Germany will be the bellweather for the next stage of ECB monetary easing

Today there only is one topic and it was given a lead in late last night from Japan. There GDP growth was announced as 0.3% for the last quarter of 2018 which sounded okay on its own but meant that the economy shrank by 0.4% in the second half of 2018. Also it meant that it was the same size as a year before. So a bad omen for the economic growth news awaited from Germany.

In the fourth quarter of 2018, the gross domestic product (GDP) remained nearly at the previous quarter’s level after adjustment for price, seasonal and calendar variations.

If you want some real precision Claus Vistensen has given it a go.

German GDP up a dizzying 0.0173% in Q4.

Of course the numbers are nothing like that accurate and Germany now faces a situation where its economy shrank by 0.2% in the second half of 2018. The full year is described below.

Hence short-term economic development in Germany showed two trends in 2018. The Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) reports that, after a dynamic start into the first half of the year (+0.4% in the first quarter, +0.5% in the second quarter), a small dip (-0.2% in the third quarter, 0.0% in the fourth quarter) was recorded in the second half of the year. For the whole year of 2018, this was an increase of 1.4% (calendar adjusted: 1.5%). Hence growth was slightly smaller than reported in January.

Another way of looking at the slowdown is to compare the average annual rate of growth in 2018 of 1.5% with it now.

+0.6% on the same quarter a year earlier (price and calendar adjusted)

If we look at the quarter just gone in detail we see that it was domestic demand that stopped the situation being even worse.

The quarter-on-quarter comparison (price, seasonally and calendar adjusted) reveals that positive contributions mainly came from domestic demand. Gross fixed capital formation, especially in construction but also in machinery and equipment, increased markedly compared with the third quarter of 2018. While household final consumption expenditure increased slightly, general government final consumption expenditure was markedly up at the end of the year.

Is the pick up in government spending another recessionary signal? So far there is no clear sign of any rise in unemployment that is not normal for the time of year.

the number of persons in employment fell by 146,000, or 0.3%, in December 2018 on the previous month. The month-on-month decrease was smaller than the relevant average of the past five years (-158,000 people.

Actually we can say that it looks like there has been a fall in productivity as the year on year annual GDP growth rate of 0.6% compares with this.

Number of persons in employment in the fourth quarter of 2018 up 1.1% on the fourth quarter of 2017.

Also German industry does not seem to have lost confidence as we note the rise in investment which is the opposite of the UK where it ha been struggling. But something that traditionally helps the German economy did not.

However, development of foreign trade did not make a positive contribution to growth in the fourth quarter. According to provisional calculations, exports and imports of goods and services increased nearly at the same rate in the quarter-on-quarter comparison.

In a world sense that is not so bad news as the German trade surplus is something which is a global imbalance but for Germany right now it is a problem for economic growth.

So let us move on as we note that German economic growth peaked at 2.8% in the autumn of 2017 and is now 0.6%.

Inflation

This morning’s release on this front does not doubt have an element of new year sales but seems to suggest that inflation has faded.

 the selling prices in wholesale trade increased by 1.1% in January 2019 from the corresponding month of the preceding year. In December 2018 and in November 2018 the annual rates of change had been +2.5% and +3.5%, respectively.
From December 2018 to January 2019 the index fell by 0.7%.

Bond Yields

It is worth reminding ourselves how low the German ten-year yield is at 0.11%. That according to my chart compares to 0.77% a year ago and is certainly not what you might expect from reading either mainstream economics and media thoughts. That is because the German bond market has boomed as the ECB central bank reduced and then ended its monthly purchases of German government bonds. Let me give you some thoughts on why this is so.

  1. Those who invest their money have seen a German economic slowing and moved into bonds.
  2. Whilst monthly QE ended there are still ECB holdings of 517 billion Euros which is a tidy sum especially when you note Germany not expanding its debt and is running a fiscal surplus.
  3. The likelihood of a new ECB QE programme ( please see Tuesday’s post) has been rising and rising. Frankly the only reason it has not been restarted is the embarrassment of doing so after only just ending it.

Accordingly it would not take much more for the benchmark ten-year yield to go negative again. After all all yields out to the nine-year maturity now are. Let me point out how extraordinary that is on two counts. First that it happened at all and next the length of time for which negative bond yields have persisted.

If we look at that from another perspective we see that Germany could if it so chose respond to this slowing with fiscal policy. It can borrow for essentially nothing and in both absolute and relative terms its national debt has been falling. The awkward part is presentational after many years of telling other euro area countries ( most recently Italy) that this is a bad idea!

Comment

If you are a subscriber to the theme that Euro area monetary policy has generally been set for Germany’s benefit then there is plenty of food for thought in the above. Indeed it all started with the large devaluation it engineered for its exporters via swapping the Deutschmark for the Euro. That is currently very valuable because a mere glance at Switzerland suggests that rather than 1.13 to the US Dollar  the DM would be say 1.50 and maybe higher. Care is needed because as the Euro area’s largest economy of course it should be a major factor in monetary policy just not the only one.

Right now there will be chuntering of teeth in Frankfurt on two counts. Firstly that my theme that the timing of what you do matters nearly as much as what you do and on this front the ECB has got it wrong. Next comes the issue that it was not supposed to be the German economy that was to be a QE junkie. Yes the trade issues have not helped but it is deeper than that.

With some of the banks in trouble too such as Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank we could see a “surprise” easing from the ECB especially if there is a no-deal Brexit. That would provide a smokescreen for a fast U-Turn.

Me on The Investing Channel

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We are now facing a reality of QE to infinity

Today has according to CNBC brought us to a birthday anniversary.

Happy birthday to the BOJ it’s the twentieth anniversary of them starting QE ( @purpleline)

As ever the picture is complicated as the Bank of Japan started buying commercial paper ( which we consider part of QE now) in 1997 and started purchases of Japanese Government Bonds in March 2001. But the underlying principle is that it has been around for much of the “lost decade” period and those claiming success have an obvious problem with the “lost decade” theme. Also they have a problem with then explaining why the name was changed in Japan from QE to QQE as name changes are a sure sign of something that has gone wrong. After all if you have a great brand you don’t change the name. In case you were wondering it is now Qualitative and Quantitative Easing.

It was not consider a triumph as even early on (2006) the San Francisco Fed was worried about this.

While these outcomes appear to be consistent with the intentions of the program, the magnitudes of these impacts are still very uncertain. Moreover, in strengthening the performance of the weakest Japanese banks, quantitative easing may have had the undesired impact of delaying structural reform.

That second sentence has echoed around all subsequent attempts at QE leading to the zombie banks theme of which at the moment Deutsche Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland come to mind but there are plenty of others. The gain was a small drop in JGB yields which is why government’s love the policy as it makes it cheaper for them to borrow.

In 2012 the IMF conducted its own review but with similar results.

Using different measures for economic activity, ranging from growth to unemployment, the VAR
regressions pick up some impact on economic activity. While the evidence is still weak, these results are still an improvement over earlier findings looking at previous QE periods

Looked at like that it makes you wonder why some many countries copied this course of action? The band Sweet gave us a clue I think.

Does anyone know the way, did we hear someone say
We just haven’t got a clue what to do
Does anyone know the way, there’s got to be a way
To Block Buster

Central banks cut interest-rates to what they considered the lower bound saw it was not working and were desperate to find something else. On that subject a theme of mine was confirmed yesterday when David Blanchflower who was a Bank of England policymaker tweeting this.

at mpc in 2008 we were told zlb was .5% for tech reasons relating to building societies. ( ZLB = Zero Lower Bound)

In response to my enquiry that I had heard it was the banks he replied he thought it was due to a regulation but cannot remember exactly. It certainly was a line repeated by Governor Carney although he of course then contradicted it by cutting to 0.25%!

To Infinity! And Beyond!

Regular readers who have followed by argument that interest-rate increases in the United States could be accompanied by more QE in what would no doubt be called QE4 will not be surprised that I spotted this.

U.S. central bankers are currently debating whether it should confine its controversial tool of bond buying to purely emergency situations or if it should turn to that tool more regularly, San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank President Mary Daly said on Friday.

This is intriguing not least because the actual policy right now is an unwinding of QE that we call Qualitative Tightening or QT. We actually have not had much QT and already there seems to be an element of cold feet about it. Let us look at her exact words.

In the financial crisis, in the aftermath of that when we were trying to help the economy, we engaged in these quantitative easing policies, and an important question is, should those always be in the tool kit — should you always have those at your ready — or should you think about those are only tools you use when you really hit the zero lower bound and you have no other things you can do,” Daly told reporters after a talk at the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.

“You could imagine executing policy with your interest rate as your primary tool and the balance sheet as a secondary tool, but one that you would use more readily,” she added. “That’s not decided yet, but it’s part of what we are discussing now.”

These sort of “open mouth operations” are often a way of preparing us for decisions which if not already been taken are serious proposals. So there is an element of kite flying about this to see the response. The bit that sticks out for me is that Mary Daly is willing to use more readily something she is not even sure worked as this below is far from a claim of success for QE.

when we were trying to help the economy,

That is rather different to it did help.

If we move on to looking at the economic outlook then if the US Federal Reserve is debating this the European Central Bank must be desperate to restart QE. Maybe there was a hint this morning from Jens Weidmann of the German Bundesbank when he spoke in South Africa.

Central banks all over the world were forced to climb great hills over the last decade. And there are more hills on the horizon.

Comment

Let us step back for a moment and consider what QE is and what it has achieved. Is it money printing? Well in electronic terms yes as the money supply grows but it is also a liquidity swap in that the money is exchanged usually for government bonds which then leads to other liquidity swaps via purchases of other assets. Then the trail gets colder….

So the economic effects are

  1. Money flowing into other assets leading to equity and house prices being at least higher than otherwise and usually higher.
  2. It supports companies that would otherwise have folded leading to the zombie banks and businesses theme.
  3. Lower interest-rates and bond yields meaning that it has indirectly helped both politicians and fiscal policy. This does not get much of an airing in the media because it is not well understood.
  4. Higher narrow money supply which has not led to the surge in inflation expected by economics 101 although that is at least partly due to consumer inflation measures being directed to ignore asset prices.

These may improve economic growth at the margin but there are no grand effects here although Mario Draghi only recently claimed that it was responsible for the Euro improvement in 2016/17. But this ignores the problems created as for example many central bankers are now telling us economic growth has a “speed limit” of 1.5% and the place with QE longest ( Japan) guides us to below 1%. Also there are the problems with productivity which have popped up. Finally there is the issue of helping the already wealthy and boosting inequality that is so bad they have to keep making official denials.

Quantitative easing has also helped to reduce net wealth inequality slightly through its positive impact on house prices. ( ECB January 2019)

Can we stop interest-rates falling and going negative?

This week has seen a development I have long-expected and forecast. That is that the establishment will respond to the next economic slow down with negative interest-rates. The rationale for that is in one sense simple as in most places interest-rates never went back up again and if they did by not much, Only yesterday I looked at my own country the UK where in the decade or so since the credit crunch the Bank of England has raised interest-rates by a net 0.25%. Not much is it? Last time around the only reason it did not cut interest-rates even lower it was because it feared that the creaking IT systems of the UK banks could not take it. As it was some mortgages ( mostly with Cheltenham & Gloucester if I recall correctly) went below 0% and were dealt with via capital repayments to stop a HAL 9000 style moment.

Of course more than a few central banks continue to have negative interest-rates as we look at Denmark, the Euro area, Japan, Sweden and Switzerland. The ECB may pause this morning to mull whether it will get its deposit rate ( -0.4%) back even to zero as it note German factory orders some 7% lower than the previous year in December. This brings us to the driver of the current situation which is the economic slow down we have been following and indeed predicting via the decline in money supply growth. That remains as a slow down and has not yet signalled an overall recession but none the less it has produced quite a change.

The San Francisco Fed

It is far from a coincidence that the San Francisco Fed has produced a paper on negative interest-rates this week. After all the overall Federal Reserve has put up the white flag on interest-rate increases as we wait to hear what was discussed when Chair Powell had dinner with President Trump on Monday night.  Anyway the paper seems to open with a statement of regret.

Traditionally, it has been assumed that nominal interest rates cannot fall below zero, known as the “lower bound.” Ever since 2008, researchers have debated how much monetary policy was constrained by this lower bound and how much it affected economic outcomes. To work around this constraint, the Federal Reserve turned to unconventional monetary policy tools such as forward guidance and large-scale asset purchases.

Also an admission that QE was driven by the belief that interest-rates could not go below zero. I cannot be too churlish about that because there was a time when I did not think so either at least on a sustained basis although it was around 20 years ago and before the full impact of the Japanese lost decade! I do not know if one of the drivers of this thought was fear of what negative interest-rates would do to the US banks but history has seen a potential revision.

In this Economic Letter, I consider whether pushing rates below zero would have improved economic outcomes in the United States in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

For a central banker the answer is clearly yes.

Model estimates suggest that reducing the effective lower bound for the federal funds rate to –0.75% would have reduced economic slack by as much as one-half at the trough of the recession and sped up the ensuing recovery. While the boost to the economy would have been negligible after 2014, inflation would have been higher throughout the recovery by about half a percentage point on average.

There are various points here. First the central banker assumption that higher inflation is a good thing whereas in reality the ordinary person is likely to be worse off via lower real wages. Next the interesting observation that it is a temporary gain. Finally there is a later reference to Switzerland which took interest-rates to -0.75% so we are left with the view that this paper might recommend even more negative rates if only someone else had been brave/silly enough to try them. It omits to point out that Switzerland has not escaped from this as it is still at -0.75%.

How does this work?

An old friend appears.

In the model, the output gap falls with the interest rate.

Ah so it works because we assume it will. What could go wrong? Whilst we are at the Outer Limits of fantasy why not throw in the kitchen sink.

However, expectations about the future path of the fed funds rate matter, including any Federal Reserve announcements about its path—known as forward guidance—as well as expectations about being at the zero lower bound.

I am not sure if that is chutzpah, ignorance or just simple Ivory Tower non-thinking. After all we have just had a Forward Guidance U-Turn so are we following the old or new versions and if so what was the cost of the change? Those who have fixed their mortgage expecting higher interest-rates for example. Whereas now Men at Work are being played.

It’s a mistake, it’s a mistake
It’s a mistake, it’s a mistake

Rather oddly the paper says that the output gap is pushed higher when the author must mean lower, But there is a bigger space oddity which is this.

According to these simulations, the negative lower bound would have reached its maximum effect in the first quarter of 2011. Setting the lower bound at –0.25% would have increased the output gap by 1.5 percentage points, while pushing the lower bound down further to –0.75% would have contributed an additional 0.4 percentage point to the output gap. This means that a rate of –0.25% would have done most of the job, and allowing it to drop further would have accomplished fewer additional benefits.

Let us subject that to a sense check because we know that the US Federal Reserve did cut its official interest-rate to 0% ( technically 0% to 0.25%) but that going a mere extra 0.25% would make much of a difference? From the previous peak the US had cut by 5% so would an extra 0.25% make any difference at all?

The IMF goes further

Here we go.

One option to break through the zero lower bound would be to phase out cash.

It wants to go as Madonna would put it, deeper and deeper.

To illustrate, suppose your bank announced a negative 3 percent interest rate on your bank deposit of 100 dollars today.

They need a tax or fine or cash to achieve this.

Suppose also that the central bank announced that cash-dollars would now become a separate currency that would depreciate against e-dollars by 3 percent per year. The conversion rate of cash-dollars into e-dollars would hence change from 1 to 0.97 over the year.

Comment

There is quite a bit to consider here but let me start with the concept of arrogance. This is because monetary policymakers have had the freedom over the past decade to do pretty much what they liked and if it had worked we would not be here would we? Yet like Jose Mourinho in the football transfer market they always want more, more, more. Actually I am being a little unfair on Jose as there was a time his policies brought plenty of success.

Combined with this is an obsessive clinging onto failed past concepts. The output gap has had a dreadful credit crunch yet here it is again. Next the idea that higher inflation is good has ( thank God) had a bad run too but central bankers confuse what is good for the banks with what is good for the rest of us. The reality that no country or economic area has gone into negative interest-rates and then recovered is simply ignored whereas so far they have all sung along with Muse.

Glaciers melting in the dead of night
And the superstars sucked into the super massive
Super massive black hole
Super massive black hole
Super massive black hole
Finally is the idea that those who do not worship at this particular monetary altar need to be punished. Just like in the novel 1984……

When will the ECB ease monetary policy again?

Sometimes life catches up with you really fast and we have seen another example of this in the last 24 hours, so let;s get straight to it.

Analysts at Deutsche Bank say European Central Bank’s Mario Draghi indicated the possibility of a one-off interest rate hike at his last press conference. With his next appearance due on Thursday, the president may choose to feed or quell that speculation. ( Bloomberg)

I found this so extraordinary that I suggested on social media that Deutsche Bank may have a bad interest-rate position it wants to get rid of. After all at the last press conference we were told this and the emphasis is mine.

Based on our regular economic and monetary analyses, we decided to keep the key ECB interest rates unchanged. We continue to expect them to remain at their present levels at least through the summer of 2019, and in any case for as long as necessary to ensure the continued sustained convergence of inflation to levels that are below, but close to, 2% over the medium term.

Now Forward Guidance by central banks is regularly wrong but it is invariably due to a cut in interest-rates after promising a rise rather than an actual rise. The latter seems restricted to currency collapses. So let us move onto the economic situation which has been heading south for a while now as the declining money supply data we have been tracking has been followed by a weakening economic situation.

France

This morning brought more worrying news from the economy of France from the Markit PMI business survey. It started well with the manufacturing PMI rising to 51.2 but then there was this.

Flash France Services Activity Index at 47.5 in January (49.0 in December), 59-month low.

So firmly in contraction territory as we look for more detail.

Private sector firms in France reported a further
contraction in output during the opening month of
2019. The latest decline was the fastest for over four
years, even quicker than the fall in protest-hit
December. The strong service sector that had
supported a weak manufacturing sector in the
second half 2018 declined at a faster rate in January.
Meanwhile, manufacturers recovered to register
broadly-unchanged production.

These numbers added to the official survey released only yesterday.

In January 2019, the balances of industrialists’ opinion on overall and foreign demand in the last three months have recovered above their long-term average – they had significantly dropped over the past year.

They record a manufacturing bounce too, but the general direction of travel is the same as the number for foreign demand has fallen from 21.8 at the opening of 2018 to 3.6 now and the number for global demand has fallen from 21.7 to 1.0 over the same timescale.

Perhaps we get an idea of a possible drop from wholesale trade.

The composite indicator has fallen back by five points compared to November 2018. At 99, it has fallen below its long-term average (100) for the first time since January 2017.

But in spite of a small nudge higher in services the total picture for France looks rather poor as we note that it looks as though it saw a contraction in December and that may well have got worse this month.

Germany

There was little solace to be found in the Euro area’s largest economy.

“The Germany PMI broke its recent run of
successive falls in January thanks to a stronger
increase in service sector business activity, but the
growth performance signalled by the index was still
one of the worst over the past four years.
“Worryingly for the outlook, the recent soft patch in
demand continued into the New Year.”

So some growth but not very much and I note Markit are nervous about this as they do not offer a suggestion of what level of GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) grow is likely from this. This of course adds to the flatlining we seem to have seen for the second half of 2018 as around 0.2% growth in the fourth quarter merely offset the 0.2% contraction seen in the third quarter.

Also the recovery promised by some for the manufacturing sector does not seem to have materialised.

Manufacturing fell into contraction in January as
the sector’s order book situation continued to
worsen, showing the steepest decline in incoming
new work since 2012.

The driving force was this.

Weakness in the auto industry was once again widely reported, as was a slowdown in demand from China.

Euro area

The central message here followed that of the two biggest Euro area economies we have already looked at. The decline in the composite PMI suggests on ongoing quarterly GDP growth rate of 0.1%. Added to it was the suggestion that the future is a lot less than bright.

New orders for goods fell for a fourth successive
month, declining at a rate not seen since April
2013, while inflows of new business in the service
sector slipped into decline for the first time since
July 2013

Inflation

The target is just below 2% as an annual rate so we note this.

The euro area annual inflation rate was 1.6% in December 2018, down from 1.9% in November

Of course being central bankers they apparently need neither food nor energy so they like to focus on the inflation number without them which is either 1.1% or 1% depending exactly which bits you omit, But as you can see this is hardly the bedrock for an interest-rate rise which is reinforced by this from @fwred of Bank Pictet.

More bad news for the ECB. Our PMI price pressure gauge fell by the largest amount since mid-2011, to levels consistent with monetary easing along with activity indicators.

Comment

The situation has become increasingly awkward for Mario Draghi and the ECB as a slowing economy and lower inflation have been described by them as follows.

When you look at the economy, well, you still see the drivers of this recovery are still in place. Consumption continues to grow, basically supported by the increase in real disposable income, which, if I am not mistaken, is at the historical high since six years or something, and households’ wealth. Business investments continue to grow, residential investment, as I said in the IS [introductory statement] is robust. External demand has gone down but still grows.

Yet as we can see the reality is that economic growth looks like it has dropped from the around 0.7% of 2017 to more like 0.1% now. If we were not where we are with a deposit rate of -0.4% and monthly QE having only just ended they would be openly looking at an interest-rate cut or more QE.

Whilst we have been observing the slow down in the M1 money supply from just under 10% to 6.7% the ECB has lost itself in a world of “ongoing broad-based expansion”. It is not impossible we will see some liquidity easing today via a new TLTRO which would also help the Italian banks but we will have to see.

As to why there has been talk about an interest-rate rise well it is not for savers it is for the precious and the emphasis is mine.

As a result, reductions in
rates can end up having a similar effect as a flattening of the yield curve, as banks interest
revenue drops along with rates, but interest costs only adjust partially because of the zero
lower bound on retail deposits. In this situation, lowering rates below zero can pose a
threat to banks’ profitability. ( ECB November 2018)

Now we can’t have that can we?

Me on The Investing Channel

 

Bank Carige. Monte dei Paschi and their impact on the economy of Italy

The Italian banks have certainly kept us busy in the credit crunch era. We have found ourselves observing a litany of cash calls, bad debts, crises, and official claims that there is no problem. Of the latter the worst was probably the claim by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi that equity investors in Monte Paschi dei Siena had a good investment whereas it was soon clear they had anything but. Actually it is back in the news but behind another regular feature which is Bank Carige which you may recall we were looking at this development on the eighth of this month.

Italy’s Banca Carige said on Friday it had raised 544.4 million euros ($645 million) following its recently concluded new share issue, topping minimum regulatory demands. ( Reuters)

Ordinarily on a cash call that would be it but we have learnt from experience that with banks and Italian banks especially these sort of cash calls are not get in what you can to keep the ship afloat for now not for good as it should be. So we should have been expecting this.

Italy’s Banca Carige (CRGI.MI) needs 200 million euros ($227 million) of fresh capital to clean its balance sheet from soured loans and to attract a potential buyer in the future, daily Il Sole 24Ore reported in Tuesday.

There never seems to be any accounting for what has just taken place as in that the prospectus for the recent share issue can hardly have told the truth. This is not just an Italian problem as in my opinion the RBS ( Royal Bank of Scotland ) cash call as its crisis built was a scandal it is just that Italy keeps having more of them. Also my country is hardly Mr(s) Speedy in bringing any such matters to court.

The first criminal trial of senior UK banking executives in the wake of the financial crisis is due to begin on Wednesday.

The case against four former executives has been filed by the Serious Fraud Office over Barclays’ £11.8bn rescue.

The bank avoided a UK bailout in 2008 by raising funds from Middle Eastern investors.

The executives are charged with conspiracy to commit fraud. All four have pleaded not guilty. ( BBC)

Returning to the Italian banks the essential problem has been highlighted with thanks to @DS_Pepperstone.

Deutsche Bank confirms that ROTE or Return on Tangible Equity is lower than the Cost of Equity at all Italian banks – That is they pay more for capital than they make from it. DBK says that fact is already reflected in the Italian bank’s share prices.

You might think that Deutsche Bank has a bit of a cheek saying that about other banks! But the point is that funds poured into Italian banks are a case of good money after bad and repeat.

What now?

Let us return to Reuters.

Italy is considering merging troubled banks Monte dei Paschi (BMPS.MI) and Banca Carige (CRGI.MI) with healthier rivals such as UBI Banca (UBI.MI) as it scrambles to avert a new banking crisis, sources familiar with the matter said.

Shareholders in UBI Banca may immediately be fans of the Pet Shop Boys.

What have I, what have I, what have I done to deserve this?
What have I, what have I, what have I done to deserve this?

It is not as if they have been having a good time of it as I note the share price of 2.3 Euros is down 43% over the past year. Looking back on my monthly chart it was over 20 Euros back in early 2007 which in the heavily depreciated world of bank shares I suppose is healthier in relative terms than the two other banks. But then almost anything is.

As we look for more detail there is yet another scandal in the offing.

Monte dei Paschi, rescued by the state in 2017, and Carige, recently put into special administration by the European Central Bank (ECB), are struggling with bad debts and the prospect of asset writedowns that would eat into their capital.

Their problems threaten to reignite a banking crisis that Rome thought it had ended two years ago and could further damage an economy already at risk of slipping back into recession.

That is the issue of Monte Paschi where the state took a 68% stake but the problems are on such a scale that even that has not fixed things as we wonder if anything has improved over the past two years? It sounds a little like the Novo Banco ( New Bank ) in Portugal that was supposed to be clean but ended up having to effectively wipe out some of its bonds.

Monte dei Paschi is still battling with high bad loan ratios and faces legal claims for over 1.5 billion euros, making it risky to take over without any support from the state.

This issue came back to prominence in the middle of this month when the European Central Bank (ECB) said it wanted banks to raise their covering of non-performing loans to 100% by 2027. It set three categories of bank and  think you have already guessed which category Monte Paschi was in.

As you can see the troubles just go on and on which moves me to the next issue. When states and central banks invest in banks it is a case of can kicking into a hopefully better future. But the economy of Italy hasn’t got much better and right now is heading in reverse again.

The economy

This week a review of the century has been produced by Eurostat and if you compare the European Union with Italy you see that the latter line for GDP growth is always below the former. It is this lack of economic growth that is a major driver in all of this. It started in 2001 where the EU grew by 2.2% and Italy by 1.8% but things have got worse as the weakest year relatively was 2012 where the EU economy shrank by 0.4% but Italy’s shrank by 2.8%.

Even the Bank of Italy has now been forced to admit that the future looks none to bright either.

The central projection for GDP growth is 0.6 per cent this year, 0.4 points lower than the previous projection. The downward revision was on account of three main considerations: new information pointing to a sharper cyclical slowdown in the last part of 2018, which reduced the carry-over effect on growth by 0.2 points; the cutback in firms’ investment plans, as confirmed by recent surveys; and the expected slowdown in global trade…… In the two years 2020-21, the central projection for growth is 0.9 and 1.0 per cent respectively.

The other issue which has tightened something of a noose around the necks of the Italian banks is higher funding costs. We can illustrate this by looking at the Italian bond ten-year yield of 2.73%. That is an improvement on the peaks we saw last year but Germany has one of 0.24% and the UK 1.33%.

Comment

There is an element of ennui here as the establishment playbook is used one more time. But there are costs such as the equity and bond capital which has been lost and even worse the way that the Italian banks have been unable to operate in their prime function. Yesterday’s credit standard survey from the ECB confirmed this if we recall who has the Non Performing Loan or NPL problem on the biggest scale.

 euro area banks reported that their NPL ratios had a tightening impact on their credit standards for loans to enterprises and housing loans over the past six months. Over the next six months, they expect a net tightening impact of their NPL ratio on credit standards across all loan categories. NPL ratios led to a tightening of euro area banks’ lending policies over the past six months in net terms mainly through banks’ access to market financing.

In the end that is the real problem as the Italian economy continues to weaken the banks and the Italian banks weaken the economy with a grip that shows no sign of loosening.

Moving wider I expect the ECB to help with liquidity ( another TLTRO) but if extra liquidity helped significantly we would not be here would we?

Economic growth in Germany converged with that in Italy in the latter part of 2018

As we arrive in the UK at “meaningful vote” day which seems about as likely to be true as a Bank of England “Super Thursday” actually being super the real economic news comes from the heart of the Euro area. So here it is.

According to first calculations of the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis), the price adjusted gross domestic product (GDP) was 1.5% higher in 2018 than in the previous year. The German economy thus grew the ninth year in a row, although growth has lost momentum. In the previous two years, the price adjusted GDP had increased by 2.2% each. A longer-term view shows that German economic growth in 2018 exceeded the average growth rate of the last ten years (+1.2%)……….As the calendar effect in 2018 was weak, the calendar-adjusted GDP growth rate was 1.5%, too ( German statistics office )

A little care if needed as these numbers are not yet seasonally adjusted. But we do have price-adjusted numbers have gone 2.2% (2016) then 2.5% (2017) and now 1.5%. This immediately reminds me of the words of European Central Bank President Mario Draghi at his last press conference.

 I’ll be briefer than I would like to be, but certainly especially in some parts of this period of time, QE has been the only driver of this recovery. There are lots of numbers that we can give about how it did change financing conditions in a way that – in many ways. But let’s not forget that interest rates had dramatically declined even before QE but they continued to do so after QE…….. We view this as – but I don’t think I’m the only one to be the crucial driver of the recovery in the eurozone. At the time, by the way, when also other drivers were not really – especially in the first part, there was no other source of growth in the real economy.

This comes to mind because if you take that view and now factor in the reduction in the monthly QE purchases and then their cessation in 2018 then the decline in GDP growth in Germany was sung about by Radiohead.

With no alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises
Silent, silent

In essence if we switch to the world of football then 2018 was a year of two halves for Germany because if we go back to half-time we were told this.

Compared with a year earlier, the price adjusted GDP rose 2.3% in the second quarter of 2018.

At that point economic growth seemed quite consistent at around 0.5% per quarter if we ignore the 1,1% surge in the first quarter of 2017. So Mario’s point is backed up by German economic growth heading south in the second half of 2018 which if we now look wider poses an implication for another part of his speech.

 Euro area real GDP increased by 0.2%, quarter on quarter, in the third quarter of 2018, following growth of 0.4% in the previous two quarters.

We do not have the final result for the second half of 2018 but the range seems set to be between -0.1% and 0.1%. Ironically it means that the quote below from the Italian economy minister is rather wrong.

*TRIA: EU TO FACE POTENTIAL COLLAPSE IF POLICIES FEED DIVERGENCE

As we stand the German economic performance has in fact converged with the Italian one.

Detail

There has been quite a slow down in domestic consumption because at the end of the second quarter we were told this.

Overall, domestic uses increased markedly by 0.9% compared with the first three months of the year.

Whereas now we are told this was the situation six months later.

Both household final consumption expenditure (+1.0%) and government final consumption expenditure (+1.1%) were up on the previous year. However, the growth rates were markedly lower than in the preceding three years.

That is not an exact comparison because investment is not in the latter and it has remained pretty strong but nonetheless there has been quite a fall in domestic consumption. Also investment has not turned out to be the golden weapon against an economic slowing.

Total price-adjusted gross fixed capital formation rose 4.8% year-on-year.

Also a usual strength for the economy was not on its best form.

German exports continued to increase on an annual average in 2018, though at a slower pace than in the previous years. Price-adjusted exports of goods and services were up 2.4% on 2017. There was a larger increase in imports (+3.4%) over the same period. Arithmetically, the balance of exports and imports had a slight downward effect on the German GDP growth (-0.2 percentage points).

In terms of the world economy that is a good thing as many have argued ( including me) that the German trade surplus is an imbalance if we look at the world economy. The catch is how you fix it and shrinking it in a period of economic weakness is far from ideal. Also another number went against the stereotype.

 For the first time in five years, short-term economic growth in industry was lower than in the services sector.

Lastly these are not precise numbers but output per head of productivity growth seems to have slowed to a crawl.

On an annual average in 2018, the economic performance in Germany was achieved by 44.8 million persons in employment whose place of employment was in Germany. According to first calculations, that was an increase of roughly 562,000 on the previous year. This 1.3% increase was mainly due to a rise in employment subject to social insurance.

1.5% is not much more than 1.3%.

Fiscal Policy

This is not getting much attention but you can argue that Germany has made the same mistake in 2017/18 that it made in 2010/11 in Greece albeit on a much smaller scale.

General government achieved a record surplus of 59.2 billion euros in 2018 (2017: 34.0 billion euros). At the end of the year, central, state and local government and social security funds recorded a surplus for the fifth time in a row, according to provisional calculations. Measured as a percentage of the gross domestic product at current prices, this was a 1.7% surplus ratio of general government for 2018.

It has contracted fiscal policy into an economic slow down and thereby added to it.

Comment

As these matters can get very heated on social media let me be clear I take no pleasure in Germany’s economic slow down. For a start it would be illogical as it will be a downward influence on the UK. But it has been a success for the monetary analysis I presented in 2018 as the fall in the money supply was both an accurate and timely indicator of what was about to happen next.

Official policy has seen a dreadful run however. I have dealt with fiscal policy above which has been contracted in a slow down but we also see that the level of monetary stimulus was reduced. Apart from the obvious failure implied by this there are other issues. The most fundamental is a point I have made many times about Euro area economic growth being a “junkie” style culture depending on the next stimulus hit. That has meant it has arrived at the next slow down with the official deposit rate still negative ( -0.4%) as I have long feared. Still I suppose it could be worse as the Riksbank of Sweden managed to raise interest-rates in this environment after not doing so when the economy was doing well.

Let me post a warning to avoid the Financial Times article today about UK Index-Linked Gilts. No doubt this will later be redacted but in the version I read the author was apparently unaware that the RPI inflation measure not CPI is used for them.

The outlook for the economy of Germany has plenty of dark clouds

Sometimes it is hard not to have a wry smile at the way events are reported. Especially as in this instance it has been a success for my style of analysis. If we take a look at the fastFT service we were told this yesterday.

German industrial production unexpectedly drops in November.

My immediate thought was as the German economy contracted by 0.2% in the third quarter we should not be surprised by declines. Fascinatingly the Financial Times went to the people who have not been expecting this for an analysis of the issue.

German data released over the past two days have painted a glum picture for how Europe’s biggest economy performed during the latter part of 2018. fastFT rounds up what economists and analysts have said about what is happening. Anxieties over global trade wars and political uncertainty in the eurozone have taken their toll, and Europe’s powerhouse is showing signs of fatigue. Questions of whether a recession is looming have also been raised, while many economists remain cautiously optimistic in their prognosis.

If we now switch to what we have been looking at I wrote this on December 7th about the situation.

If we look at the broad sweep Germany has responded to the Euro area monetary slow down as we would have expected. What is less clear is what happens next? This quarter has not so far show the bounce back you might expect except in one area.

So not only had there been an expected weakening of the economy but there had been at that point no clear sign of the promised bounce back. What we know in addition now is this which was released on January 3rd.

  • Annual growth rate of broad monetary aggregate M3 decreased to 3.7% in November 2018 from 3.9% in October
  • Annual growth rate of narrower monetary aggregate M1, comprising currency in circulation and overnight deposits, stood at 6.7% in November, compared with 6.8% in October

So another decline and if we look for a trend we would expect Euro area growth to continue to be weak and this time around that is being led by Germany. The link between monetary data and the economy is not precise enough for us to say Germany is in a recession but we can expect weak growth at best heading into the early months of 2019. The FT does to be fair give us a brief mention of the monetary data from Oxford Economics.

lending growth remaining robust

The problem with that which as it happens repeats the argument of Mario Draghi of the ECB is that it is a lagging indicator in my opinion as banks respond to the better economic news from 2017.

As these matters can be heated let me make it quite clear that I wish Germany no ill in fact quite the reverse but the money supply data has been clear and has worked so far. Frankly the way it is still being widely ignored suggests it is likely to continue to work.

This week’s data

Trade

This morning’s release started in conventional fashion as we got the opportunity to observe yet another trade surplus for Germany.

 Germany exported goods to the value of 116.3 billion euros and imported goods to the value of 95.7 billion euros in November 2018………The foreign trade balance showed a surplus of 20.5 billion euros in November 2018. In November 2017, the surplus amounted to 23.8 billion euros. In calendar and seasonally adjusted terms, the foreign trade balance recorded a surplus of 19.0 billion euros in November 2018.

In world terms an annual decline in Germany’s surplus is a good thing as it was one of the imbalances which set the ground for the credit crunch. But if we switch to looking at this on a monthly basis this leapt off the page at me about imports.

-1.6% on the previous month (calendar and seasonally adjusted)

A fall in imports is a sign of a weak economy as for example we saw substantial falls in Greece back in the day. There are caveats to this of which the biggest is that monthly trade data is inaccurate and erratic but such as the numbers are they post another warning. The other side of the balance sheet was more conventional in that with current trade issues one might expect this.

also reports that German exports in November 2018 remained nearly unchanged on November 2017.

Let us move on by noting that due to the way that Gross Domestic Product or GDP is calculated lower imports in isolation provide a boost before a “surprise” fall later as it filters through other parts.

Production

If we step back to Monday there was some troubling news on this front.

Based on provisional data, the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) reports that price-adjusted new orders in manufacturing had decreased in November 2018 a seasonally and calendar adjusted 1.0% on the previous month.

So not much sign of an improvement and it was hardly reassuring that geographically the issue was concentrated in the Euro area.

Domestic orders increased by 2.4% and foreign orders decreased by 3.2% in November 2018 on the previous month. New orders from the euro area were down 11.6%, new orders from other countries increased 2.3% compared to October 2018.

Then on Tuesday we got disappointing actual production numbers.

In November 2018, production in industry was down by 1.9% from the previous month on a price, seasonally and calendar adjusted basis according to provisional data of the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis). The revised figure shows a decrease of 0.8% (primary -0.5%) from October 2018.

So November has quite a fall and this was compared to an October number which had been revised lower. This meant that the annual picture looked really poor.

-4.7% on the same month a year earlier (price and calendar adjusted)

Business surveys

At then end of last week we were told this by the Markit PMI ( Purchasing Manager’s Index) at the end of last week.

December saw the Composite Output Index fall for the fourth month running to 51.6, down from 52.3 in
November and its lowest reading since June 2013.
The latest slowdown was led by the service sector, as the rate of manufacturing output growth strengthened for the first time in five months, albeit picking up only slightly and staying below that of services business activity.

The problem for Markit is that rather than leading events they are lagging them as they are recording declines after the economic contraction in the third quarter. If we took them literally then the economy would shrink by even more this quarter! Anyway they no seem to be on the case of the motor industry. From yesterday.

Latest data indicated a worsening downturn in the European autos sector at the end of 2018. Production of automobiles & parts fell for the third month running, and at the fastest rate since March 2013. New orders fell sharply, with new export business (including intra-European trade) declining at the fastest rate in six years.

Comment

The German economy found itself surrounded by dark clouds as 2018 developed and as I am typing this we have seen more worrying signs. From @YuanTalks.

It’s the FIRST YEARLY DROP in at least 20 years. Passenger car sales slumped 19% y/y in Dec 2018 to 2.26 mln vehicles.

Over 2018 as a whole car sales fell by 6% so we can see the issue is accelerating and there are obvious implications for German manufacturers. It has been accompanied by another generic sign of possible world economic weakness from @LiveSquawk.

Exclusive: Apple Cuts iPhone Production Plan By 10% – Nikkei

Suddenly there is a lot of concern over a German recession or as it is being described a technical recession. In case you were wondering that means a recession that is within the error range of the data which actually covers most of them! Because of these errors it is hard to say whether the German economy grew or contracted at the end of last year, as for example wage growth should support consumption. But what we can say is that the broad sweep from it to the like;y trend for the early part of 2019 is weak. Perhaps some growth but not much after all even 0.2% growth in the final quarter would mean flat growth for the second half of the year.

For those who think ECB policy is set for Germany this poses quite a problem as it has ended its monthly QE purchases just as things have deteriorated in a shocking sense of timing. But to my mind just as bad is the issue that my “junkie culture” theme that growth was dependent on the stimulus also gets a tick including something of a slap on the back from Mario Draghi who seems to have come round to at least part of my point of view.

I’ll be briefer than I would like to be, but certainly especially in some parts of this period of time, QE has been the only driver of this recovery.

According to Handelsblatt every little helps.

Germany has saved €368 billion in interest costs on its debt thanks to record low interest rates since the financial crisis in 2008, according to Bundesbank calculations. That’s more than 10% of annual GDP.