Does money supply growth feed straight into house prices?

I thought that I would look at things today from a slightly different perspective or to quote the French man in The Matrix series we shall investigate some cause and effect. Let me give you the latest news on the effect.

In Q3 2020, the rise in prices of second-hand dwellings in France (excluding Mayotte) weakened: +0.5% compared to Q2 2020 (provisional seasonally adjusted results), after +1.4% in Q2 and +1.9% in Q1 2019.

Over a year, the rise in prices continued: +5.2%, after +5.6% and +4.9%. As observed since the end of 2016, this increase was more important for flats (+6.5% over the year) than for houses (+4.2%). ( Insee)

The reality of the situation arrives when you look at the overall pattern. We saw negative interest-rates introduced by the ECB in June 2014 and large-scale QE begin in March 2015. After several years of falling house prices we then saw French annual house price growth move into positive territory towards the end of 2015. Since then the rate of growth has tended to rise and is now above 5%. The ECB and Bank of France will of course be noting this down as Wealth Effects a plan which is aided and abetted by the Euro area measure of inflation which conveniently omits owner-occupied housing completely. Apparently the twenty odd years they have had to do something about this is not long enough or something like that.

If we bring this right up to date I am nit especially bothered by the decline in quarterly growth in house prices. After all the background environment is for house price falls and the monetary easing we are about to look at has prevented them so far. Or in an amusing irony we can quote the word “counterfactual” back at the central bankers.

Money Supply

The growth here remains stellar as we look at the measure most affected by all the easing.

Annual growth rate of narrower monetary aggregate M1, comprising currency in circulation and overnight deposits, stood at 13.8% in October, unchanged from previous month.

This is a consequence of buying some 25.5 billion Euros of bonds under the original QE programme ( PSPP) and some 62 billion under the new emergency pandemic one or PEPP. Just to mark you cards looking ahead the latter seems to have accelerated recently from around 15 billion per week to around 20 billion in a possible harbinger of the ECB December decision.

This is a game the ECB has been playing since 2015 when it got M1 growth as high as 11.7% which was part of the push on house prices we looked at above. Annual growth had fallen to around 7% before the last act of Mario Draghi last autumn pushed it back above 8% and now the pandemic response pushed it into double-figures. There is another issue here which was described by Kate Bush.

Be running up that road
Be running up that hill
Be running up that building

The 13.8% growth in October is on a much larger amount. Indeed M1 passed 10 trillion Euros in size in October.

Broad Money

If we go wider in monetary terms we see a similar picture.

Annual growth rate of broad monetary aggregate M3 stood at 10.5% in October 2020, after 10.4% in September 2020

The pattern here is different as the previous moves had struggled to get annual growth much above 5% and now well you can see for yourself.Something of a wall of broad money going somewhere but not into the real economy. As you might expect some of this is the tsunami of narrow money.

Looking at the components’ contributions to the annual growth rate of M3, the narrower aggregate M1 contributed 9.4 percentage points (as in the previous month), short-term deposits other than overnight deposits (M2-M1) contributed 0.4 percentage point (as in the previous month) and marketable instruments (M3-M2) contributed 0.7 percentage point (up from 0.6 percentage point).

The ECB will be pleased with the last component of marketable instruments on two counts. Firstly it can point to it as a response to its actions. Secondly growth in such markets will no doubt lead to a growth in sinecures for past central bankers.

Things then get more awkward because it was only the day before yesterday we noted a  savings ratio of 13.5% in Germany on the third quarter. Well from the numbers below it looks as though businesses are saving too and doing it via their bank accounts.

From the perspective of the holding sectors of deposits in M3, the annual growth rate of deposits placed by households increased to 7.9% in October from 7.7% in September, while the annual growth rate of deposits placed by non-financial corporations decreased to 20.5% in October from 21.1% in September. Finally, the annual growth rate of deposits placed by non-monetary financial corporations (excluding insurance corporations and pension funds) decreased to 7.3% in October from 8.2% in September.

It might be more accurate to say they have received money they cannot spend yet as we see a shift in monetary transmission. This is one of the clearest examples of what in economics is called excess money balances I have ever seen. Except right now neither supposed consequence of growth and inflation can happen much.

Credit

With the various support schemes in place it is hard to know what these numbers are really telling us. We do get a pointer to something we know is happening.

The annual growth rate of credit to general government increased to 20.3% in October from 18.9% in September, while the annual growth rate of credit to the private sector stood at 4.9% in October, unchanged from the previous month.

Credit is flowing to governments and some of it is being passed on.

Comment

We can now look more internationally and see examples of monetary policy affecting asset prices. The United States has given us two examples this week alone.

US home prices climbed the most on record in the third quarter as historically low mortgage rates drove outsized demand, the Federal Housing Finance Agency said in a Tuesday report.

Prices gained 3.1% from their prior-quarter levels, according to the report. The jump also places prices 7.8% higher than their year-ago levels. A seasonally adjusted monthly index of prices gained 1.7% in September. ( Business Insider)

And this.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average hit 30000 for the first time on Tuesday, after a rally of more than 60% from its March lows. ( WSJ)

We can also look to Japan where this morning’s Nikkei 225 close at 26,537 compares with more like 8,000 when the Abenomics experiment began.

The catch is that in terms of money supply there are lots of leads and lags in the system. So we can see some things clearly such as the rise in French house price growth but in other areas the rain has not yet gone. For example the CAC-40 has surged in response to the monetary easing but like the UK FTSE 100 is well below past peaks. Of course another asset market which is French sovereign bonds has gone through the roof such that France is being paid to borrow ( ten-year yield -0.34%) in an example of a direct impact.

Switching to the real economy there will be greater lags right now as the Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns crunch economies regardless of monetary growth. But if you think about it that only raises the inflationary risks and it is not only the Euro area that puts a Nelsonian blind eye to likely developments.

“The government’s plan to replace RPI with CPIH is a clear case of using the wrong tool for the job…” Our CEO @stianwestlake on the news that the RPI will be aligned to the CPIH in 2030 ( Royal Statistical Society)

Happy Thanksgiving.

What is happening to the economy of Germany?

As both the largest economy and indeed the bellweather for the Euro area Germany is of obvious importance. This morning has brought us more up to date in the state of play. Firstly the statistics office has continued to update its data on the quarter just gone.

WIESBADEN – The gross domestic product (GDP) rose by 8.5% in the third quarter of 2020 compared with the second quarter of 2020 after adjustment for price, seasonal and calendar variations. Thus, the German economy could offset a large part of the massive decline in the gross domestic product recorded in the second quarter of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, the price-, seasonally and calendar-adjusted GDP was still 4.0% lower in the third quarter of 2020 thanin the fourth quarter of 2019, that is the quarter before the global coronavirus crisis.

That is an improvement of the order of 0.3% on what was previously thought. This does in fact give us a partial V-Shape as you can see below.

In the circumstances that is a reasonably good performance and the statistics office puts it like this.

For the whole EU, Eurostat released a preliminary result of -4.3% for the third quarter of 2020. The United States also recorded a strong decline of their gross domestic product (-2.9%, converted figure) compared with the third quarter of 2019. In contrast, year-on-year GDP growth as published by the People’s Republic of China amounted to 4.9% in the third quarter.

There is another context which is that the German economy had previously been struggling. This began with the 0.2% decline at the opening of 2018 which was claimed to be part of the “Euro Boom”. Economic growth was a mere 1.3% in 2018 which then slowed to 0.6% in 2019 so we can see that there were pre pandemic issues.

The Breakdown

I thought that I would switch to the labour market for this and an ongoing consequence for other areas.

The labour volume of the overall economy, which is the total number of hours worked by all persons in employment, declined even more sharply by 4.0% over the same period.

I am using a measure of underemployment as the international definition of unemployment has simply not worked. Next we can switch to wages.

According to first provisional calculations, the compensation of employees was down by just 0.7% year on year, while property and entrepreneurial income fell sharply by 7.8%. On average, gross wages and salaries per employee fell by 0.4%, while net wages and salaries rose slightly by 0.5%.

So we see a familiar situation of income being supported by the furlough scheme although outside it there has been quite a hit. But as there have been restrictions on spending we see a surge in saving.

According to provisional calculations, the savings ratio was 13.5% in the third quarter of 2020.

We wait to see what will be the full economic impact of a surge in involuntary saving but here is the flip side.

Household final consumption expenditure at current prices, however, showed a decrease of 4.0%.

What about now?

This morning has brought the latest update from the Ifo Institute.

Munich, November 24, 2020 – Sentiment among German managers has deteriorated. The ifo Business Climate
Index fell from 92.5 points in October to 90.7 points in November. The drop was due above all to companies’
considerably more pessimistic expectations. Their assessments of the current situation were also a little worse.
Business uncertainty has risen. The second wave of coronavirus has interrupted Germany’s economic recovery.

It is the services sector which has taken the brunt of this.

In the service sector, the Business Climate Index dropped noticeably. For the first time since June, it is back in
negative territory. Assessments of the current situation are much less positive than they were. Moreover,
substantially more companies are pessimistic about the coming months. The indicators for hotels and
hospitality absolutely nosedived.

The one area which has managed some growth is manufacturing.

This month’s bright spot is manufacturing. The business climate improved here, with companies assessing their
current situation as markedly better. Incoming orders rose, albeit more slowly than last month. However,
expectations for the coming months turned notably less optimistic.

Although as you can see the new restrictions due to Covid-19 have affected expectations. But the picture for the overall economy was that things continued to improve in October but have now reversed. So the vaccine news has not impacted expectations there yet and the V-Shape above will see at least a kink. The general view is similar to that given yesterday by the Matkit business survey.

New lockdown measures to curb the spread of
coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) led to an
accelerated decline in services activity across
Germany in November, latest ‘flash’ PMI®
from IHS Markit showed. However, the country’s
manufacturing sector continued to exhibit strong
growth, helping to support overall economic activity.

They did however hint that the Far East is helping German manufacturing.

which the survey shows is
benefitting for growing sales to Asia in particular.

Financial Conditions

These remain extraordinarily easy. There is the -0.5% deposit rate of the ECB with the -1% interest-rate for the banks. Then there is the enormous amount of bond buying which under the original programme ( PSPP) totaled some 562 billion Euros at the end of October. It is a sign of the times that there is another buying programme as well as the ECB tries to muddy the waters and as of the end of September it had bought another 125 billion.

Today Germany issues a two-year bond and it will be paid to do so as the yield is -0.75% as I type this. Furthermore this yield has been negative for over 5 years now as that state of play looks ever more permanent. Indeed with the thirty-year at -0.16% the whole yield curve is negative.

Switching to the Euro exchange-rate things are not so bright. If we take a long-term context Germany joined to get a weaker exchange-rate. However in recent times it has been rising and the effective index is at 121.5 or 21% higher than when the Euro began. Whilst November has seen a dip the index started 2020 at 115.

Comment

The context is that at the end of the third quarter the German economy had grown by 2.7% compared to the 2015 benchmark. But the news restrictions mean that it has “And it’s gone” to quote South Park. There are vaccine hopes for 2021 now but 2020 looks like being a year to forget.

This brings us to the role of the ECB which is already heavily deployed. Can it respond to the latest dip? Not in any timely way as we note the lags in the system. Also for Germany there is not a lot more that can be done in terms of interest-rates or bond yields as all are heavily negative. The wheels of fiscal policy are being oiled by this as well. Looking at it like that only leaves us with the Euro exchange-rate. Can ECB President Lagarde fire a “bazooka” at that? As I pointed out yesterday looking at the UK with all central banks easing that is easier to say than do.

Meanwhile returning to the world of finance there is this.

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Germany’s blue-chip DAX index will expand to 40 from the current 30 companies with tougher membership criteria, exchange operator Deutsche Boerse said on Tuesday.

In general a good idea as it is too narrow an index for an economy the size of Germany, especially in the light of this.

The most recent departure was payments company Wirecard, which in a blow to Germany’s capital markets, filed for insolvency just two years after its promotion to the index. The payments company owed creditors billions in what auditor EY described as a sophisticated global fraud.

The perils of indexation?

 

 

The ECB faces problems from the Euro area banks as well as fiscal policy

This morning has brought us up to date on the state of play at the European Central Bank. Vice President De Guindos opened his speech in Frankfurt telling us this about the expected situation.

The pandemic crisis has put great pressure on economic activity, with euro area growth expected to fall by 8% in 2020. ……The tighter containment measures recently adopted across Europe are weighing on current growth. With the future path of the pandemic highly unclear, risks are clearly tilted to the downside.

So he has set out his stall as vaccine hopes get a relatively minor mention. Thus he looks set to vote for more easing at the December meeting. Also he rather curiously confessed that after 20 years or so the convergence promises for the Euro area economy still have a lot of ground to cover.

The severity of the pandemic shock has varied greatly across euro area countries and sectors, which is leading to uneven economic developments and recovery speeds……..And growth forecasts for 2020 also point towards increasing divergence within the euro area.

Looking ahead that is juts about to be fixed, although a solution to it has been just around the corner for a decade or so now.

The recent European initiatives, such as the Next Generation EU package, should help ensure a more broad-based economic recovery across various jurisdictions and avoid the kind of economic and financial fragmentation that we observed during the euro area sovereign debt crisis.

He also points out there has been sectoral fragmentation although he rather skirts around the issue that this has been a policy choice. Not by the ECB but bu governments.

 Consumers have adopted more cautious behaviour, and the recent tightening of restrictions has notably targeted the services sector, including hotels and restaurants, arts and entertainment, and tourism and travel.

Well Done the ECB!

As ever in a central banking speech there is praise for the central bank itself.

Fiscal support has played a key role in mitigating the impact of the pandemic on the economy and preserving productive capacity. This is very welcome, notwithstanding the sizeable budget deficits anticipated for 2020 and 2021 and the rising levels of sovereign debt.

This theme is added to by this from @Schuldensuehner

 Jefferies shows that France is biggest beneficiary of ECB’s bond purchases. Country has saved €28.2bn since 2015 through artificial reduction in financing costs driven by ECB. In 2nd place among ECB profiteers is Italy w/savings of €26.8bn, Germany 3rd w/€23.7bn.

Care is needed as QE has not been the only game in town especially for Greece which is on the list as saving 2,2 billion Euros a year from a QE plan it was not in! It only was included this year. But the large purchases have clearly reduced costs for government and no doubt makes the ECB popular amongst the politicians it regularly claims to be independent from. But there is more.

While policy support will eventually need to be withdrawn, abrupt and premature termination of the ongoing schemes could give rise to cliff-edge effects and cool the already tepid economic recovery.

It is a bit socco voce but we get a reminder that the ECB is willing to effectively finance a very expansionary fiscal policy. That is why it has two QE programmes running at the same time, but for this purpose the game in town is this.

 The Governing Council will continue its purchases under the pandemic emergency purchase programme (PEPP) with a total envelope of €1,350 billion.

There was a time when that would be an almost unimaginable sum of money but not know as if government’s do as they are told it will be increased.

The purchases will continue to be conducted in a flexible manner over time, across asset classes and among jurisdictions.

Oh and there is a bit of a misprint on the sentence below as they really mean fiscal policy.

This allows the Governing Council to effectively stave off risks to the smooth transmission of monetary policy.

The Banks

These are a running sore with even the ECB Vice President unable to avoid this issue.

The pandemic has also weighed on the long-term profitability outlook for banks in the euro area, depressing their valuations. From around 6% in February of this year, the euro area median banks’ return on equity had declined to slightly above 2% by June.

Tucked away in the explanation is an admittal of the ECB’s role here so I have highlighted it.

The decline in profitability is being driven mainly by higher loan loss provisions and weaker income-generation capacity linked to the ongoing compression of interest margins.

The interest-rate cuts we have seen hurt the banks and this issue was exacerbated by the reductions in the Deposit Rate to -0.5% as the banks have been afraid of passing this onto the ordinary saver and depositor. Thus the Zero Lower Bound ( 0%) did effectively exist for some interest-rates.

This is in spite of the fact that banks have benefited from two main sweeteners. This is the -1% interest-rate of the latest liquidity programmes ( TLTROs) and the QE bond purchases which help inflate the value of the banks bond holdings.

Then we get to the real elephant in the room.

Non-performing loans (NPL) are likely to present a further challenge to bank profitability.

We had got used to being told that a corner had been turned on this issue even in Italy and Greece. Speaking of the latter Piraeus Bank hit trouble last week when it was unable to make a bond payment.

The non-payment of the CoCos coupon will lead to the complete conversion of the convertible bond, amounting to 2.040 billion euros, into 394.4 million common shares.

It is noted that the conversion will not involve an adjustment of the share price and simply, to the 437 million shares of the Bank will be added another 394.4 million shares at the price of 0.70 euros (closing of the share at last Friday’s meeting). ( Capital Gr).

There is a lot of dilution going on here for private shareholders as we note that this is pretty much a nationalisation.

The conversion has one month after December 2 to take place and the result will be the percentage of the Financial Stability Fund, which currently controls 26.4% of Piraeus Bank, to increase to 61.3%.

Meanwhile in Italy you have probably guessed which bank has returned to the news.

LONDON/MILAN/ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s Treasury has asked financial and legal advisers to pitch for a role in the privatisation of Monte dei Paschi BMPS.MI as it strives to secure a merger deal for the Tuscan lender, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Friday.

The equivalent of a Hammer House of Horror production as we mull how like a financial vampire it keeps needing more.

Italy is seeking ways to address pending legal claims amounting to 10 billion euros (£9 billion) that sources say are the main hurdle to privatising the bank.

Even Colin Jackson would struggle with all the hurdles around Monte dei Paschi. Anyway we can confidently expect a coach and horses to be driven through Euro area banking rules.

If we look at the proposed solution we wonder again about the bailouts.

Although banks have stepped up cost-cutting efforts in the wake of the pandemic, they need to push even harder for greater cost efficiency.

So job losses and it seems that muddying the waters will also be the order of the day.

The planned domestic mergers in some countries are an encouraging sign in this regard.

A merger does reduce two problems to one albeit we are back on the road to Too Big To Fail or TBTF.

There is of course the ECB Holy Grail.

Finally, we also need to make progress on the banking union, which unfortunately remains unfinished. Renewed efforts are urgently required to improve its crisis management framework.

Just as Italy makes up its own rules….

Comment

We are now arriving at Monetary Policy 3.0 after number one ( interest-rates) and number two ( QE) have failed to work. In effect the role of monetary policy is to facilitate fiscal policy. It also involves a challenge to democracy as the technocrats of the ECB are looking to set policy for the elected politicians in the Euro area. However there are problems with this and somewhat ironically these have been highlighted by the Twitter feed of the Financial Times which starts with an apparent triumph.

Italy’s bond rally forces key measure of risk to lowest since 2018

So on a financial measure we have convergence. But if we switch to the real economy we get this.

‘There is no money left’: the pandemic’s economic impact is ‘a catastrophe’ for people in southern Italy who were already in a precarious situation

Switching to the banks we are facing the consequences of the Zombification of the sector as the same old names always seem to need more money. Although there has been more hopeful news for BBVA of Spain today albeit exiting the country where banks seem to be able to make money.

PNC to buy U.S. operations of Spanish bank BBVA for $11.6 billion ( @CNBC )

Although the price will no doubt if the speech above is any guide will be pressure to give a home to a Zombie or two.

Podcast

 

 

 

Can the ECB save the Euro area economy?

The last day or so has brought economic activity in the Euro area into focus. Last night brought a reminder that November was going to be difficult in France via all the reports of the traffic logjam in Paris as Parisians tried to find somewhere else to spend the new lockdown. We also had the ECB policy meeting of which more later as first we get to see what happened in the third quarter for the 2 biggest economies. France was first to release its numbers.

In Q3 2020, GDP in volume terms bounced back: +18.2% after –13.7% in Q2 2020. Nevertheless, GDP remained well below the level it had before the health crisis: measured in volume, compared to its level in Q3 2019 (year-on-year), GDP of Q3 2020 was 4.3% lower.

Yet again the expectations of analysts were wrong ( much too low) in spite of the fact that the theme was effective leaked by ECB President Lagarde in the press conference yesterday. After all she would have known the numbers.

Lagarde: As you know, the number for the third quarter will be coming out I believe tomorrow, and might surprise on the upside.

The bit that was a surprise to me was this at a time of large government intervention.

while general government expenditure slightly exceeded it (+0.4% year-on-year).

Moving on we saw Germany next to release its numbers.

WIESBADEN – The gross domestic product (GDP) rose by 8.2% in the third quarter of 2020 on the second quarter of 2020 after adjustment for price, seasonal and calendar variations……GDP in the third quarter of 2020 was down a price-ajusted 4.1% on the third quarter of 2019 (price- and calendar-adjusted: -4.3%).

So at this point we have a similar pattern with a fall of around 4% which means we are Looking at numbers around 1% worse that the USA. I note that Italy has fallen into the same pattern.

In the third quarter of 2020 the seasonally and calendar adjusted, chained volume measure of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased by 16.1 per cent with respect to the previous quarter, whereas it decreased by 4.7 per cent over the same quarter of 2019.

Both typically and sadly our Girlfriend in a coma has down slightly worse, but there is a need to take care as the numbers will be less accurate than usual due to collection difficulties. Also if there is ever a tear where seasonal adjustment will be inaccurate this is it and that is before we get to the impact of issues like this.

The third quarter of 2020 has had four working days more than the previous quarter and one working day
more than the same quarter of previous year.

More Trouble?

We got a hint of things turning for the worse from the German retail sales release.

WIESBADEN – According to provisional data, turnover in retail trade in September 2020 was in real terms 2.2% and in nominal terms 2.6% (both adjusted for calendar and seasonal influences) lower than in August 2020.

As you can see one of the factors driving the German economy forwards looks to have weakened at the end of the quarter. The annual comparison still looks strong but we need to take around 3% away from it to allow for the extra day.

In September 2020, the turnover in retail rose by 6.5% (real) and 7.7% (nominal) compared to the same month of the previous year, where the September 2020 had one day of sale more. In comparison to February 2020, the month before the outbreak of Covid 19 in Germany, the turnover in September 2020 was 2.8% higher.

What next for the ECB?

As I pointed out earlier the ECB will have been aware that the third quarter in isolation had outperformed. But it was also aware that the passage to the end of the year and maybe beyond was not. That has been confirmed by its survey of professional forecasters this morning.

However, due to the emergence of new COVID-19 cases in the recent weeks, many forecasters now assumed a weaker fourth quarter 2020 and that the economy would remain affected by restrictions (albeit not complete lockdowns) well into 2021.

That in essence is the shift we are seeing and let me add that it puts 2021 on a weak opening and also what if the lockdown cycle repeats again?

The ECB response was as we expected to kick the can to its next meeting.

The full Governing Council was in total agreement to analyse the current economic situation and to recognise and acknowledge the fact that risks are clearly, clearly tilted to the downside. We all acknowledge the role and the importance as a driving force of the pandemic and the increase of contagion, as well as the impact that containment measures will have on the economy. So it is with that recognition and that acknowledgement that we agreed, all of us, that it was necessary to take action, and therefore to recalibrate our instruments at our next Governing Council meeting. ( President Lagarde )

Perhaps the most revealing bit here was the shift of language as “tools” have morphed into “instruments”. That may turn out to be like the way “The Troika” became “The Institutions” as things went from bad to worse in Greece.

Then we got more from Christine Lagarde.

So the teams, the committees, staff members are already at work in order to do this recalibration exercise, and this recalibration exercise will touch on all our instruments. It is not going to be one or the other. It is not going to be looking at one single instrument. It will be looking at all our instruments, how they interact together, what will be the optimal outcome, and what will be the mix that will best address the situation.

I do love the way this is presented as a scientific enterprise! But suddenly quite a few extra things are in play via the mention of “all our instruments”. For example another interest-rate now looks to be in play. Maybe the ECB might buy more private-sector instruments such as equities too. Up to now it has only bought bonds,but should the equity market falls continue maybe it will spread its wings. I suggested back on March the 2nd that it could be the next central bank to but equities and it seems such thoughts have arrived at the Financial Times.

“New Instruments” If BOJ is the blueprint, ECB already buy government, corporates bonds and commercial paper. One thing missing… stock ETFs? ( Stephen Spratt)

Comment

We see that the ECB is strongly hinting that it is preparing what has become called a Bazooka although I suppose in the circumstances Panzerfaust may be better. But if we look at what is its main policy tool right now it is already pretty much flat out.

But, according to calculations by Citigroup, ECB purchases will more than cover the extra cash that governments need in 2021 — even if the central bank does not scale up its €1.35tn emergency bond-buying programme by another €500bn in December as is widely expected. Christine Lagarde, the ECB’s president, hinted at a policy-setting meeting on Thursday that further stimulus is on the way. (Financial Times)

Actually to my mind the precise figures do not matter because if there is a miss match and bond yields start to rise I expect the ECB to raise its rate of purchases. The numbers above omit the 20 billion Euros a month of the pre-exisiting QE scheme but as I just said the principle here is that they will implicitly ( they do not buy in the primary market) finance the deficits.

The ongoing problem remains that there is never any exit strategy as highlighted from Japan earlier this week.

BOJ’S GOV. KURODA: THE ETF PURCHASES WILL CONTINUE TO BE A NECESSARY POLICY TOOL. ( @FinancialJuice )

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ECB has found itself pushing on a string

Our focus today shifts to the Euro area where to quote Todd Terry there is indeed “something going on”. We find that the European Central Bank can influence one area of the economy and here it is.

Annual growth rate of narrower monetary aggregate M1,, comprising currency in circulation and overnight deposits, increased to 13.8% in September from 13.2% in August.

For newer readers wondering if this is high then the answer is yes. The ECB did not reach such annual rates of growth in either of its two main pushes. So the slashing of interest-rates in response to the credit crunch and later the imposition of negative interest-rates and mainstream QE bond purchases did not reach this level of percentage expansion. The next context is that the narrow money supply is much larger now so in terms of Euros around ( on this measure) the push is a real shove.

If we look back we see that there has been a two-stage move with the initial one beginning on the 18th of September last year with the interest-rate cut to -0.5% and the restarting of QE bond purchases. It is hard not to have a wry smile at the thought that back then Mario Draghi was setting policy for his successor Christine Lagarde in a revealing summary of the competence of someone he knows well. Life has sure moved on in the meantime as she is now in a full blown crisis! This move raised M1 growth from 7% to 8% in broad terms. The turbocharger was applied in March and we have gone to three months in a row of growth over 13%. Let me give you an example of the turbocharger in action and remember these are just for last week.

ECB PSPP (EUR): +6.733B To 2.309T (Prev -1.883B To 2.303T) –

CSPP: +2.208B To 241.524B (Prev +2.137B To 239.316B) – CBPP: +722M To 287.426B (Prev -81M To 286.704B) – ABSPP: -206M To 29.173B (Prev +222M To 29.379B) – PEPP: +16.264B To 616.856B (Prev +15.858B To 600.592B)

Firstly apologies for the alphabetti spaghetti, I am sure the names sound grand when they make them up. The original QE programme is at the top and added nearly 7 billion Euros and the emergency one at the bottom added a bit over 16 billion. They also bought over 2 billion Euros of Corporate Bonds. But in total as the ECB supplied Euros in return for the bonds roughly 26 billion was added to the money supply in one week.

Velocity

I often get asked about this and the concept here is to attempt to measure what happens to the money supply. We cannot measure it directly so the proxy is usually our measure of economic output called Gross Domestic Product. The credit crunch era has seen plenty on monetary expansion but only weak GDP growth so velocity has been singing along with Alicia Keys.

I, I, I, I’m fallin’
I, I, I, I’m fallin’
Fall

This has in the past been described as being like pushing on a string.

If we now bring this up to date we see that Velocity has had a shocker with narrow money growth of a bit over 12% combined with GDP growth of nearly minus 12%. There will be quite a swing in the third quarter as we see quite a bounce back but looking ahead to this quarter things are getting worse again. I have previously suggested the Euro area may contract again this quarter and with the implementation of ever more restrictions in response to the Corona Virus pandemic the economic clouds are gathering. Yesterday brought more news on this front from a country which has had relative success in dealing with the pandemic.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is planning a nationwide “lockdown light” which could force the closure of bars, restaurants and public events, according to Bild newspaper.

Merkel is expected to push for the measure in a meeting with regional leaders on Wednesday where additional curbs are likely to be decided on. ( Euronews).

Belgium seems to be in a pretty awful mess and playing a new version of Catch-22.

Now 10 hospitals have requested that staff who have tested positive but do not have symptoms keep working.

The head of the Belgian Association of Medical Unions told the BBC they had no choice if they were to prevent the hospital system collapsing within days.

I never thought I would be analysing money velocity in this way but it will be another plunge if as looks likely now the economy shrinks again with M1 growth of the order of 13%.

Broad Money

The heat is on here too.

The annual growth rate of the broad monetary aggregate M3 increased to 10.4% in September 2020 from 9.5% in August, averaging 10.0% in the three months up to September.

As you are probably expecting much of the shove here came from the narrow money we have just looked at.

the narrower aggregate M1 contributed 9.4 percentage points (up from 9.0 percentage points in August), short-term deposits other than overnight deposits (M2-M1) contributed 0.4 percentage point (up from 0.1 percentage point) and marketable instruments (M3-M2) contributed 0.6 percentage point (up from 0.4 percentage point).

The ECB will be pleased to see a pick-up in the rate of growth of “marketable instruments” although in these times this could also be for reasons which are not good.We can apply a similar line of thinking to this perhaps.

From the perspective of the holding sectors of deposits in M3, the annual growth rate of deposits placed by households increased to 7.8% in September from 7.5% in August.

In theory the ECB would welcome this but it is more of a residual item than a cause. What I mean bu that is that is that furlough type payments have been combined with an inability to spend in many areas leading to a rise in savings. We have seen that pretty much everywhere. So it is hardly a surprise to see bank deposits rising.as they are part of this.

Credit

This is is a lagging rather than leading indicator but there was a possible wind of change here.

the annual growth rate of credit to the private sector stood at 4.9% in September, compared with 5.0% in August.

Comment

If we look at what we would normally expect then the rise in narrow money growth should be impacting the economy towards the end of this year and into 2021. The problem is that the economic push is colliding with more Corona Virus restrictions. Just looking at the money supply suggests a bright economic run but in reality official forecasts are going to need their red pen.

If we look into the detail we see that much of the push is also related to government action.

The annual growth rate of credit to general government increased to 18.8% in September from 16.5% in August,

That is from the M3 series and we get another perspective into things we have already noted. Governments are spending heavily leading to deposits rising in one area and the ECB via QE financing much of it to prevent any drain on the money supply from the borrowing. We had got used to some of that but the difference now is the scale as we mull how much of an impact the ch-ch-changes have on the economic consequences of a money supply boost.You may like to look up Goodhart’s Law at this point.

Moving on there is another cloud in the sky because the traditional response of banks to a downturn seems to be in play.

Banks tightened their criteria for approving loans to enterprises and consumers as well as the terms and conditions on the credit they did approve, the survey showed. They expected further tightening in the fourth quarter. ( Reuters)

So for the ECB it is time to consider the advice provided by Bananarama.

It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it
It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it
It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it
And that’s what gets results.

 

 

The Netherlands continues to see house prices surging

Today gives us the opportunity to look at several issues. Sadly the initial opening backdrop is this.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte announced yesterday that the Netherlands is going into “partial lockdown”, due to the sharp rising numbers of coronavirus infections. From Tuesday evening, all bars and restaurants will be closed for at least one month. Buying alcohol after 10PM is forbidden. Hotels remain open, as well as bars and restaurants in the airport, after the security check. ( EU Observer).

So we see that another squeeze is being put on the economy To put this another way the Statistics Netherlands report below from Monday now looks rather out of date.

The economic situation according to the CBS Business Cycle Tracer has become less unfavourable in October. However, the economy is still firmly in the recession stage. Statistics Netherlands (CBS) reports that, as of mid-October, 10 out of the 13 indicators in the Business Cycle Tracer perform below their long-term trend. Measures against the spread of coronavirus have had a major impact on many indicators of the Tracer.

If we look at the situation we see that it was a pretty stellar effort to have a reading of 0.56 in April but the number soon plunged to its nadir so far of -1.95 and the latest reading is -1.21.

The picture for trade, investment and manufacturing is as you might expect.

In August 2020, the total volume of goods exports shrank by 2.3 percent year-on-year. Exports of petroleum products, transport equipment and metal products decreased in particular. Exports of machinery and appliances declined as well.

The volume of investments in tangible fixed assets was 4.5 percent down in July 2020 relative to the same month last year. This contraction is smaller than in the previous three months and mainly due to lower investments in buildings and machinery.

In August 2020, the average daily output generated by the Dutch manufacturing industry was 4.0 percent down on August 2019. The year-on-year decrease is smaller than in the previous four months.

Along the way we see how this indicator was positive in April as some of it is lagged by around 3 months. That is also highlighted by the consumer numbers.

In July 2020 consumers spent 6.2 percent less than in July 2019. The decline is smaller than in the previous four months. Consumers again spent less on services but more on goods.

Unemployment

Yesterday’s official release told us that the unemployment data in the Netherlands are as useless as we have seen elsewhere.

In September 2020, there were 413 thousand unemployed, equivalent to 4.4 percent of the labour force. Unemployment declined compared to August and the increase seen in recent months has levelled off. In the period July through September, the number of unemployed increased by a monthly average of 3 thousand. From June to August, unemployment still rose by 32 thousand on average per month, with the unemployment rate going up to 4.6 percent.

There is a clear case for these numbers to be suspended or better I think published with a star combined with an explanation of the problem.

We do learn a little more from the hours worked data although as you can see they are a few months behind the times.

Due to government support measures, job losses were still relatively limited in Q2 at -2.7 percent, but the number of hours worked by employees and self-employed fell significantly and ended at a total of 3.2 billion hours in Q2 2020. Adjusted for seasonal effects, this is 5.7 percent lower than one quarter previously.

GDP

This was better than the Euro area average in the second quarter.

According to the second estimate conducted by CBS, gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by 8.5 percent in Q2 2020 relative to the previous quarter. The decline was mainly due to falling household consumption, while investments and the trade balance also fell significantly. Relative to one year previously, GDP contracted by 9.4 percent.

House Prices

Here we have something rather revealing and ti give you a clue it will be top of the list of any morning meeting at either the Dutch central bank or the ECB.

In August 2020, prices of owner-occupied dwellings (excluding new constructions) were on average 8.2 percent higher than in the same month last year. This is the highest price increase in over one and a half years.

Yes house prices are surging in a really rather bizarre sign of the times.

House prices peaked in August 2008 and subsequently started to decline, reaching a low in June 2013. The trend has been upward since then. In May 2018, the price index of owner-occupied dwellings exceeded the record level of August 2008 for the first time. The index reached a new record high in August 2020; compared to the low in June 2013, house prices were up by 51 percent on average.

This gives us a new take on the “Whatever it takes” speech by ECB President Mario Draghi in July 2012. Because if we allow for the leads and lags in the process it looks as though it lit the blue touchpaper for Dutch house prices. It puts Dutch house prices on the same timetable as the UK where the Bank of England acted in the summer of 2012 and the house price response took around a year.

The accompanying chart will also warm the cockles of any central banking chart as the house price index of 107.2 in September 2016 ( 2015 = 100) becomes 143.4 this August. Actually in the data there is something which comes as quite a surprise to me.

According to The Netherlands’ Cadastre, the total number of transactions recorded over the month of August stood at 19,034. This is almost 3 percent lower than in August 2019. Over the first eight months of this year, a total of 148,107 dwellings were sold. This represents an increase of over 5 percent relative to the same period in 2019.

More transactions in 2020 than 2019? I know such numbers are lagged but even so that should not be true surely?

Inflation

One might reasonably think that with all that house price inflation that inflation full stop might be on the march.

In September, HICP-based prices of goods and services in the Netherlands were 1.0 percent up year-on-year, versus 0.3 percent in August.

the answer is no because the subject of house price rises is ignored on the grounds that they are really Wealth Effects rather than price rises.That, of course throws first-time buyers to the Wolves. In fact if I may use the numbers from Calcasa first-time buyers can be presented as being better off.

On average, 13.6% of net household income was required to service housing costs in the second quarter of 2020, compared to mid-2008 when housing costs represented 27.0% of net income.

Such numbers have the devil in the detail as averages hide the fact that first-time buyers are being really squeezed.

Comment

The Netherlands is an economic battleground of our times.If we start with the real economy we see that there was a Covid-19 driven lurch downwards followed by hints of recovery. Sadly  the recovery now looks set to be neutered by responses to the apparent second Covid wave. The last quarter of 2020 could see another contraction.

Yet if we switch to the asset prices side the central bank has been blowing as much hot air into them it can. Bond prices have surged with bond yields negative all the way along the spectrum ( even the thirty-year is -0.21%), So we start with questions for the pensions and longer-term savings industry. Then we arrive at house prices which are apparently surging. You almost could not make that up at this time! The inflationary impact of this is hidden by keeping the issue out of the official inflation measure or if really forced using rents for people who do not pay rent. Meanwhile their other calculations include gains from wealth effects boosting the economy.

If we look forwards all I can see is yet another easing move by the ECB with more QE this time maybe accompanied by another interest-rate cut. I fail to see how this will make things any better.

 

Central banks are increasingly entering the world of politics

Yesterday brought a barrage of central banking news. So let us start with something rather remarkable from the head of the world’s number one which is the US Federal Reserve. The crucial part of the speech given by Jerome Powell to the National Association for Business Economists is below.

The expansion is still far from complete. At this early stage, I would argue that the risks of policy intervention are still asymmetric. Too little support would lead to a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship for households and businesses. Over time, household insolvencies and business bankruptcies would rise, harming the productive capacity of the economy, and holding back wage growth. By contrast, the risks of overdoing it seem, for now, to be smaller. Even if policy actions ultimately prove to be greater than needed, they will not go to waste. The recovery will be stronger and move faster if monetary policy and fiscal policy continue to work side by side to provide support to the economy until it is clearly out of the woods.

Some of the economics is really rather dubious. But the main driver is that he is interfering in a political decision which is fiscal policy in the middle of an election campaign. It used to be considered the the Federal Reserve would go into a type of purdah during an election campaign but apparently not now. In the past that would usually mean a period where interest-rates would not be changed.The situation is somewhat different now as interest-rates have already been reduced so close to 0% so the weapon of choice would be more QE bond buying but the principle is the same.

The Economics

The claim that the risk of overdoing policy actions is small is familiar territory for central bankers. But this is really rather extraordinary.

Even if policy actions ultimately prove to be greater than needed, they will not go to waste.

Such a situation would be likely to be one exhibiting inflation. The inflation would be most likely to be in house and other asset prices but none the less would be there, albeit it would be ignored by the main consumer inflation measures.

Also if we look at the opening speech we see some familiar cheerleading for policy.

As the coronavirus spread across the globe, the U.S. economy was in its 128th month of expansion—the longest in our recorded history—and was generally in a strong position.

So strong in fact that “Moderate growth” is considered to be “slightly above-trend”

We travel a similar journey if we look at his view of the recovery which is quite a success.

After rising to 14.7 percent in April, the unemployment rate is back to 7.9 percent, clearly a significant and rapid rebound.

But then there is quite a bit of slip-sliding away.

A broader measure that better captures current labor market conditions—by adjusting for mistaken characterizations of job status, and for the decline in labor force participation since February—is running around 11 percent.

I have pointed out more than a few times how and why the international definition of unemployment has failed us in this pandemic. So it is more than disappointing to see a central banker who should know better using it. In a familiar theme that is the behaviour of a politician.

Meanwhile if we switch to actual politicians the fiscal stimulus call had a bit of trouble with The Donald.

Nancy Pelosi is asking for $2.4 Trillion Dollars to bailout poorly run, high crime, Democrat States, money that is in no way related to COVID-19. We made a very generous offer of $1.6 Trillion Dollars and, as usual, she is not negotiating in good faith. I am rejecting their request, and looking to the future of our Country.

Top of the Class

The ECB decided to issue a career enhancing discussion paper yesterday.

Despite this renewed debate, traditional indices of central bank independence do not suggest a deterioration in central banks’ de jure independence after the GFC. ( GFC = Global Financial Crisis)

Lewis Carroll would be proud. Although there is a brief flash of insight.

The benefits of central bank independence are currently not obvious for many citizens,

Really?! However we return to a place “far,far,away” in the section on the ECB itself.

There have been no visible changes in either the de jure or actual independence of the ECB. The legal frameworks protecting the ECB’s independence have been tested,
and have served to establish its independence more firmly.

Meanwhile back on the ranch the ECB has a President who is a politician and former French Finance Minister and a Vice-President who is the former Economy Minister of Spain. So independence from political control has been established by er, putting politicians in charge! It does at least explain this bit.

Comments by euro area governments on the ECB’s policy decisions are unusual.

Why would then when it is doing their bidding? After all if monetary policy was more overtly under the control of politicians how much more could they have done?

If we switch to the Bank of Russia we get a laugh out loud section. We are assured this.

Central bank independence seems to be observed in Russia, although it was not tested in a controversy with the government in the analysed period.

The idea of independence under Vladimir Putin seems not far off insane which somewhat bizarrely they then confess.

In January 2015, the head of monetary policy was reportedly replaced by a person more acceptable to
bankers, who had called for lower interest rates.

Seems to be a similar model to Roman Abramovich at Chelsea football club albeit no manager there survives for that long.

Interest-Rate Cuts

Just when you though that this game might be over there is an early premonition of Halloween. From the Wall Street Journal.

European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde said the bank is ready to inject fresh monetary stimulus to support the eurozone’s stuttering economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, including by cutting a key interest rate further below zero.

Just as a reminder the Deposit Rate and the Current Account Rate are already -0.5%. Last time this came up for discussion ( about a year ago) it was about a move to -0.6%. Does anybody believe a 0.1% move would make any difference right now?

Insane in the membrane
Insane in the brain!
Insane in the membrane
Insane in the brain! ( Cypress Hill )

There are three issues with this. The first is simply that the evidence is that this does not work as otherwise why so we need ever more doses of it? This leads her to an official denial and we know what to do with them.

ECB hasn’t yet reached the point where a fresh interest-rate cut would do more harm than good, known to economists as the reversal rate. ( WSJ)

Next comes the international impact as another interest-rate cut would affect countries which explicitly ( Denmark) and implicitly (Switzerland) set their interest-rates against the Euro exchange-rate. Thirdly we are pretty much back to trying to devalue the Euro which relates to the point before.

Comment

The problem here is that central banks have found themselves behaving like politicians.The move towards independence did not last long as the various establishments shifted towards appointing people who were and are “one of us”. That is most explicit at the ECB where an actual politician in Christine Lagarde is President. In the United States we have seen a different tack where Jerome Powell was seemingly pressurised by President Trump to do his bidding and cut interest-rates. Neither looks especially independent. As to fiscal policy in the US President Trump may already be switching his tune.

If I am sent a Stand Alone Bill for Stimulus Checks ($1,200), they will go out to our great people IMMEDIATELY. I am ready to sign right now. Are you listening Nancy?

That is the problem with playing politics as it can change daily and indeed hourly but the economy cannot.

Rather ironically a day which started with Jerome Powell calling for more like Oliver Twist and the President saying what? just like The Master in the story had another turn. Until then US bond yields were rising ( 30 year at 1.6%) meaning that we might actually see some of the promised Yield Curve Control. But the Trump Tweet ended that at least for now.

The banks of Italy face another crisis

2020 has been quite a year and something of an annus horribilis.What such events reveal if we borrow the words of Warren Buffet is those who have been swimming with swimming trunks. If there is a group anywhere in the world that has been doing this it has been the Italian banks who had enough problems before the Covid-19 pandemic started. So much so that at least in one case I am reminded of the famous words of Paul Simon.

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again

Monte dei Paschi di Siena

If there is a bank that deserves that lyric it is Monte Paschi which has had bailout after bailout but still rather resembles the walking dead in banking terms.

MILAN (Reuters) – Italy’s clean-up scheme for Monte dei Paschi di Siena BMPS.MI is set to be approved by shareholders of the state-owned bank on Sunday after two years’ in the planning, but it is unlikely to be enough to attract a buyer.

The last bit raises a grim smile after all nobody wanted Monte Paschi even in what were considered to be the good times of the “Euro boom” so who would want it now? Along the way the Italian taxpayer has taken quite a hammering.

The government rescued Monte dei Paschi (MPS) in 2017, paying 5.4 billion euros ($6.3 billion) for a 68% stake now worth 1 billion euros, which it must sell next year under the terms of the 8.2 billion euro bailout.

I think that rescued is the wrong word as it implies a sort of permanence, whereas the reality has been that Monte Paschi rather like Oliver! is always asking for more. Indeed one route involves the Italian taxpayer taking another hit.

To boost the appeal of the world’s oldest bank still in business, Italy has been working on a scheme to cut MPS’ problem loan ratio below the industry average, offloading 8 billion euros in soured debts to state-owned bad loan manager AMCO.

The repeating problem for Monte Pasch is that it needs more money but getting it from shareholders is shall we say problematic when you have a track record like this.

MPS has been laid low by years of mismanagement, an ill-advised acquisition and risky derivatives deals.

It faces 10 billion euros in legal claims, mostly from disgruntled investors who lost money in a string of cash calls worth 18.5 billion euros in the past decade.

Now if we do some back of the envelope maths we have at least 23 billion Euros lost in the deals above to which is added risk on another 8 billion. Against that we have a bank valued at 1 billion Euros. It was only a few years ago that the then Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzo told us MPS was a good investment. Surely that must come under the Italian version of the trade descriptions act?

We can also note something of an Alice In Wonderland world.

To authorise the clean-up, which shaves 1.1 billion euros off MPS’ capital and must be completed by Dec. 1, the European Central Bank has demanded MPS raises fresh capital via costly issues of Tier 1 and Tier 2 debt.

MPS paid 8.5% for the Tier 2 issue, and analysts say Additional Tier1 (AT1) debt is a non-starter for a bank that expects to remain loss-making through 2022 and would not be allowed, as such, to pay a coupon on it.

Paying 8.5% for your debt hardly helps your profitability and wait for the original estimates of what it would have to pay on riskier debt.

The ECB has asked the bank to prove that private investors would be ready to buy 30% of a potential Tier1 issue but broker Equita estimated such debt could cost Monte dei Paschi as much as 15% a year, further weakening its finances.

The only way I can see this circle being squared is a new ECB asset purchase programme which will allow investors to buy such debt and then pass it on.

Merger Mania

This is another way of kicking the can if you have a problem. My late father used to argue that many mergers were driven by the reality that such an event makes the accounts pretty opaque for a couple of years. Thus something like this was little surprise.

Intesa Sanpaolo’s public tender offer for UBI Banca shares, launched on February 17, 2020, ended on 30 July, with acceptance by 90.2% of UBI’s shareholders.

Following a five-month process, Intesa Sanpaolo successfully surpassed the two-thirds acceptance by UBI Banca shareholders needed to ensure the merger of UBI into Intesa Sanpaolo.

That really defines bad timing doesn’t it? Whilst it is hard to think of a good time to buy an Italian bank buying this year is bad even on that perspective. But according to Intesa it is something of a triumph.

In a statement following the announcement of the provisional results, Intesa Sanpaolo CEO Carlo Messina said that a new European banking leader had been created.

Messina also underlined that Intesa Sanpaolo has become the first bank in Europe to launch a new consolidation phase that will strengthen the Continent’s banking sector.

Considering the record this looks like very faint praise.

UBI is the best run medium-sized bank in Italy

Putting it another way the Intesa share price went above 2.6 Euros when the deal was announced and is 1.58 Euros now.

Unicredit

This is desperately trying to avoid being a white knight for Monte Paschi. It has enough of its own problems with a share price of 7 Euros which is half that of what it was as recently as February.

Comment

This has been something of a slow motion car crash. I am not surprised that we see legal claims being enacted because whilst the Covid-19 pandemic came out of the blue, it is also true that money has been raised whilst the truth has not been told. The official view of the Bank of Italy from April reflected this.

Italian banks are facing the new risks from a
stronger position than at the start of the global
financial crisis. Between 2007 and 2019, the
ratio of the highest loss-absorbing capital to
risk-weighted assets almost doubled, loans are
now funded entirely by deposits, and there are no
signs of a weakening of depositor confidence in
banks.

There are certainly plenty of signs of weakening shareholder confidence in banks. This comes in spite of the fact that they have been handed another freebie.

#Italy‘s 10-year bond #yield down to new record-low of just 0.79%… ( @jsblokland )

For newer readers Italian banks hold a lot of government bonds ( around 400 billion Euros) so the rise in price driven by ECB buying allows them to sell at a high price or at least to put such prices in their accounts. Although of course they did have a scare earlier in the year after the “bond spreads” statement made by ECB President Christine Lagarde.

We have seen various fund emerge to take on the bad debts and regular readers will recall the private-sector Atlante and Atlante II. The latter got renamed as the Italian Recovery Fund which I think speaks for itself. These days there is a state backed vehicle described by Fitch in May like this.

AMCO is a debt purchaser and servicer with nearly EUR25 billion of assets under management and a leading position in the unlikely-to-pay (UTP) loans sector. While operating at market conditions the government’s backing makes AMCO the reference company for direct or indirect state-led bail-outs of distressed banks.

So with “unlikely-to-pay” we have yet another new phrase and change of language.

What we have seen is in fact the consequence of kicking the can into the future and discovering that the future is worse than the present. We look back on a pile of losses for shareholders and taxpayers for what exactly? At the same time a bus has been driven through Euro area rules.

The perversion of Inflation Targeting is accelerating

Today my topic is a subject which may seem like shuffling deck chairs on The Titanic but in fact turns out to be very important. This is because it affects workers, consumers and savers ever more because of the way that both wage growth and interest-rates head ever lower. For the latter we often see negative interest-rates and for the former the old text book concept of “sticky wages” has been in play but pretty much one way as rises are out of fashion but falls do happen. Indeed we have seen more than a few cases of wage cuts recently with the airline industry leading the way for obvious reasons. So we can afford inflation if I may put it like that much less than previously as it more quickly affects living-standards.

The Fantasy World

Central bankers have become wedded to the idea of inflation targeting but have not spotted that there is a world of difference between applying it when you are trying to reduce inflation and trying to raise it. In the former you are looking to raise living-standards via real wages and in the latter you end up trying to reduce them. Hoe does this happen? In spite of over a decade of evidence to the contrary they hang onto theories like this.

If the anchor for inflation is the inflation aim, the Phillips curve – the link between the real economy and inflation – plays a central role in allowing central banks to steer inflation towards that aim. But in the low inflation environment, prices appear to have become less responsive to the real economy. ECB research suggests that the empirical Phillips curve remains intact, but it may be rather flat. ( ECB President Christine Lagarde yesterday )

It can be any shape you like according to them which means it is useless. Accordingly it follows that they have been unable to steer inflation towards its target and for reasons I shall explain later they may well have been heading in the wrong direction. But let us move on with the Phillips curve being described by Lewis Carroll.

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

The next issue is that they have got away with defining price stability as something else entirely. Back to Christine Lagarde of the ECB.

Since 2003, the ECB has used a double-key formulation to set our objective, defining price stability as a year-on-year increase in inflation of “below 2%”, while aiming for inflation of “below, but close to, 2%”.

This misrepresentation was exposed back around 2016 when measured inflation fell to approximately 0% but there were price shifts because the inflation fall was driven by a large fall in the price of crude oil. We saw it in another form as goods inflation fell to zero and sometimes negative where services inflation continued and in the case of my country was little affected. So the bedrock of the 2% inflation target crumbled away.

But they cannot stop clinging to the Phillips Curve.

The intuition behind the first factor is that the Phillips curve is alive and well, but the euro area faced a series of large shocks that made it harder to measure economic activity relative to potential. ( Lagarde)

Let me give you an example where this failed utterly in my home country the UK. Back in 2013 the then new Bank of England Governor Mark Carney established his Forward Guidance based on a 7% Unemployment Rate. Within six months that was crumbling and we went in terms of a “full employment” estimate 6%,5.5%,5%, 4.5% and lastly 4.25%. I would argue it was worse than useless as it was both actively misleading and an attempt to claim he was on the verge of raising interest-rates without having any real intention of doing so.

How much difference does it make?

Central bankers live in a world like this.

Broadly speaking, three factors might explain why inflation responded so weakly to improvements in the economy in the run-up to the pandemic.

One of the reasons is that the economy did not improve that much. The previous peak for Euro area GDP was 2.47 trillion Euros at the start of 2008 which rose to 2.68 trillion at the end of 2019 on 2010 prices. The increase of around 8.5% is not a lot and compares badly with the previous period.

Next comes the fact that central bankers inflate their own efforts and policies according to Chicago University. From Bloomberg.

However, they also find that, on average, papers written entirely by central bankers found an impact on growth at the peak of QE that was more than 0.7 percentage points higher than the effect estimated in papers written entirely by academics. (This is a sizable difference considering the effect found on average across all studies was 1.57% at the peak.) In the case of inflation, the difference in the effect of QE at its peak between the two sets of papers was more than 1.2 percentage points. Central bankers also tended to use more positive language in summarizing their results in abstracts.

They have discovered a point I have been making for some years now.

They suggest that career concerns may have played a role and provide some evidence that central bank researchers who found the largest impact of QE had a better chance of receiving a promotion.

Measuring Inflation

An issue here is the way that official inflation indices have been designed to avoid measuring inflation. I noted this yesterday with reference to the Christine Lagarde speech.

We need to keep track of broad concepts of inflation that capture the costs people face in their everyday lives and reflect their perceptions, including measures of owner-occupied housing.

This continues a theme highlighted by Phillip Lane back in February.

I think we at the ECB would agree that there should be more weight on housing – but there is a difficulty and this has been looked at several times before.

Just for clarity they completely ignore owner-occupied housing which Mr,Lane admitted was up to 33% of people’s spending in a different speech. In other matters ignoring such a large and significant area would get you laughed out of town but as most are unaware it just means they do not believe the inflation numbers.

a lot of households think it is higher. ( Phillip Lane)

I wonder why they might think that? From UBS.

Use our interactive Global Real Estate Bubble Index to track and compare the risk of bubbles in 25 cities around the world over the last three years. Munich and Frankfurt top our list in 2020. Risk is also elevated in Toronto, Hong Kong, Paris, and Amsterdam. Zurich is a new addition to the bubble risk zone.

So the ECB has topped the charts and has four of the top seven. Makes them sound like The Beatles doesn’t it?

Comment

The situation here is an example of institutional failure. Central banks had a brief period of relative independence because politicians failed to get a grip on high inflation and so they sub-contracted the job. Whether they thought it would work or whether they wanted simply to shift the blame off themselves is a moot point? Either way it had its successes as inflation did fall as highlighted by the description of that phase as the NICE decade by the former Bank of England Governor Baron King of Lothbury.

The problems in the meantime are as follows

  1. Inflation is now below target partly due to the miss measurement of it. We are also in “I cannot eat an I-Pad” territory.
  2. They believe that 2% inflation is causal rather than something which was picked at random.
  3. They believe that they can influence it much more than the evidence suggests.
  4. Most breathtakingly of all they believe that raising the inflation target will make people better off via the wages fairy ( where wages growth will rise even faster).

Or you can take the view that this is all about keeping debt costs low for government’s and all of the above is simply a front.

Let me now address further the issue of how things have been made worse. Firstly there is the psychological impact of so-called emergency measures persisting and all the policy moves. Next has come the Zombification of many times of business as models which should have failed get bailed out. Also the use of negative interest-rates cripples much of the pensions and longer-term savings and insurance industry.

On the this road the 2% inflation which they cannot achieve and anyway would make you poorer seems likely to become 3% which is even worse….

 

Another hint of negative interest-rates from the Bank of England

The weekend just gone has provided another step or two in the dance being played out by the Bank of England on negative interest-rates. It was provided by external member Silvana Tenreyro in an interview published by The Telegraph on Saturday night. Perhaps she was unaware she was giving an interview to a media organisation with a paywall but this continued a poor recent trend of Bank of England policymakers making some more equal than others. As a recipient of a public salary interviews like this should be available to all and not some but it is not on the Bank of England website.

As to her views they were really rather extraordinary so let us investigate.

LONDON (Reuters) – The Bank of England’s investigation into whether negative rates might help the British economy through its current downturn has found “encouraging” evidence, policymaker Silvana Tenreyro said in an interview published late on Saturday.

It is not the fact that she may well vote for negative interest-rates that is a surprise as after all she told us this back on the 15th of July.

In June I therefore voted with the majority of the MPC to increase our stock of asset purchases. Lower gilt
yields and higher asset prices induced by QE will lead to some aggregate demand stimulus, although the low
prevailing level of the yield curve may reduce the impact somewhat, relative to some of the MPC’s previous
asset purchase announcements. As with the rest of the committee, I remain ready to vote for further action
as necessary to support the economy and ensure inflation returns to target.

So she voted for more QE ( Quantitative Easing ) bond purchases in spite of the fact that she felt the extra £100 billion would have a weaker impact than previous tranches. This means that with UK bond or Gilt yields continuing to be low and in some cases negative ( out to around 6/7 years in terms of maturity) then in any downturn that only really leaves lower interest-rates. As they are already a mere 0.1% that means a standard move of 0.25% would leave us at -0.15%

Something Extraordinary

I am pocking this out as even from a central bank Ivory Tower it is quite something.

Tenreyro said evidence from the euro zone and Japan showed that cutting interest rates below zero had succeeded in reducing companies’ borrowing costs and did not make it unprofitable for banks to lend.

Let me start with the latter point which is about it being profitable for banks to lend in a time of negative interest-rates. This is news to ECB Vice-President De Guindos who told us this last November.

Let me start with euro area banks, which have been reporting persistently low profitability in recent years. The aggregate return on equity of the sector slightly declined to less than 6% in the 12 months to June 2019. This weak performance is broad-based, with around 75% of significant banks generating returns below the 8% benchmark return demanded by investors for holding bank equity.

He went further that day and the emphasis is mine

The recent softening of the macroeconomic growth outlook and the associated low-for-longer interest rate environment are likely to weigh further on their profitability prospects. Many market analysts are concerned about the drag on bank profitability that could result from the negative impact of monetary policy accommodation on net interest margins. And net interest margins are indeed under pressure.

If we fast forward to last week there is this from Peter Bookvar on Twitter.

A chart of the Euro STOXX bank stock index. Record low. Please stop calling central bank policy ‘stimulus.’ It is ‘restrictive’ if it kills off profitability of banks.

Or there was this.

PARIS (Reuters) – Societe Generale (PA:SOGN) is considering merging its two French retail networks in an attempt to boost profitability, after two consecutive quarterly losses due to poor trading results.

We do not often look at the French banks who have mostly moved under the radar but there is “trouble,trouble,trouble” ( h/t Taylor Swift) here too.

Shares in SocGen were up 1.2% to 11.9 euros at 0843 GMT, just above their lowest level in 27 years of 11.3 euros, after it said the review would be completed by the end of November.

So profitability is fine but share prices have collapsed? I guess Silvana must have an equity portfolio full of banks waiting for her triumph. Remember the ECB is presently throwing money at the banks by offering them money at -1% in an attempt to offset the problems created by negative interest-rates.

Another way of looking at bank stress was the surge in access to the US Federal Reserve Dollar liquidity swaps post March 19th. We saw the ECB and Bank of Japan leading the charge on behalf of banks in their jurisdictions. Intermediaries were unwilling to lend US Dollars to them as they feared they were in trouble which again contradicts our Silvana.

As to companies borrowing costs they have fallen although there have been other factors at play. For example the bond purchases of the ECB will have implictly helped bu lowering yields and making corporate bonds more attractive. Also it has bought 233 billion Euros of corporate bonds which in itself suggests more was felt to be needed. Actually some 289 billion Euros of bank covered bonds have been bought which returns us to The Precious! The Precious!

Tractor Production is rising

Apparently all of that means this.

“The evidence has been encouraging,” she said, adding that cuts in interest rates below zero had been almost fully reflected in reductions in interest rates charged to borrowers.

“Banks adapted well – their profitability increased with negative rates largely because impairments and loss provisions have decreased with the boost to activity and the increase in asset prices,” she said.

This really is the banking equivalent of Comical Ali or in football terms like saying Chelsea have a secure defence.

Comment

The picture here is getting ever more fuzzy. I have no issue with policymakers having different views and in fact welcome it. But I do have an issue with claims that are simply rubbish like the Silvana Tenreyro one that bank profitability has not been affected by negative interest-rates. Even one of her colleagues is correcting what is simply a matter of fact.

BOE’S RAMSDEN: ENGAGEMENT WITH BANKS ON NEGATIVE RATES WILL TAKE TIME……….BOE’S RAMSDEN: RATES ON RETAIL DEPOSITS TEND NOT TO FALL BELOW ZERO WHICH IS RELEVANT IN UK CONTEXT AFTER RING-FENCING…….BOE’S RAMSDEN: I SEE THE EFFECTIVE LOWER BOUND STILL AT 0.1%. ( @FinancialJuice)

However as is often the way with central banks he seems to be clinging to a theory that died over a decade ago.

BOE’S RAMSDEN: I STILL THINK THERE IS LIFE IN THE PHILLIPS CURVE, THE SLOPE MAY HAVE FLATTENED.

Later we will hear from Governor Bailey who only last week was trying to end the negative interest-rate rumours that he had begun. Oh Well!

Still there is one thing we can all agree on.

BOE’S RAMSDEN: THE BURDEN OF PROOF FOR ANY FUTURE RISE IN INTEREST RATES WILL BE HIGH.

Too high…..

Continuing a theme of agreement let me support one part of the Tenreyro interview.

“Flare-ups like we’re seeing may potentially lead to more localised lockdowns and will keep interrupting that V(-shaped recovery).”

Meanwhile these  days the main player are  bond yields making the official rate ever less important. Why? The vast majority of new mortgages are at fixed interest-rates and with fiscal policy being deployed on such a scale they matter directly.

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