The mad world of negative interest-rates is on the march

Yesterday as is his want the President of the United States Donald Trump focused attention on one of our credit crunch themes.

Just finished a very good & cordial meeting at the White House with Jay Powell of the Federal Reserve. Everything was discussed including interest rates, negative interest, low inflation, easing, Dollar strength & its effect on manufacturing, trade with China, E.U. & others, etc.

I guess he was at the 280 character limit so replaced negative interest-rates with just negative interest. In a way this is quite extraordinary as I recall debates in the earlier part of the credit crunch where people argued that it would be illegal for the US Federal Reserve to impose negative interest-rates. But the Donald does not seem bothered as we see him increasingly warm to a theme he established at the Economic Club of New York late last week.

“Remember we are actively competing with nations that openly cut interest rates so that many are now actually getting paid when they pay off their loan, known as negative interest. Who ever heard of such a thing?” He said. “Give me some of that. Give me some of that money. I want some of that money. Our Federal Reserve doesn’t let us do it.” ( Reuters )

That day the Chair of the US Federal Reserve Jerome Powell rejected the concept according to CNBC.

He also rejected the idea that the Fed might one day consider negative interest rates like those in place across Europe.

The problem is that over the past year the 3 interest-rate cuts look much more driven by Trump than Powell.

Of course, there are contradictions.Why does the “best economy ever” need negative interest-rates for example? Or why a stock market which keeps hitting all-time highs needs them? But the subject keeps returning as we note yesterday’s words from the President of the Cleveland Fed.

Asked her view on negative interest rates, Mester told the audience that Europe’s use of them “is perhaps working better than I might have anticipated” but added she is not supportive of such an approach in the United States should there be a downturn.

Why say “working better” then reject the idea?  We have seen that path before.

The Euro area

As to working better then a deposit-rate of -0.5% and of course many bond yields in negative territory has seen the annual rate of economic growth fall to 1.1%. Also with the last two quarterly growth readings being only 0.2% it looks set to fall further.

So the idea of an economic boost being provided by them is struggling and relying on the counterfactual. But the catch is that such arguments are mostly made by those who think that the last interest-rate cut of 0.1% made any material difference. After all the previous interest-rate cuts that is simply amazing. Actually the moves will have different impacts across the Euro area as this from an ECB working paper points out.

A striking feature of the credit market in the euro area is the very large heterogeneity across countries in the granting of fixed versus adjustable rate mortgages.
FRMs are dominant in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands, while ARMs are prevailing in Austria, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain (ECB, 2009; Campbell,
2012)

Actually I would be looking for data from 2019 rather than 2009 but we do get some sort of idea.

Businesses and Savers in Germany are being affected

We have got another signal of the spread of the impact of negative interest-rates .From the Irish Times.

The Bundesbank surveyed 220 lenders at the end of September – two weeks after the ECB’s cut its deposit rate from minus 0.4 to a record low of minus 0.5 per cent. In response 58 per cent of the banks said they were levying negative rates on some corporate deposits, and 23 per cent said they were doing the same for retail depositors.

There was also a strong hint that legality is an issue in this area.

“This is more difficult in the private bank business than in corporate or institutional deposits, and we don’t see an ability to adjust legal terms and conditions of our accounts on a broad-based basis,” said Mr von Moltke, adding that Deutsche was instead approaching retail clients with large deposits on an individual basis.

So perhaps more than a few accounts have legal barriers to the imposition of negative interest-rates. That idea gets some more support here.

Stephan Engels, Commerzbank’s chief financial officer, said this month that Germany’s second largest listed lender had started to approach wealthy retail customers holding deposits of more than €1 million.

Japan

The Bank of Japan has dipped its toe in the water but has always seemed nervous about doing anymore. This has been illustrated overnight.

“There is plenty of scope to deepen negative rates from the current -0.1%,” Kuroda told a semi-annual parliament testimony on monetary policy. “But I’ve never said there are no limits to how much we can deepen negative rates, or that we have unlimited means to ease policy,” he said. ( Reuters )

This is really odd because Japan took its time imposing negative interest-rates as we had seen 2 lost decades by January 2016 but it has then remained at -0.1% or the minimum amount. Mind you there is much that is crazy about Bank of Japan policy as this next bit highlights.

Kuroda also said there was still enough Japanese government bonds (JGB) left in the market for the BOJ to buy, playing down concerns its huge purchases have drained market liquidity.

After years of heavy purchases to flood markets with cash, the BOJ now owns nearly half of the JGB market.

In some ways that fact that a monetary policy activist like Governor Kuroda has not cut below -0.1% is the most revealing thing of all about negative interest-rates.

Switzerland

The Swiss found themselves players in this game when the Swiss Franc soared and they tried to control it. Now they find themselves with a central bank that combines the role of being a hedge fund due to its large overseas equity investments and has a negative interest-rate of -0.75%.

Nearly five years after the fateful day when the SNB stopped capping the Swiss Franc we get ever more deja vu from its assessments.

The situation on the foreign exchange market is still fragile, and the Swiss franc has appreciated in trade-weighted terms. It remains highly valued.

Comment

I have consistently argued that the situation regarding negative interest-rates has two factors. The first is how deep they go? The second is how long they last? I have pointed out that the latter seems to be getting ever longer and may be heading along the lines of “Too Infinity! And Beyond!”. It seems that the Swiss National Bank now agrees with me. The emphasis is mine.

This adjustment to the calculation basis takes account of the fact that the low interest rate environment around the world has recently become more entrenched and could persist for some time yet.

We have seen another signal of that recently because the main priority of the central banks is of course the precious and we see move after move to exempt the banks as far as possible from negative interest-rates. The ECB for example has introduced tiering to bring it into line with the Swiss and the Japanese although the Swiss moved again in September.

The SNB is adjusting the basis for calculating negative interest as follows. Negative interest will continue to be charged on the portion of banks’ sight deposits which exceeds a certain exemption threshold. However, this exemption threshold will now be updated monthly and
thereby reflect developments in banks’ balance sheets over time.

If only the real economy got the same consideration and courtesy. That is the crux of the matter here because so far no-one has actually exited the black hole which is negative interest-rates. The Riksbank of Sweden says that it will next month but this would be a really odd time to raise interest-rates. Also I note that the Danish central bank has its worries about pension funds if interest-rates rise.

A scenario in which interest rates go up
by 1 percentage point over a couple of days is not
implausible. Therefore, pension companies should
be prepared to manage margin requirements at
all times. If the sector is unable to obtain adequate
access to liquidity, it may be necessary to reduce the
use of derivatives.

Personally I am more bothered about the pension funds which have invested in bonds with negative yields.After all, what could go wrong?

 

 

Where will Christine Lagarde lead the ECB?

We find ourselves in a new era for monetary policy in the Euro area and it comes in two forms. The first is the way that the pause in adding to expansionary monetary policy which lasted for all of ten months is now over. It has been replaced by an extra 20 billion Euros a month of QE bond purchases and tiering of interest-rates for the banking sector. The next is the way that technocrats have been replaced by politicians as we note that not only is the President Christine Lagarde the former Finance Minister of France the Vice-President Luis de Guindos is the former Economy Minister of Spain. So much for the much vaunted independence!

Monetary Policy

In addition to the new deposit rate of -0.5% Mario Draghi’s last policy move was this.

The Governing Council decided to restart net purchases under each constituent programme of the asset purchase programme (APP), i.e. the public sector purchase programme (PSPP), the asset-backed securities purchase programme (ABSPP), the third covered bond purchase programme (CBPP3) and the corporate sector purchase programme (CSPP), at a monthly pace of €20 billion as from 1 November 2019.

It is the online equivalent of a bit of a mouthful and has had a by now familiar effect in financial markets. Regular readers will recall mt pointing out that the main impact comes before it happens and we have seen that again. If we use the German ten-year yield as our measure we saw it fall below -0.7% in August and September as hopes/expectations of QE rose but the reality of it now sees the yield at -0.3%. So bond markets have retreated after the pre-announcement hype.

As to reducing the deposit rate from -0.4% to -0.5% was hardly going to have much impact so let us move into the tiering which is a way of helping the banks as described by @fwred of Bank Pictet.

reduces the cost of negative rates from €8.7bn to €5.0bn (though it will increase in 2020) – creates €35bn in arbitrage opportunities for Italian banks – no signs of major disruption in repo, so far.

Oh and there will be another liquidity effort or TLTRO-III but that will be in December.

There is of course ebb and flow in financial markets but as we stand things have gone backwards except for the banks.

The Euro

If we switch to that we need to note first that the economics 101 theory that QE leads to currency depreciation has had at best a patchy credit crunch era. But over this phase we see that the Euro has weakened as its trade weighted index was 98.7 in mid-August compared to the 96.9 of yesterday. As ever the issue is complex because for example my home country the UK has seen a better phase for the UK Pound £ moving from 0.93 in early August to 0.86 now if we quote it the financial market way.

The Economy

The economic growth situation has been this.

Seasonally adjusted GDP rose by 0.2% in the euro area (EA19…….Compared with the same quarter of the previous year, seasonally adjusted GDP rose by 1.1% in the euro area in the third quarter of 2019 ( Eurostat)

As you can see annual economic growth has weakened and if we update to this morning we were told this by the Markit PMI business survey.

The IHS Markit Eurozone PMI® Composite
Output Index improved during October, but
remained close to the crucial 50.0 no-change mark.
The index recorded 50.6, up from 50.1 in
September and slightly better than the earlier flash
reading of 50.2, but still signalling a rate of growth
that was amongst the weakest seen in the past six and-a-half years.

As you can see there was a small improvement but that relies on you believing that the measure is accurate to 0.5 in reality. The Markit conclusion was this.

The euro area remained close to stagnation in
October, with falling order books suggesting that
risks are currently tilted towards contraction in the
fourth quarter. While the October PMI is consistent
with quarterly GDP rising by 0.1%, the forward looking data points to a possible decline in economic output in the fourth quarter.

As you can see this is not entirely hopeful because the possible 0.1% GDP growth looks set to disappear raising the risk of a contraction.

I doubt anyone will be surprised to see the sectoral breakdown.

There remained a divergence between the
manufacturing and service sectors during October.
Whereas manufacturing firms recorded a ninth
successive month of declining production, service
sector companies indicated further growth, albeit at
the second-weakest rate since January.

Retail Sales

According to Eurostat there was some good news here.

In September 2019 compared with August 2019, the seasonally adjusted volume of retail trade increased by 0.1% in the euro area (EA19). In September 2019 compared with September 2018, the calendar adjusted retail sales index increased by 3.1% in the euro area .

The geographical position is rather widespread from the 5.2% annual growth of Ireland to the -2.7% of Slovakia. This is an area which has been influenced by the better money supply growth figures of 2019. This has been an awkward area as they have often been a really good indicator but have been swamped this year by the trade and motor industry problems which are outside their orbit. Also the better picture may now be fading.

Annual growth rate of narrower monetary aggregate M1, comprising currency in circulation and overnight deposits, decreased to 7.9% in September from 8.5% in August.

In theory it should rally due to the monthly QE but in reality it is far from that simple as M1 growth picked up after the last phase of QE stopped.

Comment

As you can see there are a lot of challenges on the horizon for the ECB just at the time its leadership is most ill-equipped to deal with them. A sign of that was this from President Lagarde back in September.

“The ECB is supporting the development of such a taxonomy,” Lagarde said. “Once it is agreed, in my view it will facilitate the incorporation of environmental considerations in central bank portfolios.” ( Politico EU)

Fans of climate change policies should be upset if they look at the success record of central banks and indeed Madame Lagarde. More prosaically the ECB would be like a bull in a China shop assuming it can define them in the first place.

More recently President Lagarde made what even for her was an extraordinary speech.

There are few who have done so much for Europe, over so long a period, as you, Wolfgang.

This was for the former German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble. Was it the ongoing German current account surplus she was cheering or the heading towards a fiscal one as well? Perhaps the punishment regime for Greece?

As to the banks there were some odd rumours circulating yesterday about Deutsche Bank. We know it has a long list of problems but as far as I can tell it was no more bankrupt yesterday than a month ago. Yet there was this.

Mind you perhaps this is why Germany seems to be warming towards a European banking union…..

Germany has become a weak link for the Euro area economy

This morning has focused our minds again on what has been one of the economic developments of the past eighteen months or so. This is the turn in the trajectory of the German economy which has gone from being what the Shangri-Las would call the leader of the pack to not only a laggard but maybe contracting. So let us get straight to the news,

The German economy contracted in September,
latest flash PMI data showed, as the downturn in
manufacturing deepened and service sector growth
lost momentum. Job creation meanwhile stalled as
firms reported weakening demand and pessimism
towards the outlook for activity. ( Markit PMI )

Manufacturing

If we start with this area then we have to address the fact that things were already really bad so that gives a perspective on the state of play. If we thought the worst was behind us then how about this?

September’s IHS Markit Flash Germany
Manufacturing PMI read 41.4, signalling the
sharpest decline in business conditions across the
goods-producing sector since the depths of the
global financial crisis in mid-2009. ( Markit)

The only time I can recall a series weaker than this was the Greek manufacturing sector which I recall going into the mid-30s back in the day as the economy collapsed, or if you prefer was rescued. I am sure that some there are having a grim smile at this turn of events although of course it will have side-effects for my subject of Friday.

The survey also tries to look ahead but that raises little hope and even adds to the gloom.

The survey showed a sustained decline in underlying
demand, with total inflows of new business falling
for the third month running and at the quickest rate
for seven years. Slumping manufacturing orders led
the decline, recording the steepest drop in more than
a decade in September,

If we switch to the official data we were told this earlier this month.

In July 2019, production in industry was down by 0.6% on the previous month on a price, seasonally and calendar adjusted basis according to provisional data of the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis). In June 2019, the corrected figure shows an decrease of 1.1% (primary -1.5%) from May 2019.

As you can see there June was not as bad as thought only for the number to fall again in July meaning we can get some perspective from this.

-4.2% on the same month a year earlier (price and calendar adjusted)

This means that the index for industrial production is at 101.2 where 2015 = 100 which shows little growth and if we drop construction out of the numbers it falls to 99.5. So in broad terms what Talking Heads would call a road to nowhere. More specifically the seasonally and calendar adjusted figures peaked at 107.2 in May of 2018.

Also we see that the PMI numbers we looked at above are pretty consistent with the official orders data.

Based on provisional data, the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) reports that price-adjusted new orders in manufacturing had decreased in July 2019 a seasonally and calendar adjusted 2.7% on the previous month…….

-5.6% on the same month a year earlier (price and calendar adjusted).

Services

This has been doing much better than the manufacturing sector. But we already know from the numbers above that it has not pulled the manufacturing sector higher so the troubling question is whether it pulled the service sector down?

Growth of business activity in the service sector
slowed sharply since August to one of the weakest
rates seen over the past three years……..Flash Germany Services PMI Activity Index at
52.5 (Aug: 54.8). 9-month low.

Sadly the answer is yes.

though notably there was also a drop in service sector new business – the first recorded since December 2014.

You may not be surprised to learn that much of the trouble is coming from abroad.

Lower demand from abroad also remained a key factor, with both manufacturers and service providers reporting notable decreases in new export orders during the month.

Bringing everything together brought a new development for the Markit PMI series.

“Another month, another set of gloomy PMI figures
for Germany, this time showing the headline
Composite Output Index at its lowest since October
2012 and firmly in contraction territory.
“The economy is limping towards the final quarter of
the year and, on its current trajectory, might not see
any growth before the end of 2019″

That is significant for them as they have been over optimistic for Germany throughout this phase. They have recorded growth when the official data has showed a contraction. Also if we look back to the opening of last year they gave us numbers in the high 50s showing very strong growth whereas as I pointed out on the 20th of last month the reality was this.

Actually back then we did not know how bad things were because the GDP numbers were wrong as the Bundesbank announced yesterday…….In the first quarter, growth consequently totalled 0.1% (down from 0.4%), while it amounted to 0.4% in the second quarter (after 0.5%).

In some ways it is harsh to point this out because the official data series was wrong too but the PMIs were also more optimistic than what we thought the numbers were then, and sadly were overall simply misleading.

Bonds

There has been an impact here this morning as Germany’s bond market has resumed its rally. The picture had been weaker for a while in an example of buy the rumour and sell the fact on ECB ( European Central Bank ) action. But today the ten-year yield has fallen to -0.58% and the whole curve has gone negative again with the thirty-year at -0.12%.So Germany is being paid to borrow at every maturity.

Comment

There are more than a few questions here and the Ivory Tower of the ECB has been instructed to look into the situation. From a Working Paper released this morning.

In the period from January 2018 to June 2019 the year-on-year growth rate of euro area industrial production (excluding construction) fell by 6.3 percentage points overall, from 3.9% to -2.4%. This is by far the largest fall recorded among major economies in that period……Among the largest euro area countries, the biggest declines were recorded by Germany (10.9 percentage points), the Netherlands (5.7 percentage points) and Italy (5.5 percentage points).

In a broad sweep what has been a long-running success for the Euro area which has been German production leading to the trade surplus has stalled and hit the brakes. Or as Markit put it.

The automotive sector was once again highlighted as a particular source of weakness.

As to the ECB it is looking rather impotent here. It has made its move with even lower interest-rates ( -0.5%) and more bond buying or QE but it was doing that when the German economy turned down at the opening of 2018. Also the hype about the new TLTRO and the issue of tiering for The Precious collapsed as the take-up was a mere 3.4 billion Euros.

Of course Germany could respond with fiscal policy. Here the outlook is bright as it has and is running a fiscal surplus and it would be paid to borrow. Yet it shows little or no sign of doing so. From time to time a kite is flown like the current one about more spending on renewable energy but then the wind stops blowing and the kite falls to the ground.

Meanwhile this morning’s monthly report from the Bundesbank seems rather extraordinary.

Moreover, from today’s vantage point, only a slight decline in GDP is to be expected overall, even including the second quarter. “Such a decline should currently be seen as part of a cyclical return to normality as the German economy emerges from a period of overheating,” according to the experts.

Podcast

 

 

 

 

 

 

The madness of central bankers

Today will depending on what time you read this either have seen yet more monetary policy accommodation by the European Central Bank or be about to get it. It;s President Mario Draghi is too smooth an operator to so strongly hint at it for nothing to happen, especially as in my opinion he feels the need to set policy for the new incoming ECB President Christine Lagarde who he knows well. That is quite a damning critique of her abilities if you think about it which is in line with her track record. But as to the action further confirmation has been provided by the way that markets have been toyed with by leaks from what are known as official “sauces”.

For those unaware the “sauces” strategy is to suggest lots of action as I pointed out on the 16th of August.

Investors currently expect the ECB to cut its key interest rate to minus 0.7% and to hold rates below their current level through 2024, according to futures markets. Mr. Rehn said those market expectations showed that investors had understood the ECB’s guidance.

Actually even this position had its own contradictions.

So will he now be overshooting -0.5% or -0.7%? Actually it gets better as -0.6% is in there now as well.

Later we get told that much less will happen as we saw earlier this week as the last thing central bankers want to see on their big day is the word “disappointment”. So we get this.

Oh, the grand old Duke of York
He had ten thousand men
He marched them up to the top of the hill
And he marched them down again
And when they were up, they were up
And when they were down, they were down
And when they were only half-way up
They were neither up nor down

The whole plan here is under the category of “open mouth operations” which might serve the purposes of the ECB but anyone in the real economy is being actively misled. The only saving grace is that most people will be unaware but there have been real world effects on mortgage rates and the rates at which companies and countries can borrow.

Where are we now?

Joumanna Bercetche of CNBC has summarised the expected position.

Here’s what analysts are expecting:
1) Majority expect 10bps rate cut to -50bps (minority 20bps cut)
2) Tiering
3) Restart of Asset Purchases : sov +corp bonds of EUR 30bn x 12 months (risk of LESS given recent hawkish commentary)
4) Enhanced Fwd Guidance

Interest-Rates

Let us address this as it clearly fails Einstein’s definition of madness. As to doing the same thing and expecting a different result well how about cutting interest-rates by 0.1% four times as has happened to the Deposit Rate and then adding a fifth! Or adding another 0.1% ( or even 0.2%) to a sequence of cuts amounting to 3.65% so far and expecting a different result.

Oh and I see more than a few saying the ECB interest-rate is 0% as indeed one of its interest-rates is. However I use the Deposit Rate because the amount of money deposited with the ECB at this rate is some 1.9 trillion Euros.

Next there was a stage where the madness went even further and we were told that shifting the differences between the various ECB interest-rates was a big deal. For example the minimum lending rate has fallen by 4% so 0.35% more than the Deposit Rate. This has an influence for financial markets but little or no impact on the real economy.

It all seems rather small fry compared to this from President Trump.

The Federal Reserve should get our interest rates down to ZERO, or less, and we should then start to refinance our debt. INTEREST COST COULD BE BROUGHT WAY DOWN, while at the same time substantially lengthening the term. We have the great currency, power, and balance sheet………The USA should always be paying the the lowest rate. No Inflation! It is only the naïveté of Jay Powell and the Federal Reserve that doesn’t allow us to do what other countries are already doing. A once in a lifetime opportunity that we are missing because of “Boneheads.”

The problem for the Donald is that if negative interest-rates were any sort of magic elixir we would not be where we are.Sadly the ECB proves this as it ends up having to keep cutting to keep up what I have previously described as a type of junkie culture.

On the upside the “once in a lifetime” reference may mean he is also a Talking Heads fan.

Tiering

This is another sign of central banking madness where their policies are essentially always aimed at the banks. The interest-rate cuts and QE were to help bail them out but went so far that they now hurt the banks. For newer readers this is because the banks are afraid to pass on the negative interest-rates to ordinary depositors in case they withdraw their money.

So we seem likely to see an effort to shield the banks by some of their deposits at the ECB not having the full negative rate applied. The real economy gets no such sweetners.

Again if the policy of protecting “The Precious” worked these new policies would not be necessary would they?

QE

Exactly the same critique applies here. Up until now some 2.6 trillion Euros of bonds has been bought for monetary policy purposes or Quantitative Easing. So what difference will another 360 billion Euros make? Especially if we remind ourselves that the original programme only ended last December so even fans of it have to admit the sugar high went pretty fast.

There is a subtler argument here which is that the ECB is really oiling the wheels of fiscal policy by making debt cheap to issue for Euro area nations. But what difference has this made? Some maybe at the margins but the basic case of Germany is a fail. In spite of its ability to be paid to issue debt Germany still plans to run a fiscal surplus.

Enhanced Forward Guidance

in 2019 this led many ECB watchers to expect an interest-rate rise and instead we are getting a cut. I am not sure how you could enhance this unless they expect to do even worse!

Comment

My critique has so far looked mostly at the ECB but whilst in some areas it is the leader of the pack there are plenty of other signs of madness. After two “lost decades” the Bank of Japan cut interest-rates by 0.1% to -0.1%. Then it introduced Yield Curve Control which in recent times has been raising bond yields rather than cutting them in a complete misfire. In my home country the UK we saw the Bank of England plan to cut interest-rates by 0.15% in November 2016 before fortunately realising that it had misjudged the economy and abandoning the plan. They end up singing along with Genesis.

You know I want to, but I’m in too deep…

As to the situation the immediate one is grim as this from Eurostat today reminds us.

In July 2019 compared with July 2018, industrial production decreased by 2.0% in the euro area.

But this is a “trade war” issue which has very little to do with monetary policy. As to the domestic impulse the money supply figures have picked up in 2019 so the ECB may be easing at exactly the wrong moment just as it turned out it ended easing at the wrong moment. So let me end with the nutty boys.

Madness, madness, they call it madness
Madness, madness, they call it madness
It’s plain to see
That is what they mean to me
Madness, madness, they call it gladness, ha-ha

Number Crunching

This tweet has gained popularity.

“£4,563,350,000 of aggregate short positions on a ‘no deal’ Brexit have been taken out by hedge funds that directly or indirectly bankrolled Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign” ( Carole Cadwalladr)

I took a look at the article referred to in the Byline Times and if you read it then it conflates being short the UK Pound £ with being short individual shares which is bizarre. Next it has no mention at all of any long positions these companies may have.

Which Euro area bank needed Dollars from the US Federal Reserve?

Today it is the turn of Europe to be in focus and let me briefly break my rule of looking at the real economy first because there is something going on which if it continues could easily hit it. As I seem to be not far off alone in noting this here is one of my own tweets from this morning.

There are two main things going on here. Firstly as I have pointed out before there is a shortage of US Dollars which tends to get worse as we approach year end. The tighter the situation is expected to be then the earlier people get ready and thus those considered more risky find it harder to get some.

Next comes the issue of the mechanics. This is an example of what have been called central bank FX swaps or liquidity swaps. Here is the ECB ( European Central Bank ) explainer.

Under normal circumstances, if a bank in the euro area needs US dollars, for example because it needs to provide a US dollar loan to a client, the bank turns to the market. But if US dollar funding costs are too high or if the market is disrupted, the bank can go to its national central bank. In this particular case, the ECB can get dollars thanks to the currency agreement with the Federal Reserve.

The next bit is both true and a maybe misleading.

Many of these currency agreements act mainly as a safety net and have never been activated.

According to the ECB website it can borrow up to US $80 billion from the US Federal Reserve. Actually I am not sure that is up to date but I would not worry about that too much as on a crisis the size would quickly be increased.

These are in existence in other areas for example there was a time that there were fears about the Irish banks and a need for UK Pounds back in the day.

The agreement allows pounds sterling to be made available to the Central Bank of Ireland as a precautionary measure, for the purpose of meeting any temporary liquidity needs of the banking system in that currency.

Such a line could be used post Brexit for example should UK banks need Euros or Euro area ones need pounds. But in essence and indeed the experience so far these swaps are for supply of the US Dollar as Aloe Blacc pointed out.

I need a dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
Hey hey
Well I need a dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
Hey hey
And I said I need dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
And if I share with you my story would you share your dollar with me

Actually our Aloe made a decent fist of explaining why a swap line might be used,

Bad times are comin’ and I reap what I don’t sow
Hey hey
Well let me tell you somethin’ all that glitters ain’t gold
Hey hey
It’s been a long old trouble long old troublesome road
And I’m looking for somebody come and help me carry this load

 

The Economy

Whilst the banking sector seems to be rumbling on with the same signs of indigestion we have been observing over time there have been some better hints from the real economy. For example let me hand you over to the Italian statistics office.

In July 2019, estimates for both value and volume of retail sales saw a slight fall when compared with a
month earlier, as the value was down 0.5% and the volume decreased by 0.7%.

As you can see it starts badly but stay with me.

In the three months to July 2019 the retail trade index increased both in value and in volume terms,
growing by 0.5% when compared to the previous three months (Feb – Apr 2019).  Year-on-year both measures of retail trade showed growth for the second consecutive month: the value rose by 2.6%, while the quantity sold was up 2.8%.

The reason why I have noted this is because this area has been a struggle for Italy and because in Italy an annual rate of growth of 2.8% stands out like a sore thumb. Unfortunately Italy’s statisticians have posted the wrong chart ( value not volume) something which no-one else seems to have noted. But even so this looks like a better phase for retail sales than even in the Euro boom.

Maybe it was always there even in the GDP figures.

This result synthetizes inventories negative contribution and domestic demand positive one (-0.3 pp. and +0.3 pp. respectively).

Should inventories simply do nothing Italy will have some economic growth from its domestic impetus. Not a lot and there is manufacturing to consider but for Italy anything is a bonus. Oh and you may have spotted that there is another tick in the box for my argument that low inflation boosts economies via retail sales and real wages. Because with the volume and value figures so close there is very little or no inflation here.

Someone has not noticed this however.

ECB presidential nominee Christine Lagarde pledges to act with “agility” against what she describes as inflation that is persistently too low ( Bloomberg )

Another possible route comes from Germany where things are at least not getting that much worse.

In July 2019, production in industry was down by 0.6% on the previous month on a price, seasonally and calendar adjusted basis according to provisional data of the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis). In June 2019, the corrected figure shows an decrease of 1.1% (primary -1.5%) from May 2019………4.2% on the same month a year earlier (price and calendar adjusted).

Comment

If we start with the Euro area economy then as I pointed out last week things are not as grim as some are saying, The money supply numbers have improved in 2019 and there are one or two flickers of action. However this morning has also brought a signal of trouble as China is not doing this for fun.

CHINA CUTS BANKS’ RESERVE REQUIREMENT RATIO CHINA CUTS RESERVE RATIO BY 0.5 PPT ( @PriapusIQ)

You may note that by acting to increase the money supply they are helping the banks first or behaving like us western capitalist imperialists.

Meanwhile I could type a fair bit about Euro area banks but instead let me show you the tweet of their share prices which speaks volumes. Share prices are far from always right as otherwise they would rarely move but look how long this has been going on.

 

Is this the real reason the ECB will act next week?

Some welcome good news for the Euro area and ECB

A feature of the credit crunch era has been its ability to surprise. Mostly on the downside but not always. This week opened with concerns about the trade war situation and then saw a couple of bad news episodes about Germany.  From dw.com.

German business confidence fell more than expected during August, the Munich-based Ifo institute said on Monday. Ifo said its business confidence index — based on a survey of 9,000 firms — fell to 94.3 points this month from 95.7 points in July.

A deterioration was seen both in managers’ views of the current situation and in their predictions for the next six months.

The main driver of this was not a surprise.

Manufacturing: Satisfaction with the current situation declined to new lows, Ifo said, saying: “Not a ray of light was to be seen in any of Germany’s key industries.”

Then we got confirmation of past bad news.

In the second quarter of 2019, the real (price-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) was down 0.1% from the preceding quarter, after adjustment for seasonal and calendar variations…….Real GDP stagnated year on year. After calendar adjustment, GDP was up by 0.4% because the second quarter of 2019 had one working day less than the same quarter a year earlier.

There was also some further detail.

After seasonal and calendar adjustment,price-adjusted exports were down 1.3% from the preceding quarter, markedly more than imports (-0.3%).

Money Supply

However the downbeat news was reversed somewhat this morning as the ECB released this.

Annual growth rate of narrower monetary aggregate M1, comprising currency in circulation and overnight deposits, increased to 7.8% in July from 7.2% in June.

That changed the theme a bit as it was the best annual growth number since February last year. Not only that but it means that the growth rate has been picking up since the beginning of this year. This is the opposite of the mood music of 2019 where we have seen an economic slowing. It suggests that the outlook is not as grim as many now seem to be suggesting. Ironically they were often the same ones who forecast interest-rate increases in the Euro area this year.

There was good news from the broader measure as well.

Annual growth rate of broad monetary aggregate M3 increased to 5.2% in July 2019 from 4.5% in June.

Here too there has been an improving trend.

The annual growth rate of the broad monetary aggregate M3 increased to 5.2% in July 2019 from 4.5% in June, averaging 4.8% in the three months up to July.

We do get a breakdown of this.

The components of M3 showed the following developments. The annual growth rate of the narrower aggregate M1, which comprises currency in circulation and overnight deposits, increased to 7.8% in July from 7.2% in June. The annual growth rate of short-term deposits other than overnight deposits (M2-M1) increased to 0.1% in July from -0.1% in June. The annual growth rate of marketable instruments (M3-M2) was -1.2% in July, compared with -4.7% in June.

It is not surprising that much of the growth came straight from the M1 number but we see that the M2 component grew as well albeit not by much. The wider money supply is still struggling but even it is reducing more slowly. Indeed it turns out that this is really the M1 growth.

Looking at the components’ contributions to the annual growth rate of M3, the narrower aggregate M1 contributed 5.2 percentage points (up from 4.8 percentage points in June), short-term deposits other than overnight deposits (M2-M1) contributed 0.0 percentage point (as in the previous month) and marketable instruments (M3-M2) contributed -0.1 percentage point (up from -0.3 percentage point).

We can look at these numbers another way.

As a reflection of changes in the items on the monetary financial institution (MFI) consolidated balance sheet other than M3 (counterparts of M3), the annual growth rate of M3 in July 2019 can be broken down as follows: credit to the private sector contributed 3.2 percentage points (down from 3.3 percentage points in June), net external assets contributed 2.9 percentage points (up from 2.4 percentage points), credit to general government contributed -0.2 percentage point (down from -0.1 percentage point), longer-term financial liabilities contributed -1.1 percentage points (up from -1.2 percentage points), and the remaining counterparts of M3 contributed 0.3 percentage point (up from 0.0 percentage point).

This type of breakdown can be unreliable ( it went very wrong in the UK in the past) but the amount of growth from abroad worries some.

A change of tack

Vice President de Guidos spoke yesterday and perhaps tried to calm expectations down.

The echo chamber effect and the inherent noisiness of market signals are reasons why we need to take the expectations that are priced in financial markets with a pinch of salt. This means that we need to also rely on other sources of information to ensure that we conduct a robust monetary policy. The incoming macroeconomic data are one such source. As we keep stressing, our monetary policy is data dependent, not market dependent: indications from market expectations cannot replace our policy judgement.

Although I found this a little disturbing as there is a confession they have not done this before tucked away in it.

At the ECB, we are enhancing our toolkit for the communication with the general public in two ways – both by collecting more information about consumers, and by targeting some of our communication efforts more directly at the general public.

Comment

There are two lessons today I think. Firstly the domestic economic outlook in the Euro area is better than many may think. Not great but left to its own devices it would have some growth I think roughly at the rate we have seen so far this year. Also if the trade war calms down and the ECB eases it may end up with pro cyclical monetary policy. Ooops.

 

Inside the world of negative interest-rates

A feature of modern economic life is that interest-rates were first cut as close to zero as central banks thought they could and then in more than few cases they went below zero giving us the acronym NIRP for Negative Interest-Rate Policy. There was the implication that such a state of affairs would be temporary in that the medicine would work and that interest-rates would then be raised. For example I have put on here before the charts that show that the Riksbank of Sweden has been forecasting interest-rate increases for years whereas the reality was that it either cut or did nothing. Ironically it changed tack a little last December just in time for the world economy to turn down!

As to all this being temporary let me hand you over to ECB President Mario Draghi on the day he cut the Deposit Rate to -0.1% back in June 2014.

Draghi: On the first question, I would say that for all the practical purposes, we have reached the lower bound. However, this doesn’t exclude some little technical adjustments and which could lead to some lower interest rates in one or the other or both parts of the corridor. But from all practical purposes, I would consider having reached the lower bound today.

This has been a feature of central banker speak where they discuss a “lower bound” as if this type of economics is a science. The reality is that the nearest the “lower bound” has got to being a status quo has been this.

Get down
Get down deeper and down
Down down deeper and down
Down down deeper and down

If we let him have the move to -0.2% as a technical adjustment we have to face up to the fact that it is now -0.4% and about to go to -0.5/6%. This has consequences as for example over the past month or so the amount deposited at the ECB at such a rate is 1.86 trillion Euros. So this is a drain on the banking system and therefore wider economic life as well as being a nice little earner for the ECB.

The “lower bound” theme has been the same in the UK as Bank of England Governor Carney asserted it was 0.5% but later decided it was 0.1%. Or you could look at the US Federal Reserve defined “normal” interest-rates as being somewhere above 3% then changed its mind and started cutting them. The truth is that the new normal is that when a central bank raises interest-rates it soon turns tail and starts cutting them.

Switzerland

The Swiss are at the cutting edge of negative interest-rates and it was ECB policy which was the supermassive black hole that sucked them into it. In terms of timing the June 2014 move by the ECB was followed by this in January 2015.

The Swiss National Bank (SNB) is discontinuing the minimum exchange rate of CHF 1.20 per euro. At the same time, it is lowering the interest rate on sight deposit account balances that exceed a given exemption threshold by 0.5 percentage points, to −0.75%.

For those who have not followed this saga there was an enormous amount of borrowing in Swiss Francs pre credit crunch because interest-rates were there. When the credit crunch hit institutional investors raced to reverse such positions which made the Swiss Franc soar which had the side-effect of crippling those who in eastern Europe who had taken out such mortgages. The SNB found itself like General Custer at Little Big Horn as the ECB version of Indians arrived and gave events another push.

Again there was an implication that this would be temporary until matters calmed down but the reality has been very different. Or to put it another way in central banker speak the word temporary now means permanent.

The signal we now have has been provided by two developments this morning. Let me start with the Swiss one.

Domestic sight deposits CHF 475.3 bn vs CHF 469.0 bn prior…………. Once again, a notable rise in the sight deposits data and that continues to suggest that the SNB is stepping in to smooth the appreciation in the franc over the past few weeks.

In case you are wondering why those numbers are looked at the SNB only occassionally declares it has intervened in foreign exchange markets and does so via other central banks and the BIS. So to find out we have to look at other numbers and thank you to Bank Pictet for this estimate.

In total, sight deposits have increased by CHF 9.8bn in the last 4 weeks, and CHF 10.3bn in the last 5 weeks.

So like The Terminator the SNB is back. Why? The Swiss Franc has been strengthening again and went through 1.09 versus the Euro. Whereas on the 23rd of April last year I noted that Reuters were reporting this.

The Swiss franc fell to a three-year low of 1.20 against the euro on Thursday as a revival in risk appetite encouraged investors to use it to buy higher yielding assets elsewhere, betting on loose monetary policy keeping the currency weak.

There were still problems though as I pointed out to a background elsewhere of something of a chorus saying the SNB had triumphed..

Any economic slow down would start currently with interest-rates at -0.75% posing the question of what would happen next?

Well we have an economic slow down and we expect the ECB to cut again which according to Bank Pictet will have this consequence.

SNB officials have emphasized the importance of the interest rate differential (mainly versus the euro area) for the exchange rate and thus the policy outlook. The SNB’s policy rate differential with the ECB’s deposit facility rate now stands at 35bp, below the 50bp in 2015 when the SNB lowered its interest rates to -0.75%.

To be fair to Bank Pictet that was from the end of July and so could not factor in the statements from Bank of Finland Governor Ollie Rehn on Friday about “overshooting” market expectations about the ECB move. So the statement below has got more likely.

In that event, should the CHF come under
excessive upward pressure, our best guess is that the SNB would cut the interest rate on sight deposits by 25 bps, bringing it down to -1.0%.

Comment

Thus we are facing a new frontier should the Swiss find they have to cut to -1% interest-rates or as the SNB might put it.

Yes we’re gonna have a wingding
A summer smoker underground
It’s just a dugout that my dad built
In case the reds decide to push the button down
We’ve got provisions and lots of beer
The key word is survival on the new frontier. ( Donald Fagen )

This will mean that the pressure for more of this will build.

UBS, the world’s largest wealth manager, told its ultra-wealthy clients on Tuesday that it would introduce an annual 0.6% charge on cash savings of more than €500,000 (£461,000). The fee, to be introduced in November, rises to 0.75% on savings of more than 2m Swiss francs (£1.7m). ( The Guardian ).

In some ways the economic situation has already adjusted to this as the Swiss ten-year bond yield is -1.1% and the thirty-year is -0.6%. Imagine the impact of this on long-term contracts such as pensions. Give me 100.000 Swiss Francs and I will give you 84,000 back in thirty-years, who would do that?

Meanwhile here is something to make UK readers very nervous.

BoE Gov Carney: At This Stage We Do Not See Negative Rates As An Option In The UK ( @LiveSquawk )

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