A curious treatment of inflation has knocked more than 3% off UK GDP

This morning has brought us up to date on the UK economy in the third quarter of this year. These days we get the numbers with a bit more of a delay than in the past and in this confused pandemic period our official statisticians must be grateful for it. It gives them more time to check matters and collect a fuller set of quarterly data.

Following two consecutive quarters of contraction, UK gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated to have grown by a record 15.5% in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2020. This is the largest quarterly expansion in the UK economy since Office for National Statistics (ONS) quarterly records began in 1955.

So we see quite a bounce back, but it is also true that momentum was lost.

The monthly path of GDP in Quarter 3 2020 reveals that there has been a slowdown of growth in August and September as momentum has eased through the quarter. GDP increased by 6.3% in July, driven by accommodation and food services as lockdown restrictions were eased.

That was the peak followed by this.

GDP grew by 2.2% in August, driven by accommodation and food services because of the combined impact of easing lockdown restrictions and the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme, as well as growth in the accommodation industry as international travel restrictions boosted domestic “staycations”.

Of course, there is a different perspective to the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme as we mull how much it contributed to the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and thus reduced GDP later on. Fortunately we continued to grow in September as some thought we might not.

In September, GDP further slowed to 1.1% where professional, scientific and technical activities had the largest contribution and legal activities, accounting and advertising saw strong growth after a muted August.

Actually September saw a swing back in something I drew attention to in the second quarter data where the UK statisticians treated education in a really rather odd way. From August 12th.

The implied deflator strengthened in the second quarter, increasing by 6.2%. This primarily reflects movements in the implied price change of government consumption, which increased by 32.7% in Quarter 2 2020.

That as I pointed out at the time was really quite bizarre and led to around 5% being subtracted from UK GDP. This time around they put some of it back as I note this in the September detail.

Education also had a large positive contribution in September as schools made further advances in returning to a level of teaching similar to before the lockdown started on 23 March 2020, primarily through increased attendance.

The state sector in GDP

This has long been a problem in GDP numbers which rely on prices and therefore hit trouble in areas where you do not have them.With much of UK education and health provision being state provided there is not a price mechanism and instead we see all sorts of often dubious assumptions. As a reminder I recall Pete Comley telling me that he had looked into the inflation measure for this sector ( called a deflator), when I provided some technical advice for his book on inflation  and felt they simply made the numbers up. Well in that vein remember the deflator which surged by 32.7%, well in Question of Sport style what happened next? We get a hint from the nominal data.

Nominal GDP increased by 12.6% in Quarter 3 2020, its largest quarterly expansion on record

So a 2.9% gap between it and the real GDP number with this causing it.

The implied deflator fell by 2.5% in the third quarter, the first quarterly decline since Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2015. This primarily reflects movements in the implied price change of government consumption, which fell by 7.0% in Quarter 3 2020.

So we got a bit under a quarter of it back. The explanation would have been described by the Alan Parsons Project as Psychobabble.

This decrease occurred because the volume of government activity in the third quarter increased at a much greater rate than nominal government expenditure. This is partly because of the unwinding in some of the movements that occurred in the second quarter, which saw a fall in the volume of government activity at the same time as an increase in government expenditure in nominal terms.

This really is a bit of a dog’s dinner.

 In education, the large fall in the volume of education activity in the second quarter followed by the large increase in the third quarter help explain the most recent quarterly movement in the implied deflator.

The same happened to health.

In the third quarter, nominal spending on health was largely unchanged, while volumes increased, which has impacted upon the growth rate of the implied deflator in the third quarter.

Applying normal metrics to abnormal times has them singing along with Kylie Minogue.

I’m spinning around, move out of 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.

We can compare this with others to see the scale of what has happened here. We do not have numbers for the full Euro area but Germany for example saw its deflator rise by 0.5% in the second quarter and then returned to a slightly lower level in the third quarter. So very different. France saw more of a move with its deflator rising by 2.4% but has now reduced it to below the previous level. Spain saw barely any change at all

A Trade Surplus

The UK finds itself maybe not quite in unknown territory but along the way.

In the 12 months to September 2020, the total trade balance, excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, increased by £35.9 billion to a surplus of £5.2 billion.

Yes you did see the word surplus which is a rare beast for annual data for the UK and we can continue the theme.

The UK total trade surplus, excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, decreased £3.4 billion to £4.2 billion in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2020, as imports grew by £17.3 billion and exports grew by a lesser £13.8 billion.

However the theme does hit rougher water with the latest monthly data.

The total trade balance for September 2020, excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, decreased by £3.6 billion to a deficit of £0.6 billion; imports increased by £3.6 billion while exports remained flat.

Comment

The pandemic has created all sorts of issues but in terms of economics we find ourselves here, or rather this is where we were at the end of the third quarter.

the level of GDP in the UK is still 9.7% below where it was at the end of 2019. Compared with the same quarter a year ago, the UK economy fell by 9.6%.

In spite of the media obsession with recessions this is a depression and we should call it such. Looking ahead we know that things will be depressed by the four week lockdown we are presently in meaning the economy looks set to shrink again in this quarter. There are some newer official surveys for October which suggest we had lost more growth momentum as restrictions began again.

BICs for 5-18 October 2020, found that of businesses currently trading, 45% reported their turnover had decreased below what is normally expected for October, compared to 48% reporting decreases in September……While it is not clear exactly how strong a relationship there is between GDP and BICs, the business survey data suggests the outlook has improved only modestly, if at all, as we moved into October. ( @jathers_ONS )

However if we return to the overall pattern for 2020 we see that a decision by the Office for National Statistics has depressed the way it records UK GDP and that it is ongoing with less than a quarter being reversed. This makes international comparisons very difficult especially for those unaware of the situation. We need I think to add at least 3% to the UK number when we try to compare internationally.

On a statistical level I regularly find the ONS justifying things on the basis of “international standards” so it needs in my opinion to explain why it has taken such a different path this time.

 

 

 

 

 

China reports year on year economic growth

This has been a year where China has been especially in focus. Even before it began there were plenty of eyes on its economic performance but the Coronavirus pandemic that looks to have emerged from the Huhan Province upped the ante. Today gives us the opportunity to note the official view on economic developments since then.

The economic growth of the first three quarters shifted from negative to positive, the relations between supply and demand gradually improved, the vitality and dynamic of market were enhanced, and the employment and people’s livelihood were well guaranteed. The national economy continued the steady recovery and the overall social stability was maintained.

So quite an apparent triumph with the pattern for the year show below.

Specifically, the GDP for the first quarter declined by 6.8 percent year on year, increased by 3.2 percent for the second quarter, and up by by 4.9 percent for the third quarter.

They use numbers that are compared to the previous year for that quarter so let us now switch to looking at quarterly and annual growth.

The GDP for the third quarter grew by 2.7 percent quarter on quarter……..According to the preliminary estimates, the gross domestic product (GDP) of China was 72,278.6 billion yuan in the first three quarters, a year-on-year growth of 0.7 percent at comparable prices.

So the overall picture we are left with her is of an economy which has weathered the pandemic and in fact grown albeit very slightly. If you want the pattern which has brought us here it is shown below.

The quarter-on-quarter growth of quarterly GDP since 2019 were 1.9 percent, 1.3 percent, 1.0 percent, 1.6 percent, -10.0 percent, 11.7 percent and 2.7 percent respectively.

The Breakdown

In terms of industry China is emphasising that there has been plenty of high-tech growth.

 In the first three quarters, the value added of high-tech manufacturing and equipment manufacturing grew by 5.9 percent and 4.7 percent year on year. In terms of the output of products, in the first three quarters, the production of trucks, excavators and shoveling machinery, industrial robots, and integrated circuits grew by 23.4 percent, 20.2 percent, 18.2 percent and 14.7 percent year on year respectively.

I am not quite sure why they needed so many extra trucks, excavators and shovelling machinery. Unless of course they were dealing with the swine flu problems of pork production.

Specifically, the output of poultry grew by 6.5 percent, and output of beef, mutton and pork dropped by 1.7 percent, 1.8 percent and 10.8 percent respectively, a decline narrowed by 1.7 percentage points, 0.7 percentage points and 8.3 percentage points compared with that of the first half of this year. The pig production capacity gradually recovered. By the end of the third quarter, 370.39 million pigs were registered in stock, up by 20.7 percent year on year, among which, 38.22 million were breeding sows, up by 28.0 percent.

Overall industry was an outperformer.

Specifically, that of the third quarter grew by 5.8 percent year on year, 1.4 percentage points faster than that of the second quarter.

Services

Again the picture here is of a modern thriving economy.

In the first three quarters, of modern service industries, the value added of the information transmission, software and information technology services, and financial services grew by 15.9 percent and 7.0 percent respectively, or 1.4 percentage points and 0.4 percentage points higher than that of the first half of this year.

However the overall position like elsewhere is of a services sector in decline.

The Index of Services Production dropped by 2.6 percent year on year, a decline narrowed by 3.5 percentage point compared with that of the first half of the year; specifically, that of September grew by 5.4 percent, 1.4 percentage points faster than that of August.

We see that retail sales have had their struggles by the way we are guided towards September rather than the whole third quarter.

In September, the total retail sales of consumer goods reached 3,529.5 billion yuan, up by 3.3 percent year on year, 2.8 percentage points faster than that of August, maintaining the growth for two consecutive months.

Investment

This has managed to just become positive.

In the first three quarters, the investment in fixed assets (excluding rural households) reached 43,653.0 billion yuan, up by 0.8 percent year on year, shifting from negative to positive for the first time in 2020, while that of the first half of this year was down by 3.1 percent.

Looking into the detail we see that one definition of investment ( manufacturing) fell but construction carried on growing.

the investment in manufacturing dropped by 6.5 percent, a decline narrowed by 5.2 percentage points compared with that of the first half of 2020; the investment in real estate development grew by 5.6 percent, 3.7 percentage points faster than that of the first half of 2020.

The latter is very different to what we have seen elsewhere.

Trade

This of course was a contributor to the imbalances that led to the credit crunch. As you can see it has got worse rather than better this year.

In the first three quarters…….The value of exports was 12,710.3 billion yuan, up by 1.8 percent, and the value of imports was 10,404.8 billion yuan, down by 0.6 percent.

I note that they use value rather than volume but suspect this may just be a translation issue. The imbalance situation did improve in September but as ever we need to be cautious about trade figures for a single month.

The Exchange-Rate

This merits a mention as it has not behaved as people continue to expect.There have been plenty of reports published about a weaker Renminbi but in fact in the second half of this year it has been strengthening. The nadir was on the 28th of May at 7.17 versus the US Dollar compared to 6.7 this morning.

What this means beyond the obvious is complex because the Renminbi is neither fixed nor floating and is a managed currency.

Comment

There are several layers in an analysis of this. So let me start from the beginning which is that GDP is calculated differently in China to elsewhere.

While GDP growth in most countries is a measured output that depends on volatile real economic activity, Chinese GDP is an input into the economic process in which local governments are required to add whatever additional economic activity is needed to achieve the targeted GDP growth rate, whether or not this activity adds to welfare or productive capacity ( Michael Pettis )

So a version of “tractor production is always rising” if you like. The debate has gone on for years and a new view on it is around inflation measurement which if you look at the thrust of my work raises a wry smile. Essentially it is not the basic numbers used but it is the inflation measure or deflator that has “smoothed” things since 2012. Taking that view Capital Economics in China suggest GDP has been overstated by around 12%. They back up their view in this way.

For example, the formerly tight link between construction activity and cement output stops working. (See the chart.) Industrial value-added (and monthly IP) become eerily stable, but direct measures of output from industry don’t.

It’s harder to find proxies for services (partly because much of it is lumped together as “other” services, which have apparently been growing very fast). But we see the same abrupt drop in volatility as in industry.

This fits with what we have noted in the past as for example the phase whereby electricity production did not fit what we were told. However, this is a movable feat as once the Chinese noticed this they became “smoothed” too.

So China looks as though it is doing better than us western capitalist imperialists in 2020 which I guess is no great surprise.After all they have much more experience of running a centrally planned economy.We keep stopping ours. However they have been to coin a phrase “somewhat economical with the figures” since around 2012.

There is a subplot to that too as back on the 12th of August I pointed out a really odd move in the UK Deflator.

The implied deflator strengthened in the second quarter, increasing by 6.2%. This primarily reflects movements in the implied price change of government consumption, which increased by 32.7% in Quarter 2 2020.

We failed to follow what Level 42 would call The Chinese Way however as we reduced our GDP by around 5%.

Podcast

 

Has nobody else spotted 6% inflation being reported in UK GDP?

Today brings my home country the UK into focus as we get the first picture of how much economic damage the lockdown did in the second quarter of this year. So let us take a look.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated to have fallen by a record 20.4% in Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2020, marking the second consecutive quarterly decline after it fell by 2.2% in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2020.

That was depending on who you looked at better than forecast, for example the CBI was suggesting a 25% drop yesterday with most suggesting 21-22%. I see the someone at the Financial Times will get first dibs on the best cake from the cake trolley today for presenting it like this.

Just in: The UK economy contracted 20.4% in the second quarter, a bigger slump than any other major European economy.

In itself the fall was no surprise as at a time like this we can certainly ignore the 0.4% as we wonder if it is even accurate to whole percentage points? Curiously for a number which is of the level of a depression and a great depression at that the media seem to be lost in a recession obsession.

BREAKING: UK is officially in #recession as the economy shrinks by a record 20.4% in the second quarter of the year. It’s the first time in 11 years that the UK has gone into recession. ( BBC)

Meanwhile back in the real world we were expecting a fall of the order of a fifth and we need to move on to see if and how we are recovering from the impact of the lockdown. After all we did close quite a bit of the economy.

There have been record quarterly falls in services, production and construction output in Quarter 2, which have been particularly prevalent in those industries that have been most exposed to government restrictions.

June

We see that there was indeed quite a bounce back as the economy slowly began to reopen.

Monthly gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 8.7% in June 2020, following growth of 2.4% in May 2020.

I am not sure whether we will ever fully pin it down as for example pubs and bars were allowed to reopen on July 4th but the ones I jogged past on the Battersea Power Station site had people sitting outside drinking some days before that. So officially after these numbers but unofficially?

Speaking of not being sure what was and what was not supposed to be happening the strongest growth came here.

Monthly construction output grew by a record 23.5% in June 2020, substantially higher than the previous record monthly growth of 7.6% in May 2020;

How much?

Monthly construction output increased by 23.5% in June 2020 compared with May 2020, rising to £10,140 million

Which areas?

The record 22.2% (£1,224 million) growth in new work in June 2020 was driven by increases in all new work sectors, with the largest contribution coming from a record 42.3% (£545 million) growth in private new housing.

The Bank of England will be happy to see the housing growth.

Next on the list was manufacturing.

Production output rose by 9.3% between May 2020 and June 2020, with manufacturing providing the largest upward contribution, rising by 11.0%, the largest increase since records began in January 1968.

Driven by.

The monthly increase of 11.0% in manufacturing output was led by transport equipment (52.6%) but this subsector remained 38.2% weaker compared to February 2020; of the 13 subsectors, 11 displayed upward contributions.

The issues with transport production began long before February of course.

Unusually for the UK its main sector was something of a laggard rather than being a leader in June.

There was a rise of 7.7% in the Index of Services between May 2020 and June 2020; of the 50 services industries, 47 grew between May and June 2020, though most remain substantially below their February 2020 level.

The detail provided reminds us that much of the debate about the decline of manufacturing ignores the reality that we have to some extent defined it away. As the repair of cars and bikes involves elements of manufacturing and services in my opinion.

The largest contribution to monthly growth was wholesale and retail trade and repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles, rising by 27.0%; of the 7.7% growth in services, 1.7 percentage points came from wholesale and retail trade and repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles.

We learn a little from looking at the best part of services and noting that even it has a way to go.

The rate of progress for each sector in returning to February 2020 levels can more easily be understood in Figure 8 where, for example, in June, wholesale and retail trade and repair of motor vehicles services was at 93.7% of the February 2020 level, rising from its lowest point between March and May of 65.2% of the February 2020 level.

Also I did say that the Bank of England would be happy and need to correct myself to say until it read the bit below.

In contrast, real estate activities have fallen for the fourth month because of real estate activities; and rentals and commercial property, excluding imputed rent.

For newer readers a fall in imputed rent is just too much for the establishment to cope with. So let’s leave them with their fantasy numbers and move on. Also I am not expecting a major bounce in the category below any time soon.

Head offices and management consultants have also fallen for the fourth consecutive month.

How much of a shift in economic life there will be remains uncertain but offices will be downsized overall and management structures will change.

We also get a reminder that we need to take care using percentages.

Wholesale, retail and repair of motor vehicles had the largest growth of 417.2% as car showrooms were open to the public in England from June 1 and elsewhere later in the month, replacing click and collect sales.

417% of not much is well I am sure you can all figure it out. Also I have emphasised the number that stands out below.

which reported that the average usage in June 2020 was 73% for all motor vehicles, 6% for National Rail and 75% for heavy goods vehicles.

As a child I recall the advertising campaign which told us “this is the age of the train”. well apparently not! This is an awkward conceptual issue as we have been told by the establishment that public transport is the way forwards and yet it has hit the buffers. Has anyone checked on how this would affect HS2?

On a personal level this is one of the reasons why I have been using the Boris Bike system over the past few years. The standard of hygiene in London public transport is, well I think it is best we leave it there.

Comment

So we hope to have experienced the fastest depression in economic history but we do not know that yet. For example we looked at the monthly recovery (June) in manufacturing above but it is still only 86.4173% of the 2016 benchmark and yes I am smiling at the claimed accuracy. As to the recovery more is reported for July.

However, of those businesses currently trading, over half (54%) reported a decrease in turnover during this period compared with what is normally expected for July.

But still well below the previous trend.

Also I said earlier that the numbers might be out by 1% and now I think it might be by 5% so let me explain.

Nominal GDP fell by 15.4% in Quarter 2 2020, its largest quarterly contraction on record.

Okay so a 5% gap on the headline. How? Well there is a bit of an issue with the story we keep being told about there being no inflation.

The implied deflator strengthened in the second quarter, increasing by 6.2%. This primarily reflects movements in the implied price change of government consumption, which increased by 32.7% in Quarter 2 2020. This notable increase occurred because the volume of government activity fell while at the same time government expenditure increased in nominal terms.

Yep it is apparently now 6% and even 32.7% in one area.

I helped Pete Comley with his book on inflation a few years ago with some technical advice and proof reading. I recall him telling me that he had looked into the deflator for the government sector and had discovered they pretty much make it up. Today’s figures support that view.

Podcast on the flaws with GDP