The good news from lower UK inflation ( think real wages) may not last

Today brings the various UK inflation numbers into focus as we get the updates for consumer, producer and house prices. Already though the Bank of England has given its view on the general outlook.

Second, the most likely outlook is a further period of subdued growth, and hence a disinflationary backdrop
of a persistent – albeit modest – output gap.

That is from Michael Saunders who is giving a speech in Northern Ireland and we see him backing up the previously expressed view of UK inflation falling towards 1.25% in the early part of this year. It is sad though that he still uses the “output gap” that has worked so poorly even some ex-central bankers are being forced to admit it has been a failure. Here is the former Vice-President of the ECB ( European Central Bank) Vitor Constancio.

In “FED listens” events, they found that:..”there is more “slack” than the Fed had thought — more people who could still come into the labour force, particularly in poorer areas”. I am sure the same is true in Europe. Forget output gaps

If only those still in power would see the light and accept reality!

There is an irony in all of this as we note that whilst the Bank of England expects lower inflation it is presently trying to raise it and Micheal Saunders has another go.

Fourth, against this backdrop, it probably will be appropriate to maintain an expansionary monetary policy
stance and possibly to cut rates further, in order to reduce risks of a sustained undershoot of the 2% inflation
target. With limited monetary policy space, risk management considerations favour a relatively prompt and aggressive response to downside risks at present.

This is via the impact of their words on the value of the UK Pound £ and the way a lower value ( mostly via the role of the US Dollar in setting commodity prices) tends to raise subsequent inflation. You may note that the bi-polar view of monetary policy space continues to be in play as he joins Mark Carney’s statement that it is limited from last Wednesday which morphed into the equivalent of a Bank Rate cut of 2.5% as quickly as Thursday. What a difference a day made!

twenty four little hours
Brought the sun and the flowers where there use to be rain ( Dinah Washington )

If we complete the points made by Michael Saunders we see something of an obsession with output gap theory.

First, with softer global growth and high Brexit uncertainty, the UK economy has remained sluggish. The
slowdown has created a modest output gap, and there are signs that the labour market is turning.

Also something perhaps even sillier.

Third, the neutral level of interest rates may have fallen further over the last year or two, both in the UK and
externally.

Or, of course, it may not.

Consumer Inflation

The backdrop was worrying because US consumer inflation had risen yesterday and Euro area inflation had risen last week and that is before we get to this.

Also, Zimbabwe’s annual inflation rate (the one that is officially concealed) rose to 521% in December. ( Joseph Cotterill)

But the numbers were good possibly showing that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 1.3% in December 2019, down from 1.5% in November 2019.

There were two main factors at play and I wonder if any of you spotted this one?

Restaurants and hotels, where prices for overnight hotel accommodation fell by 7.5% between November and December 2019, compared with a rise of 0.9% between November and December 2018;

Also the next one may have affects elsewhere because the last time we saw a burst of this as we saw retail sales rise in response ( thank you ladies) which is against the present consensus.

Clothing and footwear, where the largest individual downward contributions came from women’s casual jackets and cardigans, where prices fell between November and December 2019 but rose between the same two months in 2018. There were also small individual downward contributions from formal trousers and formal skirts

Also if we continue to look wider we see a possible impact from the slow down in car sales.

There was also a smaller downward contribution from the purchase of vehicles where prices overall were little changed in 2019 but increased by 0.7% in 2018.

Let us move on but not without noting that the impact of the UK Pound £ is for once zero compared to the Euro as we have the same inflation rate.

Euro area annual inflation is expected to be 1.3% in December 2019,

What Happens Next?

There is still a slight downwards push but the impetus has gone.

The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process was negative 0.1% on the year to December 2019, up from negative 1.9% in November 2019.

Indeed if we switch to output prices we see that there are ongoing albeit small rises in play.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 0.9% on the year to December 2019, up from 0.5% in November 2019.

If we look to future influences we know that 70% of the input number comes from the £ and the oil price. As we stand at US $64.40 for a barrel of Brent Crude that is where it roughly was in mid-December so maybe not much influence. With the Bank of England engaging in open mouth operations against the £ it may come into play.

House Prices

There was a worrying change here.

UK average house prices increased by 2.2% over the year to November 2019, up from 1.3% in October 2019……Average house prices increased over the year in England to £251,000 (1.7%), Wales to £173,000 (7.8%), Scotland to £155,000 (3.5%) and Northern Ireland to £140,000 (4.0%).

This adds a little credibility to the Halifax 4% reading for December although we await the official December data. As to the breakdown we have observed parts of the Midlands leading the line in recent times.

The annual increase in England was driven by the West Midlands and North West…..The lowest annual growth rate was in the East of England (negative 0.7%) followed by London (positive 0.2%).

Although that is for just England so we should also look wider and whilst it looks an anomaly there was this.

House price growth in Wales increased by 7.8% over the year to November 2019, up from 3.6% in October 2019, with the average house price in Wales at £173,000.

Comment

There is some much needed good news in today’s report for real wage growth as we see inflation dip. However we need context because if we switch to the UK’s longest running measure of inflation there is a different story in play.

The all items RPI annual rate is 2.2%, unchanged from last month.

The difference neatly illustrates my major theme in this area.

Other housing components, which increased the RPI 12-month rate relative to the CPIH 12-month rate by 0.06 percentage points between November and December 2019. The effect came mainly from house depreciation.

As you can see our official statisticians are desperate to make everyone look at their widely ignored favourite measure called CPIH which I will cover in a moment. But for now we see that past house prices via depreciation are exerting an upwards pull on the RPI and November’s number suggests this may continue. Most will understand that for many house prices are a big deal but the fact that they usually pull inflation higher means the establishment has launched an increasingly desperate campaign to ignore them.

If we now cover the official CPIH measure it indulges in a fleet of fantasy by assuming that owners pay themselves rent and then includes this fantasy in its inflation reading. Even worse there have been problems in measuring rents so it may well be a fantasy squared should such a thing exist. Anyway the effort to reduce the inflation reading has backfired this month as CPIH is above CPI due to this.

In December 2019, the largest upward contribution to the CPIH 12-month inflation rate came from housing and household services. The division has provided the largest upward contribution since November 2018.

Oh well…..

Good to see UK wage growth well above house price growth

Today brings the UK inflation picture into focus and for a while now it has been an improved one as the annual rates of consumer, producer and house price inflation have fallen. Some of this has been due to the fact that the UK Pound £ has been rising since early August which means that our consumer inflation reading should head towards that of the Euro area. As ever currency markets can be volatile as yesterdays drop of around 2 cents versus the US Dollar showed but we are around 12 cents higher than the lows of early August. The latter perspective was rather missing from the media reporting of this as “tanks” ( Reuters) and “tanking” ( Robin Wigglesworth of the FT) but for our purposes today the impact of the currency has and will be to push inflation lower.

The Oil Price

This is not as good for inflation prospects as it has been edging higher. Although it has lost a few cents today the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil is at just below US $66 has been rising since it was US $58 in early October. Whilst the US $70+ of the post Aramco attack soon subsided we then saw a gradual climb in the oil price. So it is around US $8 higher than this time last year.

If we look wider then other commodity prices have been rising too. For example the Thomson Reuters core commodity index was 167 in August but is 185 now. Switching to something which is getting a lot of media attention which is the impact of the swine fever epidemic in China ( and now elsewhere ) on pork prices it is not as clear cut as you might think. Yes the Thomson Reuters Lean Hogs index is 10% higher than a year ago but at 1.92 it is well below the year’a high of 2.31 seen in early April

Consumer Inflation

It was a case of steady as she goes this month.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 1.5% in November 2019, unchanged from October 2019.

This does not mean that there were no changes within it which included some bad news for chocoholics.

Food and non-alcoholic beverages, where prices overall rose by 0.8% between October and November 2019 compared with a smaller rise of 0.1% a year ago, especially for sugar, jam, syrups, chocolate and confectionery (which rose by 1.8% this year, compared with a rise of 0.1% last year). Within this group, boxes and cartons of chocolates, and chocolate covered ice cream bars drove the upward movement; and • Recreation and culture, where prices overall rose between October and November 2019 by more than between the same two months a year ago.

On the other side of the coin there was a downwards push from restaurants and hotels as well as from alcoholic beverages and tobacco due to this.

The 3.4% average price rise from October to November 2018 for tobacco products reflected an increase in duty on such products announced in the Budget last year.

Tucked away in the detail was something which confirms the current pattern I think.

The CPI all goods index annual rate is 0.6%, up from 0.5% last month……..The CPI all services index annual rate is 2.5%, down from 2.6% last month.

The higher Pound £ has helped pull good inflation lower but the “inflation nation” problem remains with services.

The pattern for the Retail Prices Index was slightly worse this month.

The all items RPI annual rate is 2.2%, up from 2.1% last month.

The goods/services inflation dichotomy is not as pronounced but is there too.

Housing Inflation ( Owner- Occupiers)

This is a story of many facets so let me open with some good news.

UK average house prices increased by 0.7% over the year to October 2019 to £233,000; this is the lowest growth since September 2012.

This is good because with UK wages rising at over 3% per annum we are finally seeing house prices become more affordable via wages growth. Also you night think that it would be pulling consumer inflation lower but the answer to that is yes for the RPI ( via the arcane method of using depreciation but it is there) but no and no for the measure the Bank of England targets ( CPI) and the one that our statistical office and regulators describes as shown below.

The Consumer Prices Index including owner occupiers’ housing costs (CPIH).

Those are weasel words because they use the concept of Rental Equivalence to claim that homeowners pay themselves rent when they do not. Even worse they have trouble measuring rents in the first place. Let me illustrate that by starting with the official numbers.

Private rental prices paid by tenants in the UK rose by 1.4% in the 12 months to November 2019, up from 1.3% in October 2019.

Those who believe that rents respond to wage growth and mostly real wages will already be wondering about how as wage growth has improved rental inflation has fallen? Well not everyone things that as this from HomeLet this morning suggests.

Newly agreed rents have continued to fall across most of the UK on a monthly basis despite above-inflation annual rises, HomeLet reveals.

Figures from the tenancy referencing firm show that average rents on new tenancies fell 0.6% on a monthly basis between October and November, with just Wales and the north-east of England registering a 1.1% and 0.4% increase respectively.

Both the north-west and east of England registered the biggest monthly falls at 0.8%.

Rents were, however, up 3.2% annually to £947 per month.

This is at more than double the 1.5% inflation rate for November.

As you can see in spite of a weak November they have annual rental inflation at more than double the official rate. This adds to the Zoopla numbers I noted on October 16th which had rental inflation 0.7% higher than the official reading at the time.

So there is doubt about the official numbers and part of it relates to an issue I have raised again with the Economic Affairs Committee of the House of Lords. This is that the rental index is not really November’s.

“The short answer is that the rental index is lagged and that lag may not be stable.I have asked ONS for the detail on the lag some while ago and they have yet to respond.”

Those are the words of the former Government statistician Arthur Barnett. As you can see we may well be getting the inflation data for 2018 rather than 2019.

The Outlook

We get a guide to this from the producer price data.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 0.5% on the year to November 2019, down from 0.8% in October 2019……..The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process was negative 2.7% on the year to November 2019, up from negative 5.0% in October 2019.

So the outlook for the new few months is good but not as good as it was as we see that input price inflation is less negative now. We also see the driving force behind goods price inflation being so low via the low level of output price inflation.

Comment

In many respects the UK inflation position is pretty good. The fact that consumer inflation is now lower helps real wage growth to be positive. Also the fall in house price inflation means we have improved affordability. These will both be boosting the economy in what are difficult times. The overall trajectory looks lower too if we add in these elements described by the Bank of England.

CPI inflation remained at 1.7% in September and is expected to decline to around 1¼% by the spring, owing to the temporary effect of falls in regulated energy and water prices.

However as I have described above these are bad times for the Office for National Statistics and the UK Statistics Authority. Not only are they using imaginary numbers for 17% of their headline index ( CPIH) the claims that these are based on some sort of reality ( actual rental inflation) is not only dubious it may well be based on last year data.

The Investing Channel

 

Good News on UK inflation but not on house prices or for those predicting Cauliflower inflation

This morning has opened with some bad news for the Office for National Statistics and the UK Statistics Authority. They have placed what little credibility they have left on what is called the Rental Equivalence method where you use fantasy imputed rents as a way of measuring owner-occupied inflation. Apart from the obvious theoretical flaws there have been all sorts of issues with actually measuring rents in the first place which led to one of the worst things you can have in statistics which is a “discontinuity” leading to a new method being required. It tells us that rental inflation is of the order of 1% per annum. So let me hand you over to a new report from Zoopla released today.

Average rents increased by 2% to stand at £876 in the 12 months to the end of September……..But despite the overall improvement in affordability, the rate at which rents are rising has accelerated from 1.3% a year earlier to reach a three-year high of 2%, although it still remains below the 10-year average of annual growth of 2.3%

Regular readers will be aware that I have posted research from the Royal Statistical Society website which argued that the official measure of rental inflation is around 1% per annum too low. The reason for this is an incorrect balance between new and old rents. Zoopla with their measure suggests that a rise in rental inflation has been missed by the official data. There is a logic to this for those of us who think that rents are influenced by wages growth as we have seen a rise in wages growth over this period.

Affordability

Whilst the official measure of rental inflation is in yet more disarray we should tale time to welcome this.

Our director of research and insights, Richard Donnell, said: “Renting is more affordable today than the 10-year average. This follows weak rental growth over the last three years, and an acceleration in the growth of average earnings.”………..As a result, the typical renter now spends 31.8% of their earnings on rent, down from a peak of 33.3% in 2016, according to our inaugural Rental Market Report, which records trends in the often-neglected private rented sector.

Propaganda

In a rather ironic twist the establishment has been trying to bolster its case. Here is Mike Hardie of the ONS in Prospect Magazine from earlier this month.

A recent House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee inquiry highlighted that the strategy was not working, with RPI use remaining widespread. In March, David Norgrove, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, wrote to the then chancellor of the exchequer requesting his consent to bring the methods of RPI into line with CPIH.

Meanwhile back in reality here is the actual point the EAC made.

We disagree with the UK Statistics Authority that RPI does not have the potential to become a good measure of inflation.

The truth is that out official statisticians have deliberately not updated the RPI and then blamed it. Next from the EAC came something that was incredibly damning for the official approach.

We are not convinced by the use of rental equivalence in CPIH to impute owner-occupier housing costs.

Returning to the official view in Prospect Magazine there seems to have been an outbreak of amnesia on this subject.

Our headline consumer prices measures, which include the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) and CPI plus owner occupiers’ housing costs (CPIH), for the most part reflect the change in price of acquiring goods and services—in other words, we record the advertised price for an apple or a new car.

Also that explanation is exactly what they do not do with owner occupied housing costs! In a further twist you may note that even their example backfires. Because of the proliferation of rental and leasing deals in the car market it is one area where you probably should now use a rental model and even a small imputed bit.

Regular readers will know I have been a fan of the new Household Cost Indices suggested by John Astin and Jill Leyland. However I note from the Prospect Magazine article that the development process that is taking ages is neutering them.

we also capture mortgage interest costs, which are excluded from other measures of inflation, such as CPI and CPIH.

No mention of house prices which were in the original prospectus and were one of the strengths of the measure? Also take a guess as to which inflation measure right now does have mortgage costs? It is the officially villified RPI.

I am afraid this could not be much more transparent. I have contacted both Prospect Magazine and its editor on Twitter to request a right of reply but so far nether have responded.

Today’s Data

There was some good news as inflation did not rise.

The all items CPI annual rate is 1.7%, unchanged from last month.

As it happens the CPIH measure comes to the same answer in spite of 17% representing a lot lower number that does not exist in CPI.

The OOH component annual rate is 1.1%, unchanged from last month…..Private rental prices paid by tenants in the UK rose by 1.3% in the 12 months to September 2019, unchanged since May 2019.

I will leave explaining that to the official number-crunchers but we have returned to my original point that as well as the theoretical problems in using fantasy imputed rents they do not seem able to measure rents properly. If they had the data they could delve into it but in another error they do not.

An especially welcome development was this.

The all items RPI annual rate is 2.4%, down from 2.6% last month.

Especially as on the month prices actually fell.

The all items RPI is 291.0, down from 291.7 in August.

It might be best to keep that quiet or the deflationistas will be back spinning along with Kylie.

I’m spinning around
Move outta my way
I know you’re feeling me
‘Cause you like it like this
I’m breaking it down
I’m not the same
I know you’re feeling me
‘Cause you like it like this

The Trend Is Your Friend

If we look at the producer price output data the future is bright.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 1.2% on the year to September 2019, down from 1.7% in August 2019.

Even better news comes further up the chain.

The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process was negative 2.8% on the year to September 2019, down from negative 0.9% in August 2019.

Here is the main factor at play.

Crude oil provided the largest downward contribution to the annual rate of input inflation.

Comment

If we start with today’s figures we have received some welcome news as inflation was expected to rise. Indeed those who follow the RPI have just seen a fall which changes the real wages picture positively although of course we await the wages data for September. Should the UK Pound £ remain in a stronger phase ( it is over US $1.27 as I type this) then it and the lower oil price we looked at above will give UK inflation a welcome downwards push. Mind you as we observe those factors it is hard to avoid wondering how the economists surveyed thought inflation would be higher!

As we step back we are reminded of the utter shambles created by the use of rental equivalence and today it has come from an unusual source. If we look into the detail of the RPI we see this.

Mortgage interest payments, where average charges rose this year but fell a year ago; and  House depreciation, with the smoothed house price index used to calculate this
component rising this year by more than a year ago.

As it happens not much difference to the rental measure but to get imputed rents into CPIH at a weight of 17% other things had to be reduced and RPI fell because it does not have this effect amongst other things.

Other differences including weights, which decreased the RPI 12-month rate relative to the CPIH 12-month rate by 0.28 percentage points between August and September 2019. The effect came mainly from air fares; sea fares; second-hand cars; games, toys and hobbies and equipment for sport and open-air recreation; food and non-alcoholic
beverages; and fuels and lubricants. This was partially offset by a widening effect from furniture and furnishings, carpets and household textiles.

You see another flaw in the CPI style methodology is that via the way better off people spend more it represents people about two-thirds of the way up the income stream as opposed to the median.

Cauliflower

Remember when the lack of UK Cauliflowers was going to make us have to pay much more for ropey ones? Below is the one I bought for 59 pence last week.

 

 

Good news for the UK economy as inflation and house price growth both fall

Today the UK economic data flow coincides with the news story of the week which is the oil price. After yesterday’s press conference from the Saudi oil minister things are now much calmer. From sharjah24.ae

He added that this interruption represents about half of the Kingdom’s production of crude oil, equivalent to about 6% of global production. However, he stated that over the past two days, “the damage has been contained and more than half of the production which was disrupted as a result of this blatant sabotage has been recovered.”

The Kingdom’s production capacity will return to 11 million barrels per day by the end of September, he said, and to 12 million barrels per day by the end of November. Production of dry gas, ethane and gas liquids will gradually return to pre-aggression levels by the end of this month.

A lot of this seemed targeted at the Aramco IPO but the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil has fallen back to US $64.50. So the inflation impact has been considerably reduced since Sunday night. I did warn that things got overheated on Monday.

 It then fell back to more like US $68 quite quickly. For those unaware this is a familiar pattern in such circumstances as some will have lost so much money they have to close their position and everybody knows that. It is a cruel and harsh world….

On the other side of the coin a welcome rebound in the value of the UK Pound £. It is only a little more than a fortnight after so many reports of its demise were written when it went below US $1.20 for a while whereas it is just below US $1.25 as I type this. That gave us another reminder to always be very nervous about crowded trades. Of course the picture ahead is unclear and may well be volatile although it was yet another bad move by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney to say this. From MorningStar.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney says that sterling’s recent volatility means it is behaving more like an emerging market currency than one of a leading global economy.

Sometimes his ego makes his forget his responsibilities. Returning to our inflation theme should the stronger level for the UK Pound versus the US Dollar be maintained it will help with inflation prospects due to the way so many commodities are priced in dollars.

Today’s Data

The Trend

This turned out to be quite welcome as the lower value for the UK Pound £ was more than offset by the lower price for crude oil ( this was August).

The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process was negative 0.8% on the year to August 2019, down from 0.9% in July 2019.

If you want the exact impact here they are and they give a clue as to how volatile the impact of the crude oil price can be.

The largest downward contribution to the annual rate in August 2019 came from crude oil, which contributed 2.09 percentage points  and had negative annual price growth of 11.6% . This compares to an annual price growth of 41% this time last year.

So there is a downwards push for later in the year and a nearer impact is also downwards for the level of inflation.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 1.6% on the year to August 2019, down from 1.9% in July 2019.

In the welcome news was something that David Bowie might have described as a Space Oddity.

Transport equipment provided the largest upward contribution of 0.32 percentage points to the annual rate , with price growth of 2.8% on the year to August 2019 . This is the highest the annual rate has been within this industry since September 2017 and is driven by motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers.

The only thing I can think of is that I believe there was a change in the subsidy for some types of electric vehicles.

Consumer Inflation

The news here was welcome too.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 1.7% in August 2019, down from 2.1% in July 2019.

This has a range of beneficial impacts because if we look at the wages data for the month of July it showed annual growth of 4.2% meaning real wages rose by 2.5% using this measure.

The good news has some flies in the ointment however. The first is that an inflation measure which ignores owner-occupied housing is therefore not that appropriate as a wages deflator. Also two areas which have been troubled drove the inflation fall.

Recreation and culture, where within the group, the largest effect (of 0.09 percentage points) came from games, toys and hobbies (particularly computer games including
downloads), with prices overall falling by 5.0% between July and August 2019 compared with a smaller fall of 0.1% between the same two months a year ago.

Regular readers will be aware that our statisticians have problems dealing with games which get discounted and if we look at fashion clothing there is the same problem. Ahem.

Clothing and footwear, where prices rose by 1.8% this year compared with a larger rise of 3.1% a year ago. The main effect came from clothing, particularly children’s clothing. Prices of clothing and footwear usually rise between July and August as autumn ranges start to enter the shops following the summer sales season. The rise was smaller this year and may have been influenced by the proportion of items on sale, which fell by less between July and August this year than between the same two months a year ago.

Apologies for the raft of technical detail but these are important points. Not only for themselves but the latter came up in the debate over the RPI as there were arguments it made up around 0.3% of the gap ( presently 0.9%), But in a shameful act the UK Statistics Authority decided to use the three wise monkeys as its role model going forwards. No doubt the research is finding its way to the recycling bin.

If we switch to the RPI we see a sign that will send a chill down the spine of our official statisticians and statistics authority.

games, toys and hobbies

Are one of the reasons it fell by less and thus there is a hint it may be dealing with the issues here in a better fashion.

The all items RPI annual rate is 2.6%, down from 2.8% last month.

As you can see it only fell by half the amount.

House Prices

There was some really good news here.

Average house prices in the UK increased by 0.7% in the year to July 2019, down from 1.4% in June 2019. This is the lowest annual rate since September 2012, when it was 0.4%.

I have long argued that UK house prices have become unaffordable and we see that in the year to July they fell by 3.5% relative to wage growth. More of this please as it is the best way of deflating the bubble. As ever this conceals regional differences which opened with a surprise.

The lowest annual growth was in the North East, where prices fell by 2.9% over the year to July 2019. This was followed by the South East, where prices fell by 2.0% over the year…….House price growth in Wales increased by 4.2% in the year to July 2019, down slightly from 4.3% in June 2019, with the average house price at £165,000.

With LSL Acadata reporting earlier this week that annual house price growth in the year to August was 0% we seem to be coming out of the house price boom phase in terms of increases if not price levels.

Comment

Pretty much all of the trends here are welcome as we see lower consumer, producer price and house price inflation. As I have already pointed out this boosts real wages and let me add that over time I expect that to boost economic output and GDP. Although of course there are plenty of other factors in play in the latter. As to the detail it looks as though the monthly fall may have been exacerbated by the problems with the measurement of inflation in items which have a fashion component. Let me give you an example of this which is that we spotted a pair of Nike running shoes which retail at £209.95 at Battersea Park Running Track yet my friend managed to get the previous model for £28 at a sale outlet. Put that in the inflation numbers….

This leads more egg on the face of the UK inflation establishment as it would appear that in the latest data the RPI handled such matters in a superior fashion. Also let me just remind you that whilst the fantasy imputed rent driven CPIH looks more on the ball because of the decline in house price growth this is a fluke along the lines of the fact that even a stopped watch is right twice a day.

 

Today has seen a shocking decision on the Retail Prices Index or RPI

This morning the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced his plans for the Retail Price Index or RPI. This is an issue close to my heart and something I have put a lot of time and effort into since its future became the subject of doubt in 2012. The moment we were told on Monday that today was the day I feared the worst along the lines of the saying “a good day to bury bad news”. With the Chancellor’s Budget Statement and the ongoing debate in Parliament over Brexit today has proven to be a day that the UK deep state thinks it can get away with something it has been angling for since 2012.

In essence HM Treasury has wanted to scrap the RPI because it is expensive in terms of the interest paid on UK index linked Gilts and for various pensions. Of course those making such decisions often benefit from RPI linked pensions it is for others and particularly younger readers that they want it to go. The last 7 years have seen various methodological efforts mostly around the formula effect but they have found themselves up against opponents like me and their cases have foundered and sunk.

Housing Costs

This is another area where up until today the HM Treasury effort had mimicked the Titanic. If we go back to 2002/03 the UK introduced a main measure of inflation that excluded owner occupied housing costs called CPI. Why? Well in a familiar theme it is cheaper for the Treasury as it gives a lower reading than the RPI, and more subtly when it is put in the GDP numbers it gives a higher reading ( averaging about 0,23%).

Next they though they could do better and find a way of measuring housing costs and further reduce the inflation number. That hit the barrier that house prices are soaring so instead of real numbers they decided to make some up. This is the Rental Equivalence system where they assume home owners pay rent to themselves when they do not. Rental Equivalence is the inflation version of Imputed Rents. In the UK the measure based on this is called CPIH and partly due to my efforts has been widely ignored.

House of Lords

The Economic Affairs Committee published a report in January after taking evidence from various sources including me and here is an example.

The Deputy National Statistician, Jonathan Athow, said that the lack of a measure of owner-occupier housing costs in CPI was its “major weakness”. Shaun Richards, an independent adviser to pension and investment funds, said that “if there is something untenable in my opinion it is a measure of inflation which completely ignores a very important sector which is owner-occupied housing.

In their report they then went on to reject the Rental Equivalence methodology of CPIH.

We are not convinced by the use of rental equivalence in CPIH to impute owner-occupier housing costs. The UK Statistics Authority, together with its stakeholder and technical advisory panels and a consultation of a wide range of interested parties, should agree on the best method for capturing owner-occupier housing costs in a consumer price index.

Over to the UK Statistics Authority

Here is their response to this.

In light of the 10 years of development and consultation, ONS are not minded to undertake any further engagement with users and experts specifically on rental equivalence and owner-occupier housing costs. There is never likely to be agreement on a single approach.

As no doubt many of you have spotted that is shifting the goalposts as the EAC from the House of Lords had rejected an approach. Why are they shifting the goalposts? Well they are back with the rejected approach.

ONS views rental equivalence as the correct approach conceptually for an economic measure of inflation, and one where sufficient data is available to make it practical. Of
course, they remain committed to ongoing monitoring and development of the CPIH and the Household Cost Indices.

Here is the crux of the matter. They have made a decision and regardless of the objections and argument they keep making the same decision. They lose the debate but come back again.Over time I have rallied support at the Royal Statistical Society ( which in another “accident” of timing is in a conference this morning and cannot reply) and as you can see above the House of Lords. So it leaves me mulling this from Hotel California.

And in the master’s chambers,
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can’t kill the beast

Another problem with Rental Equivalence

Tucked away in the House of Lords report was something of a bombshell.

 We note that the private rental market is subject to its own distortions and may not provide a good proxy for owner-occupier housing costs.

The fantasy structure of Rental Equivalence relies on good data from ordinary rents. Just for clarity I have no problem at all with the concept of using rents for those who do. But there are two catches. They are hinted at in the quote above and let me specify them. There are doubts that the properties which are let are that similar to those which are owned. But more fundamentally I have seen experts post concerns that due to the mixture of new and old rents being incorrect in the survey used the number is up to 1% too low. Since it claims currently rental inflation is of the order of 1% that is quite an issue!

Research

This is something we are regularly denied as for example work was done around 2012 around the Formula Effect but has never been published. I and others are of the opinion that fashion clothing and more recently computer game pricing are factors here. Today is not for the detail but I wrote to both the EAC and the Treasury Select Committee on this subject on February 26th as follows.

My understanding of this which I have checked with others is that the exact impact of the change is unknown because the Office for National Statistics suspended its investigation into this back in 2012. Perhaps one day it will properly explain why it did this but for now the main issue is that we do not know the precise impact until the proper research is completed and peer reviewed. I am sorry to have to point out that your letter is therefore potentially materially misleading and has already had a market impact on the price of index-linked Gilts.

This is a familiar theme where there are claims of research but when you ask for it then it does not appear. If I ever get a reply to that letter I will let you know.

I had other concerns but I am here just establishing a principle.

Comment

There are various conceptual issues here of which the simplest is that over the past 7 years the UK statistical authorities have pursued a campaign which has been one of propaganda rather than argument. We have done much better here as those of you who have followed the replies of Andrew Baldwin will know. He has made the case for the RPIJ measure which revealingly was first promoted but then abandoned by the UK statistical establishment when it did not give them what they wanted. Their behaviour was similar to a spoilt child taking their football home with them.

On a conceptual level the statistician Simon Briscoe has covered it well I think.

The details of the opportunities missed are in the table below but with ONS producing sub-standard documents like the infamous “shortcomings” paper, OSR failing (I think ever) to criticise anything that ONS has done on RPI, and the UKSA board not even trying to sort anything out (and being subservient to the Treasury), there is little hope.

https://simonbriscoeblog.wordpress.com/2019/09/03/how-poor-governance-led-to-the-problems-with-the-rpi/

The OSR is the Office for Statistics Regulation to which I gave evidence and I would say they ignored it but for the fact I believe it went straight over their heads.

Let me also address why the Bank of England supports this. Their main game is to inflate house prices. So if you keep house prices out of the inflation measure it is all growth or from their perspective jam today. First-time buyers or those trading up face inflation and face in many cases unaffordable properties yet according to the inflation numbers they are better off!

But there is a glimmer of good news. I suspect that the Chancellor Sajid Javid thought he would kick this particular can onto somebody else’s watch.

Today the Chancellor has announced his intention to consult on whether to bring the methods in CPIH into RPI between 2025 and 2030, effectively aligning the measures.

I intend to continue to fight on as the establishment view has crumbled so many times before. There is hope around the Household Cost Indices mentioned above although they are a good idea which the establishment are trying to neuter ( You will not be surprised that it is in the areas of housing costs and student loans). So let me leave you with the Fab Four.

The long and winding road
That leads to your door
Will never disappear
I’ve seen that road before
It always leads me here
Lead me to you door

 

The campaign against the UK Retail Price Index carries on

This week brought some disappointing news for the Bank of England. If we go back to Monday we were told this.

LONDON (Reuters) – British households’ expectations for inflation over the next 12 months rose to 2.8% in July from 2.6% in June, according to a survey from U.S. investment bank Citi and pollsters YouGov.

Longer-term inflation expectations rose to 3.4% from 3.3% in June, the Citi/YouGov survey of 2,011 adults showed.

“Rising inflation expectations should … support hawks at the (Bank of England),” Citi economists Christian Schulz and Ann O’Kelly said.

There are two problems there for the Bank of England. The first is that expectations imply that people think that inflation is above the 2% target and has been so. This is an implied defeat for the enormous effort that it and other parts of the UK establishment have put it getting our official statisticians have put into getting the Imputed Rent driven CPIH as the headline inflation measure.

Even worse the measure of future expectations has risen. This shows two factors at play. One is rhetoric as we are subjected to a media barrage about future falls in the UK Pound £ exchange rate. The other is the reality that the UK Pound £ has been in a weak phase and in inflation terms this is best represented by the rate against the US Dollar because it is the currency in which nearly all commodities are priced. Whilst it is relatively stable this morning at US $1.2060. Whereas if we go back a bit over 3 months to the early part of May we see that it was some 11 cents higher. Over the past year it is some 5.5% lower so we can see that there is some commodity price pressure on the cards so well done to the ordinary person surveyed for inflation expectations.

Producer Price Inflation

We can find out what is coming down the inflation pipeline from these numbers.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 1.8% on the year to July 2019, up from 1.6% in June 2019…….The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process was 1.3% on the year to July 2019, up from 0.3% in June 2019.

This is a change as the previous overall trend was for both input and output inflation to be falling. The main area is a little awkward so let us look at it.

On the month, crude oil provided the largest positive contribution of 0.30 percentage points with monthly growth of 1.8%. This is a 9.3 percentage points increase following negative growth of 7.5% in June 2019.

This is because the lower UK Pound has been a constant influence but the oil price has been ebbing and flowing to some extent mirroring the tweets of President Trump on the trade war. For example yesterday it rose 3/4% as he announced delays in planned tariffs on China. So the outlook with Brent Crude around US $61 per barrel is for it to have a small disinflationary impact looking ahead but the trend may change with one tweet.

Also do any of you have thoughts on this? The subject is on my mind anyway after last Friday’s power cut in Battersea.

This growth was mainly driven by electricity production and distribution, which increased 20.1% on the year to July 2019, the highest the rate has been since records began in 2009.

Consumer Inflation

Here the situation looks calm on the surface but there are two serious problems below it.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 2.1% in July 2019, increasing from 2.0% in June 2019.

In a world where US President Trump describes a 0.3% monthly and 1.8% annual increase like this I am not sure where this puts us!

Prices not up, no inflation.

Anyway if we return to the UK we see that a problem I have warned about before is back.

The largest upward contribution (of 0.08 percentage points) to change in the CPIH 12-month rate came from recreation and culture. Within this group, the largest effect came from games, toys and hobbies (in particular from computer games and consoles) where prices overall rose by 8.4% between June and July 2019 compared with a rise of 4.1% between the same two months a year ago.

Here is the confession that we are blundering in the dark here.

Price movements for these items can often be relatively large depending on the composition of bestseller charts and the upward contribution between the latest two months follows a downward contribution, from computer games purchased online and games consoles, between May and June 2019.

This matters because it highlights a systemic problem. A similar problem is in play with fashion clothing. Rather than doing something about it the UK establishment has been using the latter problem as a tool for beating the Retail Price Index with. Rather than research and reflection we get rhetoric.

Retail Price Index

Speaking of the RPI the annual rate fell to 2.8% which is partially good news for rail passengers because the rate at which regulated fares rise will be that. At east it is below the rate of wages increases. But there is a problem here too.

An error has been identified in the Retail Prices Index (RPI) in 2019, caused by an issue with the 2017 to 2018 Living Costs and Food Survey (LCF)dataset, which is used to produce the weights underpinning the RPI.

Indicative estimates show that if the corrected LCF dataset had been used to calculate the 2019 RPI weights, it would have led to an upward revision of 0.1 percentage points to the published RPI annual growth rate in March 2019, from 2.4% as currently published to 2.5% and a downward revision of 0.1 percentage points to the June 2019 rate, from 2.9% as currently published to 2.8%. No other month’s annual growth rates have been affected.

It is a good job that large amounts of financial contracts do not depend on this, Oh wait! But these numbers also matter in themselves.

House Prices

There was some excellent news here.

Average house prices in the UK increased by 0.9% in the year to June 2019, unchanged from May 2019 . Over the past three years, there has been a general slowdown in UK house price growth, driven mainly by a slowdown in the south and east of England.

The lowest annual growth was in London, where prices fell by 2.7% over the year to June 2019, less than the 3.1% fall in May 2019. Average house prices in London have now been falling over the year each month since March 2018.

With wage growth at 3.7% finally houses are on average becoming more affordable. As the London numbers highlight there are regional disparities though. On the other side of the coin house prices in Wales rose by 4.4%.

Comment

I have a couple of serious points to make so let me start with some humour courtesy of The Guardian.

City economists had forecast CPI to fall to 1.9% – instead, it’s now over the Bank’s target of 2%.

The unexpected rise could pile pressure on Threadneedle Street to raise interest rates, even as economic growth falters…

Meanwhile the problems with how we measure inflation in the UK pile up as computer game are added to the problems with fashion clothing. Yet the UK Statistics Authority and the ONS have instead spent their time joining the establishment campaign against the RPI. Please do not misunderstand me as I have a lot of sympathy with the ordinary statisticians who in my experience are doing their best, but it was hard not to have a wry smile this morning at us getting the numbers wrong and creating their worst nightmare a “discontinuity”.

If we look wider we see that there are problems elsewhere as the changes to package holiday prices showed in Germany and in the wider Euro area inflation data. That will impact the GDP numbers via the deflator. Ironically with an RPI style inflation measure or perhaps based on the new HII/HCI the UK could be in good shape here.

Let me give another perspective by quoting Paul Johnson of the IFS in Prospect Magazine from February.

A version of it, CPIH, takes account of owner occupiers’ housing costs and is the one that the statisticians would like us to use. But it is of relatively recent vintage and hasn’t really caught on yet.

He seems to have forgotten that it was the Johnson Review ( yes him) that recommended this in 2016.

ONS should move towards making CPIH its main measure of inflation. In the meantime, the CPI should continue to be the main measure of inflation.

 

 

The Bank of England reveals it is an inflation creator rather than targeter

Yesterday Bank of England Governor Mark Carney spoke at the ECB summer conference in sunny Sintra Portugal. Tucked away in a speech mostly about the Euro was a reference to the problems the Bank of England has had with inflation as you can see below.

While the euro area has continued to experience ‘divine
coincidence’ the UK has not (Chart 1). In the euro area, inflation has averaged half a point below target,
reflecting in part the drag from persistent slack in the labour market. In contrast, UK inflation has been above
target, averaging 2.3%, during a period where the economy was operating well below potential.

Over such a period that is quite a difference and for the moment I will simply point out that he has no idea about the “potential” of the UK economy as his speech later inadvertently reveals. But let us move on to his explanation.

That reflects the inflationary impacts of two large exchange rate depreciations and weak productivity that have
offset a major positive shock to labour supply. This has created tensions between short-term output and
inflation stabilisation in the UK that have not been evident in other major economic regions.

Missing from his explanation is the way that expectations of easier policy from the Bank of England helped drive both “large exchange rate depreciations”. The 2007/08 one pre dates his tenure at the Bank of England but the post EU Leave vote one was on his watch. I still come across people who think he pumped £500 billion into the UK economy on the following morning rather than getting the ammunition locker ready. But he did cut interest-rates ( after promising to raise them) and pour money into the UK Gilt Market with £60 billion of Sledgehammer QE purchases.

So rather than something which just happened he and the Bank of England gave it a good shove and that is before we add in that he planned even more including a cut to a Bank Rate of 0.1% that November. That did not happen because it rapidly became apparent that the Bank of England had completely misread the UK economic situation. But by then the damage had been done to the UK Pound which was pushed lower than it would otherwise have done.

We get an implicit confirmation of that from this.

Since 2013, the MPC’s remit has explicitly recognised that there are circumstances in which bringing inflation
back to target too quickly could cause undesirable volatility in output and employment.

In other words in a world where inflation is lower than before  it is no longer an inflation targeter and instead mostly targets GDP. Actually we get a confession of this and a confirmation of a point I have made many times on here as we note this bit.

Indeed, on the basis of this past behaviour in the great moderation, the MPC would have raised interest rates by 2 to 3 percentage points between August 2013 and the end of 2014.

Due to the international environment with the Euro area heading for negative interest-rates that would have been to much, But we could have say moved from 0.5% to 1.5% as I have regularly argued and would have put ourselves on a better path. Oh and I did say that Governor Carney has no idea of the potential of the UK economy, so here that is in his own words.

What we – and others – learnt as the recovery progressed was that the UK economy had substantially more
spare capacity than previously thought.

UK Inflation

It is hard not to have a wry smile at UK inflation being bang on target after noting the above.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 2.0% in May 2019, down from 2.1% in April 2019.

Tucked away in the detail was something which should be no surprise if we note the state of play in the car industry.

there were also smaller downward contributions from the purchase of vehicles (second-hand and new cars).

The other factor was lower transport costs as air fares fell mostly due to the Easter timing effect and the cost of diesel in particular rose more slowly than last year. On the other side of the coin was something which has become very volatile and thus a problem for our statisticians.

Price movements for computer games can often be relatively large depending on the composition of bestseller charts.

Looking for future trend we see what looks like a relatively benign situation.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 1.8% on the year to May 2019, down from 2.1% in April 2019.

There had been worries about the input inflation rate which picked up last time around but the oil price seems to have come to the rescue for now at least.

Petroleum provided the largest downward contribution to the change in the annual rate of output inflation. The annual rate of input inflation fell 3.2 percentage points in May 2019, driven by a large downward contribution to the change in the rate from crude oil.

Welcome news from house prices

If we switch to this area we see that the slow down in the annual rate of growth continues.

Average house prices in the UK increased by 1.4% in the year to April 2019, down from 1.6% in March 2019 . Over the past three years, there has been a general slowdown in UK house price growth, driven mainly by a slowdown in the south and east of England.

The lowest annual growth was in London, where prices fell by 1.2% over the year to April 2019, up from a fall of 2.5% in March 2019.

I am pleased to see that as the best form of help for prospective buyers is for wage growth ( currently around 3%) to exceed house price growth. There is a lot of ground to be gained but at least we are making a start.

There is an irony here as I note that for once this will be similar to the number for rents that are being imputed as the inflation measure for owner-occupiers. Yes for newer readers you do have that right as the official CPIH inflation measure assumes that those who by definition do not pay rent rush out and act as if they do.

Private rental prices paid by tenants in the UK rose by 1.3% in the 12 months to May 2019, up from 1.2% in April 2019.

The problem for CPIH is that we have had an extraordinary house price boom without it picking anything up, so this is an anomaly and is unlikely to last.

Comment

There is a sort of irony in UK inflation being on target in spite of the fact that the Bank of England has mostly lost interest in it. The credit crunch era has seen other examples of this sort of thing which echoes when the Belgian economy did rather well when it had no government. We might well be better off if we sent the Monetary Policy Committee on a long holiday.

At the moment there have been quite a few welcome developments in this area. Because wage growth is positive compared to both CPI inflation and house prices after sustained periods of falls. Some caution is required as the RPI is still running at an annual rate of growth of 3% but we are in sunnier climes.There are troubles in other areas as the lower car prices highlight so we need to grab what we can.

Let me finish with a thank you to the Guardian for quoting me in their business live blog and for providing some humour.

Today’s drop in inflation means there’s no chance of the Bank of England raising interest rates on Thursday, say City economists.

Where have those people been in the credit crunch era?