Do we face austerity and tax rises after the Covid-19 pandemic?

We have been in uncertain times for a while now and this has only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. One particular area of concern are the public finances of nations who are copying the “Spend! Spend! Spend!” prescription of football pools winner Viv Nicholson. For younger readers the football pools were what people did before lotteries. Indeed if we note the latest IMF Fiscal Monitor there was an issue even before the new era.

Prior to the pandemic, public and private debt were
already high and rising in most countries, reaching
225 percent of GDP in 2019, 30 percentage points
above the level prevailing before the global financial
crisis. Global public debt rose faster over the period,
standing at 83 percent of GDP in 2019.

We get a pretty conventional response for the IMF which has this as a mantra.

And despite access to financing varying sharply across countries, medium- to long-term fiscal strategies were needed virtually everywhere.

There is a counterpoint here which is that the fiscal strategies approved by the IMF have been a disaster. There is of course Greece but in a way Japan is worse. Following IMF advice it began a policy of raising its Consumption Tax to reduce its fiscal deficit. It took five years for it to take the second step as the first in 2014 caused quite a dive in the economy. Then the second step last year saw Japan’s economy contract again, just in time to be on the back foot as the Covid-19 pandemic arrived.

The IMF is expecting to see quite a change this year.

In 2020, global general government debt is estimated to make an unprecedented jump up to almost 100 percent of GDP. The major increase in the primary deficit and the sharp contraction in economic activity of 4.7 percent projected in the latest World Economic Outlook, are the main drivers of this development.

Oh and where have we heard this before? The old this is “temporary” line.

But 2020 is an exceptional year in terms of
debt dynamics, and public debt is expected to stabilize
to about 100 percent of GDP until 2025, benefiting
from negative interest-growth differentials.

I make the point not because I have a crystal ball but because I know I do not. Right now the path to the end of this year looks extremely uncertain with for example France imposing a curfew on Paris and other major cities and Germany hinting at another lockdown. So we have little idea about 2021 let alone 2025.

The IMF is in favour of more spending this time around.

These high levels of public debt are hence not the
most immediate risk. The near-term priority is to
avoid premature withdrawal of fiscal support. Support
should persist, at least into 2021, to sustain the recovery and to limit long-term scarring. Health and education should be given prime consideration everywhere.

I would have more time for its view on wasteful spending and protection of the vulnerable if the places where it has intervened had actually seen much reform and protection.

Fiscally constrained economies should prioritize the
protection of the most vulnerable and eliminate
wasteful spending.

Economic Theory

The IMF view this time around is based on this view of public spending.

The Fiscal Monitor estimates that a 1 percent of
GDP increase in public investment, in advanced
economies and emerging markets, has the potential to push GDP up by 2.7 percent, private investment by
10 percent and, most importantly, to create between
20 and 33 million jobs, directly and indirectly. Investment in health and education and in digital and green
infrastructure can connect people, improve economy wide productivity, and improve resilience to climate
change and future pandemics.

If true we are saved! After all each £ or Euro or $ will become 2.7 of them and them 2.7 times that. But then we spot “has the potential” and it finishes with a sentence that reminds me of the  company for carrying on an undertaking of great advantage from the South Sea Bubble. For those unaware of the story it disappeared without trace but with investors money.

For newer readers this whole area has become a minefield for the IMF because it thought the fiscal multiplier for Greece would be 0.5 and got involved in imposing austerity on Greece. It then was forced into a U-Turn putting the multiplier above 1 as it was forced to do by the economic collapse which was by then visible to all.

Institute for Fiscal Studies

It has provided a British spin on these events although the theme is true pretty much everywhere we look.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the public health measures implemented to contain it will lead to a huge spike in government borrowing this year. We forecast the deficit to climb to £350 billion (17% of GDP) in 2020–21, more than six times the level forecast just seven months ago at the March Budget. Around two-thirds of this increase comes from the large packages of tax cuts and spending increases that the government has introduced in response to the pandemic. But underlying economic weakness will add close to £100 billion to the deficit this year – 1.7 times the total forecast for the deficit as of March.

I suggest you take these numbers as a broad brush as it will be a long economic journey to April exemplified by that fact that whilst I am typing this it has been announced that London will rise a tier in the UK Covid-19 restrictions from this weekend. I note they think that £250 billion of this is an active response and £100 billion is passive or a form of automatic stabiliser.

They follow the IMF line but with a kicker that it is understandably nervous about these days.

But, in the medium term, getting the public finances back on track will require decisive action from policymakers. The Chancellor should champion a general recognition that, once the economy has been restored to health, a fiscal tightening will follow.

They are much less optimistic than the IMF about the middle of this decade/

Under our central scenario, and assuming none of the temporary giveaways in 2020–21 are continued, borrowing in 2024–25 is forecast to be over £150 billion as a result of lower tax revenues and higher spending through the welfare system.

They do suggest future austerity.

Once the economy has recovered, policy action will be needed to prevent debt from continuing to rise as a share of national income. Even if the government were comfortable with stabilising debt at 100% of national income – its highest level since 1960 – it would still need a fiscal tightening worth 2.1% of national income, or £43 billion in today’s terms.

Comment

As you can see the mood music from the establishment and think tanks has changed somewhat since the early days of the credit crunch.Austerity was en vogue then but now we see that if at all it is a few years ahead. Let me now switch to the elephant in the room which has oiled this and it was my subject of yesterday, where the fall in bond yields means governments can borrow very cheaply and sometimes be paid to do it. That subject is hitting the newswires this morning.

The German 10-year bond yield declined to the lowest level in five months on Wednesday as coronavirus’s resurgence across the Eurozone strengthened the haven demand for the government debt. ( FXStreet)

It is -0.61% as I type this and even the thirty-year yield is now -0.22%. So all new German borrowing is better than free as it provides a return for taxpayers rather than investors. According to Aman Portugal is beginning to enjoy more of this as well.

According to the IGCP, which manages public debt, at the Bloomberg agency, €654 million were auctioned in bonds with a maturity of 17 October 2028 (about eight years) at an interest rate of -0.085%.

Although for our purposes we need to look at longer-term borrowing so the thirty-year issue at 0.47% is more relevant. But in the circumstances that is amazingly cheap.

In essence this is what is different this time around and it is one arm of government helping another as the enormous pile of bonds purchased by central banks continue to grow. The Bank of England bought another £4.4 billion this week. So we have a window where this matters much less than before. It does not mean we can borrow whatever we like it does mean that old levels of debt to GDP such as 90% ( remember it?) and 100% and even 120% are different now.

In the end the game changer is economic growth which in itself posts something of a warning as pre pandemic we had issues with it. Rather awkward that coincides with the QE era doesn’t it as we mull the way it gives with one hand but takes away with another?

UK National Grid

It was only last week I warned about this.

National Grid warns of short supply of electricity over next few days ( The Guardian)

Good job it has not got especially cold yet.

What is happening to the economy of Italy right now?

Today has brought the economy of Italy back into focus and before I look at the economics let me express my deepest sympathy for also those affected by the Corona Virus there.

Like a soul without a mind
In a body without a heart
I’m missing every part, ( Massive Attack)

Returning to the economics there were hopes from Italy of some financial and economic relief from the overnight Eurogroup meeting so let me hand you over to its President Mario Centeno.

After 16h of discussions we came close to a deal but we are not there yet. I suspended the #Eurogroup & continue tomorrow, thu. My goal remains: A strong EU safety net against fallout of #covid19 (to shield workers, firms &countries)& commit/ to a sizeable recovery plan

Let us consider what it could do? There are essentially four topics at play. Firstly there is the issue of extra spending.

Diplomatic sources and officials said a feud between Italy and the Netherlands over what conditions should be attached to euro zone credit for governments fighting the pandemic was blocking progress on half a trillion euros worth of aid. ( Reuters)

Although actually in a copying of the Juncker Plan that regular readers will recall a lot of this is borrowing and money from Special Purpose Vehicles.

Further proposals under discussions include credit lines from the euro zone bailout fund that would be worth up to 2% of a country’s economic output, or 240 billion euros in total. The conditions for gaining access to this money remain a sticking point.

Granting the European Investment Bank 25 billion euros of extra guarantees so it can step up lending to companies by a further 200 billion euros is another option.

The third is support for the EU executive’s plan to raise 100 billion euros on the market against 25 billion euros of guarantees from all governments in the bloc to subsidise wages so that firms can cut working hours rather than sack people. ( Reuters).

Actually there were apparently requests for even more money to be deployed.

ECB urges measures worth 1.5 trillion euros this year to tackle virus crisis . ( @TradingFloorAudio )

The next issue is how this will be paid for? We have already tip-toed onto that subject because the reference to the Euro bailout fund refers to the European Stability Mechanism or ESM. The catch with it is the issue of conditionality or if you prefer terms. This is awkward on two counts as the two main bits are that a country has to have lost access to market financing which is not true and that it is supposed to present a macroeconomic adjustment programme of austerity when in fact the plan would be to “Spend! Spend!Spend!”

The use of the European Investment Bank is complicated by the UK still being a 14% shareholder.

Finally in this sweep we have the elephant in the room which is the issuing of joint Euro area bonds or as they have been rebranded Corona Bonds. This has collided with a regular problem which is that the countries which would in effect be financing this are not keen at all whereas those that would benefit are very keen but cannot persuade the former. We have been down this road so many times now and have always ended up singing along with Talking Heads.

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

Italy GDP

Before I look at the impact of the above on Italy we need to see where it stands in economic terms. The opening salvo was fired by the IHS Markit survey from only five days ago which now feels a bit like forever.

The Composite Output Index* dropped from 50.7 in February to 20.2 in March, falling a record 30.5 points and signalling the sharpest contraction in Italian private sector output since the series began in January 1998.
The downturn was most marked in the service sector,
although both services providers and manufactures reported record reductions in output during March.

This came with the lowest PMI number I can recall which was 17.4 for the services sector. We have learnt over time to take these surveys with several pinches of salt but it was clear we were seeing a large fall in economic output which in the case of Italy comes on the back of at best stagnation.

Yesterday the Italian Statistics Office produced its Monthly Report.

First signals of COVID -19 economic effects are displayed by March consumer and business surveys -which deteriorated sharply- and February extra EU trade and retail trade.

Okay let’s look back to February.

Extra Eu trade preliminary figures were influenced by the sharp fall of exports towards China (-21.6% with respect to
the same month of the previous year) were the epidemic originated. Retail trade improved possibly due to the
increase of precautionary expenditure for food in the first phases of the health emergency.

So the only good news was some precautionary buying of food and other essentials.

Now March and as BBC children’s TV used to say, are you sitting comfortably?

In March, the consumer confidence climate slumped. The heavy deterioration affected all index components. More
specifically, the economic climate current and future and the expectation on unemployment plummeted. These
negative signals suggest that there might be in the coming months a deterioration in income, consumption and labour
market figures.

They have modelled what they think the impact will be from this.

We provide two different scenarios, the first in which the lockdown will be concentrated in March and April and
the second in which the lockdown will last until June. In the first case consumption will be reduced by 4.1% on
yearly basis in the second case by 9.9% . The consumption fall would determine a value added contraction by 1.9% and 4.5% respectively.

If we now add in the other sectors we get an even larger GDP fall for example there is this.

More precisely, for sectors in lockdown or for which we assume that the turnover is near zero
(i.e. tourism) we evaluate the overall reduction of production and its impact on consumption.

If we factor in tourism as being virtually zero then the fall in GDP implied above doubles at least as it would be seen in the exports numbers rather than consumption.

Comment

If we look at the Italian situation we see that its own spending plans dwarf the Euro area ones. Here is Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte from Monday via Google Translate.

Today’s decree brings 400 billion of liquidity for businesses, with the #CuraItalia we had freed 350. We are talking about 750 billion, almost half of our GDP. The state is there and immediately puts its firepower into the engine of the economy. When Italy gets up it runs.

The next context is that this is way beyond the ability of the ESM to deal with alone.

 The ESM, with its unused financial firepower of €410 billion, could provide credit lines at low interest rates. ( Klaus Regling)

Actually that is more than we have been told in the past but as you can see the numbers are so large here even 10 billion is not especially material. As there would be calls from countries other than Italy the ESM presently needs more ammo.

If we look at the public debt of Italy it was 2.44 trillion Euros at the end of the third quarter of last year. So if the spending plans above come to fruition we will see it rise to more like 3.2 trillion. With the economy shrinking we could see a debt to GDP figure of the order of 200% for a time. The real issue is for how long a time?

As to the bond vigilantes then they have mostly been anaesthetised by the QE buying of the ECB which is likely to be around 15 billion Euros or so per month. Whilst the Eurogroup indecison has raised the benchmark ten-year yield by 0.08% today ( and I am assuming the ECB is buying more today to resist this) it is at 1.67% under control. But as you can see even the powered up Pac-Man of the ECB is in danger of being swamped by the size of the bond issuance.

Oh and as to Eurobonds well actually they do exist.

When both the EIB and the ESM increase their actions, they need to issue bonds to finance their lending. The EIB – and to a smaller extent the European Commission – issue such debt for all 27 EU Member States, and the ESM for the 19 euro area countries. These three institutions have issued mutualised debt, i.e. European debt, for many years already. Today, these institutions have around €800 billion in outstanding European debt. ( Klaus Regling)

Let me finish with something more optimistic Italy has a large grey economy estimated at over 200 billion Euros and it is a nation of savers.

The saving rate of consumer households was 8.2%, 0.1 percentage points lower than in the previous quarter. ( Istat)

Let us cross our fingers and hope that it can mobilise both.

 

 

What is the outlook for the US economy?

We see plenty of rhetoric about challenges and changes but the two biggest players in the world economy are the United States and the US Dollar. So it is time for us to peer under the bonnet again and let me open with the result from the third quarter.

Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 1.9 percent in the third quarter of 2019 , according to the “advance” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the second quarter, real GDP increased 2.0 percent. ( BEA )

There are several implications here of which the first is simply that this is better than we are seeing in most places with Germany and Japan reporting growth rates much lower in the last 24 hours. In general this is , however, weaker than last year although the last quarter of 2018 was particularly weak.

A supporting element for the US has been a strong labour market.

 Real disposable personal income increased 2.9 percent, compared with an increase of 2.4 percent.

Has the easier fiscal policy of President Trump been a factor? Yes but we simply get told this.

federal government spending,

If we shift to a potential consequence which is rising debt well actually the ability of the US to repay it looks strong too.

Current dollar GDP increased 3.5 percent, or $185.6 billion, in the third quarter to a level of $21.53 trillion. In the second quarter, GDP increased 4.7 percent, or $241.4 billion.

As you can see there has been an element of inflating away the debt in there.

What happens next?

The now cast system uses the latest official data to look ahead and just like last year it looks like being a weak end to the year.

The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 0.7% for 2019:Q4.

News from this week’s data releases decreased the nowcast for 2019:Q4 by 0.1 percentage point.

Negative surprises from lower than expected exports and imports data accounted for most of the decrease.

Another factor in play is that the labour market is not providing the push it was.

Earnings growth is still below late 2018 levels……Payroll growth was moderate in October, but remained solid year-to-date.

Money Supply

Back on the 22nd February I posted my concerns about the prospects for 2019.

So we can expect a slowing economic effect from it as we note that some of the decline will be due to the QT programme…….So we move on with noting that a monetary brake for say the first half of 2019 has been applied to the economy.

Of course that was then and this is now as the reference to the now ended QT programme. For example this happened at the end of last month.

the Committee decided to lower the target range for the federal funds rate to 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 percent.

Yesterday saw Repo operations from the New York Fed which provided some US $73.6 billion of overnight liquidity and US $30.7 billion of 13 day liquidity. Thus the cash is flowing rather than being reduced and like so many things what was presented as temporary seems to keep going.

In accordance with the most recent FOMC directive, the Desk will continue to offer at least $35 billion in two-week term repo operations twice per week and at least $120 billion in daily overnight repo operations.

The Desk will also offer three additional term repo operations during this calendar period with longer maturities that extend past the end of 2019.  ( NY Fed )

That is for the next month and there will be more to come as they catch up with something we have been looking at for a couple of years now which is the year end demand for US Dollars.

These additional operations are intended to help offset the reserve effects of sharp increases in non-reserve liabilities later this year and ensure that the supply of reserves remains ample during the period through year end.

Returning to the money supply data you will not be surprised to read that the numbers have improved considerably. The outright fall of US $42 billion in the narrow money measure in March has been replaced by growth and indeed strong growth as both the last 3 months and 6 months have seen growth at an annual rate of the order of 8%. Back in February I noted that cash growth was strong and it was demand deposits which were weak and it is really the latter which have turned around. Demand deposits totalled US $1.45 trillion in March but had risen to US $1.57 trillion at the end of October.

Talk of the demise of what Stevie V called

Dirty cash I want you, dirty cash I need you, woh-oh
Money talks, money talks
Dirty cash I want you, dirty cash I need you, woh-oh

continues which is rather the opposite of official rhetoric.

Thus a monetary stimulus has been applied and for those of you who like to look at this in real terms might now that the inflation measures in GDP have faded making the impetus stronger for say the opening and spring of 2020.

Have the Repo operations influenced this? If you look at the September data I think that they have. But this comes with a cautionary note as QE operations do not flow into the monetary data as obviously as you might think and at times in the Euro area for example have perhaps taken quite a while.

Credit

By contrast a bit of a brake was applied in September.

Consumer credit increased at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5 percent during the third quarter. Revolving credit increased at an annual rate of 2-1/4 percent, while nonrevolving credit increased at an annual rate of 6 percent. In September, consumer credit increased at an annual rate of 2-3/4 percent.

Those sort of levels would have the Bank of England at panic stations. It makes me wonder if fears over the financial intermediation of the banks was a factor in the starting of Repo operations?

If you are wondering if car loans are a factor here we only get quarterly data and as of the end of the third quarter the annual rate of growth was 4.3% so definitely, maybe.

The US Dollar

The official view is expressed like this.

NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday renewed his criticism of the Federal Reserve’s raising and then cutting of interest rates, saying the central bank had put the United States at a competitive disadvantage with other countries and calling for negative interest rates.

He wants lower interest-rates and a lower US Dollar. What we have seen is a trade-weighted index which has risen from 116 in February of last year to above 129 as I type this. So not much luck for the Donald

Comment

As you can see things are better than some doom mongers would have us believe. The monetary situation has picked up albeit with weaker consumer credit and there is the fiscal stimulus. But that is too late for this quarter and there are ongoing issues highlighted by the weak data we have seen out of China this week which the New York Fed summarises like this.

China’s monthly economic activity data is steady at a lower level.

Then there is the ongoing sequence of interest-rate cuts around the world which rose by 2 yesterday as Mexico and Egypt got on the bandwagon. That makes 770 for the credit crunch era now.

Meanwhile for those who have equities the Donald thinks that life is good.

Hit New Stock Market record again yesterday, the 20th time this year, with GREAT potential for the future. USA is where the action is. Companies and jobs are coming back like never before!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The success story of Spain faces new as well as old challenges

Back in the Euro area crisis the Spanish economy looked in serious trouble. The housing boom and bust had fit the banking sector mostly via the cajas and the combination saw both unemployment and bond yields soar. It seems hard to believe now that the benchmark bond yield was of the order of 7% but it posed a risk of the bond vigilantes making Spain look insolvent. That was added to by an unemployment rate that peaked at just under 27%. The response was threefold as the ECB bought Spanish bonds under the Securities Markets Programme to reduce the cost of debt. There was also this.

In June 2012, the Spanish government made an official request for financial assistance for its banking system to the Eurogroup for a loan of up to €100 billion. It was designed to cover a capital shortfall identified in a number of Spanish banks, with an additional safety margin.

In December 2012 and January 2013, the ESM disbursed a total of €41.3 billion, in the form of ESM notes, to the Fondo de Restructuración Ordenada Bancaria (FROB), the bank recapitalisation fund of the Spanish government. ( ESM)

Finally there was the implementation of the “internal competitiveness” model and austerity.

What about now?

Things are very different as Spain has been in a good run. From last week.

Spanish GDP registers a growth of 0.4% in the third quarter of 2019 compared to to the previous quarter in terms of volume. This rate is similar to that recorded in the
second trimester.The interannual growth of GDP stands at 2.0%, similar to the previous quarter.

There are two ways of looking at this in the round. The first is that for an advanced economy that is a good growth rate for these times, and the second is that it will be especially welcome on the Euro area. Combining Spain with its neighbour France means that any minor contraction in Germany does not pull the whole area in negative economic growth.

However there is a catch for the ECB as Spain has slowed to this rate of economic growth and had thus exceeded the “speed limit” of 1.5% per annum for quite a while now. That will keep its Ivory Tower busy manipulating, excuse me analysing output gaps and the like. In fact once the dog days of the Euro area crisis were over Spain’s economy surged forwards with annual economic growth peaking at 4.2% in the latter part of 2015 and then in general terms slowing to where we are now. As to why the ESM explanation is below.

 Strong job creation followed the economic expansion, and employment has recovered by more than 2.5 million. Structural reforms have been paying off: competitiveness gains have supported economic rebalancing towards tradable sectors, and exports of goods and services have stabilised at historical highs (above 30% of GDP). The large and persistent current account deficit, which had reached 9.6% of GDP in 2007, has turned into a surplus averaging 1.5% of GDP in 2014-18.

Actually the IMF must be disappointed it did not join the party as turning around trade problems used to be its job before it came under French management. But Spain certainly rebounded in economic terms.and has been a strength of the Euro area.

Looking at the broader economy, Spain returned to economic growth in 2014 and continues to perform above the euro area average in that category

Over the past six months external trade has continued to boost the economy in spite of conditions being difficult.

On the other hand, the demand external presents a contribution of 0.2 points, eight tenths lower than the quarter past.

The impact of all this has improved the employment situation considerably.

In interannual terms, employment increases at a rate of 1.8%, rate seven tenths
lower than the second quarter, which represents an increase of 332 thousand jobs
( full time equivalents) in one year.

In terms of a broad picture GDP in Spain peaked at 104.4 in the latter part of 2007 then had a double-dip to 94.3 in the autumn of 2013 and now is at 110.9. So it has recovered and moved ahead albeit over the 12 years not made much net progress.

Problems?

According to the ESM the banks remain a major issue.

Several legacy problems also remain in the banking sector. These include larger and more persistent-than-expected losses of SAREB, which pose a contingent liability to the state. Banks have adequate capital buffers, but should further strengthen them towards the euro area average to withstand any future risks. In addition, the privatisation of Bankia and the reform of cajas need to be completed.

Of course banking reform has been just around the corner on a Roman road in so many places. Also the balance sheet of the Spanish banks has received what Arthur Daley of the TV series Minder would call a “nice little earner”.

Housing prices rise 1.2% compared to the previous quarter.The annual variation rate of the Housing Price Index has decreased 1.5 points to 5.3%,

Annual house price growth returned in the spring of 2014 which the banks will welcome. The index based in 2015 is now at 124.2.

However not all ECB policies are welcomed by the banks.

Finally, banks still face pressure on profitability due to the low interest rate environment, and potentially from a price correction in financial assets if the macro environment deteriorates. ( ESM )

An official deposit rate of -0.5% does that to banking profitability. I do not recall seeing signs of the Spanish banks passing this on in the way that Deutsche Bank announced yesterday but the heat is on. I see that the ESM is covering its bases should house prices fall again.

If we look at mortgage-rates then they are falling again as the Bank of Spain records them as 1.83% in September which looks as though it may be an all time low but we do not have the full data set.

Comment

The new phase of economic growth has brought better news on another problem area as the Bank of Spain reports.

Indeed, the non-financial private sector debt ratio
relative to GDP stood at 132%, 5 pp down on a year earlier and 4 pp below the euro area average.

The ratio of the national debt to GDP has fallen to this.

Also, in June 2019 the public debt/GDP ratio stood at 98.9%, a level still 13 pp higher than the euro area average.

 

and these days it is much cheaper to finance as the 7% yields of the Euro area crisis have been replaced by some negative yields and even the benchmark ten-year being a mere 0.31%.

On the other side of the coin first-time buyers will not welcome the new higher house prices and there are areas of trouble.

In this respect, consumer credit grew in June 2019 at a year-on-year rate of around 12%, and non-performing consumer loans at 26%, raising the NPL ratio slightly to 5.6% ( Bank of Spain)

What could go wrong?

Another signal is the way that the growth in employment has improved things considerably but Spain still has an unemployment rate that has only just nudged under 14%.So there is still much to do just as we fear the next downturn may be in play.

A fifth successive monthly deterioration in Spanish
manufacturing operating conditions was signalled in October as a challenging business climate negatively impacted on sales and output……At 46.8, down from 47.7 in September, the index also posted its lowest level for six-and-half years.   ( Markiteconomics )

 

What economic situation faces the new Greek government?

There was a link between the two main news stories on Sunday. Those who feel the main aim of the original Greek bailout was to allow European banks to exit the country will have had a wry smile at the ongoing travails of Deutsche Bank. Also the consequences of that bailout are still being felt in Greece which may vote for political change but finds itself continuing to be in troubled economic times. From Kathimerini.

Crucially, asked to what extent the creditors would be open to a reduction to fiscal targets, Regling said the 3.5 percent of GDP target Greece has committed to is a “cornerstone of the program,” adding that it’s “very hard to see how debt sustainability can be achieved without that.”

This was a reminder that via the fiscal target some 3.5% of economic activity each year will be taken out of the economy to help reduce the size of the national debt. A bit like driving a car with the handbrake on. It also gives us a reminder of the early days of the Greek crisis where a vicious circle was set up as austerity shrank the economy which meant that more austerity was required and repeat. Accordingly Greece was plunged into what can only be described as a great depression. Putting it another way the Greek economy is now 18.8% smaller than it was as 2010 opened.

Another disturbing feature is the weakness of the current recovery. I have written throughout this saga about my fear that what should be a “V-Shaped” recovery has been an “L-Shaped” one. So after a better 2017 ( which was essentially the second quarter) we find ourselves reviewing not much growth.

The available seasonally adjusted data indicate that in the 1st quarter of 2019 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in volume terms increased by 0.2% in comparison with the 4th quarter of 2018, while in comparison with the 1st quarter of 2018, it increased by 1.3%

So if there is a recovery impetus it is finding that its energy is being diverted away by the primary surplus target.

Trade Problems

Yesterday we got the latest trade data for Greece and this matters because it is a test of what has become called the internal competitiveness model. This was produced for the Euro area crisis because there was no devaluation option as the official view is that the Euro is irreversible. Thus the wages of the ordinary Greek had to take the whole strain of whipping the economy back into shape. How has that gone?

The total value of imports-arrivals, in May 2019 amounted to 5,230.9 million euros (5,832.8 million dollars) in
comparison with 4,356.6 million euros (5,130.8 million dollars) in May 2018, recording an increase, in euros, of
20.1%…….The total value of exports-dispatches, in May 2019 amounted to 3,044.6 million euros (3,415.5 million dollars) in comparison with 2,955.0 million euros (3,501.2 million dollars) in May 2018, recording an increase, in euros, of 3.0%.

In itself a rise in the import bill may not be bad as it can indicate an economic recovery on its way. Also in these times of trade wars then an increase in exports is welcome. But we need to look further as to the overall position.

The deficit of the Trade Balance, for the 5-month period from January to May 2019 amounted to 9,421.0 million
euros (10,515.9 million dollars) in comparison with 8,086.2 million euros (9,738.3 million dollars) for the
corresponding period of the year 2018, recording an increase, in euros, of 16.5%.

These numbers do not allow for two of the main strengths of the Greek economy so let is put them in.

The rise in the services surplus is attributable to an improvement, primarily in the transport balance and, secondarily, in the travel and other services balances. Transport receipts (mainly sea transports) rose by 9.8%. At the same time, non-residents’ arrivals and the relevant receipts rose by 0.5% and 22.8%, respectively. ( Bank of Greece)

Those numbers are only up to April but we see that even without the grim trade data for May the overall current account was not going well.

In the January-April 2019 period, the current account showed a deficit of €5.1 billion, up by €335 million year-on-year.

Of course the flip side of Euro membership is that the value of the currency is unlikely to take much notice of this as due to Germany’s presence the overall position is of a consistent surplus. But whilst tourism in particular has done well the idea of a net exports surge is just not happening.

Looking Ahead

The Bank of Greece told us this at the beginning of this month.

economic activity is expected to increase by 1.9% in 2019, by 2.1% in 2020 and by 2.2% in 2021, mainly driven by private consumption, business investment and exports.

Those numbers send a chill down my spine because throughout the crisis we have been told that Greece will grow by around 2% per annum. This was supposed to start in 2012 whereas in fact the economy shrank at annual rates of between 4.1% and 8.7%. For now growth via exports seems unlikely to say the least.

The private-sector Markit PMI survey told us this.

Operating conditions in the Greek manufacturing sector
improved moderately in June, with the headline PMI
dipping to its lowest since November 2017. Weighing on
overall growth were slower increases in production and new business.

The reading was 52.4 ( 50 = unchanged)  so slow growth was the order of the day as we note Greece is being affected by a sector that in the Euro area overall is contracting.

Bond Market

There has been a spate of articles pointing out that Greece now has a ten-year yield which is very similar to that of the United States. Actually that is not going quite so well this morning as at 2.17% Greece is 0.1% higher. But it is being used as a way of bathing the situation in a favourable light which has quite a few problems.

  1. Rather than a sign of economic recovery it is a sign of a policy ( primary surplus target) which is sucking growth out of the economy.
  2. Pretty much any yield is being bought these days!
  3. Greece does not have that many government bonds in issue as so much of the debt is now owned by the two Euro area bailout vehicles the ESM and EFSF. They disbursed some 204 billion Euros to Greece and now hold more than half its national debt. It is also why if you look back at the first quote in this piece it is Klaus Regling of the ESM who is quoted.

So rather than success what the bond yield now tells us is that Greece is in a program that the so-called bond vigilantes would love, otherwise known as the primary surplus target. It also has seen the ESM debt kicked like a can to the late 2050s. That is really rather different.

Why would you pay investors 2% or so rather than 1% to the ESM? A blind eye keeps being turned to that question.

It is also why I find it frankly somewhat frustrating when people like Yanis Varoufakis call for QE for Greece as via the ESM It got its own form of it on a much larger scale. Their real problem is that it came with conditions.

Comment

This has been a long sad story perhaps best expressed by Elton John.

It’s sad, so sad (so sad)
It’s a sad, sad situation
And it’s getting more and more absurd
It’s sad, so sad (so sad)
Why can’t we talk it over?
Oh it seems to me
That sorry seems to be the hardest word

There have been some improvements but the numbers below also highlight the scale of the problem to be faced.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in March 2019 was 18.1% compared to 20.2% in March 2018 and the downward revised 18.4% in February 2019.

If we look back to the pre credit crunch era then the employment rate was around 10% lower than that. Also a youth unemployment rate of 40.4% is considerably improved but if we look at the past numbers we see that not only must so many young Greek’s not have a job but they must have no hope of one. Also it has gone on so long that some will now be in the next category of 25-34.

So the new Greek government has plenty of challenges so let me finish with the main two as seen by the Bank of Greece.

 This is so because, with a public debt-to-GDP ratio of 180%

and

Banks have made progress in reducing non-performing loans (NPLs). More specifically, at end-March 2019, NPLs amounted to €80 billion, down by about €1.8 billion from end-December 2018 and by around €27.2 billion from their March 2016 peak

 

 

Mark Carney claims “this is not a debt fuelled expansion” and interest-rates will rise “sooner than markets expect” yet again!

One of the features of the credit crunch era is the way that those in authority so often get given pretty much a free pass from the media, This is illustrated starkly by the BBC’s senior economics correspondent Dharshini David.

Today the Bank of England’s Governor admitted to me that rates are likely to rise faster than the markets expect. So when can we expect the first move? My analysis for

Perhaps Dharshini was giddy after being given the first question at the press conference. Sadly she asked a question which might have been written by Governor Carney himself and accordingly he seemed like Roger Federer as he volleyed it nonchalantly at the net.

Missing is any questioning of the assertion such as pointing out Governor Carney told us that interest-rates would rise “sooner than markets expect” in his Mansion House speech in June 2014. When this did not happen he acquired this moniker.

The Bank of England has acted like an “unreliable boyfriend” in hints over interest rate rises, according to MP Pat McFadden. ( BBC)

The reality was that his next move was to cut interest-rates In August 2016 followed by promises of another cut that November before yet another U-Turn. Then there was another U-Turn just over a year ago which if you recall was followed by a sharp drop in the value of the Pound £.

So you can see that it is really rather extraordinary that Dharshini either ignored or is unaware of this. I am not sure what to make of the sentence below.

But that doesn’t mean that Mark Carney or his colleagues are asleep at the wheel.

She was nearer the mark with this.

Report press conference was perhaps unprecedented number of female hacks… taken a while but face of financial journalism is changing, all the better to reflect our audiences

However there was no mention of the “woman  overboard” problem at the Bank of England which was illustrated by the 100% middle-aged male make up of its panel. The press conference highlighted this as in response to a question about diversity at the Bank of England Governor Carney responded with a barrage of “ums” and “ers”.

Still we can have a wry smile at this.

Growth actually isn’t that different to what was expected a year ago……..UK growth in the first quarter is likely to have been 0.5%, double what the Bank expected just three months ago.

Governor Carney kept pointing to the former forecast as he had a rare opportunity to bathe in a correct forecast, although he was not challenged on why they then cut the growth forecast to 0.2% so recently?

Pinocchio

In response to a rather good question about the growth of fixed-rate mortgages and its effect on the responsiveness of the economy to Bank Rate changes the Governor claimed this was nothing to do with him.  Nobody pointed out that in his first phase of Forward Guidance promising interest-rate increases there were people who were listening to him as there was a shift towards foxed-rate mortgages. Sadly, they were then shafted when Governor Carney cut interest-rates.

The point above was in a way the media catching up with one of my earliest themes from 2010 as I pointed out how market interest-rates were following official ones much less closely than before. However there was an even bigger humdinger out of Governor Carney’s mouth.

This is not a debt fuelled expansion

He has said this before and there are two main issues with this. The first is that the main policy over his tenure has been the funding for lending scheme which turned net mortgage lending positive. So more debt as shown by Wednesday’s figures.

Net lending for mortgages increased to £4.1 billion in March.

In the month before Governor Carney’s arrival the net increase was £785 million and whilst the rise has not been smooth ( early 2016 saw an incredible surge due to the buy to let changes) I think the numbers speak for themselves

Also the past three years or so has seen quite an extraordinary surge in unsecured credit something which I have been regularly documenting. It was £156.4 billion and is now around 38% higher at £216.7 billion. Can anybody think of anything else that has risen that fast as wage growth and GDP have been left far behind?

A factor in this has been something we have followed closely and was highlighted by the Office of Budget Responsibility.

 Data from the Finance & Leasing Association suggest that, between 2012 and 2016, dealership car finance contributed around three-fifths of the growth in total net consumer credit flows. Within that, around four-fifths reflected strong growth in car sales, with the remainder accounted for by a higher proportion of cars bought using dealership car finance.

So “this is not a debt fuelled recovery” means we have pumped up mortgage lending and seen quite a surge in car finance.

Inflation

Sadly for those who parroted the Bank of England line there was this. From @NicTrades

Bank of England Carney signals more than 1 hike may be needed to keep inflation in Check, while at the same time he cuts inflation forecasts.

Thus according to its inflation targeting regime an interest-rate increase is less and not more likely. Even worse the absent-minded professor Ben Broadbent gave us quite a spiel on oil markets as he tried to look on the ball, but to anyone market savvy that will have backfired too as they will have been thinking that the oil price has been falling recently. The price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil is as I type this nearly US $5 lower since President Trump indulged in his own open mouth operation on Twitter last Friday.

Comment

The era of Forward Guidance has turned out to be anything but for the Bank of England. Governor Carney seems to have set the boy who cried wolf as his role model and the fact that he has actively misled people gets mostly overlooked. Still let us hope he is right that UK GDP grew by 0.5% in the first quarter of this year. If true that will also pose a question for the Markit series of business surveys.

At 50.9 in April, up from 50.0 in March, the seasonally
adjusted All Sector Output Index revealed a return to growth for private sector business activity.

Meanwhile our supposed football fan missed an opportunity that was taken by the ECB.

Best of luck to our local team for tonight’s semi-final!

Perhaps I am more sensitive on that front as I am a Chelsea fan, but Arsenal fans may wonder too.

 

 

The Italian crisis continues to deepen

Sometimes financial life comes at your quickly and at others it feels like it takes an age. The current Italian crisis has managed in typically Italian style to have covered nearly all bases as we note the main driver simply being lack of economic growth meaning on a per head basis economic output is lower than when the Euro began, But if we move to the current there was a development yesterday, and context can be provided by statements from the new government that economic growth of 3% per annum is possible. From Italian statistics.

In 2018, GDP is expected to increase by 1.1 percent in real terms.The domestic demand will provide a contribution of 1.3 percentage points while foreign demand will account for a negative 0.2 percentage point and inventories will provide a null contribution. In 2019, GDP is estimated to increase by 1.3 percent in real terms driven by the contribution of domestic demand (1.3 percentage points)
associated to a null contribution of the foreign demand and inventories.

The initial response was surprise that Istat had held the previous forecast at 1.4% for so long. After all the Italian economy had been slowing for a while in quarterly terms from the peak of 0.5% and as it had been following a Noah’s Ark two-by-two style policy might have been expected to be 0.2% this time around, Except of course it was 0% reducing the annual rate to 0.8% which is below the current forecast.

If we look at the detail we see that such as it is there seems to be a reliance on consumption.

In 2018, exports will increase by 1.6 percent and imports will grow by 2.6 percent, both are expected
to accelerate in 2019 (3.2% and 3.5% respectively). Residential households consumption expenditure
is expected to grow by 0.9 percent in 2018 accelerating in 2019 (1.2%). The stabilisation in employment and the wages increase will support households purchasing power. Investment are expected to progressively decelerate both in 2018 (+3.9) and in 2019 (+3.2%).

In itself the trade decline is not a big deal as Italy has a strong trade position but it does subtract from GDP. It also poses a question for the Euro area “internal devaluation” model. Also it is hard not to question where that investment is going? After all in collective terms the economy is not growing. So we are left with domestic consumption relying on this.

Labour market conditions will improve over the forecasting period. Employment growth is expected to stabilise at 0,9 percent in 2018 and in 2019. At the same time, the rate of unemployment will decrease at 10.5 percent in the current year and at 10.2 percent in 2019.

Will the labour market continue to improve with economic growth slowing and maybe stopping completely? Frankly the only reason to forecast a better 2019 is the planned fiscal stimulus which of course is where the whole issue comes in.

Along the way we can get a new perspective from the fact that if we put 2010 at 100 the Italian economy peaked above 102 in early 2008 and has now recovered to just above 97.

Excessive Deficit Procedure

In essence the Euro area is stalling on the application of the EDP as it is hoping there might be a change of tack. Also I would imagine that it does not want to prod the Italian crisis with Brexit also up in the air. But there is something quite revealing in yesterday’s documentation from the European Commission.

Italy made a sizeable fiscal effort between 2010 and 2013, raising the primary surplus to over 2% of GDP and exiting the excessive deficit procedure in 2013 by keeping its headline deficit at a level not above 3% of GDP as of 2012 (down from more than 5% in 2009).

The reality if we look at the pattern of GDP was that returning to 2010 as our benchmark Italian GDP which was recovering from the initial credit crunch shock and rallying from ~94 to ~97 turned south from early 2011 and fell to below 93. Back then the EC and its acolytes were claiming that this was an expansionary fiscal contraction whereas if we allow for the lags it hit the Italian economy hard. There have been various mea culpas ( IMF mostly) and redactions of history since. But not only did Italy struggle to recover as even now we are only back to the 97 level where in GDP terms it started from of course it was then benefiting from both fiscal and monetary policy. Or as Mario Draghi likes to put it.

an ongoing broad-based economic expansion

If we look back to my article from the 26th of October Italy is now being told that fiscal policy cannot help and may make things worse too. So Italians may reasonably be annoyed and sing along with All Time Low.

‘Cause I’m damned if I do ya, damned if I don’t

Things that will not improve their humour is that it is the same Olivier Blanchard pushing this who was in the van of arguing that a fiscal contraction would boost the economy. Also that Euro area rhetoric is making the situation of their bond market worse.

Bond Market

Back on the 2nd of October I noted that the benchmark ten-year yield for Italy had risen to 3.4% but that such things took time to have an impact on the real as opposed to financial economy. Well it is 3.47% as I type this and I note that @liukzilla calculated that this phase of higher yields will cost Italy around 6.6 billion Euros in higher debt costs. Care is needed as it is not something to pay now but say over the next ten years as interest is paid. But a rising problem.

The new government suggested that retail investors might surge into the market but they have bought less than one billion Euro’s of this week’s offer which is at best a damp squib. Of course there are the banks…

Italian banks

Did somebody mention the banks? They are of course stuffed full of Italian government bonds and you can see the state of play courtesy of @LiveSquawk.

Italy’s 5 Star Movement Has Proposed Measures To Allow Unlisted Banks And Insurers Not To Mark To Market Gvt Bonds – RTRS Sources.

Yes that bad. But the circus for banks carries on regardless it would appear as we move to Reuters.

Carige said Italian banks had guaranteed they would buy bonds worth 320 million euros, with a further 80 million euros earmarked for private investors, possibly including existing shareholders.

So the tin can gets another kick as we note that this weakens the other banks which participate.

Comment

Let me add another dimension provided courtesy of the Financial Times Magazine and let us first set the scene.

Mafia syndicates in Italy have an estimated annual turnover of €150bn, according to a report by the anti-Mafia parliamentary committee in 2017.

They have moved into agriculture as it seems like easy money and the economic crisis gave them an opportunity as whilst conventional business struggled they had cash.

With margins as high as 700 per cent, profits from olive oil, for example, can be higher than those from cocaine — and with far less risk.

Also it gives you clean money to which Michael Corleone would nod approvingly. Here is one route.

A Mafia family could claim about €1m a year in EU subsidies on 1,000 hectares, while leasing it for as little as €37,000. “With profit margins as high as 2,000 per cent, with no risk, why sell drugs or carry out robberies when you can just wait for the cheque to arrive in the post?” he says by telephone from his home.

Here is an even more unpleasant one.

In February last year, 42 members of the Piromalli clan in Calabria were arrested and 40 farms seized in connection with the export of counterfeit oil to the US, sold as extra virgin, which retails for at least €7 a litre. A number of those arrested are now in prison awaiting trial. According to police, about 50 per cent of all extra-virgin olive oil sold in Italy is adulterated with cheap, poor-quality oil. Globally the proportion is even higher.

Makes me wonder about the bottle of olive oil in my kitchen and the “made in Italy” spaghetti. It is all nearly as bad as the video of Patrice Evra and the chicken or perhaps we should say salmonella.

 

 

 

 

Are we living beyond our means in the UK?

This morning has seen the UK Office for National Statistics enter the fray around whilst is something of a hardy perennial amongst economic questions.

UK households have seen their outgoings surpass their income for the first time in nearly 30 years, our data have shown.

I have to confess my first thought was are you sure about the 30 years? But let us suspend that particular critical facility for a moment and continue.

On average, each UK household spent or invested around £900 more than they received in income in 2017; amounting to almost £25 billion (or about one-fifth of the annual NHS budget in England).

Households’ outgoings last outstripped their income for a whole year in 1988, although the shortfall was much smaller at just £0.3 billion.

Even in the run-up to the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 – when 100% (and more) mortgages were offered to home buyers without a deposit – the country did not reach a point where the average household was a net borrower1.

Significant factors here will be regular topics such as the higher inflation of 2017 raising expenditure and the continuing struggles of wages growth. Although the next point raised may result in a strongly worded letter from an angry Canadian in the heart of the City of London.

To fund this shortfall, households either have to borrow – at which point they could be living beyond their means – or dip into their savings.

And our data show they are borrowing more and saving less.

Households took out nearly £80 billion in loans last year, the most in a decade; but they deposited just £37 billion with UK banks, the least since 2011.

Why might borrowing be attractive? Oh yes.

We’re borrowing more and saving less partly because the interest rate – which dictates returns on money saved and the size of loan repayments – has been at or near a record low for the past decade.

The base rate set by the Bank of England is just 0.5%, compared with almost 15% in 1990, making financial conditions better for borrowers rather than savers.

That of course does not give the Bank of England enough credit as until November the Bank Rate was 0.25% and nearly for the whole year it was supplying liquidity to the banks via the £127 billion Term Funding Scheme. It had also back in August 2016 started other Sledgehammer measures such as £10 bililion of Corporate Bond purchases and £60 billion of UK Gilt ( QE) purchases. These moves led to a succession of record low mortgage rates which perhaps the ONS is not aware of but it has spotted a likely consequence.

Households’ investment reached a record high of £74 billion in 2017, most of which was spending on new homes and major home improvements.

This provokes two lines of thought. Let us start with my subject of Monday where we noted a case of someone buying a new kitchen presumably expecting his house would rise in value by more only to discover that it was not that simple. Next is the issue that something ordinarily regarded as a “good thing” investment seems not to be quite so clearly so here.

The nib on the fountain pen of our angry Canadian may fracture under the pressure as he notes that even being unreliable has contributed.

Recently, the Bank of England has been warning the country to expect interest rate rises. Expectations of an interest rate rise can affect saving and borrowing behaviour. Borrowing could rise in the short-term as households seek to take advantage of smaller repayments, while saving could be put off amid the prospect of higher returns in future.

At this point our angry Canadian will be torn between pointing out he saved 250,000 jobs and venting his spleen by calling in Chief Economist Andy Haldane and asking for a report on developments with his adviser Billy Bragg. Oh and when did over 4 years become “recently” please? As to the pen’s nib I would not be too worried as after all there is no shortage of gold to repair it with at the Bank of England.

There was something rather familiar to readers of my work although of course something confusing for those who believed the past Bank of England claims that there was no unsecured credit boom.

The stock of consumer credit – including credit cards, car finance plans and payday loans – has risen by nearly one-third in the last five years. Car finance is comfortably the fastest growing type of credit, with nearly 90% of new car purchases now funded this way.

I think actually car finance was the fastest growing type of credit is better as the slow down in sales will put a brake on things.

The amount of money owed in short-term loans has surpassed its pre-crisis level. These loans do not require any collateral (such as a house deposit) to be approved, but they’re expensive to pay back because they demand higher interest repayments.

Oh and here is an example from the BBC of an official body getting ready for an interest-rate move.

National Savings and Investments (NS&I) is cutting the interest rate it pays on its Direct Individual Savings Account (ISA), affecting nearly 400,000 savers.

From 24 September, NS&I will reduce the rate on its Direct ISA from 1.00% to 0.75%.

Ch-ch-changes

Can anybody think how our financial behaviour might have been influenced so that we have become more like Canada?

Meanwhile, the average household in Germany and France has always been able to cover their outgoings without turning to debt, partly because they’re historically bigger savers than the UK, Canada and the US.

For a long time, the average UK household was in a similar position to those in France and Germany. However, we’re now much closer to Canada and the US than our European neighbours.

Comment

As I noted this work appearing on social media I started to wonder if it would turn out to be like that Swiss cheese with the holes in it? There are elements of that because if you are looking at borrowing in this way I think you also need an idea of asset backing ( if any) and also a realisation that some of the numbers will not be known. For example I can see how we should know the amount of bank deposits in the UK but share investments especially abroad are far from clear.

If we look at the numbers there is an unsettling tone as I note that the report talks about a financial year and the numbers are for calendar years. But I know people like them so here we go. UK financial assets at the end of 2017 were £6.6 trillion and our angry Canadian might be mollified as he notes that it has grown from £5.2 trillion in the year he took up his post especially as he can then add to it the rise in house prices. By far the largest player is pension schemes at £3.8 billion with bank deposits next at £1.57 billion.Against that total debt is £1.8 trillion so looked at like that we are (trillions of) quids in.

Except of course the £3.8 billion is against a future liability which is missed out and we are often somewhere between poor and hopeless in measuring them. From Josephine Cumbo of the Financial Times.

The adoption of a higher discount rate by USS is in keeping with other private sector schemes. This year, Tesco sliced its DB deficit largely by increasing its discount rate from 2.5% to 2.9%.

In addition there is the issue of maybe people have borrowed because they think ( perhaps are) wealthier. Or at least some are as we are reminded that in the era of the 0.01% there is a clear case of what Pink Floyd described as “Us and Them”

Meanwhile as a cricket fan let me note that there seams to have been a late swing to Imran Khan in Pakistan.

 

 

The IMF debt arrow warning misses the real target

Yesterday brought the latest forecasts from the IMF ( International Monetary Fund). Don’t worry I am not concerned with them as after all Greece would be now have recovered if they were right. But there is a link to the Greece issue and the way that it has found itself trying to push an enormous deadweight of debt which meant that Euro area policy had to change to make the interest-rates on it much cheaper. Here is the ESM or European Stability Mechanism on that subject.

1% Average interest rate on ESM loans to Greece (as of 28/04/2017)

That is a far cry from the “punishment” 4.5% that regular readers will recall that Germany was calling for in the early days and the implementation of which added to the trouble. Also if we continue with the debt theme there is another familiar consequence.

That is because the two institutions can borrow cash much more cheaply than Greece itself, and offer a long period for repayment. Greece will not have to start repaying its loans to the ESM before 2034, for instance.

So in the words of the payday lenders Greece now has one affordable monthly payment or something like that. As we note the IMF research below I think it is important to keep the consequences in mind.

The IMF Fiscal Monitor

Here is the opening salvo.

Global debt hit a new record high of $164 trillion in 2016, the equivalent of 225 percent of global GDP. Both private and public debt have surged over the past decade.

Later we get a breakdown of this.

Of the $164 trillion, 63 percent is non financial private sector debt, and 37 percent is public sector debt.

That is a fascinating breakdown so the banks have eliminated all their own debt have they? Perhaps it is the new hybrid debt being counted as equity. Also the IMF quickly drops its interest in the 63% which is a shame as there are all sorts of begged questions here. For example who is it borrowed from and is there any asset backing? In the UK for example it would include the fast rising unsecured or consumer credit sector as well as the mortgaged sector but of course even that relies on the house price boom for an asset value. Then we could get onto student debt which whilst I have my doubts about some of the degrees offered in return I have much more confidence in young people as an asset if I may put it like that. So sadly the IMF has missed the really interesting questions and of course is stepping on something of a land mine in discussing government debt after its debacle in Greece.

Government Debt

Here is the IMF hammering out its beat.

Debt in advanced economies is at 105 percent of
GDP on average—levels not seen since World War II.
In emerging market and middle-income economies,
debt is close to 50 percent of GDP on average—levels
last seen during the 1980s debt crisis. For low-income
developing countries, average debt-to-GDP ratios have
been climbing at a rapid pace and exceed 40 percent
as of 2017.

If we invert the order I notice that there are issues with the poorer countries again.

Moreover, nearly half of this debt is on
nonconcessional terms, which has resulted in a doubling
of the interest burden as a share of tax revenues
in the past 10 year.

This gives us food for though as you see one of the charts shows that such countries have received two phases of what is called relief, once in the 90s and once on the noughties. Is it relief or as Elvis Presley put it?

We’re caught in a trap
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much baby

Next time I see Ann Pettifor who was involved in the Jubilee debt effort I will ask about this. Does such debt relief in a way validate policies which lead such countries straight back into debt trouble?

Advanced Countries

Here the choice of 2016 by the IMF is revealing. I have a little sympathy in that the data is often much slower to arrive than you might think but the government debt world has changed since them. Any example of this came from the UK only this week.

General government deficit (or net borrowing) was £39.4 billion in 2017, a decrease of £19.0 billion compared with 2016; this is equivalent to 1.9% of GDP, 1.1 percentage points below the reference value of 3.0% set out in the Protocol on the Excessive Deficit Procedure.

It is hard not to have a wry smile at the UK passing one of the Maastricht criteria! But the point is that the deficit situation is much better albeit far slower than promised meaning that whilst the debt soared back then now prospects are different.

In truth I fear that the IMF has taken a trip to what we might call Trumpton.

In the United States—where
a fiscal stimulus is happening when the economy is
close to full employment, keeping overall deficits above
$1 trillion (5 percent of GDP) over the next three
years—fiscal policy should be recalibrated to ensure
that the government debt-to-GDP ratio declines over
the medium term.

I have quite a bit of sympathy with questioning why the US has added a fiscal stimulus to all the monetary stimulus? I know it has been raising interest-rates but the truth is that it has less monetary stimulus now rather than a contraction. Those of us who fear that modern economies can only claim growth if they continue to be stimulated or a type of economic junkie culture will think along these lines. But also they lose ground with waffle like “full employment” in a world where the Japanese unemployment rate is 2.5% as to the 4.1% in the US. Oh and whilst we are at it there is of course the fact that Japan has been running such fiscal deficits for years now.

What about interest-rates and yields?

There was this from Lisa Abramowicz of Bloomberg yesterday.

While U.S. yields may still be rising, the world is still awash in central-bank stimulus. The amount of negative-yielding debt has actually grown by nearly $1.4 trillion since February, to about $8.3 trillion: Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Negative Yielding Debt index

My point is that for all the talk and analysis of higher interest-rates and yields we get this.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here and let me open with a bit of tidying up. Comparing a debt stock to an income/output flow ( GDP) requires also some idea of the cost of the debt. Moving on an opportunity has been missed to look at private-debt as we note that US consumer credit has passed the pre credit crunch peak. Of course the economy is larger but there are areas of troubled water such as car loans. This matters because the last surge in government debt was driven by the socialisation of private debt previously owned by the banks.

If we note the debt we have generically then there are real questions now as to high interest-rates can go? Some of you have suggested around 3% but in the end that also depends on economic growth which is apposite because the slowing of some monetary indicators suggests we may be about to get less of it. Should that turn further south then more than a few places will see an economic slow down that starts with both negative interest-rates and yields. These are the real issues as opposed to old era thinking.

• First, high government debt can make countries
vulnerable to rollover risk because of large gross
financing needs, particularly when maturities are
short

In reality that will be QE’d away if I may put it like that and the real question is where will the side-effects and consequences of the QE response appear? For example the distributional effects in favour of those with assets. Perhaps the real issue is the continuing prevalence of negative yields in a (claimed) recovery………From the Fab Four.

You never give me your money
You only give me your funny paper
And in the middle of negotiations
You break down

Me on Core Finance TV

The issue of house prices in both Australia and China

Earlier today there was this announcement from Australia or if you prefer the south china territories.

Residential property prices rose 1.9 per cent in the June quarter 2017, according to figures released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)……..Through the year growth in residential property prices reached 10.2 per cent in the June quarter 2017. Sydney and Melbourne recorded the largest through the year growth of all capital cities, both rising 13.8 per cent followed by Hobart, which rose 12.4 per cent.

So we see something which is a familiar pattern as we see a country with a double-digit rate of inflation in this area albeit only just. Also adding to the deja vu is that the capital city seems to be leader of the pack.

However there is quite a bit of variation to be seen on the undercard so to speak.

“Residential property prices, while continuing to rise in Melbourne and Sydney this quarter, have begun to moderate. Annual price movements ranged from -4.9 per cent in Darwin to +13.8 per cent in Sydney and Melbourne. These results highlight the diverse housing market and economic conditions in Australia’s capital cities,” Chief Economist for the ABS, Bruce Hockman said.

The statistics agency seems to be implying it is a sort of race if the tweet below is any guide.

“Sydney and Melbourne drive property price rise of 1.9%” – how did your state perform?

Wealth

There was something added to the official house price release that will lead to smiles and maybe cheers at the Reserve Bank of Australia.

The total value of Australia’s 9.9 million residential dwellings increased $145.9 billion to $6.7 trillion. The mean price of dwellings in Australia rose by $12,100 over the quarter to $679,100.

Central bankers will cheer the idea that wealth has increased in response to the house price rises but there are plenty of issues with this. Firstly you are using the prices of relatively few houses and flats to give a value for the whole housing stock. Has anybody made an offer for every dwelling in Australia? I write that partly in jest but the principle of the valuation idea being a fantasy is sound. Marginal prices ( the last sale) do not give an average value. Also the implication given that wealth has increased ignores first-time buyers and those wishing or needing to move to a larger dwelling as they face inflation rather than have wealth gains.

This sort of thinking has also infested the overall wealth figures for Australia and the emphasis is mine.

The average net worth for all Australian households in 2015–16 was $929,400, up from $835,300 in 2013–14 and $722,200 in 2005-06. Rising property values are the main contributor to this increase. Total average property values have increased to $626,700 in 2015–16 from $548,500 in 2013–14 and $433,500 in 2005-06.

If we look at impacts on different groups we see it driving inequality. One way of looking at this is to use a Gini coefficient which in adjusted terms for disposable income is 0.323 and for wealth is 0.605 . Another way is to just simply look at the ch-ch-changes over time.

One factor driving the increase in net wealth of high income households is the value of owner-occupied and other property. For high wealth households, average total property value increased by $878,000 between 2003-04 and 2015-16 from $829,200 to $1.7 million. For middle wealth households average property values increased by $211,200 (from $258,000 to $469,200). Low wealth households that owned property had much lower growth of $5,600 to $28,500 over the twelve years.

As you can see the “wealth effects” are rather concentrated as I note that the percentage increase is larger for the wealthier as well of course as the absolute amount. Those at the lower end of the scale gain very little if anything. What group do we think central bankers and their friends are likely to be in?

Debt

This has been rising too.

Average household debt has almost doubled since 2003-04 according to the latest figures from the Survey of Income and Housing, released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

ABS Chief Economist Bruce Hockman said average household debt had risen to $169,000 in 2015-16, an increase of $75,000 on the 2003-04 average of $94,000.

The ABS analysis tells us this.

Growth in debt has outpaced income and asset growth since 2003-04. Rising property values, low interest rates and a growing appetite for larger debts have all contributed to increased over-indebtedness. The proportion of over-indebted households has climbed to 29 per cent of all households with debt in 2015-16, up from 21 per cent in 2003-04.

They define over-indebtedness as having debts of more than 3 years income or more than 75% of their assets. That must include rather a lot of first-time buyers.

Younger property owners in particular have taken on greater debt.

Also the statistic below makes me think that some are either punting the property market or had no choice but to take out a large loan.

“Nearly half of our most wealthy households (47 per cent) who have a property debt are over-indebted, holding an average property debt of $924,000. This makes them particularly susceptible if market conditions or household economic circumstances change,” explained Mr Hockman.

So something of an illusion of wealth combined with the hard reality of debt.

Ever more familiar

Such situations invariably involve “Help” for first-time buyers and here it is Aussie style.

In Australia every State government provides first home buyer with incentives such as the First Home Owners Grant (FHOG) ( FHBA)

In New South Wales you get 10,000 Aussie Dollars plus since July purchases up to 650,000 Aussie Dollars are free of state stamp duty.

China

If we head north to China we see a logical response to ever higher house prices.

Local governments are directly buying up large quantities of houses developers haven’t been able to sell and filling them with citizens relocated from what they call “slums”—old, sometimes dilapidated neighborhoods. ( Wall Street Journal).

We have discussed on here more than a few times that the end game could easily be a socialisation of losses in the property market which of course would be yet another subsidy for the banks.

The scale of the program is large, accounting for 18% of floor space sold in 2016, according to Rosealea Yao, senior analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics, and is being partly funded by state policy banks like China Development Bank. ( WSJ)

Will they turn out to be like the Bank of Japan in equity markets and be a sort of Beijing Whale? Each time the market dips the Bank of Japan provides a put option although of course there are not that many Exchange Traded Funds for it to buy these days because it has bought so many already.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here so let me open with a breakdown of changes in the situation in Australia over the last decade or so.

This growth in household debt was larger than the growth in income and assets over the same period. The mean household debt has increased by 83% in real terms since 2003-04. By comparison, the mean asset value increased by 49% and gross income by 38%.

Lower interest-rates have oiled the difference between the growth of debt and income. But as we move on so has the rise in perceived wealth. The reason I call it perceived wealth is that those who sell genuinely gain when they do so but for the rest it is simply a paper profit based on a relatively small number of transactions.

If we move to the detail we see that if there is to be Taylor Swift style “trouble,trouble, trouble” it does not have to be in the whole market. What I mean by that is that lower wealth groups have gained very little if anything from the asset price rises so any debt issues there are a problem. Also those at the upper end may be more vulnerable than one might initially assume.

High income households were also more likely to be over-indebted. One quarter of the households in the top income quintile were over-indebted compared to one-in-six (16%) low income households (in the bottom 20%).

Should one day they head down the road that China is currently on then the chart below may suggest that those who have rented may be none too pleased.

Never Tear Us Apart ( INXS )

I was standing
You were there
Two worlds collided
And they could never ever tear us apart