What are the prospects for the US economy?

We find ourselves in a curious situation as we wait for ( or for readers over the weekend) mull the speech of Fed Chair Jerome Powell at Jackson Hole. There are several reasons for this and let me start with the pressure being applied by President Trump.

Germany sells 30 year bonds offering negative yields. Germany competes with the USA. Our Federal Reserve does not allow us to do what we must do. They put us at a disadvantage against our competition. Strong Dollar, No Inflation! They move like quicksand. Fight or go home!…….The Economy is doing really well. The Federal Reserve can easily make it Record Setting! The question is being asked, why are we paying much more in interest than Germany and certain other countries? Be early (for a change), not late. Let America win big, rather than just win!

We can see that The Donald has spotted that the US Dollar is strong with reports that the broad trade-weighted index is at an all time high. Care is needed with that as it starts in 1995 and the Dolllar peak was a decade before it, but the basic premise holds. But the real issue here is of course calling for interest-rate cuts when you are saying that the economy is strong! Is it?

Nowcasting

Let me hand you over to the Atlanta Fed.

The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the third quarter of 2019 is 2.2 percent on August 16, unchanged from August 15 after rounding. After this morning’s new residential construction report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the nowcast of third-quarter real residential investment growth increased from -1.2 percent to 0.7 percent.

That is not appreciably different to the New York Fed which has estimated 1.8%. So let us go forwards with 2% as an average. In terms of past definitions from President Trump ( 3%-4%) that is not doing really well but is hardly a call for an interest-rate cut.

Business Surveys

Something caught the eye yesterday in the Markit PMI survey.

The seasonally adjusted IHS Markit Flash U.S.
Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index™
(PMI™) registered 49.9 in August, down from 50.4
in July and below the neutral 50.0 threshold for the
first time since September 2009.

The eye-catching elements were it going below the neutral threshold and the fact this is the lowest reading for nearly a decade. Some of this is symbolism as the PMI is not accurate to anything like 0.1 but there is also the downwards direction of travel. Also it had a consequence as we look wider.

August’s survey data provides a clear signal that
economic growth has continued to soften in the third
quarter. The PMIs for manufacturing and services
remain much weaker than at the beginning of 2019
and collectively point to annualized GDP growth of
around 1.5%

So we started with ~2% and now are at 1.5%.Prospects look none too bright either.

The past isn’t what we thought it was

Earlier this week we saw quite a revision affecting employment trends.

For national CES employment series, the annual benchmark revisions over the last 10 years have averaged plus or minus two-tenths of one percent of total nonfarm employment. The preliminary estimate of the benchmark revision indicates a downward adjustment to March 2019 total nonfarm employment of -501,000 (-0.3 percent).

This begs several questions as it means the monthly non-farm payroll numbers were too high in the year to March by more than 40,000 a month. The worst problem areas were retailing,,professional and business services and leisure and hospitality.

The change in the picture is covered by MarketWatch.

“This makes some sense, as the 223,000 average monthly increase in 2018 seemed too good to be true in light of how tight the labor market has become and how much trouble firms are said to be having finding qualified workers,” said chief economist Stephen Stanley of Amherst Pierpont Securities

In a sense that is both good and bad as he implies the economy might be at a literal version of full employment, at least in some areas. The bad is that growth was weaker than thought.

Money Supply

Back on the eighth of May I posted this warning.

The narrow measure of the money supply or M1 in the United States saw a fall of just over forty billion dollars in March. That catches the eye because it does not fit at all with an economy growing at an annual rate of 3.2%. Indeed we see now that over the three months to March M1 money supply contracted by 2.7%. That means that the annual rate of growth has been reduced to 1.9%. Thus we see that it has fallen below the rate of economic growth recorded which is a clear warning sign. Indeed a warning sign which has worked very well elsewhere.

That has played out and whilst it is a coincidence that the annual rate of economic growth seems now to be what narrow money supply growth was the broad sweep has worked. However that was then and this is now because M1 has been on something of a tear and the last three months have seen annualised growth of 8% pulling the actual annual rate of growth to 4.8%.

Will it be “Boom!Boom! Boom!” a la the Black-Eyed Peas? Well thank you to @RV3003 on twitter who drew my attention to this from Hosington.

First, Treasury deposits at the Fed, which
are not included in M2, fell dramatically as a
result of special measures taken to avoid hitting
the debt ceiling, thus giving M2 a large boost as
Treasury deposits moved to the private sector.
Once the debt ceiling is raised, Treasury deposits
will rebound, reversing the process and slowing
M2 growth.

Did this affect M1? Well maybe as demand deposits have risen by US $75 billion since the March and since the debt ceiling was raised they have fallen back by US $14 billion.

As you can imagine I will be tapping my foot waiting for the next monthly update. Fake money supply growth?

Comment

We can see that the US economy has slowed but if the money supply data is any guide is simply slowing for a bit and may then pick up. That scenario does not fit with the way that bond markets have surged expecting more interest-rate cuts. In fact bond market analysts are arguing that the Federal Reserve needs to cut interest-rates to keep up and avoid losing control, although they are not entirely clear what it would be losing control of.

So I have a lot of sympathy with Jerome Powell who has a very difficult speech to give today. The picture is murky and I would wait for more money supply data before giving any hints of what I would do next. In short I would be willing to be sacked rather than bowing to Presidential pressure.

 

 

The bond market surge is the financial news story of 2019

This has been quite an extraordinary year in financial markets and we find that even the summer lull is being very active.Or rather it tried to go quiet and then kicked off again. The good news is that amongst a sea of indifference and sadly ignorance we have been on the case. What I am referring to is the surge in bond markets that has taken them to quite extraordinary heights and changes a large proportion of the financial landscape. So let’s get straight to it and where else to start but with President Trump.

Trade talks are continuing, and…..during the talks the U.S. will start, on September 1st, putting a small additional Tariff of 10% on the remaining 300 Billion Dollars of goods and products coming from China into our Country. This does not include the 250 Billion Dollars already Tariffed at 25%…

So he now plans to expand his tariff trade war to pretty much everything Chine exports to the US. This has had the usual impact of lowering equity markets, strengthening the Yen ( into the 106s versus the US Dollar) and more importantly for our purposes today sending bond markets surging again.

This is our first lesson of the day which is that the financial markets version of economics 101 does still apply in some areas. What I mean by this is that sharp falls in equity markets still make bond markets rally. The logic such as it is comes from the fact that bonds pay a regular coupon as opposed to lower equity returns which makes the bonds more attractive. I am sure that many of you have spotted what Shakespeare would call the “rub” in this so for the moment let our analysis remain in the United States where there still are positive bond yields.

The situation now is that the ten-year Treasury Note now yields a mere 1.84% whereas yesterday I was reviewing a post US Federal Reserve 2,04%. The exact levels will change as this is a febrile volatile environment but the general picture has been singing along with Alicia Keys.

Oh baby
I, I, I, I’m fallin’
I, I, I, I’m fallin’
Fall

I keep on
Fallin’

This has caught out US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell as he was doing his best to pour cold water on the view that interest-rates are about to be chopped. In a sense this shows that whilst central banks have a lot of power they were accurately described by Hall and Oates.

You’re out of touch

Anticipation of the extra US $40 billion of bond purchases on their way via the (even earlier) ending of QT or Quantitative Tightening will have pushed the market higher on their own. But they found that The Donald was there with some petrol and a match. Oh and according to Market watch he may have just found another petrol can.

President Donald Trump on Friday will make an announcement on European Union trade at 1:45 p.m. Eastern, according to the White House’s daily guidance. Trump has threatened tariffs on European Union cars as well as food and alcohol, and plane makers Airbus AIR, -4.54% and Boeing BA, -2.02% have also been the source of trade tensions between the two sides.

So let me conclude the section on the world’s largest bond market with two points. Chair Powell thinks he is in charge but in reality a combination of President Trump and the markets are running rings around him, Next is that the real world economic effects of this will be cheaper fixed-rate mortgages and business borrowing as well as lower borrowing costs for the US government. Leaving us with a view that the Trump era is a curious combination of blazing away incoherently in the moment but also showing signs of an underlying plan as he gets lower bond yields for his fiscal expansionism.

Negativity

He was right by the way it is more today. Also as a nuance the amount of corporate debt that has a negative yield has passed the US $1 trillion mark. A nice little earner for some and of course as we look at the overall picture I find myself musing about future trends.

Glaciers melting in the dead of night
And the superstars sucked into the super massive
Super massive black hole
Super massive black hole
Super massive black hole

The UK

The situation here is remarkable in its own way. Even Bank of England Governor Mark Carney could not entirely blame Brexit for the situation.

Since May, global trade tensions have intensified, global activity has remained soft, and the perceived likelihood of a no-deal Brexit has increased significantly. These developments have led to substantial declines in market interest rates and a marked depreciation of sterling.

Let me give credit to Joumanna Bercetche of CNBC who asked a question about Forward Guidance. After all Governor Carney has been giving Forward Guidance about interest-rate rises through the period that bond yields have plunged. Sadly he deployed the tactic of answering a question he would have preferred to have been asked, gambling that no-one in the press corps would have the chutzpah to point that out.

This matters because we find ourselves in an extraordinary situation with the five-year yield at a mere 0.33% this morning. Firstly let me point out the ongoing excellence of the comments section of this blog as Kevin suggested we would reach 0.4% a while back when such views were deeply unfashionable elsewhere. Next this should be impacting on fixed-rate mortgages as banks can fund very cheaply in this area now although so far there seems to have been little sign of this, so perhaps the banks are keeping the change here for themselves. Finally the UK can borrow ever more cheaply an issue which the media and the “think-tanks” keep ignoring as they pontificate over whether the government can spend more? Of course it can at these yields! Whether that is a good idea or whether it will spend it wisely are different matters.

There is a curious situation in the UK yield curve where the five year yield at 0.33% is below the two-year at 0.42% and the ten-year at 0.55% so let me explain it. We have a 0.75% Bank Rate which in explicit terms only applies overnight but let us more loosely say until the next Bank of England meeting. That has more of an influence on the two-year which is why it is higher. But even so it is some 0.33% below the Bank Rate.

Before I move on let me point out how extraordinary this is by reminding everyone that the last time we were here the Bank of England was involved in making some £60 billion of purchases at almost any price. In fact as it wanted lower Gilt yields back then it wanted to pay more. How insane in the membrane is that?

Comment

It is rather kind of financial markets to help me out here as just as I start typing this section they reach a threshold.

German bonds at -0.5% yield Klaxon.

The benchmark ten-year yield is already telling us what it expects the new ECB deposit rate to be. Or perhaps I should say the maximum as the two-year is at -0.78%.

Let me resume my insane in the membrane theme with this.

Putting it another way here is Bloomberg.

Borrowing costs for house purchases and companies in Italy are at an all-time low

Politicians must wish they had thought of the idea of creating “independent” central banks even earlier than they did……

What could go wrong? Well let me start you off, with a quarterly and annual economic growth rate of 0% it does not seem to be doing Italy much good.

What use is Forward Guidance that keeps being wrong?

Last night brought one of the most anticipated U-Turns in monetary policy as the US Federal Reserve announced this.

In light of the implications of global developments for the economic outlook as well as muted inflation pressures, the Committee decided to lower the target range for the federal funds rate to 2 to 2-1/4 percent.

Thus we saw the expected interest-rate cut of 0.25% and there was also an accelerated end to the era of QT ( Quantitative Tightening).

The Committee will conclude the reduction of its aggregate securities holdings in the System Open Market Account in August, two months earlier than previously indicated.

Whilst we are on the subject let us use the words of the Clash as we may not see QT again and we certainly will not be seeing it for a while.

Yeah, wave bye, bye

At this point on a superficial level this looks like a success for Forward Guidance as the Treasury Note ten-year yield around the 2.04% level where it had started. But there are two big catches with this. The first revolves around when economic agents were making plans for 2019 because back then the Federal Reserve was talking of “normalisation” which involved 4 then 3 then 2 interest-rate increases in 2019. Now we have a cut and as I will discuss later am expecting another.

Last Night

The response of observers to the effort to provide new Forward Guidance by Chair Jerome Powell was to sing  along with The Strokes.

And say, people, they don’t understand
Your girlfriends, they can’t understand
Your grandsons, they won’t understand
On top of this, I ain’t ever gonna understand

Here via CNBC was his opening effort.

Looking at the history of the Fed, Powell cautioned against assuming that this week’s cut is the beginning of the cycles that happened in the past.

“That refers back to other times when the FOMC has cut rates in the middle of a cycle and I’m contrasting it there with the beginning of a lengthy cutting cycle,” he said. “That is not what we’re seeing now, that’s not our perspective now.”

So it was “one and done” was it? I doubt anyone including Chair Powell actually believed that especially if they looked at the knee-jerk response which was for a stronger US Dollar. Indeed in the same press conference he seemed to correct himself.

“Let me be clear: What I said was it’s not the beginning of a long series of rate cuts,” Powell said. “I didn’t say it’s just one or anything like that. ( CNBC )

He also managed to talk about interest-rate rises for a while as things got even more out of control. So you could have pretty much any view you like as we had guidance towards no more cuts,more cuts and perhaps rises too. That is quite a fail when the scale of your operations which already are the elephant in the room are about to get larger.

Oh and did I mention an elephant in the room?

What the Market wanted to hear from Jay Powell and the Federal Reserve was that this was the beginning of a lengthy and aggressive rate-cutting cycle which would keep pace with China, The European Union and other countries around the world……..As usual, Powell let us down, but at least he is ending quantitative tightening, which shouldn’t have started in the first place – no inflation. We are winning anyway, but I am certainly not getting much help from the Federal Reserve!

That was of course President Trump who may tweet excitedly but so far has given us better forward guidance than the Fed. Who will bet against the US Federal Reserve making another interest-rate cut this year?

European Central Bank

The ECB has been on a not dissimilar road to the Federal Reserve. I am sure the “ECB Watchers” would like us to forget that they were predicting an increase in the Deposit Rate this year as a result of their inside knowledge. They of course ended up scuttling away into the dark but the ECB kept this up until the 18th of June.

We now expect them to remain at their present levels at least through the first half of 2020, and in any case for as long as necessary to ensure the continued sustained convergence of inflation to levels that are below, but close to, 2% over the medium term.

The informal hint that a change was on it way provided by Mario Draghi on the 18th of June became formal a week ago.

We expect them to remain at their present or lower levels at least through the first half of 2020, and in any case for as long as necessary to ensure the continued sustained convergence of inflation to our aim over the medium term.

So not as grand a scale as the Federal Reserve but up has become the new down here too, or to be more precise is on its way in September. Assuming of course this guidance is correct.

Bank of England

Governor Carney has been even slower on the uptake than his international colleagues. As 2019 has progressed and we have seen interest-rate cuts proliferate he has cut an increasingly isolated figure.

The Committee continues to judge that, were the economy to develop broadly in line with its May Inflation Report projections that included an assumption of a smooth Brexit, an ongoing tightening of monetary policy over the forecast period, at a gradual pace and to a limited extent, would be appropriate to return inflation sustainably to the 2% target at a conventional horizon.

It is revealing that the sentence needs to be so long but the message is that the plan is to tighten monetary policy and apparently ignore the rush in the other direction. More realistically of course the reality is that we should be prepared for the return of the Unreliable Boyfriend as he has a track record of cutting interest-rates after promising rises.

Also this is revealing.

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England says “there will be great fortunes made” for companies preparing for and tackling climate change. ( Channel 4 News)

These days he seems to spend much of his time discussing climate change. If we skip the issue of him having both no mandate and indeed no qualifications in this area we find that he is deflecting us from his troubles with monetary policy. From his personal point of view discussing it is also part of his application for the IMF job.

Meanwhile as we move through the “Super Thursday” procedure he constructed I hope the media will concentrate on how he is forecasting interest-rate increases in the current economic environment.

Comment

It is more than six years ago that Michael Woodford told us this.

Greater clarity within the policy committee itself about the way in which policy is expected to be conducted in the future is likely to lead to more coherent policy decisions, and greater clarity on the part of the public as to how policy will be conducted is likely to improve the degree to which the central bank can count on achieving the effects that it intends through its policy.

As you can see the initial point failed last night as Chair Powell was pretty incoherent. Whilst Mario Draghi of the ECB is a much more professional operator he too struggled at his last press conference on the subject of the inflation target. It is about to be Governor Carney’s turn to face the music and he is usually the most incoherent. This means that they cannot give the public “greater clarity” and in fact have misled them which means they are undermining their own policies.

Of course there is also the Riksbank of Sweden to make the others feel better.

Me on The Investing Channel

 

 

 

 

Central Banks have a big problem with the future

A feature of 2019 so far has been a succession of U-Turns by central banks and by two of the world’s major central banks in particular. This has been most marked at the US Federal Reserve where it was not so long ago that some were suggesting we would see four interest-rate increases ( of 0.25%) this year on the road to what was called normalisation. Regular readers will recall that we were one of the few places that were troubled by the fact that we simply do not know what and where normal is anymore. But for our purposes today the main issue is that the US Federal Reserve looks set to cut later this month and perhaps one more time in 2019. Should that scenario come to pass then the previous concensus will have been wrong by a net 6 interest-rate changes. Seeing as interest-rates are so low these days that is quite an achievement.

This is on my mind because if we take the advice of Kylie Minogue and step back in time just under 7 years central banks were heavily influenced by this from Micheal Woodford and Jackson Hole.

The first of these is forward guidance — explicit statements by a central bank about the outlook for future policy, in addition to its announcements about the immediate policy actions that it is undertaking.

This was always going to be adopted as it flattered central banking egos and provided an alternative at a time when central bankers were afraid of being “maxxed out”. But as my opening paragraph pointed out it has been a complete failure in recent times in the United States where it began.

Europe

This has been something of a two stage failure process for Forward Guidance. The opening part got some intellectual backing last September from Benoit Coeure of the ECB.

Communicating our expectation that the ECB key interest rates would remain at their present levels at least through the summer of 2019 was therefore consistent with the “risk management” approach to monetary policy that the Governing Council has repeatedly applied in recent years,

This had two steps as it was perceived like this.

Yet, on my next slide you can see that, at some point in early 2018, markets expected the ECB to hike its deposit facility rate one month after the expected end of net asset purchases.

So that was a bit of a fail and it continued long after this speech. It was something I found hard to believe but the idea that the ECB would raise interest-rates in 2019 was like these lyrics from Hotel California.

And in the master’s chambers
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives
But they just can’t kill the beast.

It seemed to exist in an evidence-free zone but somehow survived. But events recently took a dreadful turn for it and by implication ECB Forward Guidance.

In the absence of improvement, such that the sustained return of inflation to our aim is threatened, additional stimulus will be required……..This applies to all instruments of our monetary policy stance. Further cuts in policy interest rates and mitigating measures to contain any side effects remain part of our tools.

So the interest-rate rises had not only morphed into unchanged but now we were being forward guided to a cut. Could that be any worse? Apparently it can as the incoming ECB President switches to downplaying the size of the interest-rate cuts on the horizon.

*IMF SAYS THERE MAY ONLY BE LIMITED ROOM FOR ECB RATE CUTS ( @lemasabachthani )

But apparently forward guidance is another beast that our steely knives cannot kill.

We remain able to enhance our forward guidance by adjusting its bias and its conditionality to account for variations in the adjustment path of inflation.

Bank of England

Gertjan Vlieghe has given a speech on this subject and he is in the mood for change and I do not blame him but sadly it does not start well.

In particular, communicating more about the Monetary Policy Committee’s preferred future path of interest rates
would be easier to understand than our current approach.

Preferred? I would prefer England to win the cricket world cup final on Sunday but a balanced reality involves looking at the strengths of New Zealand. Also it is not often central bankers do humour and when they do it is mostly unintentional.

Global central banks have changed their outlook for policy significantly in recent months.

He has a go at placing a smokescreen over events as well.

and the UK outlook for monetary policy continues to be materially affected by Brexit uncertainty.

This is misleading in my view mostly because none of us know what will happen so we cannot allow for it. Even if you think there is an effect right now then it is too late to do anything about it because an interest-rate move takes around 18 months to fully impact.

It feels for a while that we are getting some honesty.

Before diving into the details of the argument I want to stress that a far bigger challenge to monetary policy is
that the future is uncertain, and my suggested communications improvement will not change that. Today’s
preferred path of interest rates will change tomorrow, if the economy turns out differently from what we
expected.

But sadly as so often with Gertjan he drops the ball at the crucial point.

But I am arguing that we can achieve a modest improvement in the understanding that
businesses, households and financial markets have of what our objectives are, and what we think we need
to do to meet those objectives.

Most people only vaguely know who they are at best, so they idea they will be hanging on their every word is laughable. Financial markets do, of course, but how much of the real economy gets missed out?

The next bit reminds me of this from Queen.

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?

Here is Gertjan pedalling hard.

Moreover, the Swedish central bank reported that the quality of its own internal deliberations and discussions
with staff had improved, and that discussion of monetary policy by external observers had become “less
speculative”

Meanwhile if we go back to real life.

The Riksbank has become pretty much a laughing-stock.

Comment

As you can see Forward Guidance has been one of the failures of our times. On an internal level down keeps being the new up but also it is part of a framework where the environment keeps getting worse. What I mean by that is after all the policy accommodation economic growth now has a “speed limit” of 1.5% and 2019 is proving to be a difficult year for the world economy. It flatters central banking egos, gives markets a hare to chase and journalists something to copy and paste, but not so much for the real economy.

The piece de resistance to all this is provided by Gertjan who you may recall has been Forward Guiding us to interest-rate increases for a while now. He has another go.

This would justify further limited and gradual rate increases, such that we might reach 1.00% in a year’s time,
1.25% in two years’ time, and 1.75% in three years’ time, with large uncertainty bands around this central
path.

You may notice the use of the word “might” here. Whereas he seems a lot more sure about this road.

On balance I think it is more likely that I would move to cut Bank Rate towards the effective lower bound of close to 0% in the event of a no deal scenario.

Just for clarity the Bank of England now thinks this is at 0.1% after assuring us for quite a long period ( Governor Carney repeated it more than once) that it was 0.5%.

So if we just look at Gertjan’s career at the Bank of England he looks ro be pointing us towards a situation where he has twice “Forward Guided” us to interest-rate increases and then cut them! I await your thoughts on how useful you think he will have been in such a scenario?

Where next for the US economy?

The end of the week has an American theme as we have just had Independence Day and it will be followed by the labour market and non-farm payrolls data. So a belated happy Independence Day to my American readers. But behind all that is a more troubled picture for the US economy that opened 2019 in fine form.

Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 3.1 percent in the first quarter of 2019 (table 1), according to the “third” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the fourth quarter of 2018, real GDP increased 2.2 percent. ( BEA)

There was a further sub-plot in that not only had economic growth picked up to ~0.8% as we measure it the falling trend of the previous three quarters was broken. But as I pointed out on the 8th of May a warning light had started to flash.

The narrow measure of the money supply or M1 in the United States saw a fall of just over forty billion dollars in March. That catches the eye because it does not fit at all with an economy growing at an annual rate of 3.2%. Indeed we see now that over the three months to March M1 money supply contracted by 2.7%.

What about now?

The money supply picture is not as dark as it looked back then. In fact the contraction of the previous three months of 2.7% has now been replaced by growth of 2.7%. However that is below the annual rate of growth of 3.8% so a gentle brake is still in play as opposed to the previous sharp one. This compares to 8.5% in 2017 as a whole and 4.4% in 2018.

As to the pick-up more recently it may be related to this change in Federal Reserve policy.

The Committee intends to slow the reduction of its holdings of Treasury securities by reducing the cap on monthly redemptions from the current level of $30 billion to $15 billion beginning in May 2019.

So it is no longer acting to reduce the growth rate of the narrow money supply on the same scale. As to how quickly that will impact is not so easy to say because if we look back in time the timescales of similar policies were rather variable. This was the so-called Overfunding phase in the UK when we sold an excess amount of Gilts to reduce the money supply and discovered if we cut to the chase that it was not as simple as it might appear. There is a difference in that we were aiming ( and quite often missing) a broad rather than narrow money measure.

As cash was in the news only yesterday let me point out that at the end of May the M1 money supply comprised some US $1.65 trillion as opposed to US $2.14 trillion of demand and chequeable deposits. There is a blast from the past disappearing as until the end of December the US Fed recorded some £1.7 billion of Travellers Cheques, does anybody still use them?

Other Signals

We get an idea from the New York Fed.

The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 1.3% for 2019:Q2 and 1.2% for 2019:Q3.

News from this week’s data releases decreased the nowcast for both quarters by 0.1 percentage point.

Negative surprises from housing data and the Advance Durable Goods Report accounted for most of the decrease.

As you can see they are rather downbeat for the middle part of 2019 with economic growth being of the order of 0.3% as we would measure it. The Atlanta Fed nowcast is a few days more recent but comes to the same 1.3% answer for the quarter just gone.

A particular driver of that is something that like in the UK has lost much of its ability to shock because it has become part of the economic landscape.

The U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis announced today that the goods and services deficit was $55.5 billion in May, up $4.3 billion from $51.2 billion in April, revised. ( BEA )

That increase in the deficit is a downwards pull on GDP via net exports and is part of a pretty consistent trend in the year so far.

Year-to-date, the goods and services deficit increased $15.7 billion, or 6.4 percent, from the same period in 2018. Exports increased $5.1 billion or 0.5 percent. Imports increased $20.8 billion or 1.6 percent.

That shows that the trade war does not appear to be going that well as you can see. As to the total effects here is the Bank of England on the subject.

The Bank estimates that these measures will reduce global GDP by only around 0.1%, and the
further US-China tariffs that took effect in May and June will roughly double that effect.

But that may not be the end of the story. The additional tariffs threatened by the US on China and on auto
imports more generally would raise average US tariffs to rates not seen in half a century. If
implemented, they could reduce global GDP by an additional 0.6% through direct trade channels alone.

What will the Federal Reserve Do Next?

If the latest speech from Chair Powell is any guide it seems to be trying to take us for fools.

 The Fed is insulated from short-term political pressures—what is often referred to as our “independence.”

I should note that this came before the appointment of a politician to the ECB Presidency but that really is only part of something which which we have long been aware of. Believing in it these days is a bit like believing in Father Christmas. As to the economic situation we were told this.

Since then, the picture has changed. The crosscurrents have reemerged, with apparent progress on trade turning to greater uncertainty and with incoming data raising renewed concerns about the strength of the global economy……The question my colleagues and I are grappling with is whether these uncertainties will continue to weigh on the outlook and thus call for additional policy accommodation. Many FOMC participants judge that the case for somewhat more accommodative policy has strengthened.

Comment

The next signal for the US economy has been the surge in bond markets. The US ten-year yield was 3.24% in the early part of last November as opposed to 1.97% as I type this. The expectation shifted as we noted back then shifted from interest-rate rises to cuts and on a simple level a two-year yield of 1.78% is expecting three of them which is punchy when we have not had any yet. So they have been accurate in expecting a slowing of the US economy and the prospects for more QE bond buying and have got a slowing of the reduction in QE and a September date for its end.

Moving to the labour market most of the signals do not tell us much at this stage of the cycle. After ten years of expansion for the economy jobs growth should have slowed. But there are two numbers which do tell is something. The first is wages growth because with the rise in employment and fall in unemployment it should have surged but has not. Whilst I welcome wage growth of a bit over 3% it has underperformed compared to the past which is perhaps related to another problem. It gets reported less these days but the change in the labour participation rate is equivalent to around 11 million people.

Both the labor force participation rate, at 62.8 percent, and the employment-population ratio, at 60.6 percent, were unchanged in May.

There is also the issue of leveraged loans which ironically lower interest-rates and bond yields are only likely to make worse. Here is the Bank of France on the subject.

Leveraged loans are loans extended to highly indebted companies. Their strong growth in the US over the last five years and their packaging into securitised financial products bear a number of similarities with the subprime market that triggered the 2008 crisis. While the comparison is debatable, the risks posed by the leveraged loan market to financial stability should not be ignored.

Also in an era of H2O and Woodford there is this.

The presence of Exchange Traded Funds and Mutual Funds means that retail investors have access to these loans in the United States – although they still only account for a minority of investors. Moreover, these structures present a maturity mismatch between their assets and their liabilities. Investors can redeem their fund shares very quickly, whereas underlying assets (leveraged loans) tend to have much longer transaction times.

What could go wrong?

Central banks plan to ride to the rescue of house prices one more time

It is good to be ahead of the pack as I note that this morning the Resolution Foundation has caught up with one of my main themes.

Housing costs have put increasing pressure on living standards for all generations alive today, compared to predecessors at the same age. Housingcost-to-income ratios fell faster (by 1 percentage point) for families headed by
under-30s than for older family units in the year to 2017-18, but this does little to alter the long-term picture. At age 30 housing costs were equivalent to 24 per cent of income for millennials born in the early 1980s, and 21 per cent for
members of generation X born in the early 1970s. That compares to 10 per cent at the same age for members of the silent generation born in the early 1940s.

As you can see this has been a long-running saga where housing in the UK has got more expensive. Yet our inflation numbers have missed much of this. This is for two reasons. The first is that we switched in 2003 to a measure called CPI ( Consumer Price Index) which excludes owner-occupied housing costs and that is what the Bank of England targets. So if we compare the latest situation as we were old yesterday that the official UK House Price Index in April was at 120.1 with for example the 67.8 of April 2003 you can see the danger of ignoring this area as it does.

In some ways more disturbing is that way that our official statisticians claim that such housing costs are now included when in fact they use imputed rental numbers in the CPIH measure. If there is a home owner out there who acts as if they pay themselves rent then you are fine, but the rest of us are not. Actually on a personal basis I fall down on the issue of even knowing how much rent my flat would get.

It gets better in that there are a lot of doubts about the rental series that the numbers are imputed from. These start with concerns that the balance of new to old rents is wrong leading to the number being around 1% too low. Next comes the issue that houses which are bought for ownership may well not be similar to ones which are rented. Finally there is the fact that the Office for National Statistics does not have sight of the actual numbers as it relies on data collected by others.

This is something which the Resolution Foundation returns to.

Younger cohorts are more likely to live in overcrowded homes: between 1994-96 and 2016-18, the share of family units headed by 18-29 year olds in overcrowded
homes increased by almost one-third (from below 8 per cent to above 10 per cent). Younger cohorts spend longer commuting too.

I have highlighted this because it suggests a problem which we have thought is taking place but is hard to get concrete numbers on. This is the issue of a lowering of the quality of housing. We may well be paying more for less meaning that the actual rate of inflation has been higher than we get from just looking at the price indices.

This has consequences.

Our spotlight analysis focuses on the fact that changes in housing costs could be having a more wide-ranging effect on living standards too.

That seems to be the written equivalent of mealy mouthed to me.

Has all the “Help” actually helped?

Maybe a little but as you can see the extraordinary efforts I have documented over the years on here have put only a minor dent in the trend.

While the latest evidence points towards a bottoming out of this decline – family units headed by 18-29 year olds experienced an increase in ownership
rates from 7.9 per cent in 2016 to 9.2 per cent in 2018 – the fundamentals of high house prices and deposit requirements remain a significant barrier to
ownership.

So good work from the Resolution Foundation although as champions of the CPIH inflation measure they have stood on a land mine here in my opinion.

More! More! More!

The issues raised above are on my mind because as the song lyrics above from Andrea True Connection hint the world’s central banks are already riding to the rescue of housing markets and house prices. We have seen rate cuts recently from the Reserve Banks of India and Australia with the latter especially suggesting more is to come. Then yesterday evening there was the US Federal Reserve.

“Overall, our policy discussion focused on the appropriate response to the uncertain environment,” he said. “Many participants believe that some cut to the fed funds rate would be appropriate in the scenario they see as most likely.”……….“Many participants now see the case for somewhat more accommodative policy has strengthened,”  ( Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell via CNBC )

This meant that the market for a rate cut in July went straight to 100% with the only debate being whether it would be a quarter or a half point. So those with variable-rate mortgages can expect better news. Added to that we saw further strong rallies in bond markets with for example this morning the US ten-year Treasury Note yield dipping below 2%. Regular readers will be aware I have been writing for a while that I expect the cost of fixed-rate mortgages to fall and the falls just get larger.

If we switch to the Euro area it was only on Monday that we saw ECB President Mario Draghi move the goal posts on monetary policy. This morning a contender for his job post October has joined in. From Reuters.

“We in the Governing Council are ready to act as appropriate unless there is improvement in the economic conditions,” Rehn told a conference in Brussels.

Asked whether the ECB should proceed with rate cuts or resuming asset purchases, Rehn said: “The whole range of instruments is on the table.”

He is not alone as @DeltaOne reports.

ECB’S DE GUINDOS SAYS RISKS ARE TILTED TO DOWNSIDE, IF THEY START TO MATERIALIZE, WE WILL REACT

Apologies for the capitals which are a regular theme of that twitter feed.

If there is going to be a coordinated easing party from the world’s main central banks then the Bank of Japan has its sake ready at body temperature.

BOJ Governor Kuroda: We Will Not Hesitate To Ease Further If Momentum Towards The Price Target Is Lost ( @LiveSquawk )

Although as they are not especially keen on negative interest-rates and are already buying assets like they are powered up pac-men and women their options are not so obvious.

Comment

This week has seen a turbocharger added to the central banking engine. It is also true that one of the drivers of this is asset prices albeit that President Trump concentrates on the stock market. But it increasingly looks that the central banking cavalry will ride to the rescue of house prices yet again. However there is a catch in that as we approach and then pass 0% for official interest-rates the responsiveness of mortgage-rates has fallen. So the cavalry could yet end up like General Custer.

One game changer would be if banks prove willing to pass on negative deposit rates to the retail customer. But even without that we seem set to see more of what took place in Denmark a few weeks ago when mortgage bonds moved into negative yield territory. The central bankers seem to be placing their tanks on this lawn and have added loudspeakers blaring out Whitesnake.

And here I go again on my own
Goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known
Like a drifter, I was born to walk alone
And I’ve made up my mind
I ain’t wasting no more time

Of course in the UK we see that the Bank of England has been wrong-footed by this change as it is still promising interest-rate increases. But I expect it will not take the unreliable boyfriend long to do another 180 degree turn.

The Investing Channel

Will fiscal policy save the US economy or torpedo it?

One of the features of the credit crunch era has been the shift in some places about fiscal policy. For example the International Monetary Fund was rather keen on austerity in places like Greece but then had something of a road to Damascus. Although sadly Greece has been left behind as it ploughs ahead aiming for annual fiscal surpluses like it is in a 2012 time warp. Elsewhere there have been calls for a fiscal boost and we do not need to leave Europe to see them. However as I have pointed out before there is quite a distinct possibility that President Donald Trump has read his economics 101 textbooks and applied fiscal policy into an economic slow down. Of course life these days is rarely simple as his trade policy has helped create the slow down and is no doubt a factor in this from China earlier..

Industrial output grew 5.0 percent in May from a year earlier, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed on Friday, missing analysts’ expectations of 5.5% and well below April’s 5.4%. It was the weakest reading since early 2002. ( Reuters).

Also there has been another signal of economic worries in the way that the German bond future has risen to another all-time high this morning. Putting that in yield terms holding a benchmark ten-year bond loses you 0.26% a year now. Germany may already be regretting issuing some 3 billion Euros worth at -0.24% on Wednesday although of course they cannot lose.

US Fiscal Policy

Let us take a look at this from the perspective of the South China Morning Post.

The US budget deficit widened to US$738.6 billion in the first eight months of the financial year, a US$206 billion increase from a year earlier, despite a revenue boost from President Donald Trump’s tariffs on imported merchandise.

So we can look at this as a fiscal boost on top of an existing deficit. The latter provides its own food for thought as the US economy has been growing sometimes strongly for some years now yet it still had a deficit. In terms of detail if we look at the US Treasury Statement we seem that expenditure has been very slightly over 3 trillion dollars whereas revenue has been 2.28 trillion. If we look at where the revenue comes from it is income taxes ( 1.16 trillion) and social security and retirement at 829 billion and in comparison corporation taxes at 113 billion seem rather thin to me.

The picture in terms of changes is as shown below.

So far in the financial year that began October 1, a revenue increase of 2.3 per cent has not kept pace with a 9.3 per cent rise in spending.

If we look at the May data we see that the broad trend was exacerbated by monthly expenditure being high at 440 billion dollars as opposed to revenue of 232 billion. Marketwatch has broken this down for us.

Most of the jump can be explained by June 1 occurring on a weekend, which forced some federal payments into May. Excluding those calendar adjustments, the deficit still would have increased by 8%, with spending up by 6% and revenue up by 4%.

In terms of a breakdown it is hard not to think of the oil tankers attacked in the Gulf of Oman yesterday as I note the defence numbers, and I have to confess the phrase “military industrial complex” comes to mind.

What will recur are growing payments for Medicare, Social Security and defense. Medicare spending surged 73% — mostly because of the timing shift, though it would have rose 18% otherwise. Social Security benefits rose by 11% and defense spending rose 23%.

So we have some spending going on here and its impact on the deficit is being added to by this from February 8th last year.

The final conference committee agreement of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) would cost $1.46 trillion under conventional scoring and over $1 trillion on a dynamic basis over ten years,

Thus policy has been loosened at both ends and the forecast of the Congressional Budget Office that the deficit to GDP ratio would be 4.2% this year looks like it will have to be revised upwards..

National Debt

This was announced as being 22.03 trillion dollars as of the end of May, of which 16.2 trillion is held by the public. Most of the gap is held by the US Federal Reserve. Just for comparison total debt first passed 10 trillion dollars in the 2007/08 fiscal year so it has more than doubled in the credit crunch era.

Moving to this as a share of the economy the Congressional Budget Office puts something of a spin on it.

boosting debt held by the public to $28.5 trillion,
or 92 percent of GDP, by the end of the period—up
from 78 percent now.

The IMF report earlier this month was not quite so kind.

Nonetheless, this has come at the cost of a continued increase in the debt-to-GDP ratio (now at 78 percent of GDP for the federal government and 107 percent of GDP for the general government).

Where are the bond vigilantes?

They have gone missing in action. The financial markets version of economics 101 would have the US government being punished for its perceived financial profligacy by higher bond yields on its debt. Except as I type this the ten-year Treasury Note is yielding a mere 2.06% which is hardly punishing. Indeed it has fallen over the past year as it was around 2.9% a year ago and last November went over 3.2%.

So in our brave new world the situation is one of lower bond yields facing a fiscal expansion. There is an element of worries about the economic situation but the main player here I think is that these days we expect the central bank to step in should bond yields rise. So the US Federal Reserve is increasingly expected to cut interest-rates and to undertake more QE style purchases of US government debt. The water here is a little murky because back at the end of last year there seemed to be a battle between the Federal Reserve and the President over future policy which the latter won. So much for the independence of central banks!

The economy

Let me hand you over to the New York Federal Reserve.

The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 1.0% for 2019:Q2 and 1.3% for 2019:Q3. News from this week’s data releases decreased the nowcast for 2019:Q2 by 0.5 percentage point and decreased the nowcast for 2019:Q3 by 0.7 percentage point.

That compares to 2.2% annualised  for a month ago and 3.1% for the first quarter of the year. So the trend is clear.

Comment

As we track through the ledger we see that the US has entered into a new period of fiscal expansionism. The credit entries are that it has been done so ahead of an economic slow down and at current bond yields is historically cheap to finance. The debits come when we look at the fact that the starting position was of ongoing deficits after a decade long period of economic expansion. These days we worry less about national debt levels and more about the cost of financing them, although as time passes and debts rise that is a slippery slope.

The real issue now is how the economy behaves as a sharp slow down would impact the numbers heavily. We have seen the nowcast from the New York Fed showing a slowing for the summer of 2019. For myself I worry also about the money supply data which as I pointed out on the 8th of May looks weak. So this could yet swing either way although this from February 8th last year is ongoing.

The deep question here is can we even get by these days without another shot of stimulus be it monetary,fiscal or both?