UK manufacturing surges as we see some Mervyn King style “rebalancing”

Today brings a torrent of UK economic data bringing us up to the end of the first quarter of this year. Actually this particular “theme day” provides too many numbers and data points to be analysed in one go and is another in a sadly long list of examples of our national statisticians barking up the wrong tree. Moving to the numbers themselves this morning’s news has already unwittingly provided its own critique. From the BBC.

A replacement for how Britain’s emergency services communicate is set to go over budget by at least £3.1bn, a spending watchdog has warned.

The Home Office has already delayed switching off the existing system by three years to 2022.

But the National Audit Office (NAO) has raised doubts about whether the project will be ready by then

We observe another in a growing list of IT infrastructure projects for the NHS which are both late and way over budget. The track record is so poor that we may end up being grateful it works at all, assuming it does. But here is the GDP link because that extra £3.1 billion is likely to go straight to the future UK GDP bottom line in an example of us being worse off but it being recorded as a gain. That is the problem with using a measure which counts spending as an automatic gain rather than a type of inflation.

On a more technical level I looked at the area of the public-sector and GDP a few years back when I provided some technical advice to Pete Comley for his book on inflation. He had investigated the deflator ( inflation measure) used for GDP in the public-sector and found it to have more holes than a Swiss cheese.

Football

This week has seen some extraordinary progress into the Champions League and Europa League finals but what is it worth in economic terms? @SwissRamble has produced some estimates.

Due to the significant increase (around 50%) in Champions League revenue in 2018/19, all English clubs will earn much more than prior season (2017/18 comparatives in brackets). As it stands:

€107m (€81m)

€102m (€61m)

€93m (€64m)

€93m (€40m)

As you can see it was a good year to do well as there is much more money in it and for those of you wondering why Liverpool and Spurs have not done much better than the two Manchester clubs it is because Manchester City got more out of the TV pool and because of  a coefficient based on the last 10 years.

On this basis, English clubs received following payments: €31m, €24m, €23m and €16m.

Mind you with the inflation in the price of players that total represents what you might pay for a world-class one. As a Chelsea fan I await the Europa League update with particular enthusiasm.

Today’s Data

Former Bank of England Governor Baron King of Lothbury must be very disappointed that he missed an opportunity to shout “rebalancing” from the rooftops as we were told this in the GDP report.

driven by growth of 2.2% in manufacturing output.

If we look for some detail we see this.

The quarterly increase of 2.2% in manufacturing is due mainly to rises of 9.4% from pharmaceuticals, 2.7% from food products, beverages and tobacco, and 3.2% from metals and metal products.

The first sector is hard to read because we know form past research that the UK pharmaceutical sector has erratic output levels that do not conform to monthly and sometimes quarterly timetables. As to the others I guess maybe nicotine addicts were stockpiling against the horrible fear of going cold-turkey!

Returning to the GDP numbers we see that production gave it a tug upwards.

Production output rose by 1.4% in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2019, compared with Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2018, due to rises from manufacturing, and mining and quarrying.

There was a minor curiosity in this as we wonder who was getting ready for war?

basic metals and metal products (3.2%), driven by monthly strength during January 2019 from the weapons and ammunition subindustry, which increased by 25.5%.

Continuing our rebalancing journey the usual suspect for UK economic growth was taking something of a breather.

Growth in the services sector slowed to 0.3% in the latest quarter,

The slow down was particularly marked in these areas.

Professional, scientific and technical activities fell by 0.6% in Quarter 1 2019. However, this decrease broadly reflects a fallback following particularly strong growth throughout the second half of 2018. In addition, financial and insurance services output continued to fall in Quarter 1 2019, decreasing by 0.4%. The quarterly fall predominantly reflected a fall in financial service activities, which has not contributed positively to growth since Quarter 1 2017.

Moving to the headline number there was some good news.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) in volume terms was estimated to have increased by 0.5% in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2019 having slowed to 0.2% growth in the previous quarter.

If we take this in round numbers terms we see that a combination of production and construction which rose by 1% pulled us up from 0.3% growth to 0.5%. Just addressing the construction numbers they do seem to coincide with my Battersea Dogs Home to Vauxhall crane count of 49 but the official series remains troubled.

The annual picture improved too.

In comparison with the same quarter a year ago UK GDP increased by 1.8% to Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2019; up from 1.4% in the previous period.

This all happened in spite of this.

Monthly GDP growth was negative 0.1% in March 2019, as the services and construction sectors contracted.

Stockpiling?

This is a more complex issue than some would like to think and indeed have already claimed. Let me illustrate by opening with this.

Breakdown of Q1 suggests stockbuilding added 0.7 percentage points (pp) to quarterly growth, but note that net trade – including the imports being stockpiled -subtracted 0.6pp (excl. volatile components). ( @JulianHJessop)

As you can see the lazy response is to look at the stockbuilding adding to GDP forgetting that a lot of it was probably imported.

Trade

Our usual problem was added to by the increase in imports and thus turned into quite a subtraction from the numbers.

The total trade deficit (goods and services) widened £8.9 billion to £18.3 billion in the three months to March 2019, as the trade in goods deficit widened £6.4 billion to £43.3 billion and the trade in services surplus narrowed £2.5 billion to £25.0 billion.

There are several issues with this. As I regularly point out we have very little idea of our services trade data which tends to be fleshed out a year or two after the event. Also the fact we are large custodians of and traders in gold makes discerning the true trade position even more complex.

Excluding erratic commodities, such as non-monetary gold, the total trade deficit increased £3.1 billion to £14.5 billion in the three months to March 2019.

Comment

These numbers especially the pick-up in the annual rate of GDP growth are good news for the UK. There are of course issues looking ahead and one of them seems set to be in the headlines today as the Chinese arrive to meet President Trump. The news looks bad but was there a reason why the Chinese stock market rose by more than 3% today?

Moving back to GDP then a couple of media establishment themes took a knock from the GDP breakdown. Let me start with business investment.

Following four consecutive quarters of decline throughout 2018, business investment grew by 0.5% in the first quarter of 2019, driven by higher investment in IT equipment and other machinery and equipment.

The wider concept of investment provided more food for thought.

Gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) increased by 2.1% in the first three months of 2019

And as for austerity?

Government consumption increased by 1.4% in Quarter 1 2019, following growth of 1.3% in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2018.

Pump-priming? Well they were at play in the investment ( GFCF) numbers too.

mainly reflecting the 8.1% increase in general government investment.

So perhaps the Rolling Stones summed it all up some years ago.

You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need

 

 

 

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The UK labour market is booming Goldilocks style

Let me open by bringing you up to date with the latest attempt at monetary easing from the Bank of England. Yesterday it purchased some more UK Gilts as part of its ongoing Operation Twist effort.

As set out in the Minutes of the MPC’s meeting ending on 6 February 2019, the MPC has agreed to make £20.6 billion of gilt purchases, financed by central bank reserves, to reinvest the cash flows associated with the maturity on 7 March 2019 of a gilt owned by the Asset Purchase Facility (APF)……….The Bank intends to purchase evenly across the three gilt maturity sectors. The size of auctions will initially be £1,146mn for each maturity sector.

Yesterday was for short-dated Gilts ( 3 to 7 year maturity) and today will be for long-dated Gilts ( 15 years plus). Why is this extra QE? This is because you are exchanging a maturing Git for one with a longer maturity and thus means QE will be with us for even longer. Odd for an emergency response don’t you think?

Regular readers will be aware that I wrote a piece in City-AM in September 2013 suggesting the Bank of England should let maturing Gilts do just that. So by now we would have trimmed the total down a fair bit which would be logical over a period where we have seen economic growth which back then was solid, hence my suggestion. Whereas we face not only a situation where nothing has been done in the meantime but today’s purchase of long and perhaps ultra long Gilts ( last week some of the 2037 Gilt was purchased) returns us to the QE to Infinity theme.

This area has been profitable for the Bank of England via the structure of UK QE as it charges the asset protection fund Bank Rate. So mostly 0.5% but for a while 0.25% and presumably now 0.75%. In the end the money goes to HM Treasury but if you get yourself close the the flow of money as Goldman Sachs have proven you benefit and in the Bank of England’s case you can see this by counting the number of Deputy-Governors. Also its plan to reverse QE at some point continues in my opinion to be ill thought out but for now that is not fully pertinent as it has no intention of actually doing it!

UK Labour Market

In ordinary times the UK government would be putting on a party hat after seeing this.

The level of employment in the UK increased by 222,000 to a record high of 32.71 million in the three months to January 2019……..The employment rate of 76.1% was the highest since comparable records began in 1971.

As you can see a trend which began in 2012 still seems to be pushing forwards and poses a question as to what “full employment” actually means? Also let me use the construction series as an example of maybe the output data has been too low. From @NobleFrancis.

ONS Employment in UK construction in 2018 Q4 was 2.41 million, 2.8% higher than in 2018 Q3 & 3.2% higher than one year earlier.

To my question about the output data he replied.

Given the strength of the construction employment data, potentially we may see an upward revision to ONS construction output in Q4 although there can be odd quarters where the construction employment & output data go in different directions.

To give you the full picture @brickonomics points out that different areas of construction have very different labour utilisation so we go to a definitely maybe although that gets a further nudge from the wages data as you see the annual rate of growth went from 3.2% in October to 5.5% in December. So whilst this is not proof it is a strong suggestion of better output news to come.

Let us complete this section with the welcome news that unlike earlier stages of the recovery we are now creating mostly full-time work.

 This estimated annual increase of 473,000 was due mainly to more people working full-time (up 424,000 on the year to reach 24.12 million). Part-time working also contributed, with an increase of 49,000 on the year to reach 8.60 million.

Unemployment

Again the news was good.

The UK unemployment rate was estimated at 3.9%; it has not been lower since November 1974 to January 1975…..For November 2018 to January 2019, an estimated 1.34 million people were unemployed, 112,000 fewer than for a year earlier. There have not been fewer unemployed people in the UK since October to December 1975.

There have been periods recently where we have feared a rise in unemployment whereas in fact the situation has continued to get better. We again find the numbers at odds with the output data we have for the economy. But let us welcome good news that has persisted.

Wage Growth

This was a case of and then there were three today.

Excluding bonuses, average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain were estimated to have increased by 3.4%, before adjusting for inflation, and by 1.4%, after adjusting for inflation, compared with a year earlier. Including bonuses, average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain were estimated to have increased by 3.4%, before adjusting for inflation, and by 1.5%, after adjusting for inflation, compared with a year earlier.

The total wages number which they now call including bonuses had a good January when they rose by 3.7% which means we have gone 4%,3.4%,3.3% and now 3.7% on a monthly basis. For numbers which are erratic this does by its standards suggest a new higher trend. This is good news for the economy and also for the Bank of England which after seven years of trying has finally got a winning lottery ticket. I will let readers decide whether to award it another go or a tenner ( £10) .

As to real wage growth we now have some but sadly not as much as the official figures claim. This is because the inflation measure used called CPIH has some fantasy numbers based on Imputed Rents which are never paid which lower it and thereby raise official real wage growth. Thus if we use the January data it has real wage growth at 1.9% but using the RPI gives us a still good but lower 1.2%

Putting that another way you can see why there has been so much establishment effort led by Chris Giles of the Financial Times to scrap the RPI.

Comment

The UK labour market seems to have entered something of a Goldilocks phase where employment rises, unemployment falls and added to that familiar cocktail we have real wage growth. So we should enjoy it as economics nirvana’s are usually followed by a trip or a fall. As to the detail there remain issues about the numbers like the way that the self-employed are not included in the wages numbers. Also whilst I welcome the rise in full-time work the definition is weak as the respondent to the survey chooses.

Next let me just raise two issues for the Bank of England as it finally clutches a winning wages lottery ticket. It is expanding monetary policy into a labour market boom with its only defence the recent rise in the UK Pound £. Next its natural or as some would put it full (un)employment rate of 4.5% needs to be modified again as we recall when it was 7%.

Those of you who follow me on social media will know I do an occasional series on how the BBC economics correspondent only seems to cover bad news. Sometimes Dharshini David does it by reporting the good as bad.

eyebrows raised as jobs market figs “defy” Brexit Uncertainty BUT 1) hiring/firing tends to lag couple quarters behind activity 2)as per financial crisis, workers relatively cheap so firms may be “hoarding” workers 3)some jobs will have been created to aid with Brexit prep

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UK GDP growth was strong in January meaning we continue to rebalance towards services

This will be an interesting day on the political front but there is also much to consider on the economic one. We have a stronger UK Pound £ this morning with it above US $1.32 and 1.17 versus the Euro which as usual on such days has been accompanied by the currency ticker on Sky News disappearing. We also heard yesterday from the newest member of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee Jonathan Haskel. As it has taken him six months to give one public speech I was hoping for a good one as well as wondering if he might have the cheek to lecture the rest of us on productivity?! So what did we get.

Very early there was an “I agree with Mark (Carney)” as I note this.

see for example speeches by (Carney, 2019) and (Vlieghe, 2019)

The subject was business investment which in the circumstances also had Jonathan tiptoeing around the political world but let us avoid that as much as we can and stick to the economics.

First, as has been widely noted, UK investment has been very weak in the last couple of years, especially
during the last year, see for example speeches by (Carney, 2019) and (Vlieghe, 2019) suggesting that Brexit
uncertainty is weighing on business investment. Second, looking at the assets that make up investment
reveals some interesting patterns: transport equipment has been particularly weak, but intellectual property
products (R&D, software, artistic originals) were somewhat stronger. Third, regarding Brexit, as Sir Ivan
Rogers, the UK’s former representative to the EU, has said (Rogers, 2018), “Brexit is a process not an
event”. That process has the possibility of creating more cliff-edges; the length of the
transitional/implementation period, for example. Since the nature of investment is that it needs payback
over a period of time there is a risk that prolonged uncertainty around the Brexit process might continue to
weigh down on investment.

The issue of business investment is that it has been the one area which has been consistently weak since the EU Leave vote. How big a deal is it?

To fix ideas, Table 1 contains nominal investment
in the UK for 2018. As the top line sets out, it was close
to £360bn. Remembering that nominal GDP is £2.1 trillion, this is around 17% of GDP.

Regular readers will know I am troubled as to how investment is defined and to be fair to Jonathan he does point that out. However this is also classic Ivory Tower thinking which imposes an economic model on a reality which is unknown. Have we see a high degree of uncertainty? Yes and that has clearly impacted on investment but what we do not know is how much will return under the various alternatives ahead. Though from the implications of Jonathan’s thoughts the Forward Guidance of interest-rate increases seems rather inappropriate to say the least.

Raghuram Rajan

There has been a curious intervention today by the former head of the Reserve Bank of India. He has told the BBC this.

“I think capitalism is under serious threat because it’s stopped providing for the many, and when that happens, the many revolt against capitalism,” he told the BBC.

The problem is that a fair bit of that has been driven by central bankers with policies which boost asset prices and hence the already wealthy especially the 0.01%.

The UK economy

The opening piece of official data today was very strong.

Monthly gross domestic product (GDP) growth was 0.5% in January 2019, as the economy rebounded from the negative growth seen in December 2018. Services, production, manufacturing and construction all experienced positive month-on-month growth in January 2019 after contracting in December 2018.

Production data has been in the news as it has internationally slowed so let us dip into that report as well.

Production output rose by 0.6% between December 2018 and January 2019; the manufacturing sector provided the largest upward contribution, rising by 0.8%, its first monthly rise since June 2018……In January 2019, the monthly increase in manufacturing output was due to rises in 8 of the 13 subsectors and follows a 0.7% fall in December 2018; the largest upward contribution came from pharmaceuticals, which rose by 5.7%.

We had been wondering when the erratic pharmaceutical sector would give us another boost and it looks like that was in play during January. For newer readers its cycle is clearly not monthly and whilst it has grown and been a strength of the UK economy it is sensible to even out the peaks and troughs. But in the circumstances the overall figure for January was good.

Some Perspective

This is provided by the quarterly data as whilst the January data was nice we need to recall that December was -0.4% in GDP terms. The -0.4% followed by a 0.5% rise is rather eloquent about the issues around monthly GDP so I will leave that there and look at the quarterly data.

Rolling three-month growth was 0.2% in January 2019, the same growth rate as in December 2018.

This seems to be working better and is at least more consistent not only with its own pattern but with evidence we have from elsewhere.Also there is a familiar bass line to it.

Rolling three-month growth in the services sector was 0.5% in January 2019. The main contributor to this was wholesale and retail trade, with growth of 1.1%. This was driven mostly by wholesale trade.

This shows that we continue to pivot towards the services sector as it grows faster than the overall economy and in this instance it grew whilst other parts shrank exacerbating the rebalancing.

Production output fell by 0.8% in the three months to January 2019, compared with the three months to October 2018, due to falls in three main sectors……The three-monthly decrease of 0.7% in manufacturing is due mainly to large falls of 4.0% from basic metals and metal products and 2.0% from transport equipment.

Continuing the rebalancing theme we have seen this throughout the credit crunch era as essentially the growth we have seen has come from the services sector.

Production and manufacturing output have risen since then but remain 6.8% and 2.7% lower respectively for the three months to January 2019 than the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008.

Overall construction has helped also I think but the redesignation of the official construction data as a National Statistic  after over 4 years is an indication of the problems we have seen here. Accordingly our knowledge is incomplete to say the least.

Returning to the production data this was sadly no surprise.

Within transport equipment, weakness is driven by a 4.0% fall in the motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers sub-industry.

Also I will let you decide for yourselves whether this monthly change is good or bad as it has features of both.

 was a 17.4% rise for weapons and ammunition, the strongest rise since March 2017, when it rose by 25.7%.

Comment

We arrive at what may be a political crossroads with the UK economy having slowed but still growing albeit at a slow rate. There is something of an irony in us now growing at a similar rate to the Euro area although if we look back we see that over the past half-year or so we have done better. That was essentially the third quarter of last year when Euro area GDP growth fell to 0.1% whereas the UK saw 0.6%.

If we look back over the last decade or so it is hard not to have a wry smile at the “rebalancing” rhetoric of former Bank of England Governor Baron King of Lothbury who if we look at it through the lens of the film Ghostbusters seems to have crossed the streams. Speaking of such concepts there was a familiar issue today.

The total trade deficit (goods and services) widened £1.3 billion in the three months to January 2019, as the trade in goods deficit widened £2.4 billion, partially offset by a £1.1 billion widening of the trade in services surplus.

Although we got a clue to a major issue here as we note this too.

Revisions resulted in a £0.8 billion narrowing of the total trade deficit in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2018, due largely to upward revisions to the trade in services surplus.

So in fact we only did a little worse than what we thought we had done at the end of last year. Also one of my main themes about us measuring services trade in a shabby fashion is highlighted yet again as the numbers were revised down and now back up a bit.

In Quarter 4 2018 the trade in services balance contributed £1.1 billion to the upward revision of £0.8 billion in the total trade balance as exports and imports were revised up by £3.3 billion and £2.3 billion respectively.

Pretty much the same ( larger though) happened to the third quarter as regular readers mull something I raised at the (Sir Charlie) Bean Review. This was the lack of detail about services trade. I got some fine words back but note today’s report has a lot of detail about goods trade in 2018 but absolutely none on services.

 

 

UK GDP had a relatively good second half of 2018 but a weak December

Today brings a raft of UK economic data as we look at economic growth ( GDP), trade, production (including manufacturing) and construction data. The good news is that we now take an extra fortnight or so to produce the numbers which are therefore more soundly based on actual rather than estimated numbers especially for the last month in the quarter. The not so good news is that I think that adding monthly GDP numbers adds as much confusion as it helps. Also we get too much on this day meaning that important points can be missed, which of course may be the point Yes Prime Minister style.

The scene has been set to some extent this morning by a speech from Luis de Guindos of the ECB.

Euro area data have been weaker than expected in recent months. In fact, industrial production growth fell in the second half of 2018 and the decline was widespread across sectors and most major economies. Business investment weakened. On the external side, euro area trade disappointed, with noticeable declines in net exports.

Whilst that is of course for the Euro area the UK has been affected as well by a change in direction for production. This is especially troubling as in January we were told this.

Production and manufacturing output have risen since then but remain 6.5% and 2.0% lower, respectively, in the three months to November 2018 than the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008.

It had looked like we might get back to the previous peak for manufacturing but like a Northern rail train things at best are delayed. Production has got nowhere near. There have been positive shifts in it as efficiencies mean we need less electricity production but even so it is not a happy picture.

Gilt Yields

Readers will be aware that I have been pointing out for a while how cheap it is for the UK government and taxpayers to borrow and a ten-year Gilt yield of 1.17% backs that up. A factor in this is the weak economic outlook and another is expectations of more bond buying from the Bank of England. The possibility of the later got more likely at the end of last week as rumours began to circulate of a U-Turn from the US Federal Reserve in this area. Or a possible firing up of what would be called QE4 and perhaps QE to infinity.

The Financial Times has caught up with this to some extent.

Investors’ waning expectations of future rises in interest rates are giving a lift to the UK government bond market.

They note that foreign buyers seem to have returned which is awkward for the FT’s cote view to say the least. Also as we look back to the retirement of Bill Gross his idea that UK Gilts were on a “bed of nitroglycerine” was about as successful as Chelsea’s defence yesterday.Anyway I think it steals the thunder from today’s Institute of Fiscal Studies report.

If the coming spending review is to end austerity Chancellor will need to find extra billions.

I am not saying we should borrow more simply that we could and that we seem keener on borrowing when it is more expensive. The IFS do refer to borrowing costs half way through their report but that relies on people reading that far. They also offered a little insight between economic growth and borrowing.

A downgrade of GDP of 0.5% would reduce annual GDP by around £10 billion and a rule-of-thumb suggests it would add between around £5 billion and £7 billion to the deficit.

Economic growth

The headline was not too bad but it did come with a worrying kicker.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) in volume terms was estimated to have increased by 0.2% between Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2018 and Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2018; the quarterly path of GDP through 2018 remains unrevised.

There were concerns about the third quarter being affected by a downwards revision to trade data but apparently not via the magic of the annual accounts. Bur even so it was far from a stellar year.

GDP growth was estimated to have slowed to 1.4% between 2017 and 2018, the weakest it has been since 2009…….Compared with the same quarter in the previous year, the UK economy is estimated to have grown by 1.3%.

We shifted even more to being a services economy as it on its own provided some 0.35% of GDP growth meaning that production and construction declined bring us back to 0.2%.

The worrying kicker was this.

Month-on-month gross domestic product (GDP) growth was 0.2% in October and November 2018. However, monthly growth contracted by 0.4% in December 2018 . The last time that services, production and construction all fell on the month was September 2012.

I have little faith in the specific accuracy of the monthly data but it does seem clear that there was a weakening in December and it was widespread. Even the services sector saw a decline ( -0.2%) and the production decline accelerated to -0.5%. Construction fell by 2.8% but that has been a series in which we have least faith of all.

Production

We learn from the monthly GDP data that steel and car production had weak December’s which helped lead to this.

Production output fell by 0.5% between November 2018 and December 2018; the manufacturing sector provided the largest downward contribution with a fall of 0.7%.

Although the detail in this section gives a different emphasis.

There is widespread weakness this month, with 9 of the 13 sub-sectors falling. Of these, pharmaceuticals, which can be highly volatile, provided the largest negative contribution, with a decrease of 4.2%. There was also a notable fall of 2.8% from the other manufacturing and repair sub-sector, where four of the five sub-industries fell due to the impact of weakness from large businesses (with employment greater than 150 persons on average).

We have learnt over time that the pharmaceutical sector swings around quite wildly ( although not as much as seemingly in Ireland last month) so that may swing back. Also production was pulled lower by the warmer weather but continuing that theme there is a chill wind blowing for this sector none the less.

If we switch to a wider perspective it seems that the worldwide economic slowing is leading to a few crutches being used.

 underpinned by strong nominal export growth of 18.9% within alcoholic beverages and tobacco products.

Comment

The theme here is of the good, the bad and the ugly. Where the good is the way that the UK outperformed its European peers in the second half of 2018 after underperforming in the first half. The bad is the decline in the quarterly economic growth rate from 0.6% to 0.2%. Lastly the ugly is the plunge in December assuming that the data is reliable. We were never likely to escape the chill economic winds blowing in the production sector and need to cross our fingers about the impact on services. My theme that we are ever more rebalancing towards services continues in spite of the rhetoric of former Bank of England Governor Baron King of Lothbury.

Meanwhile we continue to have a balance of payment deficit.

The total trade deficit widened £8.4 billion to £32.3 billion between 2017 and 2018, due mainly to a £7.2 billion increase in services imports.

Exactly how much is hard to say as I have little faith in the services estimates. But with economic growth as it is let me leave you with some presumably unintentional humour from the Bank of England.

The Committee judges that, were the economy to develop broadly in line with its Inflation Report projections, an ongoing tightening of monetary policy over the forecast period, at a gradual pace and to a limited extent, would be appropriate to return inflation sustainably to the 2% target at a conventional horizon.

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Trade revisions post a warning for UK GDP

This morning has shown us that the way that the UK government deals with the private-sector has issues. From Reuters.

Interserve Plc’s (L:IRV) shares sank almost 60 percent in value on Monday after the British outsourcing company announced a rescue plan that was likely to see a big part of its debt converted into new equity, potentially handing control of the company to its creditors.

Interserve, which employs 75,000 worldwide and has thousands of UK government contracts to clean hospitals and serve school meals, said on Sunday it would seek to cut its debt to 1.5 times core earnings in a plan it hopes to finalise early next year.

I am not sure that the next bit inspires much confidence either.

Interserve Chief Executive Debbie White reiterated that the company’s fundamentals were strong and that the debt reduction plan, first raised in a refinancing in April, had the support of 10 Downing Street.

This provokes echoes of this from January.

Carillion was liquidated after contract delays and a slump in business left it swamped by debt and pensions liabilities., triggering Britain’s biggest corporate failure in a decade and forced the government to step in to guarantee public services from school meals to road works.

If we switch to the Financial Times what could go wrong with this bit?

 after moving into areas in which it had no expertise, including waste from energy plants and probation services.

It is hard not to feel that this particular company is yet another zombie that will be kept alive as another failure will be too embarrassing for the establishment. The share price is understandably volatile but at the time of typing had halved to a bit over 12 pence. This compares to the around £5 as we moved into 2016.

Also according to the FT there is something of a queue forming behind it.

The crisis at Interserve is the latest to hit Britain’s troubled outsourcing sector, with Kier, Capita and Mitie also seeking to rebuild their balance sheets. Kier, another construction and support services company, launched a £264m emergency rescue rights issue last month as it warned that lenders were seeking to cut their exposure to the sector. Kier, which employs 20,000 in the UK, emphasised that it needed the “proceeds on the group’s balance sheet by December 31 . . . in light of tighter credit markets”. It said its debt had increased from £186m in June to £624m at the end of October.

I do not know about you but debt trebling in a few months is something that is in financial terms terrifying.

Monthly GDP

This morning brought the latest in the UK’s monthly GDP reports and the opening salvo was better than what we have seen recently.

Monthly growth rose to 0.1% in October 2018, following flat growth in August and September 2018.

If we look into the detail we see that yet again this was driven by the service sector which on its own produced 0.2% growth in October. Here is some detail on this.

The professional, scientific and technical activities sector made the largest contribution to the month-on-month growth, contributing 0.11 percentage points.

However as it outperformed total GDP growth there had to be issues elsewhere and we find the main one in the production sector.

In October 2018, total production output fell by 0.6%, compared with September 2018, due to a fall of 0.9% in manufacturing; this was partially offset by a 1.8% increase in mining and quarrying.

Whether that number will prove to be a general standard I do not know but we do know production in Germany fell by 0.5% in October as we looked at that only on Friday. As for more detail there is this.

The monthly decrease in manufacturing output of 0.9% was due mainly to weakness from transport equipment, falling by 3.2% and pharmaceutical products, falling by 5.0%; 5 of the 13 manufacturing subsectors increased.

Anyone who has been following the news will not be surprised to see the transport sector lower as for example there was a move to a 3 day week for at least one of the Jaguar Land Rover factories. Regular readers will be aware that the pharmaceutical sector has regular highs and lows and recently June was a high and October a low as we wait for a more general pattern to emerge.

Maybe there was also some food for thought for Interserve and the like here.

Construction output decreased by 0.2% in October 2018

Quarterly GDP

The performance was more solid than you might have expected from the monthly data.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 0.4% in the three months to October 2018.

In case you were wondering how this happened? Here is the explanation.

While the three most recent monthly growths were broadly flat, the lower level in the base period gives a comparatively strong rolling three-month growth rate.

If we move forwards to the detail we see something that is rather familiar,

Rolling three-month growth in the services sector was 0.3% in October 2018, contributing 0.23 percentage points to GDP growth.

But this time around it was using the words of Andrew Gold much less of a lonely boy.

The production and construction sectors also had positive contributions, with rolling three-month growths of 0.3% and 1.2%, respectively.

If we start with the construction sector then this time around we start to wonder how some of the outsourcing companies we looked at above seemed to have done so badly at a time of apparent boom? Moving on to production.

Rolling three-month growth in the production industries was 0.3%, while in manufacturing industries growth was flat. Production growth was driven by broad-based increases within the sector.

Peering into the transport sector we get a rather chilling reminder of the past.

Three-months on a year ago growth for manufacture of transport equipment was negative 0.9%, the lowest growth rate since November 2009.

Returning to services we get a reminder that the transport sector can pop up here too.

 with a softening in services sector growth mainly due to a fall in car sales.

On the other side of the coin there were these areas.

Accounting contributed 0.08 percentage points to headline GDP growth, while computer programming contributed 0.07 percentage points.

Comment

We see that considering the international outlook the data so far shows the UK to be doing relatively well. An example of a comparison was the Bank of France reducing its estimate for quarterly GDP growth to 0.2% this morning. Sticking with the official mantra we have slowed overall but saw a small rebound in October. So far so good.

Less reassuring is the simply woeful state of the outsourcing sector which looks a shambles. Also there was something troubling in the revisions and updates to the trade figures which included this.

Removing the effect of inflation, the total trade deficit widened £3.0 billion in the three months to October 2018.

So we did well to show any growth at all in October but there was more.

The total trade deficit widened £5.4 billion in the 12 months to October 2018 due mainly to a £5.1 billion narrowing in the trade in services surplus.

It is nice of our official statisticians to confirm my long-running theme that we have at best a patchy knowledge of what is going on in terms of services trade, but not in a good way in terms of direction. This especially impacted in the quarter just gone.

In Quarter 3 2018, the total trade balance was revised downwards by £6.9 billion, due mainly to exports, which were revised down £5.9 billion; imports were revised up by £1.0 billion.

The goods deficit was revised downwards by £3.1 billion in Quarter 3 2018 as exports of goods were revised downwards by £2.0 billion and imports revised upwards by £1.1 billion.

This would be a rather large factor pushing us from growth to contraction but for two factors. One may wash out to some extent in other parts of the national accounts.

A large component of the revision to trade in goods in the most recent quarter was revisions to unspecified goods (including non-monetary gold).

You would think that movements in gold would be easy to account for. Silly me! Also we now get into the geek section which is that trade is in the expenditure version of the national accounts and it is the output version which is officially assumed to be the correct one. So numbers which suggest the UK may have contracted in Q3 are likely to perhaps drag growth slightly lower to 0.5% or 0.4% on the grounds that you cannot ignore them entirely as we sing along to Genesis one more time.

Too many men, there’s too many people
Making too many problems
And not much love to go round
Can’t you see this is a land of confusion ?

The UK economy puts on an economic growth spurt

Today brings us to a pretty full data set on the UK economy with the headline no doubt the monthly GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) number. This week has brought news on a sector which is often quite near to me and has been a strength we have been regularly noting. From the Financial Times.

Tax relief for UK-made movies, television series and video games is fuelling a production boom that has transformed Britain into a global hub of filmed entertainment, according to a report by the creative industries. The tax incentives have sparked a rush of inward investment as Hollywood studios and other international production companies cash in on British talent — the latest Star Wars movie was made in the UK, alongside top television series such as The Crown and Poldark.

So we should try to be nice to any luvvies that we meet as whilst they are prone to ridiculous statements they are providing a much-needed economic boost. Here is some more detail on the numbers.

The new report commissioned by the British Film Institute found that an estimated £632m in UK tax relief for the creative industries in 2016 led to £3.16bn in production spending on films, TV programmes, animation and video games — a 17 per cent increase on 2015. The industries’ “overall economic contribution” to Britain came to £7.9bn in 2016, which included £2bn in tax revenues.

Since 2016 the numbers have boomed further and the local reference is due to the fact that Battersea Park in particular is regularly used by the film industry. Much of this is a gain as I recall one cold Sunday night when the filming must have disturbed very few. However it is not all gravy as there is also a tendency to use it as a lorry and caravan park for work going on elsewhere.

Bank of England and Number Crunching

There was some numerical bingo from the Financial Policy Committee yesterday. The headline was that the UK has some £69 trillion of financial contracts with European Union counterparties which need some sort of deal for next March.Or if you prefer a derivatives book of the size of Deutsche Bank.

Also we for the assertion that debt has fallen since 2008 which looked better on their chart via comparing it ( a stock) with annual GDP (a flow). They seem to have forgotten public debt which has risen and more latterly even their data poses a question.

Borrowing by UK companies from UK banks has also been subdued, rising by just 2.7% in the past year……. household mortgage borrowing increased by only 3.1% in the year to August, broadly in line with household disposable income growth.

Both are growing a fair bit faster than the economy and of course much faster than real wages.Mind you someone has probably got promoted for finding an income number which has grown as fast, or a lifetime free pass to the cake and tea trolley.Would it be rude to point out they seem to have forgotten unsecured credit is rising at an annual rate of 8%+ as they seem to have missed it out?

UK economic growth

The number released today backed up quite a multitude of my themes. There was the evidence of a growth spurt for the UK economy, various examples of monthly GDP data being so unreliable that you have to question its introduction, and finally even evidence that the monetary slow down has hit the economy! Let us open with the latter.

The month-on-month growth rate was flat in August 2018. (UK GDP)

That looked rather grim until it was combined with something that was much better news.

Rolling three-month growth increased by 0.7% in August 2018, the same rate of growth as in July 2018. These were the highest growth rates since February 2017. The growth continued to pick up from the negative growth in April 2018,

Suddenly the picture looked very different as we got confirmation that it was a long hot summer for the UK in economic as well as weather terms. Some of that was literal as the utility industry saw rises in electricity consumption which looks to have been driven by the use of air conditioning in the unusual heat. If we look at the breakdown we see something familiar in that the major part was the services sector (0.42%), we got some production growth (0.1%) and the construction sector was on a bit of a tear (0.18%),

If we return to the travails and troubles of the monthly series we see this.

Growth rates in June and July 2018 were both revised up by 0.1 percentage points to 0.2% and 0.4%, respectively.

That opens a can of worms. Because whilst you can argue compared to the total number for GDP the changes are minor the catch is that these numbers are presented not as totals but first and second derivatives or speed and acceleration. At these levels the situation becomes a mess and let me illustrate by switching to the American style of presentation. UK GDP rose at an annualised rate of 4.8% in July followed by annualised rate of growth of 0% in August, does anybody outside the Office for National Statistics actually believe that?

Putting it another way we can see a clear issue in the main player which is services I think.

The Index of Services was flat between July 2018 and August 2018…………The 0.7% increase in the three months to July 2018 is the strongest services growth since the three months to December 2016.

So it went from full steam ahead to nothing? The recent strength has been driven by computer programming so let us hope that has been at the banks especially TSB.

Production

This had some welcome snippets.

The rise of 0.7% in total production output for the three months to August 2018, compared with the three months to May 2018, is due primarily to a rise of 0.8% in manufacturing, which displays widespread strength throughout the sector with 10 of the 13 sub-sectors increasing.

As so often we find that the ebbs and flows are driven by the chemicals and pharmaceuticals sector which had a good quarter followed by a decline in August.

Construction

The official data seems to have caught up with crane-ometer ( 40 between Battersea Dogs Home and Vauxhall) although it too supposedly hit trouble in August.

Construction output increased by 2.9% in the three months to August 2018, as the industry continues to recover following a weak start to the year………Construction output declined by 0.7% between July and August 2018, driven by falls in both repair and maintenance and all new work which decreased by 0.6% and 0.8% respectively.

Comment

We see that the UK economy had a remarkably good summer. Actually it seems sensible to smooth it out a bit and shift some of it into August but if we were to see quarterly growth of 0.5% or so that is pretty solid in the circumstances. We are managing that in spite of weak monetary data and disappointing growth from some of our neighbours, although if the recent IMF forecasts are any guide France is in a surge.

Speaking of surges Andy Haldane of the Bank of England has given a speech today and yet again pay growth is just around the corner. Pretty much like it has been since he became Bank of England Chief Economist . You might have thought his consistent record of failure would have meant he was a bad choice as the new UK productivity czar but of course in Yes Prime Minister terms he is the perfect choice.

Sir Humphrey Well, what is he interested in? Does he watch television?
Jim Hacker: He hasn’t even got a set.
Sir Humphrey: Fine, make him a Governor of the BBC.

Meanwhile his own words.

That is quite sobering if, like me, you have never moved job

The Bank of England is struggling badly on the subject of the impact of QE

This week has brought us more opinions from the Bank of England.Yesterday saw the man who Time magazine decided was one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2014. Sadly it has been rather a slippery slope since then for the Bank of England’s Chief Economist Andy Haldane who did at least offer some variety on the apochryphal story about the two-handed economist. From Reuters.

Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane said on Thursday that the central bank could decide to raise interest rates or to cut them if there was a disorderly, no-deal Brexit.

Although much more of a clue was given in the follow-up detail.

“on the balance of factors such as a fall in the value of the pound and the reduction in supply………just as it did pre-referendum,”

If we assume he has confused the word pre and post we see he is signalling us towards a fall in the pound £ he ignored and the way he panicked and demanded a cut in interest-rates as well as more QE. Also according to @LiveSquawk he told the audience this.

BoE Haldane: Impact Of Rate Hikes So Far Modest

That might be because in net terns there has only been one as the move in November simply reversed the 2016 mistake.

I note these days that those who tell us how intelligent he is, seem to have disappeared, and even the Reuters piece is accompanied by a picture of him looking a bit wild-eyed. The mainstream view that he is/was a deep thinker has been replaced by the view he is deep in something else. As to his campaign to be the next Governor of the Bank of England? You find out all you need to know by the way he was at Symonds College on Monday. His idea of a Grand Tour around the country to a chorus of acclaim has morphed into giving talks to sixth-form colleges and please do not misunderstand me I mean no offence to the students of Winchester. However I do suggest they ignore the failed output gap theory that he keeps trotting out.

QE

Earlier this week Gertjan Vlieghe was more revealing than I think he intended about QE and its effects. Let me illustrate with his view on how it works.  First he tells us that unwinding QE is no big deal.

This view of how QE works implies that unwinding QE need not have a material impact on the shape of the yield curve, or indeed on the economy, if properly communicated and done gradually.

There is an obvious problem here which is that if taking it away does not have a material effect on the economy then how did applying it have a positive effect? Also if it is so easy to do there is the issue of why the Bank of England has not done any? Let us see how he thinks it works.

I argue against the view that QE works primarily by pushing down long-term interest-rates directly, through compressing the term premium  ( the portfolio balance channel)……..my view that QE works primarily via expectations, with powerful additional liquidity effects which are temporary and mainly relevant during periods of market stress.

We note immediate;y that he downplays the most obvious effect it has had with is the lowering of many bond yields around the world to what have been unprecedented levels. Odd when that was so clearly in play when Gertjan applied QE in August 2016 and the UK ten-year Gilt yield plunged to an extraordinary 0.5% and some yields in the short to medium range went negative for a while. No doubt economic historians will call that “Haldane’s heights” or the “Carney peak” for Gilt prices because unless the Bank of England has another go at impersonating a headless chicken such levels are extremely unlikely to be seen again.

Rather than the route above where bond yields fall and have an impact via lower fixed rate mortgage and company borrowing costs he seems to prefer the expectations fairy. Here individuals and companies are supposed to respond positively to something the vast majority do not understand and more than a few either have not heard of or do not care. This sort of thinking has been notable in the rise of Forward Guidance where central bankers seem to believe or at least be willing to claim and imply that the population hangs on their every word.

The view on liquidity is interesting as it is another clear area where there is an impact as money is indeed created in electronic form and the money supply raised. This particularly affects narrow measures of the money supply as for example in Japan an initial target was to double the amount of base money.  The problem comes when we try to follow the trail of where the liquidity created went? In the early days of Bank of England QE much of it seemed to get deposited straight back to the Bank itself. But over time we can spot clear signs of its impact on the financial system in two ways. The first is the impact on asset prices and especially house prices with London in the van. But even that is complicated as credit easing most recently in the form of the £126 billion or so of the Term Funding Scheme was also required. Next is the way that the Bank of England so often denies any such impact these days which relies on us forgetting the research produced by it around 2012.

Also you note that Gertjan seems to have forgotten the meaning of the word temporary as in “liquidity effects” as not one penny of the £435 billion of Bank of England QE has ever been withdrawn. So on the state of play so far it has been permanent and furthermore there is no apparent plan to change that.

Comment

As we note yet more attempts from the Bank of England to tell us that up is the new down another issue has popped up this morning that they will have hoped we have forgotten. Here is Ben Broadbent on the first quarter of 2018 from the May Inflation Report press conference.

they’re nonetheless consistent with growth much stronger than 0.1%………do not point to anything like as weak as 0.1%

Next here is the announcement this morning from the Office for National Statistics.

This follows a soft patch earlier in the year, where the UK economy grew by a revised 0.1% in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2018.

So we have seen a downwards revision to 0.1% meaning that the antennae of Ben Broadbent now have a 100% failure rate. So it is way past time for him to stop relying on surveys which keep misleading him. Actually if we look at the source of the change we see that the ONS is also finding itself in quicksand.

Construction output fell by a revised 1.6% in Quarter 1 2018, marking its weakest quarterly growth since mid- 2012. It was previously highlighted that the adverse weather conditions earlier in the year had some impact on the construction industry.

I guess they are hoping we have forgotten that they told us the weather was not much of a factor! More serious is the fact that for the past 4/5 years their measurement of construction output has been a complete mess. The have told us it was in recession ( now revised) and then that it was doing much better ( which also seems to have now been revised). Along the way we have had a large company switched from services to construction and modifications to the deflation measure of inflation. I can tell you that my Nine Elms crane index is still at its peak of 40.

So there have been much better days for both the ONS and the Bank of England. Returning to the issue of QE I would like to remind you of Wednesday’s article on the drawbacks from it which look rather more concrete than the claimed gains. As for Governor Carney he has been too busy this week flying to North America and back so he can lecture people on the dangers of climate change.