The Reserve Bank of Australia responds to lower house prices

The economic world has been shifting its center of gravity eastwards for a while now as countries like India and China grow in both population and economic terms. However as we look towards the Orient we have been seeing some both familiar but troubling developments as 2019 has progressed. For example on April 4th I looked at what was the second interest-rate cut made by the Reserve Bank of India this year. This morning has seen the arrival of the Australian interest-rate cavalry as we see more such moves in the East.

At its meeting today, the Board decided to lower the cash rate by 25 basis points to 1.25 per cent. The Board took this decision to support employment growth and provide greater confidence that inflation will be consistent with the medium-term target. ( Reserve Bank of Australia or RBA)

Regular readers will not be surprised as on April 2nd I warned about the money supply situation.

 If we look ahead and use the narrow money measures that have proved to be such a good indicator elsewhere we see that the narrow money measure M1 actually fell in the period December to February……… Thus the outlook for the domestic economy remains weak and could get weaker.

This is another theme of the credit crunch era as central banks respond to events rather than anticipating them. They have often been given a free pass on this but the RBA is in timing terms way off the pace as the money supply has been slowing for a while.

RBA

If we look at the statement we can see what was behind this morning’s move. First what is Australian for johnny foreigner?

Growth in international trade remains weak and the increased uncertainty is affecting investment intentions in a number of countries.

That has become a central banking standard which means that it is a zero sum game as we all blame each other.

Something else that has become familiar is rhetoric that makes you wonder why they have cut interest-rates at all? And in fact would fit better with a rise in them.

The central scenario remains for the Australian economy to grow by around 2¾ per cent in 2019 and 2020. This outlook is supported by increased investment in infrastructure and a pick-up in activity in the resources sector, partly in response to an increase in the prices of Australia’s exports……..Employment growth has been strong over the past year, labour force participation has been increasing, the vacancy rate remains high and there are reports of skills shortages in some areas.

This is even odder as we remind ourselves that so many central bankers are telling us that economies have a speed limit of 1.5% annual economic growth these days. So Australia is cutting interest-rates because it is going to exceed it which is bizarre. Perhaps it is time for Mariah Carey.

Sweet fantasy (sweet sweet)
In my fantasy
Sweet fantasy
Sweet, sweet fantasy

Later we get something else of concern which is that we are being led to believe that this is to enhance a boom rather than help with a slowing.

Today’s decision to lower the cash rate will help make further inroads into the spare capacity in the economy. It will assist with faster progress in reducing unemployment and achieve more assured progress towards the inflation target.

House Prices

The reality is that like so often the central bankers are in fact worried by the housing market.

The adjustment in established housing markets is continuing, after the earlier large run-up in prices in some cities.

Note that they discuss falls as an “adjustment” and try to keep attention on the “large run-up”. But even they have to make some sort of admittal.

Conditions remain soft, although in some markets the rate of price decline has slowed and auction clearance rates have increased. Growth in housing credit has also stabilised recently…….. Mortgage rates remain low and there is strong competition for borrowers of high credit quality.

As ever these statements reveal the most with their omissions. For example housing credit must have dropped for it to be described as “stabilised” and “strong competition” for high credit borrowers means that there no longer is for lower credit borrowers. Oh and the plan is for mortgage rates to get lower.

Mortgage Rates

If we pursue the lower mortgage rates argument our theme of lower bond yields in 2019 is also in play. The RBA put it like this.

Long-term bond yields and risk premiums are low. In Australia, long-term bond yields are at historically low levels.

If we look at what has been happening we find ourselves shouting timber! This is because the Aussie bond market has surged so much that the ten-year yield has dropped from 2.75% in early November last year to 1.5% today. So if you have been long Aussie bonds well done. But as you can see there is a large push downwards for fixed-rate mortgage costs.

Commodity Prices

These continue to support the Australian economy as yesterday’s RBA update makes clear.

Preliminary estimates for May indicate that the index increased by 0.5 per cent (on a monthly average basis) in SDR terms, after increasing by 2.7 per cent in April (revised)………Over the past year, the index has increased by 12.6 per cent in SDR terms, led by higher iron ore, LNG and, beef and veal prices. The index has increased by 18.3 per cent in Australian dollar terms.

Money Supply

This has worked well as an indicator and there was some better news in April as the narrow measure grew by 2.9 billion Aussie Dollars and returned to annual growth in seasonally adjusted terms of 1.4%. So we learn that the RBA does not seem to place much weight on these numbers as it has ignored a period where there have been falls and cut rates when maybe it looks a bit better.

From our point of view the indicator has worked well and suggests continued slow growth rather than any collapse so Australia looks like it will avoid a recession, although after a quarterly growth reading of 0.2% at the end of 2018 it may get tight. But we need to stick to the broad sweep as I note the specific numbers keep being revised.

Comment

You are probably wondering what house prices are so let me hand you over to this from news.com.au yesterday.

The monthly report card from data firm CoreLogic showed the drop in national dwelling values slowed from 0.5 per cent to 0.4 per cent in May, primarily driven by a slower rate of decline in Sydney and Melbourne……….National property prices have slid 7.3 per cent nationally over the past 12 months, including homes in the major capital cities dropping by 8.4 per cent in value.

I have spared you the rhetoric from the vested interests as we note that these are the sort of falls to concentrate the mind of any central banker. But as we recall this we see that the establishment is operating in a range of areas to limit the decline.

This, combined with the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority easing access to finance will stimulate the sector.

Next comes the issue of being the South China Territories at a time of a trade war where the trolling is being stepped up. From @LiveSquawk.

China Warns Citizens Of Possible Harassment By US law Enforcement Bodies – China State Media

So far the commodity prices that are of Australian interest have not been affected indeed the reverse as we noted above. So there is a clear risk here which is maybe why I note this just being reported.

RBA’s Lowe: It Is Not Unreasonable To Expect A Lower Cash Rate

The deeper problem is that in line with what used to be called the liquidity trap interest-rate cuts at these levels have not helped other much and may in fact have made things worse.

 

Australia faces both falling house prices and a falling money supply

This morning has brought us up to date with news from what the Men at Work described as.

Living in a land down under
Where women glow and men plunder
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?

That is of course what was called Australis and then Australia and these days in economic terms can be considered to be the South China Territories. The monetary policy statement from the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA)  reinforces the latter point as you can see.

The outlook for the global economy remains reasonable, although growth has slowed and downside risks have increased. Growth in international trade has declined and investment intentions have softened in a number of countries. In China, the authorities have taken steps to ease financing conditions, partly in response to slower growth in the economy.

One needs to read between the lines of such rhetoric as for a central banker “remains reasonable” is a little downbeat in reality as we note the following use of “declined” “softened” and “slower”.But he was providing a background to this.

At its meeting today, the Board decided to leave the cash rate unchanged at 1.50 per cent.

In essence the heat is on for another interest-rate cut and if you are wondering why? There is this.

GDP rose by just 0.2 per cent in the December quarter to be 2.3 per cent higher over 2018. Growth in household consumption is being affected by the protracted period of weakness in real household disposable income and the adjustment in housing markets. The drought in parts of the country has also affected farm output.

I will come to the central bankers fear of negative wealth effects from what they call an “adjustment in housing markets” in a moment as we note they cannot bring themselves to mention lower house prices. The pattern of GDP growth looks really rather poor as we see that the trend goes 1.1%,0.8% and then 0.3% and now 0.2%. So we see a familiar pattern of much weaker growth in the second half in 2018 which if we see again in the first half of this year will see the annual rate of growth halve. Actually it may be worse than that as the only factor driving growth according to Australia Statistics was this.

Government final consumption expenditure increased 1.8% during the quarter contributing 0.3 percentage points to GDP growth.

So without it the economy would have shrunk and Australia might be on course for something it has escaped for quite a while which is a recession. Also according to the Australia Treasury Budget from earlier it is planning a dose of austerity.

The total turnaround in the budget balance between 2013-14 and 2019-20 is projected to be $55.5 billion, or 3.4 per cent of GDP.

The Government’s plan for a stronger economy ensures it can guarantee essential services while returning the budget to surplus.

This budget year will see a surplus of $7.1 billion, equal to 0.4 per cent of GDP.

Budget surpluses will build in size in the medium term and are expected to exceed 1 per cent of GDP from 2026-27.

So as you can see it seems unlikely that government spending will continue to boost the economy. Also as they are assume growth of 2.25% then those numbers as so often seem rooted in fantasy rather than reality. Next if we switch back to the RBA the austerity plan comes at this time.

 In Australia, long-term bond yields have fallen to historically low levels.

In fact they fell to an all time low for the benchmark ten-year at 1.72% recently and is spite of a bounce back are still at a very low 1.82%. So yet again we are observing a situation where countries borrow heavily when it is expensive and try in this instance not to borrow at all when it is cheap. I know it is more complicated than that but we also have this into an economic slow down.

The Government is focused on reducing net debt as a share of the economy, which is expected to peak in 2018-19 at 19.2 per cent of GDP.

The Government is on track to eliminate net debt by 2029-30.

So it may look to be Keynesian but reality seems set to intervene especially on the economic growth forecasts.

House Prices

Again we see that the Governor of the RBA cannot bring himself to say, falling house prices. It is apparently just too painful.

The adjustment in established housing markets is continuing, after the earlier large run-up in prices in some cities. Conditions remain soft and rent inflation remains low.

Even worse it has implications for “the precious”.

 At the same time, the demand for credit by investors in the housing market has slowed noticeably as the dynamics of the housing market have changed. Growth in credit extended to owner-occupiers has eased.

Indeed a central banker would have his/her head in their hands as they see the negative wealth effects in the latest quarterly national accounts.

Real holding losses on land and dwellings were $170.8b. This marks a fourth consecutive quarter of losses and reflects the falling residential property prices over the past year. ……The real holding losses have translated into the first fall in household assets (-1.5%) since the September quarter 2011. Household liabilities increased 1.0%.

Some of the latter was falling equity prices which have since recovered but house prices have not. Here is ABC News on the first quarter of 2019.

On a national basis, the average house price fell 2.4 per cent to $540,676, and apartment prices dropped 2.2 per cent to $484,552 during that period.

CoreLogic observed that markets which experienced their peaks earlier had experienced sharper downturns.

Darwin and Perth property prices skyrocketed during the mining boom, but peaked in 2014. Since then dwelling values in both capitals have fallen by 27.5 per cent and 18.1 per cent respectively.

So it seems likely that the value of the housing stock fell again. If we move to the official series we see that in the rather unlikely instance you could sell all of Australia’s houses and flats in on e go then from the end of 2015 to early 2018 the value rose by one trillion Aussie Dollars from a bit below 6 trillion to a bit below 7. Now in a development to pack ice round a central bankers heart it has fallen to 6.7 trillion officially and if we factor in other measures is now 6.6 trillion Aussie Dollars and to quote Alicia Keys.

Oh, baby
I, I, I, I’m fallin’
I, I, I, I’m fallin’
Fallin’

Comment

Australia escaped the worst of the credit crunch via its enormous natural resource base. According to the RBA index of commodity prices that has not ended.

Preliminary estimates for March indicate that the index decreased by 0.9 per cent (on a monthly average basis) in SDR terms, after increasing by 5.3 per cent in February (revised)…….Over the past year, the index has increased by 11.0 per cent in SDR terms, led by higher iron ore, LNG and alumina prices. The index has increased by 16.6 per cent in Australian dollar terms.

But now we see that the domestic economy has weakened whilst the boost from above has faded. If we look ahead and use the narrow money measures that have proved to be such a good indicator elsewhere we see that the narrow money measure M1 actually fell in the period December to February. If we switch to the seasonally adjusted series we see that growth faded and went such that the recent peak last August of Aussie $ 357.1 billion was replaced by Aussie $356.1 billion in February so we are seeing actual falls on both nominal and real terms. Thus the outlook for the domestic economy remains weak and could get weaker.

 

 

What is the trend for inflation?

The issue of inflation is one which regularly makes the headlines in the financial media. However the credit crunch era has seen several clear changes in the inflation environment. The first is the way that wage and price inflation broke past relationships. There used to be something of a cosy relationship where for example in my country the UK it was assumed that if inflation was 2% then wage growth would be around 4%. Actually if you look at the numbers pre credit crunch that relationship had already weakened as real wage growth was more like 1% than 2% but at least there was some. Whereas now we see many situations where real wage growth is at best small and others where there has not been any. For example the “lost decade” in Japan which of course is now more than two of them can in many respects be measured by (negative) real wage growth. Even record unemployment levels have failed to do much about this so far although the media have regularly told us it has.

At first inflation dipped after the credit crunch but was then boosted as many countries raised indirect taxes ( VAT in the UK) to help deal with ballooning fiscal deficits.. There was also the really rather odd commodity price boom that made it look like all the monetary easing was stoking the inflationary fires. I still think the bank trading desks which were much larger back then were able to play us through that phase. But once that was over it became plain that whilst via house prices for example we had asset price inflation we had weaker consumer price inflation which around 2016 became no inflation for the latter and for a time we had disinflation. This was the time when the “Deflation Nutters” became a little like Chicken Licken and told us the economic world would end. Whereas that was in play only in Greece and for the rest of us things changed as easily as an oil price rise. Also recorded consumer inflation would not have been so low if house and asset prices were in the measures as opposed to being ignored?

What about now?

The United States is in some ways a generic guide mostly because it uses the reserve currency the US Dollar. Whilst there have been challenges to its role such as oil price in Yuan it is still the main player in commodities markets. Yesterday we were updated by  on what is on its way.

The Producer Price Index for final demand rose 0.3 percent in June, seasonally adjusted, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Final demand prices advanced 0.5 percent in May and 0.1 percent in April.  On an unadjusted basis, the final demand index moved up 3.4
percent for the 12 months ended in June, the largest 12-month increase since climbing 3.7 percent in November 2011.

As we look at the factors at play we see the price of oil yet again as it looks like being an expensive summer for American drivers.

Over 40 percent of the advance in the index for final demand services is attributable
to a 21.8-percent jump in the index for fuels and lubricants retailing.

There was also maybe a surprise considering the state of the motor industry.

A major factor in the June increase in prices for final demand goods was the index
for motor vehicles, which moved up 0.4 percent.

We can look even further down the chain to what is called intermediate demand.

For the 12 months ended in June, the index for
processed goods for intermediate demand increased 6.8 percent, the largest 12-month rise since
jumping 7.2 percent in November 2011.

As you can see this is moving in tandem with the headline but do not be too alarmed by the doubling in the rate as these numbers fade as they go through the system as they get diluted for example by indirect taxes and the like. Peering further we see a hint of a possible dip and as ever the price of oil is a major player.

For the 12 months ended in June, the index for unprocessed goods for
intermediate demand increased 5.8 percent…..Most of the June decline in the index for unprocessed goods for intermediate demand can be traced to a 9.5-percent drop in prices for crude petroleum.

Such numbers which we call input inflation in the UK are heavily influenced by the oil price and in our case around 70% of changes are the Pound £ and the oil price. As the currency is not a factor for the US so much of this is oil price moves. That is of course awkward for central bankers who consider it to be non core.If you ever are unsure of the definition of non-core factors then a safe rule of thumb is that it is made up of things vital to life.

Commodity Prices

We find that if we look at commodity prices the pressure has recently abated. Yesterday;s falls took the CRB Index to 435 which compares to the 452 of a month ago and is pretty much at the level at which it started 2018 ( 434). The factor that has been pulling the index lower has been the decline in metals prices. The index for metals peaked at 985 in late  April as opposed to the 895 of yesterday.

OilPrice.com highlighted this yesterday.

Two weeks ago, Hootan Yazhari, head of frontier markets equity research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch,said Trump’s push to disrupt Iranian oil production could cause oil prices to hit $90 per barrel by the end of the second quarter of next year. Others have forecasted even higher prices, breaching the $100 plus per barrel price point.

Unfortunately for them whilst they may turn out to be right there are presentational issues it informing people of that on a day when events are reported like this by the BBC.

Brent crude dropped 6.9% – the biggest decline in more than two years – to end at $73.40 a barrel for the global benchmark………Wednesday’s sell-off started after the announcement by Libya’s National Oil Corp that it would reopen four export terminals that had been closed since late June, shutting most of the country’s oil output.

Comment

We see that the move towards higher inflation has this month shown signs of peaking and maybe reversing. Of course some of this is based on a one day move in the oil price but there are possible reasons to think that this signified something deeper. From Platts.

Russia and Saudi Arabia raised their oil production by a combined 500,000 b/d, and OPEC crude output hit a four-month high of 31.87 million b/d in June, reflecting agreement on easing output cuts, the IEA said Thursday.

Another factor is the Donald as President Trump is in play in so many areas here via the impact of his trade policies which have clearly impacted metals prices for example.Also his threats to Iran pushed the oil price the other way.

For those of us who do not use the US Dollar as a currency there is another effect driven by the fact that it has been strong recently which will tend to raise inflation. This will be received in different ways as for example there may have been a celebratory glass of sake at the Bank of Japan as the Yen weakened through 112 versus the US Dollar but others will (rightly) by much less keen. This is because returning to the theme of my opening paragraph wage growth has plainly shifted lower worldwide which means that those who panicked about deflation actually saw reflation as real wages did better.

As a final point it is hard not to have a wry smile at yesterday’s topic which was asset price inflation on the march in Ireland. So much of this is a matter of perspective.

Will commodity price rises trigger inflation in 2018?

As we begin our journey into 2018 then there has been one clear trend so far as Bloomberg has pointed out this morning.

The Bloomberg Commodities Spot Index, tracking the price of 22 raw materials, jumped to its highest since December 2014 on Thursday. The gauge has risen for a record 14 days in a row.

If we take a look at the underlying data we see that the index has rallied from just below 340 on the 11th of December to 361 as I type this and it has been pretty much one-way traffic. So perhaps ripe for a correction in the short-term but if we look further back we see that it is up 8% on a year ago and that this stronger phase began just under 2 years ago in mid January 2016 when the index dipped below 255. This leaves us with an intriguing conclusion which is that the commodities index saw a strong rally in 2016 just as we were being told inflation was dead as mainstream analysis looked back on the previous downwards trend.

Bloomberg is upbeat on the causes of this recent phase.

The strongest manufacturing activity since the aftermath of the global financial crisis is slowly draining commodities surpluses, sending prices to a 3-year high as investors pour money into everything from oil to copper.

“Rarely has the outlook for a New Year been as encouraging as it is today,” said Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank in London.

With factories around the world humming, demand for raw materials is fast increasing.

That is an upbeat way of looking at the issue although of course it omits something that in other articles they tell us is important which is the use of finite resources. We get however a clue to their emphasis from this.

Where to make Big Money in Commodities, Energy

I particularly like the way that Big Money is in capitals. Anyway well done to those who had stockpiled commodities. Also there may be a misprint about the chief economist of Berenberg Bank being in London as of course Bloomberg readers will have been told that all such jobs have gone to Frankfurt although they may be further confused by the brand new shiny Bloomberg offices in London! Moving to the Financial Times we also see that good economic news is on their minds.

Markit’s global survey of manufacturing activity rose to a near seven-year high in December, fuelling optimism that 2018 could be another year of strong growth.

Crude Oil

The rally here poses something of a problem for economics/finance themes because as regular readers will recall we were told that the advent of shale oil production would prevent price rises. One part of the analysis was true in that they have indeed produced more oil.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects U.S. crude oil production to have averaged 9.2 million bpd for all of last year. It expects U.S. crude oil production to average an all-time high of 10.0 million bpd this year, which would beat the current record set in 1970. ( OilPrice.com)

That is of course more than awkward for those who put Peak Oil theories forwards in the 1970s for a start. Moving back to the current oil price what was not forseen was that OPEC will not only announce production cuts but actually go through with the announcements leading to this.

however, oil prices rose steadily in the fourth quarter of 2017 to end the year at above $60 per barrel WTI and $66 per barrel Brent.

Brent Crude Oil nudged over US $68 per barrel earlier today or as high as it has been for two and a half years. At such a level we see that there is good news for oil producers of all sorts.Firstly there must be something of a bonanza for the shale oil producers with the cash flow style business model we have previously analysed. But also there will be all sorts of gains for the more traditional oil producers in the Middle East as well as Canada and Russia. There has been an irony in that the pipeline shutdown for the UK Forties field meant that Brent production could not benefit from higher Brent prices but that is now over.

Inflation

Last September an International Monetary Fund ( IMF) working paper looked at how oil price moves affected inflation.

 We find that a 10 percent increase in global oil inflation increases, on average, domestic inflation by about 0.4 percentage point on impact, with the effect vanishing after two years and being similar between advanced and developing economies.

There was also some support for those who think that the effect is stronger when prices rise.

We also find that the effect is asymmetric, with positive oil price shocks having a larger effect than negative ones

The results also vary from country to country as the impact on the UK is double that of the impact on the United States although this may be influenced by 1970s data when the UK Pound £ would have acted like the Great British Peso on any oil price rise.

As an aside I would like to remind everyone of the way a surge in the oil price contributed to the economic effects of the credit crunch, something which tends to get forgotten these days. On that road the credit crunch era becomes easier to understand and the establishment mantra which this IMF paper repeats becomes more questionable.

The has declined over time, mostly
due to the improvement in the conduct of monetary policy.

A darker road can be found if we look at the impact of bank commodity trading desks back then because if as I believe they drove oil prices higher there is a raft of questions to add to the other scandals we have seen such as Li(e)bor and foreign exchange rigging.

Metals

There has been a raft of news about these hitting new highs and let us start with what Dr,Copper is telling us.

Copper gained 30%  in 2017 as it continues to recover from six-year lows struck early last year……… Measured from its multi-year lows struck at the beginning of 2016, copper has gained more than 70% in value. ( Mining.com)

Palladium has been hitting all-time highs this week. If we look deeper we see that metals prices have been rising overall as the CRB metals index which was conveniently at 800 this time last year is at 912 as I type this.

Comment

There are various factors to consider here but let me open with a word not in frequent use in the credit crunch era which is reflation. We are seeing a stronger economic phase ( good although there is the underlying finite resources issue) but how much of this higher demand will feed into inflation may be the next question? There have been signs of Something Going On as Todd Terry would put it. From the Composite PMI or business survey for the Euro area.

The pace of inflation signalled for each price
measure remained strong relative to their long-run
trends, however, and among the steepest seen over
the past six-and-a-half years.

Also for the UK services sector.

Input price inflation reached its highest level since
last September, with service providers noting
upward pressures on costs from a wide range of
sources.

Moving to a different perspective some seem to be placing their betting chips in the US according to the Financial Times.

Investors pour money into funds that protect against inflation

Also there will be wealth and GDP shifts in favour of commodity producers and from those that consume them. The obvious beneficiary is much of the Middle East but others such as Australia, Canada and Russia will be smiling and that is before we get to the US shale oil producers who have been handed a lifeline. It also reminds me that the Chinese effort to get control of commodities around the world and particularly in Africa looks much more far-sighted than us western capitalist imperialists have so far managed. That is something which will particularly annoy Japan which of course is a large loser as commodity prices rise due to its lack of natural resources as its own more violent and aggressive efforts in this field badly misfired in the 1940s.

2017 is seeing the return of the inflation monster

As we nearly reach the third month of 2017 we find ourselves observing a situation where an old friend is back although of course it is more accurate to describe it as an enemy. This is the return of consumer inflation which was dormant for a couple of years as it was pushed lower by falls particularly in the price of crude oil but also by other commodity prices. That windfall for western economies boosted real wages and led to gains in retail sales in the UK, Spain and Ireland in particular. Of course it was a bad period yet again for mainstream economists who listened to the chattering in the  Ivory Towers about “deflation” as they sung along to “the end of the world as we know it” by REM. Thus we found all sorts of downward spirals described for economies which ignored the fact that the oil price would eventually find a bottom and also the fact that it ignored the evidence from Japan which has seen 0% inflation for quite some time.

A quite different song was playing on here as I pointed out that in many places inflation had remained in the service-sector. Not many countries are as inflation prone as my own the UK but it rarely saw service-sector inflation dip below 2% but the Euro area for example had it at 1.2% a year ago in February 2016 when the headline was -0.2%, Looking into the detail there was confirmation of the energy price effect as it pulled the index down by 0.8%. Once the oil price stopped falling the whole picture changed and let us take a moment to mull how negative interest-rates and QE ( Quantitative Easing) bond buying influenced that? They simply did not. Now we were expecting the rise to come but quite what the ordinary person must think after all the deflation paranoia from the “deflation nutters” I do not know.

Spain

January saw quite a rise in consumer inflation in Spain if we look at the annual number and according to this morning’s release it carried on this month. Via Google Translate.

The leading indicator of the CPI puts its annual variation at 3.0% In February, the same as in January
The annual rate of the leading indicator of the HICP is 3.0%.

Just for clarity it is the HICP version which is the European standard which is called CPI in the UK. It can be like alphabetti spaghetti at times as the same letters get rearranged. We do not get a lot of detail but we have been told that the impact of the rise in electricity prices faded which means something else took its place in the annual rate. Also we got some hints as to what is coming over the horizon from last week’s producer price data.

The annual rate of the General Industrial Price Index (IPRI) for the month of January is 7.5%, more than four and a half points higher than in December and the highest since July 2011.

It would appear that the rises in energy prices affected businesses as much as they did domestic consumers.

Energy, whose annual variation stands at 26.6%, more than 18 points above that of December and the highest since July 2008. In this evolution, Prices of Production, transportation and distribution of electrical energy and Oil Refining,
Compared to the declines recorded in January 2016.

In fact the rise seen is mostly a result of rising commodity prices as we see below.

Behavior is a consequence of the rise in prices of Product Manufacturing Basic iron and steel and ferroalloys and the production of basic chemicals, Nitrogen compounds, fertilizers, plastics and synthetic rubber in primary forms.

The Euro will have had a small impact too as it is a little over 3% lower versus the US Dollar than it was a year ago.

Belgium

The land of beer and chocolate has also been seeing something of an inflationary episode.

Belgium’s inflation rate based on the European harmonised index of consumer prices was running at 3.1% in January compared to 2.2% in December.

The drivers were mostly rather familiar.

The sub-indices with the largest upward effect on inflation were domestic heating oil, motor fuels, electricity, telecommunication and tobacco.

These two are the inflation outliers at this stage but the chart below shows a more general trend in the major economies of the Euro area.

The United States

In the middle of this month the US Bureau of Labor Statistics confirmed the trend.

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.6 percent in January on a seasonally adjusted basis, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index rose 2.5 percent before seasonal adjustment.

This poses some questions of its own in the way that it confirmed that the strong US Dollar had not in fact protected the US economy from inflation all that much. The detail was as you might expect.

The January increase was the largest seasonally adjusted all items increase since February 2013. A sharp rise in the gasoline index accounted for nearly half the increase,

Egypt

A currency plummet of the sort seen by the Egyptian Pound has led to this being reported by Arab News.

Inflation reached almost 30 percent in January, up 5 percent over the previous month, driven by the floatation of the Egyptian pound and slashing of fuel subsidies enacted by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in November.

Ouch although of course central bankers will say “move along now……nothing to see here” after observing that the major drivers are what they call non-core.

Food and drinks have seen some of the largest increases, costing nearly 40 percent more since the floatation, figures from the statistics agency show. Some meat prices have leaped nearly 50 percent.

Comment

There is much to consider here and inflation is indeed back in the style of Arnold Schwarzenegger. However some care is needed as it will be driven at first by the oil price and the annual effect of that will fade as 2017 progresses. What I mean by that is that if we look back to 2016 the price of Brent Crude oil fell below US $30 per barrel in mid-January and then rose so if the oil price remains around here then its inflationary impact will fade.

However even a burst of moderate inflation will pose problems as we look at real wages and real returns for savers. If we look at the Euro area with its -0.4% official ECB deposit rate and wide range of negative bond yields there is an obvious crunch coming. It poses a particular problem for those rushing to buy the German 2 year bond as with a yield of 0.94% then they are facing a real loss of around 5/6% if it is held to maturity. You must be pretty desperate and/or afraid to do that don’t you think?

Meanwhile so far Japan seems immune to this, of course there will eventually be an impact but it is a reminder of how different it really is from us.

UK National Statistician John Pullinger

Thank you to John and to the Royal Statistical Society for his speech on Friday on the planned changes to UK inflation measurement next month. Sadly it looks as if he intends to continue with the use of alternative facts in inflation measurement by the use of rents to measure owner-occupied housing costs. These rents have to be imputed because they do not actually  exist as opposed to house prices and mortgage costs which not only exist in the real world but are also widely understood.

Russia faces the economic consequences of a plummeting oil price

One of the themes of this blog over the past year or so has been that the fall in the price of crude oil and other commodities is good overall for the world economy. Mostly the argument revolves around the fact that there are a lot more oil consumers than producers as we note that lower consumer inflation has pushed real wages higher in net consuming countries. However this begs a question for producers and squarely in that camp we find Vladimir Putin’s Russia which will note this morning’s news with dismay. From Marketwatch.

February Brent crude LCOH6, -1.59%  on London’s ICE Futures exchange fell 80 cents, or 2.7%, to $28.14 a barrel, but overnight fell to as low as $27.67 a barrel.

If we look back we see that it puts it some 43% lower than a year ago as the disinflationary burst for the world continues. However for reasons I shall explain below this is an example of deflation for Russia which comes combined with inflation in what is an example of how quite a lot can go wrong at once.

As an aside regular readers may recall when Brent Crude Oil pushed above WTI or West Texas Intermediate by over US $20 at one point and the justifications which followed. I wonder where they have gone as I see that Brent Crude is now lower by around 70 cents. Was this another sign of financialisation of commodity markets?

Also this reminds me to point out that Russian crude has a benchmark called Urals Crude which is trading some US $3 below the Brent benchmark so that Russia is only getting around US $25 right now. Back in the commodity boom days it too traded over giving Russia not that long ago an extra US $100 per barrel in the boom times.

The cost of the oil price fall to Russia

Back on the 23rd of November last year I looked at oil production.

Output from January to October averaged about 10.7 million barrels a day, a 1.3 percent increase over the same period in 2014, the data show. That’s in line with the Russian Energy Ministry’s full-year forecast for production of 533 million tons, or 10.7 million barrels a day.

Back then we thought that Russia had trouble with an oil price of US $44 per barrel,little did we know what would happen next! Back then I calculated that Russia was around US $680 million per day worse off compared to the past “tractor beam” price of US $108 well now it is more like US $890 million per day. A back of the envelope style calculation but you get the idea.

The Bank of Russia did its own calculation in its December Monetary Report.

In January-September 2015, the decline in prices for oil, oil products, gas, coal, iron ore and nickel led to a reduction in export earnings in these categories of commodities compared with the same period of the previous year by more than 110 billion US dollars,

The plunging Ruble

The currency markets responded to this change in Russian fortunes by marking the Russian Ruble sharply lower and this has carried on. Back on November 23rd I pointed out that the low 30s had been replaced by 66 which was quite a drop. Well the drumbeat has continued since as a lower oil price as Russia Today informs us.

The euro rose more than one ruble on the Moscow exchange, exceeding 85 rubles for first time since December 2014. The dollar reached nearly 79 rubles.

Thus we see that Russians will find everything from abroad to be more expensive and in fact much more expensive. This will impact on matters such as the Central London housing market and the concept of Chelski as I note that it takes 112 Rubles to buy a single UK Pound £.

Imported Inflation

A currency fall on this scale means that there will be imported inflation and this of course differentiates Russia from a world of zero or even negative inflation. From the Bank of Russia.

At the end of 2015, inflation will be roughly 13%. In 2016 Q1, inflation is estimated to be at 7.5–8.0%.

Since last summer 2014 when most of the rest of the world was seeing falling and then zeroish inflation prices in Russia have risen by 20 % or so. This is what has hit the ordinary Russian if we look at purely domestic terms and them going to the shops. The amount shoots higher whenever we look at foreign purchases or anything which is imported.

Economic growth

The falls in real wages of the order of 9 to 10% have had a clear impact on domestic consumption.

The annual rate of decline in household spending on final consumption was 8.7– 8.9% in Q3, according to estimates. In October, the contraction in consumer demand continued, as shown by the decline in retail trade turnover (to 11.7%).

These are Greece like numbers and we see something else familiar from that situation if we look at trade.

The weak ruble and low income of all economic agents meant that the high rate of decline in import quantities of goods and services persisted (roughly 30%).

This means that in a surprise to those who have not observed such a situation before we see this impact on economic growth and GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

As a result, the positive contribution of net exports to GDP growth increased. According to estimates, this trend in net export dynamics will remain in 2015 Q4.

This impact will be temporary and flatters the current situation as it will fade away over time as some import demand will remain and be inelastic. However in spite of this positive influence it was a grim 2015 and 2016 whilst better is none too bright either.

the estimated overall GDP growth for 2015 was revised upwards to the upper bound of the range defined by the Bank of Russia in the previous Monetary Policy Report, i.e. to -(3.7–3.9%). In 2016 Q1, the annual rate of GDP decline will continue to slow to -(1–2%).

Some care is needed with reporting these numbers as they are of course in Russian Rubles as we note the impact of this. What I mean is that these are bad enough but of course if we were to price things in US Dollars the situation is much worse. This is how people tweet and write about Russian GDP looking so bad in US Dollar terms as a falling GDP is combined with a plunging Ruble. Of course it is also true that Russian GDP will have taken a dive in most currencies but it is particularly bad against the US Dollar as we wonder if this is another front in the currency wars.

Asset prices

If we look at the central bankers favourite part of the economy we see trouble too. If we start with the stock market we see that it had a surprisingly stable 2015 but has fallen 9% in 2016 so far. As to house prices the Bank of Russia tells us this.

However, with subdued economic activity and, in particular, shrinking real disposable household income and falling investment demand, it is highly likely that monthly growth in housing prices will remain negative up to the end of 2015, and a decrease in prices will be recorded at the end of the year.

Comment

We do not know what will happen next to the oil price and care should be taken in using a marginal daily price to cover a country’s economic prospects. But there clearly has been a major shift lower in oil and commodity prices and that shift has hit the Russian economy very hard. From our point of view it is hard to imagine a place where imported good and services have doubled in price and some have done more than that. The economy itself will have the problems of money illusion too – as Ruble prices will adjust over time rather than immediately – which UK economic history shows does not help.

The forecasts stated above are based on a higher oil price than now so Russia faces the prospect of 2016 being another year of economic contraction. Also there are two other things which stand out in its economic situation. One is the problem of repaying debt in US Dollars with a depreciating Ruble. The other is having an interest-rate of 11% as much of the world has near zero and some of Russia’s neighbours have negative interest-rates. If we combine the two it must be awfully tempting to borrow in US Dollars, Euros and Yen mustn’t it?

 

 

 

 

The economy of South Africa must be in turmoil

This week has seen South Africa reach the headlines but it has not been about cricket or rugby. Instead the removal of its finance minister has led to a currency crisis being reported. However as we look deeper we see that the South Africa Rand has been “fallin”  in Alicia Keys terms for quite some time and is in fact a serial offender on this front. If we look back we see that five years ago just under 7 Rand purchased one US Dollar and this morning it takes some 15.5 of them. Over the past year the move has been accelerating as back then it took 11.6 Rand to buy a buck. In essence it has been singing along to Paul Simon for quite a while.

Slip slidin’ away
Slip slidin’ away
You know the nearer your destination
The more you’re slip slidin’ away

This sort of situation is self-fulfilling as if you have funds available the sensible course is to park it abroad which only makes the currency fall further and encourages others to do the same in a repeating loop.

How well do financial markets work?

This is another view of the equilibriums of economic theory which invariably turn out to be something between a mirage and a chimera. Let us look at this from the point of view of an average house buyer in the UK who has according to official data some £286,000 to spend. Each of those UK Pounds will buy around 23 Rand at these levels. According to Knight Frank (h/t James Mackintosh) you could buy this in Cape Town.

This beautifully appointed well-loved family home offers great open plan living. With 3 reception areas consisting of formal lounge; open plan dining room leading to gourmet kitchen and family room; separate scullery;4 bedrooms (2 en-suite bathrooms);family bathroom; guest toilet and covered outside patio for easy entertaining, this house ticks all the boxes. – See more at: http://search.knightfrank.co.za/za5986#sthash.6W60O6JK.dpuf

That description misses out the swimming pool! For half the price you could pay this.

Valley View Lodge is a 120 Ha lifestyle lodge situated in the Swartberg Private Wildlife Estate, at the foot of the Swartberg Mountains in the Klein Karoo. The main house is a comfortable 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom family home with open plan living areas and beautiful views over the surrounding Swartberg Mountains. Two of the bedrooms lead to a patio with views over the terraced garden with pool. There is a separate one-bedroom cottage with a full en-suite bathroom and a fireplace in the lounge. – See more at: http://search.knightfrank.co.za/za5698#sthash.Q5yNf3bI.dpuf

The catch in Cape Town is the mention of a local security lodge as in the serious problem with crime there, but if we just stick to a bit of number crunching well it is hard to not mull this from Henry Pryor earlier.

Buying an average home in Victoria Road after next April as a 2nd home will cost £1,113,750 in Stamp Duty.

So one street in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea – admittedly the most expensive one – would give you enough money to buy both properties and maybe fill the swimming pool with notes with just the Stamp Duty. Even Einstein would have struggled with such a version of relativity as we consider the phrase, Go Figure!

The Reserve Bank of South Africa

It has applied conventional central banking methodology and done this in response to the currency decline. From its December Quarterly Bulletin.

Having raised the repurchase (repo) rate by 25 basis points to 6,0 per cent in July 2015, the Monetary Policy Committee  (MPC)  agreed on an unchanged rate in September, but at its meeting in November 2015 decided to raise the repo rate further to 6,25 per cent per annum.

Sobering in what we call a zero interest-rate world with negative tinges. Plainly a brake is being applied to the South African economy at what I will explain below is a bad time for it. But if we stick with interest-rates there are other problems as the ten-year bond yield has pushed above 10% meaning that any longer term borrowing is very expensive right now. In terms of its target this is what the Reserve Bank is aiming at.

the inflation target range of 3 to 6 per cent

Commodity Wars

The fall in commodity prices which is so welcome in many places is not welcome everywhere and South Africa is one of the latter.

In addition, mining production shrank for the second consecutive quarter, affected primarily by lower production of platinum and iron ore in the third quarter. Platinum production declined due to scheduled maintenance work at certain platinum furnaces as well as safety stoppages, while iron ore production was reduced in reaction to a global oversupply.

Something of a double whammy is at play here.

In general, mining production continued to be affected by declining international commodity prices and rising production costs.

Also we get a reminder of which commodities are in play.

the mining sector declined at an annualised rate of 9,8 per cent in the third quarter, largely brought about by decreases in the production of platinum, diamonds, iron ore and manganese ore. Production volumes of coal and gold mines, however, remained broadly unchanged over the period.

Precious metal prices have been in a bear market too and if Jon Stewart was right it is not a good time to be a musician right now.

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

Also agricultural output has been hit by a drought in an example of Shakespeares woes come in battalions and not single spies.

Inflation?

Yes but not as much as you might think.

Annual consumer price inflation was 4,8% in November 2015, up from 4,7% in October 2015

However there is goods price inflation of 3.8% which is quite an anti-achievement if you note all the commodity price falls leading to goods disinflation in so many other countries. Also the currency decline will mean that the heat is on in this area as we look into early 2016.

If we look for some perspective then the underlying index is at 116.5 where 2012=100.

Economic Growth

Actually a rebound in manufacturing means that South Africa has just had some.

. Following a contraction of 1,3 per cent in the second quarter of 2015, growth in real gross domestic product accelerated to an annualised rate of 0,7 per cent in the third quarter……. the level of real gross domestic production in the first three quarters of 2015 was still 1,0 per cent higher than in the corresponding period in 2014.

Apparently if you exclude the sectors which are shrinking then the outlook is brighter.

Excluding the contribution of the usually more volatile primary sector, growth in GDP would have bounced back from negative growth of 0,4 per cent in the second quarter of 2015 to positive growth of 2,2 per cent in the third quarter.

Comment

There is much to consider here as we see how a crisis in the financial sector impacts on the real one. Economic growth has slowed and remember this is the Africa which was supposed to be “boom,boom,boom” according to the mainstream media. If we look at this in terms of what you can buy from abroad then (h/t Renaissance Capital) GDP per capita has dropped from over US $8000 in 2011 to more like US $5700 now or back to 2009 levels.

There are of course other issues such as the endemic corruption and the presumably related energy crisis which is so bad there are regular black-outs. It even makes UK energy policy look a little better that is how bad it is! The political crisis and further falls in commodity prices have seen the Rand fall further whilst I have been typing this article and it has reached 16 to the US Dollar. Peak currency crisis? Maybe, but I am reminded of the relative house prices displayed today compared to my home country of the UK.

There should be a flow of money in to buy such things waiting and hoping for better days. In an individual sense this is good as it will support the Rand and maybe reestablish some sort of equilibrium. But also it comes with dangers as the fastest movers are likely to be vulture style hedge funds as we fear an outbreak of asset stripping. Time perhaps for some Freddie Mercury.

Are you ready, hey, are you ready for this?
Are you hanging on the edge of your seat?
Out of the doorway the bullets rip
To the sound of the beat

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

But let us end on a more hopeful note with Florence and the Machine.

It’s always darkest before the dawn