusiasm for bonuses, no doubt influenced by his own personal experience. On this measure we see that private-sector pay growth is now 3.1% so another nudge higher and with July and August both registering 3.3% we could see another rise next time. The trouble is that whilst this is welcome we are back at the old central banking game of cherry picking to data to produce an answer you arrived at before you looked at it. Also one cannot avoid noting that the theory Andy so loves – and has led him regularly up the garden path over the past 5 years or so – would predict this wage growth to be more like 5%. Or to put it another way the view shown below seems not a little desperate and the emphasis is mine.

This evidence suggests the pulse of the Phillips curve has quickened as the labour market has tightened.
Unlike over much of the past decade, estimated wage equations are now broadly tracking pay.

So the new “improved” models are just the old ones in a new suit?

Some reality

If we switch to total pay we see that over the course of 2018 it is much harder to pick a clear pattern.  Whilst we are a little higher than a year ago as 2.7% replaces 2.4% it is also true that we opened the year at 2.8%. Next month should be better as the May 2% reading drops out but it is a crawl at best. If we switch to real wages we are told this.

Latest estimates show that average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain in real terms (that is, adjusted for price inflation) increased by 0.7% excluding bonuses, and by 0.4% including bonuses, compared with a year earlier.

Here comes my regular reminder that even such small gains rely on using an inflation measure that is not fit for purpose. This is because the CPIH measure relies on imputed rents which are a figment of statistical imagination and which, just by chance of course, invariably lower the reading. We will be updated on the inflation numbers tomorrow but it was 2.4% compared to the 2.7% of its predecessor ( CPI ) and the 3.5% of the one before that ( RPI)  as we try to detect a trend. Even using it shows that the last decade has been a lost one in real wage terms.

For August 2018, average total pay (including bonuses), before tax and other deductions from pay, for employees in Great Britain was: £523 per week in nominal terms, up from £508 per week for a year earlier……..£492 per week in constant 2015 prices, up from £489 per week for a year earlier, but £30 lower than the pre-downturn peak of £522 per week for February 2008.

As you can see even using the new somewhat deflated inflation number there will be another lost decade for real wages at the current rate of progress.

Comment

Today has mostly been a journey of comparing wish-fulfillment with reality, or the use of liberal quantities of hopium. Still perhaps it will be found at a fulfillment center, whatever that is. From CNBC.

Tech giant Amazon is set to install solar panels at its fulfillment centers across the U.K.  ( H/T @PaulKingsley16 )

If we switch back to the Bank of England which of course is also full of rhetoric on the climate change front, as after all someone has to offset all the globetrotting of Governor Carney, we return to wages again. Actually it has reined in its views quite a bit.

The rise in wages projected by the Bank is, to coin a phrase, limited and gradual. Private sector pay is
assumed to rise from 3% currently to around 3 ¾% three years hence, or around 25 basis points per year.

The catch is the implied assumption that we will always grow because any slow down would then knock real wages further. But even on that view once we allow for likely inflation it looks as if there will be only a little progress at best.

 

 

 

 

 

Should the ECB be reformed and how?

This morning has brought an intriguing opinion piece in the Alphaville section of the Financial Times. It concerns the European Central Bank and comes from what you might call a classic insider as the header suggests.

Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, Société Générale chairman, Project Associate at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and Senior Fellow at LUISS School of European Political Economy in Rome.

This covers a lot of ground as after all shouldn’t  being chairman of Societe Generale be a full-time job? This dichotomy where lower jobs are full-time but more senior ones are not seems to be ever more common. With a share price less than a quarter of what it was at its peak and furthermore it being down 25% over the past year you might think directors would be fully employed trying to make things better. Of course we are invariably told that such people can have so many roles because they are so capable and intelligent which of course then begs the question of how we are where we are?

For some reason the Financial Times header was a little forgetful of the fact that Mr Bini Smaghi was an Executive Board member of the ECB for six years from 2005. This matters as it is likely that he is being used like a weather vane, so let us take a look.

The Inflation Target

Here is the opening salvo, with which regular readers will be familiar.

The ECB’s primary objective is price stability, defined as “a rate of inflation below but close to 2 per cent”. The average inflation rate over the 20 years of the euro has been 1.7 per cent, which may suggest success.

Now even your average Martian will be aware that the last decade has not been a success but look what Lorenzo picks out.

However, the result has been less satisfactory (a dalliance with deflation) in more recent periods.

This focusing on deflation is misleading for several reasons. Firstly he is deliberately equating falling prices or disinflation with shrinking aggregate demand or deflation. This matters because Lorenzo’s “deflation” was essentially the result of a lower oil price as I pointed out at the time. Also rather than a problem, at a time of restricted wage growth lower and indeed negative inflation provides an economic boost via its positive impact on real wages. I pointed this out back on the 29th of January 2015.

However if we look at the retail-sectors in the UK,Spain and Ireland we see that price falls are so far being accompanied by volume gains and as it happens by strong volume gains. This could not contradict conventional economic theory much more clearly.

Thus Lorenzo is flying something of a false flag here and is an example of what I predicted back then.

 If the history of the credit crunch is any guide many will try to ignore reality and instead cling to their prized and pet theories but I prefer reality ever time.

You will not be surprised to find that the suggestion is a loosening of the target as seen below.

 Furthermore, research shows that the ECB’s policy decisions over the years anyway reflect a symmetric interpretation of the target around 2 per cent. So why not move to such a target? It would at least be more transparent.

This matters even more if we note that in spite of the negative interest-rates and the QE inspired balance sheet expansion the ECB has in its own terms not yet achieved its target. This is because whilst inflation is above 2% at 2.1% of that some 0.8% is energy costs which are mostly outside its control. Putting it another way it is remarkable how little consumer inflation has been created by so much monetary easing. In fact with it so low we have to question whether it also has disinflationary influences not predicted by economics 101.

Thus even what seems a minor reshuffling of the target would if we remain in a similar situation to now lead to the possibility of a large policy change. We could get QE to its current maximum in terms of Euro area sovereign bonds where they are bought up to the limit imposed by the German bond market. In a way it all comes from this misrepresentation or lie.

 reconsider the definition of price stability.

Price stability would be 0% not 2% per annum. In response my suggestion would be to lower the Euro area inflation target to either 1.5% or 1%.

Signals

The next bit is even odder.

The two pillars are analysis of economic and monetary data, but the latter — money and credit aggregates — have proved over time to be unreliable predictors of inflationary pressures……….. In July 2008, for instance, the resilient fast pace of credit growth justified the rate hike which was made, even as the real economy had started to show signs of a slowdown

Actually if we look at annual M1 growth which is the leading indicator for monetary data the annual rate of growth had fallen from 11.7% in December 2005 to 0.1% in July 2008. So the truth is that the ECB simply looked at (backwards-looking) credit growth rather than the clear signal from M1. Actually, looking at like that the series without seasonal adjustment could hardly be much clearer.

Collateral

As you can imagine our bank chairman is not keen on the way countries can be excluded from this. After all who will think of the banks holding their debt? Here is his proposed solution.

Consideration should be given to return to a system based on progressive haircuts.

Share risk, as well as supervision

This would have the Starship Enterprise on yellow if not red alert. This is the current state of play.

Banks that are solvent, but do not have adequate collateral, may require the central bank to act as a so-called “lender of last resort”. That function for banks is still decentralized, with the national central banks bearing the risks.

So if an Italian bank were to fail it is the responsibility of the Bank of Italy to step in. Whereas Lorenzo wants this.

In particular, if the decision on whether a bank is solvent and is eligible to emergency lending is centralized, the risk for such lending should be shared.

So in this new universe the ECB would be responsible and not the Bank of Italy as the federal web gets more steel and perhaps titanium. The issue of being “solvent” is usually a red herring as central banks seem to find the most disastrous business models as being viable.

Exit Troika, stage left

Nobody seems to have told Lorenzo about the nomenclature change to “The Institutions”, but of course bankers often struggle with current events. Anyway it is hard to disagree with the thrust here, frankly who would want to be a member of it?

Remaining a member of the Troika is now less justified, and the unpopularity of adjustment programmes tends to erode the ECB’s reputation and independence.

Let somebody else take the blame!

Comment

The good news is the implied view that the ECB needs reform. Sadly the predictable part is that it heads in a direction which has so far caused more trouble than it has solved. For those who believe that the Euro establishment want crises so that they can present what they wanted to achieve anyway as part of the crisis resolution there is another tick in that box. My suggestion would be for a much more root and branch reform of central banking. For example inflation control has morphed into inflation creation or in consumer inflation terms attempted inflation control. Plus of course a boost for those who own assets.

However it is also true that the ECB has been left exposed and in the cold by the Euro establishment. The lack of any political response in terms of economic policy to the credit crunch left it and monetary policy with far too much to do. It has overplayed its hand in response, and must now fear heading into the next downturn with its foot still pressing down on the accelerator. At least it managed to shuffle its holdings of Greek debt largely to another Euro area body but that process and its insistence on full repayment added to the crisis at its height.

Heading forwards I would have two main suggestions.

  1. Lower the inflation target
  2. Much more questioning of what QE actually achieves.

What is happening to the economy of Germany?

This morning has brought news which will bring a smile of satisfaction to the central bankers at the ECB (European Central Bank). From the German statistics office.

The harmonised index of consumer prices (HICP) for Germany, which is calculated for European purposes, rose by 2.2% in September 2018 on September 2017. Compared with August 2018, the HICP increased by 0.4% in September 2018.

All the ECB’s efforts have got German inflation pretty much to where they want it to be. It has been quite an effort as the official deposit rate is still -0.4% and there are still around US $1.5 trillion of bonds with a negative yield in the Euro area. But we are near to the target and the extra 0.2% can be responded to by pointing out that the amount of monthly QE is on its way to zero.

The ordinary German consumer and worker may not be quite so keen as items downgraded to non-core by central bankers are important to them.

 Energy prices rose 7.7% in September 2018 on September 2017. The rate of energy price increase thus increased again (August 2018: +6.9%). ………Food prices rose above average (+2.8%) from September 2017 to September 2018. The year-on-year price increase thus accelerated slightly in September 2018 ( August 2018: +2.5%).  ( From the German CPI detail)

Indeed they may be wondering how to translate ” I cannot eat an I-Pad” into German?

Consumers benefited, among other things, of lower prices of telephones (-5.3%) and consumer electronics (-4.6%).

Those who think that rents are related to real wage growth will get a little food for thought from this.

 A major factor contributing to the increase in service prices was the development of net rents exclusive of heating expenses (+1.5%), as households spend a large part of their consumption expenditure on this item.

Travelling through the detail shows us that whilst the aggregate looks good in fact the inflation numbers have only moved to around the target level because of energy costs. All that monetary easing had little effect on consumer inflation but of course saw large wealth gains for those holding assets and subsidised government borrowing costs.

Asset Prices

This has been an area of satisfaction for the central banker play book as we note that in the first two quarters of 2018 house prices rose at an annual rate of 5.5% and 4.7%. The index set at 100 in 2015 has reached 115.1. So a win double for the establishment as it can claim wealth effects of between 4% and 5% whilst as we have observed above tell the ordinary person that via the use of fantasy imputed rents inflation in this area is only 1.5%.

Although as DW pointed out in May last year not even every central banker is a believer.

Bundesbank warns of German real estate bubble

Why might this be?

Due to mortgage interest rates of well below two percent, Germany has been experiencing a rapid transition towards home ownership in recent years, now creating fears familiar in many other property markets. Housing prices, which were relatively cheap compared with other European countries in the past, have risen sharply.

Real estate prices in cities like Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and Frankfurt have increased by more than 60 percent since 2010, according to recent estimates by the German central bank, the Bundesbank.

We look from time to time for examples of mortgage rates and DW provided us with one.

Commerzbank, the country’s second-largest lender, offers a mortgage with an ultra-cheap fixed rate of just 0.94 percent for a 10-year loan.

It is hard to over emphasise how extraordinary that is! Also should it carry on it may lead to quite a change in the structure of German life.

For many well-off Germans with permanent jobs renting no longer makes sense.

Since then house prices have continued to rise.

Economic growth

As recently as the middle of June the German Bundesbank was very upbeat.

Germany’s economic boom will continue. The already high level of capacity utilisation in the economy will increase up until 2020,

Although hang on.

although growth is unlikely to be quite as strong as in 2017. Growth in exports and business investment will be less strong. In addition, the rising shortage of skilled workers will increasingly dampen employment growth.

Indeed as we look at the specifics frankly it does not look much of a boom to me.

Against this backdrop, the Bundesbank‘s economists expect calendar-adjusted economic growth of 2.0% this year and 1.9% next year. In 2020, real gross domestic product (GDP) could increase by 1.6% in calendar-adjusted terms.

If we apply the rule that has been suggested in the comments on here that official economic growth needs to be 2% per annum for people to feel it then Germany may even be slipping backwards. This week as MarketWatch points out below has seen others fall in line with this growth but perhaps not as we know it scenario.

Germany’s economic growth is now expected to come in at 1.8% this year, rather than the 2.3% forecast previously, the government said Thursday in its autumn report. Next year’s expansion is now seen at 1.8% instead of 2.1%……..Earlier this week, the International Monetary Fund cut its growth forecasts for Germany to 1.9% for both this year and the next, decreases of 0.3 and 0.2 percentage points respectively.

We can bring this up to date by noting the industrial production figures released today by Eurostat. These show a flatlining in August meaning that the annual figure had declined by 0.5%.

Comment

After a good spell for the German economy ( which expanded by 2.2% in 2017) we are starting to wonder if that was as good as it gets? 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. As the money supply changes have as a major factor the fading of ECB QE we return to the theme of Euro area economies being monetary junkies which perhaps Mario Draghi has confirmed this morning.

*DRAGHI: SIGNIFICANT MONETARY POLICY STIMULUS IS STILL NEEDED

After all we are in official parlance still in a broad-based expansion. Moving back to Germany it is starting a little bit to feel like what happened to high streets when they lost individuality and became clones. Some economic growth accompanied by asset price rises whilst official inflation rises by less than you might have thought.Or the equivalent of finding Starbucks and various estate agents on every high street,or putting it another way look at this from the Bundesbank.

German economic growth will therefore consistently outstrip potential output growth,

Yes even the sub 2% economic growth is apparently too much just like most of us in Europe. One can go too far of course as there are the surpluses to consider in trade and government finances. The former was supposed to be something that was going to be dealt with post credit crunch but by now you know the familiar and some might think never-ending story. Sometimes life feels a bit like this experience for a City-AM journalist.

Hey . How am I meant to log into my account to report my lost phone when the login process requires sending a text to my phone?

As has been pointed out the concept of Catch-22 has reached Milennials. Let me leave you with something for the weekend which believe it or not is to promote Frankfurt.