France decides to Spend! Spend! Spend!

Yesterday brought something that was both new and familiar from France. The new part is a substantial extra fiscal stimulus. The familiar is that France as regular readers will be aware had been pushing the boundaries of the Euro area fiscal rules anyway, This is something which has led to friction with Italy which has come under fire for its fiscal position. Whereas France pretty much escaped it in spite of having its nose pressed against the Growth and Stability Pact limit of 3% of Gross Domestic Product for the fiscal deficit. Actually that Pact already feels as if it is from a lifetime ago although those who have argued that it gets abandoned when it suits France and Germany are no doubt having a wry smile.

The Details

Here is a translation of President Macron’s words.

We are now entering a new phase: that of recovery and reconstruction. To overcome the most important in our modern history, to prevent the cancer of mass unemployment from setting in, which unfortunately our country has suffered too long, today we decide to invest massively. 100 billion, of which 40 billion comes from financing obtained hard from the European Union, will thus be injected into the economy in the coming months. It is an unprecedented amount which, in relation to our national wealth, makes the French plan one of the most ambitious.

So the headline is 100 billion Euros which is a tidy sum even in these inflated times for such matters. Also you will no doubt have spotted that he is trying to present something of a windfall from the European Union which is nothing of the sort. The money will simply be borrowed collectively rather than individually. So it is something of a sleight of hand. One thing we can agree on is the French enthusiasm for fiscal policy, although of course they have been rather less enthusiatic in the past about such policies from some of their Euro area partners.

There are three components to this.

Out of 100 billion euros, 30 billion are intended to finance the ecological transition.

As well as a green agenda there is a plan to boost business which involves 35 billion Euros of which the main component is below.

As part of the recovery plan, production taxes will be reduced by € 10bn from January 1, 2021, and by sustainable way. It is therefore € 20bn in tax cuts of production over 2021–2022.

That is an interesting strategy at a time of a soaring fiscal deficit to day the least. So far we have ecology and competitiveness which seems to favour big business. Those who have followed French history may enjoy this reference from Le Monde.

With an approach that smacks of industrial Colbertism

The remaining 35 billion Euros is to go into what is described as public cohesion which is supporting jobs and health. In fact the jobs target is ambitious.

According to the French government, the plan will help the economy make up for the coronavirus-related loss of GDP by the end of 2022, and help create 160,000 new jobs next year.  ( MarketWatch)

Is it necessary?

PARIS (Reuters) – French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire believes that the French economy could perform better than currently forecast this year, he said on Friday.

“I think we will do better in 2020 than the 11% recession forecast at the moment,” Le Maire told BFM TV.

I suspect Monsieur Le Maire is a Beatles fan and of this in particular.

It’s getting better
Since you’ve been mine
Getting so much better all the time!

Of course things have got worse as he has told us they have got better. Something he may have repeated this morning.

August PMI® data pointed to the sharpest contraction in French construction activity for three months……….At the sub-sector level, the decrease in activity was broad based. Work undertaken on commercial projects fell at the
quickest pace since May, and there was a fresh decline in civil engineering activity after signs of recovery in June and July. Home building activity contracted for the sixth month running, although the rate of decrease was softer than in July. ( Markit)

We have lost a lot of faith in PMi numbers but even so there is an issue as I do not know if there is a French equivalent of “shovel ready”? But construction is a tap that fiscal policy can influence relatively quickly and there seems to be no sign of that at all.

Indeed the total PMI picture was disappointing.

“The latest PMI data came as a disappointment
following the sharp rise in private sector activity seen
during July, which had spurred hopes that the French
economy could undergo a swift recovery towards precoronavirus levels of output. However, with activity
growth easing considerably in the latest survey period,
those hopes have been dashed…”

So the data seems to be more in line with the view expressed below.

It is designed to try to “avoid an economic collapse,” French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday. ( MarketWatch)

Where are the Public Finances?

According to the Trading Economics this is this mornings update.

France’s government budget deficit widened to EUR 151 billion in the first seven months of 2020 from EUR 109.7 billion a year earlier, amid efforts to support the economy hit by the coronavirus crisis. Government spending jumped 10.4 percent from a year earlier to EUR 269.3 billion, while revenues went down 6.3 percent to EUR 142.25 billion

I think their definition of spending has missed out debt costs.

As of the end of June the public debt was 1.992 trillion Euros.

Comment

I have avoided being to specific about the size of the contraction of the economy and hence numbers like debt to GDP. There are several reasons for this. One is simply that we do not know them and also we do not know how much of the contraction will be temporary and how much permanent? We return to part of yesterday’s post and France will be saying Merci Madame Lagarde with passion. The various QE bond purchase programmes mean that France has a benchmark ten-year yield of -0.18% and even long-term borrowing is cheap as it estimates it will pay 0.57% for some 40 year debt on Monday. That’s what you get when you buy 473 billion Euros of something and that is just the original emergency programme or PSPP and not the new emergency programme or PEPP. On that road the European Union fund is pure PR as it ends up at the ECB anyway.

The Bank of France has looked at the chances of a rebound and if we look at unemployment and it looks rather ominous.

However, the speed of the recovery in the coming months and years is more uncertain, as is the peak in the unemployment rate, which the Banque de France forecasts at 11.8% in mid-2021 for France……….Chart 1 shows that in France, Germany, Italy, and the United States, once the unemployment rate peaked, it fell at a rate that was fairly similar from one crisis to the next: on average 0.55 percentage point (pp) per year in France and Italy, 0.7 pp in Germany, and 0.63 pp in the United States.

There is not much cheer there and they seem to have overlooked that unemployment rates have been much higher in the Euro area than the US. But we can see how this might have triggered the French fiscal response especially at these bond yields.

But Giulia Sestieri is likely to find that her conclusion about fiscal policy is likely to see the Bank of France croissant and espresso trolley also contain the finest brandy as it arrives at her desk.

Ceteris paribus, the lessons of economic literature suggest potentially large fiscal multipliers during the post-Covid19 recovery phase

Mind you that is a lot of caveats for one solitary sentence.

Today’s Summer Statement is brought to you by the Bank of England

Today brings us to a set piece event for the UK economy. Due to the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic the summer statement will be more significant than many Budget Statements. One feature already is the way the media are cheerleading for ever more spending in ever more areas and dropping their usual “how will it be financed?” questions. As ever they have been somewhat slow on the uptake as we have been pointing out that UK debt costs have been doing this for some time now as they move on from the previous Status Quo.

Again again again again
Again again again and deeper and down
Down down deeper and down
Down down deeper and down
Down down deeper and down
Get down deeper and down

Perhaps the most extraordinary feature of this has been around for several weeks now as bond yields at the shorter end are negative. This means that next Tuesday we may well be paid to issue some £3.25 billion of a bond or Gilt which matures in 2026. At current prices it would yield -0.05%. Looking further ahead our benchmark ten-year yield is a mere 0.16% and the fifty-year on;y 0.44%. I would be issuing as many of the fifty-year Gilts as I could right now and I will return to that subject later.

Bank of England

The wheels of the price rises and yield falls I have just described have been oiled by the Bank of England. This was described by Bank of England policymaker Jonathan Haskel last week.

Since the onset of the crisis, the MPC has cut Bank Rate from 0.75% to 0.1% and expanded our asset purchase
programme by £200bn in March and a further £100bn in June. The majority of the initial £200bn in purchases is
complete, and we expect to complete the remaining announced purchases by around the end of the year.

Even in these inflated times setting out to buy £300 billion of something tends to move the price to say the least. Especially if you buy some £13.5 billion a week which was the initial pace set. It has now slowed to some £6.9 billion but even so if we switch to issuance the UK has so far issued some £6.9 billion of debt or bonds this week. There will be another £900 million of index-linked ( Retail Prices Index) Gilts tomorrow but as you can see the idea of investors choosing to buy UK Gilts is a relatively minor factor.

In terms of expectations take  look at another excerpt from that speech.

The first round of purchases aimed to prevent and stop in its tracks the financial market dysfunction resulting from
the significant financial market adjustment that occurred at the onset of this crisis in March…….. the UK government debt market was showing significant signs of strain.

He seems desperate to avoid saying falling prices were the driving influence here although he does get there.

This was apparent in falling and volatile prices

The next bit could only be written from a very high Ivory Tower.

These spikes we see in the panels, are highly unusual in what should be a deep and calm market for safe UK government debt.

I have worked through more than a few occasions where the opposite of that was true. Academics can be very unworldly but this rather takes the biscuit. After all the “deep” bit has been provided by the £300 billion he and his colleagues are in the process of buying! He continues in the same vein.

By stepping in and providing a reliably ample supply
of cash in the form of central bank reserves, the Bank of England was able to restore, almost immediately,
normal market functioning,

So “normal market functioning” is the Bank of England buying most of the supply? That is really rather Orwellian. It also turns a blind eye to the role of the US Federal Reserve which helped calm world markets by supplying US Dollars via its enhanced liquidity swaps operations. Indeed if we look ahead “normal market functioning” may even be the new “Whatever it takes.”

This, combined with an uncertain economic forward path, and in my view, risks skewed to the downside
concerning employment and more medium-term economic adjustments, prompted my vote and approval of a
further expansion of asset purchases in June to guard against any unwarranted future tightening and help
support the economic recovery as social distancing measures come off.

In other words he will do whatever it takes to keep Gilt yields low.

Whilst Jonathan is only one voter those thoughts have influenced Bank of England policy strongly and were, in my view, behind the plan for the Governor Andrew Bailey to address the 1922 Committee later today. This is the main grouping of backbench Conservative MPs and it seems plain that the Governor intended to turn up and say he has got their (spending) backs. This was unwise on various accounts of which the main would be opening him up to accusations of political bias which, let’s face it would be true.

House Prices

Much of the above is to put it mildly house price friendly as the UK establishment put Luther Vandross on their loudspeakers.

Is never too much, I just don’t wanna stop
Never too much, never too much
Never too much, never too much.

From the BBC

The chancellor is expected to announce changes to stamp duty on Wednesday to help cut costs for anyone buying a home.

It’s understood that the level at which the tax is charged could be temporarily raised to £500,000 to boost the property market and help buyers struggling because of the coronavirus crisis.

I have two main thoughts on this. Firstly it such “help” tends to move prices higher eroding and maybe eliminating the gain. Next we have been raising it for more revenue and now are chopping it? This seems rather confused. In the last financial year some £12,5 billion was raised by it.

Comment

Let me start with a policy prescription which is that I would announce that the UK was going to issue some Century ( 100 year) Gilts. Say a £10 billion tranche to kick-off the idea. One of the ironies of the present state of play is that a UK strength ( the maturity spectrum of the Gilt market) tends to count against us as fewer bonds mature and get refinanced more cheaply than elsewhere. We can offset this and help reduce the burden for future generations of the borrowing being undertaken now.

As to how much borrowing? Well we know that the present state of play is this.

In the current financial year-to-date (April to May 2020), the public sector borrowed £103.7 billion, £87.0 billion more than in the same period last year.

Or rather I should say to around £10 billion as there is still a lot of uncertainty about the actual figures. As to looking ahead the Resolution Foundation has got really rather excited.

Our analysis not only provides a quantitative estimate of the overall size of the fiscal rescue package, which has to be larger – at around £200 billion, or around 10 per cent of GDP – than that seen in previous recessions.

They forecast lower debt costs but seem to have forgotten how much of our debt is inked to inflation. Care is needed here as whilst debt costs are low there is a burden from ever large amounts as Greece and Japan have shown.

Let me finish by assuring you I will be scanning the skies above Battersea for RAF Chinooks dropping money.

On the demand side, the Government should create a ‘High Street Voucher’ scheme to boost consumption in the hardest-hit sectors. This approach is more targeted and progressive than a VAT cut, and, unlike the flat-rate cash transfers employed in the US, could not simply be saved by higher-income households. We propose vouchers worth £500 per adult and £250 per child.

The Investing Channel

 

 

The USA will Spend! Spend! Spend! As we wonder whatever happened to the debt ceiling?

Yesterday evening there was a piece of news which created a stir even in these inflated times. So without further ado let me hand you over to the US Treasury Department.

During the April – June 2020 quarter, Treasury expects to borrow $2,999 billion in privately-held net marketable debt, assuming an end-of-June cash balance of $800 billion.  The borrowing estimate is $3,055 billion higher than announced in February 2020.

I have to confess the numbers did not look right so I checked the February release.

During the April – June 2020 quarter, Treasury expects to pay down $56 billion in privately-held net marketable debt, assuming an end-of-June cash balance of $400 billion.

This was to be quite an improvement on where it was at the time.

During the January – March 2020 quarter, Treasury expects to borrow $367 billion in privately-held net marketable debt, assuming an end-of-March cash balance of $400 billion.

So we return to the concept of some US 3 trillion dollars being borrowed in a single quarter. As to the higher cash balance which is in the process of being doubled that looks as though it is simply because the US is spending at such a rate it needs more to avoid the risk of a cash crunch. Indeed the process is well under way.

During the January – March 2020 quarter, Treasury borrowed $477 billion in privately-held net marketable debt and ended the quarter with a cash balance of $515 billion.  In February 2020, Treasury estimated privately-held net marketable borrowing of $367 billion and assumed an end-of-March cash balance of $400 billion. The $110 billion increase in borrowing resulted primarily from the higher end-of-quarter cash balance.

Where is the money going?

The US Treasury is light on some detail but the Paycheck Protection Program had spent some US $350 billion very quickly so we then saw this.

Washington (CNN)The Trump administration announced Sunday that 2.2 million small business loans worth $175 billion have been made in the second round of the Paycheck Protection Program……Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Small Business Administration Administrator Jovita Carranza said in a joint statement that the average size of a loan made under the second iteration of the program, which began Monday, was $79,000.

The original stimulus effort was described below by CNN.

Congressional lawmakers put the finishing touches on a $2 trillion stimulus bill to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, with cash and assistance for regular Americans, Main Street businesses and hard-hit airlines and manufacturers, among others……..Key elements of the proposal are $250 billion set aside for direct payments to individuals and families, $350 billion in small business loans, $250 billion in unemployment insurance benefits and $500 billion in loans for distressed companies.

We can see that like the small business loans the numbers are likely to have been climbing higher and higher. As to the new higher employment benefits they seem to be being paid to ever higher numbers.

The advance unadjusted number for persons claiming UI benefits in state programs totaled 17,776,006, an increase of 1,498,784 (or 9.2 percent) from the preceding week. The seasonal factors had expected a decrease of 648,558 (or -4.0 percent) from the previous week. A year earlier the rate was 1.1 percent and the volume was 1,647,874 ( Department of Labor)

I think we can figure out for ourselves what has been happening to tax revenues.

Treasury Bonds and QE

In ordinary times one might have expected this market to have cratered. I have worked through times when futures markets prices limits are employed ( it was initially 2 points and then moves to 3 points). But the surge in expected borrowing has provided nothing of the sort and these days eyes turn first to the US Federal Reserve and its Quantitative Easing programme. The emphasis below is mine.

To support the flow of credit to households and businesses, the Federal Reserve will continue to purchase Treasury securities and agency residential and commercial mortgage-backed securities in the amounts needed to support smooth market functioning, thereby fostering effective transmission of monetary policy to broader financial conditions. In addition, the Open Market Desk will continue to offer large-scale overnight and term repurchase agreement operations. The Committee will closely monitor market conditions and is prepared to adjust its plans as appropriate.

That is a sort of combination of “whatever it takes” and “To Infinity! And Beyond!” in my opinion. We saw purchases of US $75 billion a day in the height of the panic and we should not forget that in the heat of the “Not QE” phase some US $60 billion of US Treasury Bills were bought a month. So we see that it now owns some US $3.97 trillion of Treasury Securities which has risen by US $1.8 trlllion on the past year.

Thus although we are now seeing a much lower daily amount of QE purchases the surge of buying has anaesthetised the market. This week only US $8 billion a day is being bought and yet we see the benchmark yield for the ten-year Treasury Note if a mere 0.67%. The long bond ( 30 year) has responded a little but at 1.33% is less than half what it was this time last year.

Foreign Holdings

There is a long wait for such numbers but here is what the US Treasury thinks that they are.

The survey measured the value of foreign portfolio holdings of U.S. securities as of end-June 2019 to be $20,534 billion, with $8,630 billion held in U.S. equities, $10,991 billion in U.S. long-term debt securities [/1] (of which $1,417 billion are holdings of asset-backed securities (ABS) [/2] and $9,575 billion are holdings of non-ABS securities), and $913 billion held in U.S. short-term debt securities.

Comment

Remember the debt ceiling?

Congress has always acted when called upon to raise the debt limit. Since 1960, Congress has acted 78 separate times to permanently raise, temporarily extend, or revise the definition of the debt limit – 49 times under Republican presidents and 29 times under Democratic presidents. Congressional leaders in both parties have recognized that this is necessary. ( US Treasury )

Anyway the total national debt was US $23.7 trillion at the end of March and is about to go on something of a tear. On the other side of the coin economic output as measured by GDP or Gross Domestic Product is about to plunge.

The WEI is currently -11.58 percent, scaled to four-quarter GDP growth, for the week ending April 25 and -10.86 percent for April 18; for reference, the WEI stood at 1.58 percent for the week ending February 29. ( New York Fed )

Or if you prefer.

The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at -9.3% for 2020:Q2.

Also the US Federal Reserve is about to get rather popular as we note how this trend will change in 2020.

In 2019, the Federal Reserve remitted a total of $54.9 billion to the Treasury, less than the $65.3 billion remitted in 2018, owing primarily to a decline in net income resulting from a decrease in average SOMA domestic securities holdings.

I guess both the US Federal Reserve and Treasury will be singing along with Prince for a while.

Money don’t matter to night
It sure didn’t matter yesterday
Just when you think you’ve got more than enough
That’s when it all up and flies away
That’s when you find out that you’re better off
Makin’ sure your soul’s alright
‘Cause money didn’t matter yesterday,
And it sure don’t matter to night

 

How much extra will the UK government borrow?

A feature of our economic life going forwards will be much higher levels of national debts. This is being driven by much higher levels of government spending which will lead to a surge in fiscal deficits. That is before we even get to lower tax receipts a hint of which has been provided by Markit with its PMI reports this morning.

Simple historical comparisons of the PMI with GDP indicate that the April survey reading is consistent with GDP falling at a quarterly rate of approximately 7%. The actual decline in GDP could be even greater, in part because the PMI excludes the vast majority of the self-employed and the retail sector, which have been especially hard-hit by
the COVID-19 containment measures

I think you can see for yourselves what that will do to tax receipts and that will add to the falls in revenue from the oil market. After all how do you tax a negative price? As an aside Markit do not seem to have noticed that the economists they survey are wrong pretty much every month. They seem to have to learn that every month.

The UK in March

Whilst the world has moved on we can see that the UK government was already spending more before the virus pandemic fully arrived,

Borrowing (public sector net borrowing excluding public sector banks, PSNB ex) in March 2020 was £3.1 billion, £3.9 billion more than in March 2019; the highest borrowing in any March since 2016.

A further push was given to an existing trend.

Borrowing in the latest full financial year was £48.7 billion, £9.3 billion more than in the previous financial year.

Because of the situation we find ourselves in let us in this instance peer into the single month data for March.

In March 2020, central government receipts fell by 0.7% compared with March 2019 to £67.2 billion, including £47.5 billion in tax revenue.

That is a change and the actual situation is likely to be worse due to the way the numbers are collected.

These figures are subject to some uncertainty, as the accrued measures of both Value Added Tax (VAT) and Corporation Tax contain some forecast cash receipts data and are liable to revision when actual cash receipts data are received.

By contrast spending soared.

In March 2020, central government spent £72.6 billion, an increase of 11.2% on March 2019.

Also one big new scheme is not yet included.

We have not yet included central government expenditure associated with the coronavirus job retention scheme, some of which is expected to relate to March 2020.

Tucked away in the detail was quite a shift in the structure of the UK public-sector.

In March 2020, central government transferred £13.6 billion to local government in the form of a current grant. This was £4.2 billion more than in March 2019, is mainly to fund additional support because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and represents the highest March transfer on record.

There was also a rise in social benefits from £8.2 billion to £9.2 billion in another signal of a slowing economy.

One warning I would make is that Stamp Duty receipts at £1 billion are supposed to be the same as March 2019, does anyway believe that?

Looking Ahead

This morning also brought some strong hints as to what the UK government thinks.

The UK Debt Management Office (DMO) is today publishing a revision to its 2020-21 financing remit covering the period May to July 2020. In line with the revision to the DMO’s financing remit announced by HM Treasury today, the DMO is planning to raise £180 billion during the May to July 2020 (inclusive) period, exclusively through issuance of conventional and index-linked gilts.

They are hoping that it will prove to be one higher burst of borrowing.

In order to meet the immediate financing needs resulting from the government’s response to COVID-19, it is expected that a significantly higher proportion of total gilt
sales in 2020-21 will take place in the first four months of the financial year (April to July 2020).

If we look back we can see that they planned to issue some £156 billion in the whole financial year previously whereas now we plan to issue some £225 billion by the end of July. This is because we are already issuing some £45 billion this month.

We can add to this flashes of examples of where some of that money will be spent. Here is the Department of Work and Pensions or DWP from yesterday.

Around 1.8 million new benefits claims have been made since mid-March – over 1.5 million for #UniversalCredit

Also the amounts are now higher.

We’ve increased #UniversalCredit, making people up to £1,040 better off a year and are doing all we can to make it as straightforward as possible for people to claim a benefit, easing some of the worry that many are facing right now:

National Debt

As we will not be seeing numbers this low again and we need some sort of benchmark here we go.

At the end of March 2020, the amount of money owed by the public sector to the private sector stood at approximately £1.8 trillion (or £1,804.0 billion), which equates to 79.7% of gross domestic product (GDP). Though debt has increased by £30.5 billion on March 2019, the ratio of debt to GDP has decreased by 1.0 percentage point, as UK GDP has grown at a faster rate than debt over this period.

As you can see the increase in debt over the past year will be happening each month now and with GDP falling the ratio will sing along with Fat Larry’s Band.

Oh zoom, you chased the day away
High noon, the moon and stars came out to play
Then my whole wide world went zoom
(High as a rainbow as we went flyin’ by)

Comment

We are seeing fiscal policy being pretty much dully deployed. If we consider this from economic theory we are seeing the government attempting to step in and replace private sector spending declines. That means not only will the deficit balloon but the number we compare it too ( GDP) will drop substantially as well. We should avoid too much panic on the initial numbers as the real issue going forwards will be the long-term level of economic activity we can maintain which we will only find out in dribs and drabs. One example has been announced this morning as the construction company Taylor Wimpey has announced it will restart work in early May.

Next comes the issue of spurious accuracy which has two factors. There are issues with the public finances data at the best of times but right now they are there in spades. To be fair to our official statisticians they have made the latter point. So messages like this from the Resolution Foundation are pie in the sky.

But the Government’s financing needs could reach as high as £500bn if the lockdown last for six months, or £750bn if it last for 12 months.

We struggle to look three months ahead and a year well it could be anything.

One thing we should welcome is that the UK continues to be able to borrow cheaply. Yesterday £6.8 billion of some 2024 and 2027 Gilts and had to pay 0.12% and 0.16% respectively. So in real terms we could sing along with Stevie Nicks.

What’s cheaper than free?
You and me

That brings me to the other side of this particular balance sheet which is the rate at which the Bank of England is buying Gilts to implicitly finance all of this. By the end of today it will be another £13.5 billion for this week alone. I have given my views on this many times so let me hand you over to the view of Gertjan Vlieghe of the Bank of England from earlier.

I propose that these types of discussions about monetary financing definitions are not useful. One person
might say we have never done monetary finance, another might say we are always doing monetary finance,
and in some sense both are correct.

Nobody seems to have told him about the spell when UK inflation want above 5% post the initial burst of QE.

 Instead, the post-crisis recovery was generally characterised by inflation being too weak, rather
than too strong.

Anyway I dread to think what The Sun would do if it got hold of this bit.

If we were the central bank of the Weimar Republic or Zimbabwe, the mechanical transactions on our
balance sheet would be similar to what is actually happening in the UK right now

The Investing Channel

 

 

Spend! Spend! Spend!

The weekend just passed was one which saw one of the economic dams of our time creak and then look like it had broken. This was due to the announcements coming out of Germany which as regular readers will be aware has a debt brake and had been planning for a fiscal surplus.

Under Germany’s so-called debt brake rule, Berlin is allowed to take on new debt of no more than 0.35% of economic output, unless the country is hit by a natural disaster or other emergencies. ( Reuters)

Actually the economic slow down in 2019 caused by the trade war was pulling it back towards fiscal balance and what it taking place right now would have caused a deficit anyway. But now it seems that the emergency clause above is being activated.

Germany is readying an emergency budget worth more than 150 billion euros ($160 billion) to shore up jobs and businesses at risk from the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak, the finance minister said on Saturday.

Government sources told Reuters hundreds of billions in additional backing for the private sector would be raised, as Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said a ceiling on new government debt enshrined in the country’s constitution would be suspended due to the exceptional circumstances.

Putting that into context it is around 5% of Germany’s GDP in 2019 and I am stating the numbers like that because we have little idea of current GDP other than the fact there will be a sizeable drop. It then emerged that there was more to the package.

According to senior officials and a draft law seen by Reuters, the package will include a supplementary government budget of 156 billion euros, 100 billion euros for an economic stability fund that can take direct equity stakes in companies, and 100 billion euros in credit to public-sector development bank KfW for loans to struggling businesses.

On top of that, the stability fund will offer 400 billion euros in loan guarantees to secure corporate debt at risk of defaulting, taking the volume of the overall package to more than 750 billion euros.

As you can see we end up with intervention on a grand scale with the total being over 22% of last year’s economic output or GDP. This will lead to quite a change in the national debt dynamics which looked on their way to qualifying under the Stability and Growth Pact or Maastricht rules. This is because it was 61.2% of GDP at the end of the third quarter of last year which now looks a case of so near and so far.

Bond Market

There were times when such an audacious fiscal move would have the bond market creaking and yields rising. In fact the ten-year yield has dropped slightly this morning to -0.37%. Indeed even the thirty-year yield is at -0.01% so Germany is either being paid to borrow or is paying effectively nothing.

This is being driven by the purchases of the ECB or European Central Bank and as the Bundesbank seems not to have updated its pages then by my maths we will be seeing around 30 billion Euros per month of German purchases. Also let me remind you that the risk is not quite what you might think.

This implies that 20% of the asset purchases under the PSPP will continue to be subject to a regime of risk sharing, while 80% of the purchases will be excluded from risk sharing. ( Bundesbank)

The situation gets more complex as we note Isabel Schnabel of the ECB Governing Council put this out on social media over the weekend.

The capital key remains the benchmark for sovereign bond purchases, but flexibility is needed in order to tackle the situation appropriately.

That will be particularly welcomed by Italy as other ECB policy makers try to undo the damage created by the “bond spreads” comment of President Lagarde. Although you may note that most of the risk will be with the Bank of Italy.

Also as a German she did a bit of cheer leading for her home country.

The success of our measures hinges on what happens in fiscal policy. This is a European issue which needs a European solution. No country can be indifferent to what happens in another European country – not only because of solidarity, but also for economic reasons.

Some might think she has quite a cheek on the indifference point as that is exactly how countries like Greece described Germany. Still I also think the ECB has plenty of tools but maybe not from the same perspective.

The ECB is in the comfortable position of having a large set of tools, none of which has been used to its full extent

QE

It was only last Thursday that I was pointing out that I expected QE to go even more viral and last night it arrived at what is in geographical terms one of the more isolated countries.

The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has decided to implement a Large Scale Asset Purchase programme (LSAP) of New Zealand government bonds……..The Committee has decided to implement a LSAP programme of New Zealand government bonds. The programme will purchase up to $30 billion of New Zealand government bonds, across a range of maturities, in the secondary market over the next 12 months. The programme aims to provide further support to the economy, build confidence, and keep interest rates on government bonds low.

You can almost hear the cries of “The Precious! The Precious!”

Heightened risk aversion has caused a rise in interest rates on long-term New Zealand government bonds and the cost of bank funding.

Which follows on from this last week.

“To support credit availability, the Bank has decided to delay the start date of increased capital requirements for banks by 12 months – to 1 July 2021. Should conditions warrant it next year, the Reserve Bank will consider whether further delays are necessary.”

This reminds me of one of my themes from back in the day that bank capital requirement changes were delayed almost hoping for something to turn up. Albeit of course they had no idea a pandemic would occur.

Let us move on noting for reference purposes that the ten-year All Black yield is 1.46%.

The US

There are some extraordinary numbers on the way here according to CNBC.

Administration statements over the past few days point to something of the order of $2 trillion in economic juice. By contrast, then-President Barack Obama ushered an $831 billion package through during the financial crisis.

Indeed they just keep coming.

That type of fiscal burden comes as the government already has chalked up $624.5 billion in red ink through just the first five months of the fiscal year, which started in October. That spending pace extrapolated through the full fiscal year would lead to a $1.5 trillion deficit, and that’s aside from any of the spending to combat the corona virus.

At the moment we know something is coming but not the exact size as debate is ongoing in Congress but we can set some benchmarks.

A $2 trillion deficit, which seems conservative given the current scenario, would push deficit to GDP to 9.4%. A $3 trillion shortfall, which seems like not much of a stretch, would take the level to 14%.

Comment

The headline today for those unaware was from Viv Nicholson back in the day after her husband had won the pools. But we see something of a torrent of fiscal action on its way oiled by an extraordinary amount of sovereign bond buying by central banks. For example the Bank of England will buy an extra £5.1 billion today in addition to its ongoing replacement of its holdings of a matured bond.

On the other side of the coin is the scale of the economic contraction ahead. Below are the numbers for the German IFO which we can compare with the fiscal response above albeit that I suggest we treat them as a broad brush.

“If the economy comes to a standstill for two months, costs can range from 255 to 495 billion euros, depending on the scenario. Economic output then shrinks by 7.2 to 11.2 percentage points a year, ”says Fuest. In the best scenario, it is assumed that economic output will drop to 59.6 percent for two months, recover to 79.8 percent in the third month and finally reach 100 percent again in the fourth month. “With three months of partial closure, the costs already reach 354 to 729 billion euros, which is a 10.0 to 20.6 percentage point loss in growth,” says Fuest.

Podcast

 

 

Fiscal Policy will now take centre stage as France has shown

One of our themes is now fully in play. We have observed over the past year or two a shift in establishment thinking towards fiscal policy. This had both bad and good elements. The bad was that it reflected a reality where all the extraordinary monetary policies had proved to be much weaker than the the claims of their supporters and even worse for them were running out of road. The current crisis has reminded us of this as we have had, for example, two emergency moves from the US Federal Reserve already, in its role as a de facto world central bank.

A more positive factor in this has been the change we have been observing in bond yields. We can get a handle on this by looking back at the world’s biggest which is the US Treasury Bond market. Back in the autumn of 2018 when worlds like “normalisation” ans phrases like “Quantitative Tightening” were in vogue the benchmark ten year yield saw peaks around 3.15%. Basically it then spent most of a year halving before rallying back to 1.9% at the end of last year and beginning of this. But this move took place in spite of the fact that we have the Trump Tax Boost which was estimated to have an impact of the order of one trillion US Dollars. I mention this because as well as the obvious another theme was in play which was that the Ivory Towers were wrong-footed yet again. The Congressional Budget Office has had to keep reducing its estimate of debt costs as the rises it expected turned into falls. Also whilst I am on this subject I am not sure this from January is going to turn out so well!

In 2020, inflation-adjusted GDP is projected to grow by 2.2 percent, largely because
of continued strength in consumer spending and a rebound in business fixed investment. Output is
projected to be higher than the economy’s maximum sustainable output this year to a greater degree
than it has been in recent years, leading to higher inflation and interest rates after a period in which
both were low, on average.

Best of luck with that.

Meanwhile we have seen a fair bit of volatility in bond yields but the US ten-year is 0.8% as I type this. Even the long bond ( 30 years) is a relatively mere 1.4%.

Thus borrowing is very cheap and only on Sunday night the US Federal Reserve arrived in town and did its best to keep it so.

 over coming months the Committee will increase its holdings of Treasury securities by at least $500 billion and its holdings of agency mortgage-backed securities by at least $200 billion.

Step Forwards France

There was an announcement yesterday evening by President Macron which was announced in gushing terms by Faisal Islam of the BBC.

The €300 billion euro fiscal support package announced by Macron for the French economy, to ensure businesses dont go bust and taxes/ charges suspended, is worth about 12% of its GDP – in UK terms that would mean £265 billion…

This morning the French Finance Minster has given some different numbers.

French measures to help companies and employees weather the coronavirus storm will be worth some €45bn, the country’s finance minister Bruno Le Maire said on Tuesday. ( Financial Times)

He went on to give some details of how it would be spent.

He told RTL radio the package of financial aid, which includes payments to temporarily redundant workers and deferments of tax and social security bills, would help “the economy to restart once the corona virus epidemic is behind us”. Previously he had referred to “tens of billions of euros”.

Now let us look at the previous position for France. We had previously note that France was in the middle of a fiscal nudge anyway as the first half of 2019 saw quarterly deficits of 3.2% and 3.1% of GDP respectively, The third quarter was back within the Maastricht rules as it fell to 2.5% of GDP but we still had a boost overall and as you can see below the national debt to GDP ratio went over 100%

At the end of Q3 2019, Maastricht’s debt reached €2,415.1 billion, up €39.6 billion in comparison to Q2 2019. It accounted for 100.4% of gross domestic product (GDP), 0.9 points higher than last quarter. Net public debt increased more moderately (€+15.0 billion) and accounted for 90.3 % of GDP.

Of course debt to GDP numbers have gone out of fashion partly because the “bond vigilantes” so rarely turn up these days. There was a time that a debt to GDP ratio above 100% would have them flying in but they restricted their flying well before the Corona Virus made such a move fashionable. The French ten-year yield is up this morning but at 0.27% is hardly a deterrent in itself to more fiscal action. However whilst it is still as low as it has ever been before this stage of the crisis a thirty-year yield of 0.8% is up a fair bit on the 0.2% we saw only last week. Another factor in play is this.

Third, we decided to add a temporary envelope of additional net asset purchases of €120 billion until the end of the year, ensuring a strong contribution from the private sector purchase programmes. ( ECB )

Whilst only a proportion of the buying we can expect monthly purchases of French government bonds to rise from the previous 4 billion Euros or so and accordingly the total to push on from 434.4 billion. Also whilst President Lagarde was willing to express a haughty disdain for “bond spreads” I suspect the former French Finance Minister would be charging to the rescue of France if necessary.

One feature of French life is that taxes are relatively high.

The tax-to-GDP ratio varies significantly between Member States, with the highest share of taxes and social
contributions in percentage of GDP in 2018 being recorded in France (48.4%), Belgium (47.2%) and Denmark
(45.9%), followed by Sweden (44.4%), Austria (42.8%), Finland (42.4%) and Italy (42.0%). ( Eurostat )

Short Selling Bans

France along with some other European nations announced short-selling bans this morning which stop investors selling shares they do not own.

#BREAKING French market regulator bans short-selling on 92 stocks: statement ( @afp )

I pointed out that these things have a track record of failure

These sort of things cause a market rally in the short-term but usually wear off in a day or two.

The initial rally to over 4000 on the CAC 40 index soon wore off and we are now unchanged on the day having at one point being 100 points off. Of course some policy work will be writing a paper reminding us of the counterfactual.

Comment

I am expecting a lot more fiscal action in the next few days. The French template is for a move a bit less than 2% of GDP. That will of course rise as GDP falls.

The French government was assuming the economy would shrink about 1 per cent this year, instead of growing more than 1 per cent as previously predicted, Mr Le Maire said. ( Financial Times)

Frankly that looks very optimistic right now. The situation is fast moving as doe example Airbus which only yesterday expected to remain open announced this today.

Following the implementation of new measures in France and Spain to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, Airbus has decided to temporarily pause production and assembly activities at its French and Spanish sites across the Company for the next four days. This will allow sufficient time to implement stringent health and safety conditions in terms of hygiene, cleaning and self-distancing, while improving the efficiency of operations under the new working conditions.

Let me now shift to the other part of the package.

Mr Le Maire said ammunition to prop up the economy also included €300bn of French state guarantees for bank loans to businesses and €1tn of such guarantees from European institutions. ( FT )

The problem is how will this work in practice? The numbers sound grand but for example the Bank of England announced up to £290 billion for SMEs only last week which everyone seems to have forgotten already! One bit that seemed rather devoid of reality to me at the time was this.

The release of the countercyclical capital buffer will support up to £190bn of bank lending to businesses. That is equivalent to 13 times banks’ net lending to businesses in 2019.

Returning to pure fiscal policy I am expecting more of it and would suggest it is aimed at two areas.

  1. Supporting individuals who through not fault of their own have seen incomes plunge and maybe disappear.
  2. Similar for small businesses and indeed larger ones which are considered vital.

Just for clarity that does not mean for banks and the housing market where such monies have a habit of ending up.

Meanwhile a country which badly needs help is still suffering from the “ECB not here to close bond spreads” of Christine Lagarde last week as its ten-year yield has risen to 2.3%. Her open mouth operation has undone a lot of ECB buying.

Italy faces yet more economic hardship

Italy is the country in Europe that is being most affected by the Corona Virus and according to the Football Italia website is dealing with it in Italian fashion.

In yet another change of plan, it’s reported tomorrow’s Juventus-Milan Coppa Italia semi-final will be called off due to the Corona virus outbreak.

In fact that may just be the start of it.

News agency ANSA claim the Government is considering a suspension of all sporting events in Italy for a month due to the Coronavirus outbreak, as another 27 people died over the last 24 hours.

Thus the sad human cost is being added to by disruption elsewhere which reminds us that only last week we noted that tourism represents about 13% of the Italian economy. Again sticking with recent news there cannot be much demand for Italian cars from China right now.

China has also suffered its biggest monthly drop in car sales ever, in another sign of economic pain.

New auto sales slumped by 80% year-on-year in February, the China Passenger Car Association reports. ( The Guardian )

Actually that,believe it or not is a minor improvement on what it might have been.

Astonishingly, that’s an improvement on the 92% slump recorded in the first two weeks of February. It underlines just how much economic activity has been wiped out by Beijing’s efforts to contain the coronavirus.

Backing this up was a services PMI reading of 26.5 in China and if I recall correctly even Greece only went into the low thirties.

GDP

The outlook here looks grim according to the Confederation of Italian industry.

ITALY‘S BUSINESS LOBBY CONFINDUSTRIA SEES ITALIAN GDP FALLING IN Q1, CONTRACTING MORE STRONGLY IN Q2 DUE TO CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK ( @DeltaOne )

This comes on the back of this morning’s final report on the last quarter of 2019.

In the fourth quarter of 2019, gross domestic product (GDP), expressed in chain-linked values ​​with reference year 2015, adjusted for calendar effects and seasonally adjusted, decreased by 0.3% compared to the previous quarter and increased by 0.1 % against the fourth quarter of 2018.

That is actually an improvement for the annual picture as it was previously 0% but the follow through for this year is not exactly optimistic.

The carry-over annual GDP growth for 2020 is equal to -0.2%.

That was not the only piece of bad news as the detail of the numbers is even worse than it initially appeared.

Compared to previous quarter, final consumption expenditure decreased by 0.2 per cent, gross fixed capital formation by 0.1 per cent and imports by 1.7 per cent, whereas exports increased by 0.3 per cent.

There is a small positive in exports rising in a trade war but the domestic numbers especially the fall in imports are really rather poor. If you crunch the numbers then the lower level of imports boosted GDP by 0.5% on a quarterly basis.

The long-term chart provided with the data is also rather chilling. It shows an Italian quarterly economic output which peaked at around 453 billion Euros in early 2008 which then fell to around 420 billion. So far so bad, but then it gets worse as Italy has just recorded 430.1 billion so nowhere near a recovery. All these are numbers chain-linked to 2015.

Markit Business Survey

This feels like something from a place far, far away but this is what they have reported this morning.

Italian services firms recorded a further increase in business activity during February, extending the current sequence of growth to nine months. Moreover, the expansion was the quickest since October last year, as order book volumes rose at the fastest rate for four months. Signs of improved demand led firms to take on more staff and job creation accelerated to a moderate pace.

They go further with this.

The Composite Output Index* posted 50.7 in February, up
from 50.4 in January, to signal a back-to-back expansion in
Italian private sector output. The reading signalled a modest monthly increase in business activity.

Mind you even they seem rather unsure about it all.

“Nonetheless, Italian private sector growth remains
historically subdued”

You mean a number which has been “historically subdued” is now a sort of historically subdued squared?

ECB

This is rather stuck between a rock and a hard place. It has already cut interest-rates to -0.5% and is doing some 20 billion Euros of QE bond buying a month. Thus it has little scope to respond which is presumably why there are reports it did not discuss monetary policy on its emergency conference call yesterday. In spite of that there are expectations of a cut to -0.6% at its meeting next week.

Has it come to this? ( The Streets)

As you can see this would be an example of to coin a phrase fiddling while Rome Burns. Does anybody seriously believe a 0.1% interest-rate cut would really make any difference when we have had so many much larger cuts already? Indeed if they do as CNBC has just suggested they will look even sillier as why did they not join the US Federal Reserve yesterday?

ECB and BOE expected to take immediate policy action on coronavirus impact.

Those in charge of the Euro area must so regret leaving the ECB in the hands of two politicians. No doubt it seemed clever at the time with Mario Draghi essentially setting policy for them. But now things have changed.

Fiscal Policy

This is the new toy for central bankers and there is a new Euro area vibe for this.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire says the euro-area must prepare fiscal stimulus to use if the economic situation deteriorates due to the coronavirus outbreak ( Bloomberg)

That is a case of suggesting what you are doing because as we have previously noted France had a fiscal stimulus of around 1% of GDP last year. But of course back when she was the French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde was an enthusiast “shock and awe” for exactly the reverse being applied to Greece and others.

The ECB has already oiled the wheels for some fiscal expansionism by the way its QE bond buying has reduced bond yields. It could expand its monthly purchases again but would run into “trouble,trouble,trouble” in Germany and the Netherlands, pretty quickly.

Comment

If we return to a purely Italian perspective we see some of the policy elements are already in play. For example the ten-year yield is a mere 0.94% although things get more awkward as the period over which it has fallen has also seen a fall in economic growth. The fiscal policy change below is relatively minor.

Italy is planning to hike its 2020 budget deficit target to 2.4% of its GDP from 2.2% to provide the economy with the funds it needs to battle the impact of coronavirus outbreak, Reuters reported on Monday, citing senior officials familiar with the matter.

By contrast according to CNBC the Corona Virus situation continues to deteriorate.

Italy is now the worst-affected country from the coronavirus outside Asia, overtaking Iran in terms of the number of deaths and infections from the virus.

The death toll in Italy jumped to 79 on Tuesday, up from an official total of 52 on Monday. As of Wednesday morning, there are 2,502 cases of the virus in Italy, according to Italian media reports that are updated ahead of the daily official count, published by Italy’s Civil Protection Agency every evening.

Now what about a regular topic the Italian banks? From Axa.

and banks such as Unicredit and Intesa have offered “payment holidays” to some of their affected borrowers.

The UK is beginning to see its fiscal boost take shape

The mood music has discernably changed for fiscal policy. well apart from Greece which is being forced to run surpluses and to some extent Italy. Many establishments ( the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund for example) have switched from pressing for austerity to almost begging for fiscal action. If we switch to the UK we see that the same forces at play with the addition of a government that looks like it wants to be fiscally active. Even the BBC has caught on although oddly the example on BBC Breakfast this morning showed the super sewer for London which was planned some years back. Although on the upside it does seem to be a positive example as it is progressing well and seems to be on budget.

UK Gilt Market

Developments here are a major factor in changing the consensus views above and can be taken as a guide to much of the word where Middle of the Road in the 1970s were prescient about future government borrowing.

Ooh wee, chirpy chirpy cheep cheep
Woke up this mornin’ and my momma was gone
Ooh wee, chirpy chirpy cheep cheep
Chirpy chirpy cheep cheep chirp

In terms of economic impact we look at the five-year yield which is 0.45% and the benchmark these days is the ten-year which is 0.57%.As you can see these are low levels and there is a hint in that they are below the Bank of England Bank Rate. Oh and for newer readers who are wondering why I pick out the five-year that is because it influences most of the mortgage market via its impact on foxed-rate ones. But for infrastructure projects for the long-term the relevant yield in my opinion is the fifty-year one which as I have been reporting for a while has been spending some time below 1% and is 0.9% as I type this.

As you can see it is not only historically low but outright low and this is confirmed if we subtract any likely level of inflation to get a real yield. Some of you may recall the economist Jonathan Portes came on here some years back to suggest we should borrow via index-linked Gilts whereas I argued for conventional ones. You know where you stand ( borrowing very cheaply) and do not run an inflation risk.

As you can see this does begin a case for infrastructure investment because the hurdle in terms of financing is low.

Today’s Data

Last month I pointed out that the revenue figures for the UK economy were more positive than the GDP ones and that theme continues.

self-assessed Income Tax receipts in January 2020 were £16.2 billion, an increase of £1.5 billion compared with January 2019; this is the highest January on record (records began in January 2000)

Care is needed as some payments for the income tax season are delayed into February but so far so good. Although it is also true that VAT receipts were flat so we apparently had more income but did not spend it. Also the numbers were boosted by a 991 million Euro fine for Airbus even though it will not be fully paid until 2023 in another example of these numbers being if we are polite, somewhat bizarre.

Switching now to expenditure and continuing the fiscal boost theme there was this.

Departmental expenditure on goods and services in January 2020 increased by £2.1 billion compared with January 2019, including a £0.8 billion increase in expenditure on staff costs and a £1.2 billion increase in the purchase of goods and services.

Also there was this.

The UK contributions to the European Union (EU) in January 2020 were £2.1 billion, an increase of £1.1 billion on January 2019. This increase is largely because of the profile of 2020 payments made to the EU by all member states rather than a reflection of any budgetary increase.

As you can see it will wash out as time passes but for now makes the numbers worse and in total we saw this.

Borrowing (public sector net borrowing excluding public sector banks, PSNB ex) in January 2020 was in surplus by £9.8 billion, £2.1 billion less of a surplus than in January 2019.

If we now switch to the trend we see this.

Borrowing in the current financial year-to-date (April 2019 to January 2020) was £44.8 billion, £5.8 billion more than in the same period the previous year.

Economic Growth

The number above gives us a flavour of the fiscal boost taking place in the UK but not the full flavour. This is because the improving economy will have meant that the number should be lower. Now we have not had much economic growth but we have seen employment and wages rise. Looking ahead that seems set to continue if this morning’s flash Markit PMI is any guide.

Flash UK Composite Output Index
Feb: 53.3, Unchanged (Jan final: 53.3)

Their view on this seems rather mean of 50 truly is the benchmark of no-growth.

“The recent return to growth signalled by the manufacturing and services PMIs provides a clear indication that the UK economy is no longer flat on its back, with our GDP nowcast pointing to 0.2% growth
through the first quarter of the year.

Also after what happened to the manufacturing PMI in Germany earlier ( a deterioration in supply times believe it or not boosted the index) we need to treat manufacturing PMIs with even more caution.

National Debt

The economic growth situation comes in here too as we look at the numbers.

At the end of January 2020, the amount of money owed by the public sector to the private sector stood at approximately £1.8 trillion (or £1,798.7 billion), which equates to 79.6% of gross domestic product (GDP) (the value of all the goods and services currently produced by the UK economy in a year).

In absolute terms we owe more but in relative terms we owe less.

Though debt has increased by £41.4 billion on January 2019, the ratio of debt to GDP has decreased by 0.7 percentage points, implying that UK GDP is currently growing at a faster rate than debt.

Comment

Today has brought more evidence of the fiscal boost being seen by the UK which is more than the headlines suggest because the deficit would have continued to fall otherwise. In terms of scale the Bank of England has estimated the impact of the boost to be around 0.4% of GDP or around half that deployed by France last year.

There are various contexts of which the first is that it is the QE era and its effect on government bond yields that makes this all look so affordable. That is another reason to match any infrastructure spending with very long-dated Gilts, as otherwise there is a risk should yields rise. Rather curiously some commentators seem to be expecting the return of the “bond vigilantes” in the UK. This would be curious because as a species they seem to be nearly extinct. After all their return would no doubt see even more Bank of England QE purchases. Perhaps these commentators are trying to justify their own past forecasts.

Another context is that the debt continues to pile up and in terms of a capital issue that does matter. For example I think Greece has been an example of this where the size of the debt has weighted down the economy in addition to the austerity. So even though annual costs are low, that is not the only metric we should watch.

 

 

UK tax receipts hint that economic growth is better than GDP tells us

Today the UK Public Finances are in the news and that is before we even get to the data release. This is because there has been a flurry of announcements on transport policy and the railways in particular. According to LBC we should soon get some clarity on out subject from a couple of days ago.

The Transport Secretary said he was making the biggest infrastructure decision taken in the UK in peacetime and promised it in “weeks rather than months”.

Mr Shapps told LBC: “We are nearing the conclusion. I am now in the final stages of gathering all the data together for HS2, so it’s a mega decision for this country.

“It’s maybe the biggest infrastructure project, certainly in Europe, and the biggest this country’s ever taken, certainly in peacetime. So we’ve got to get that right.

Bigger than when the Victorians built the railways? As opposed to one line! Also there were some announcements to help deal with what has been the headliner of the problems with UK railways.

Network Rail is being investigated over its poor service on routes used by troubled train operators Northern and TransPennine Express.

The government-owned firm has been put “on a warning” for routes in the North West and central region of England, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) said.

The regulator said it was “not good enough” in those areas and was probing Network Rail’s contribution to delays.

Network Rail apologised for “very poor service” in the Midlands and the North. (BBC )

The solution to that problem according to the Transport Minister is to build a new railway for somewhere above £10 billion and in the meantime spend some £2.9 billion on improving the existing line. That is rather vague as it lacks timescales and will we be making improvements just in time to close them? But the issue here for the public finances is that the UK government is more willing to spend than it was. There is also an issue as to why if traffic on these railways has expanded so much why money has not been spent along the way to help it cope? That of course goes much wider as we note energy infrastructure where yet again we see an enormously expensive project after years and indeed decades of little action.

Today’s Data

We open with something against the recent trend.

Borrowing (public sector net borrowing excluding public sector banks, PSNB ex) in December 2019 was £4.8 billion, £0.2 billion less than in December 2018.

Maybe it is just a quirk that we borrowed less as the monthly numbers are volatile. But we do perhaps get a little more from this.

Central government receipts in December 2019 increased by £2.2 billion (or 3.7%) to £62.2 billion, compared with December 2018, while total central government expenditure increased by £1.7 billion (or 2.7%) to £63.9 billion.

As you can see the rise in receipts even if we use the highest inflation measure ( RPI) hints at a better growth rate than we are expecting from the GDP data. This does tie in with the employment and wages numbers we looked at yesterday. But only in a broad sweep because of this.

Central government receipts were boosted by increases in National Insurance contributions (NICs) of £0.5 billion, interest and dividends receipts of £0.3 billion, and across many of the taxes on production (such as Value Added Tax (VAT), tobacco duty and stamp duty) totalling £1.1 billion.

Taxes on income and wealth saw a small reduction (less than £0.0 billion), with an increase in petroleum revenue tax of £0.3 billion being offset by decreases in both Corporation Tax and Income Tax receipts of £0.3 billion and £0.1 billion respectively.

The highlighted part is because after yesterday’s data you might reasonably expect higher income tax payments and I was asked this question yesterday. Yet as you can see we got 0! It may be that due to the changes in the Personal Allowance that the National Insurance numbers are a better measure. So my answer goes from a no, to definitely,maybe.

There is also some awkwardness with the production receipts when we are being told production is struggling and in the latter part of 2019 retail moved from growth to decline. So let us note that these numbers hint at a stronger economy than we otherwise would have thought.

So far you might reasonably be wondering where the fiscal stimulus has gone? Well if you add the number below back in you can see that the deficit number was in fact driven by lower inflation rather than lower general government spending.

Interest payments on the government’s outstanding debt decreased by £1.1 billion, compared with December 2018.

Perspective

If we look back we see stronger signs of a fiscal boost than seen in December alone.

Borrowing in the current financial year-to-date (April 2019 to December 2019) was £54.6 billion, £4.0 billion more than in the same period last year.

Although care is needed as the numbers well they keep seeing ch-ch-changes.

ONS revisions again significantly lowered estimated borrowing in the earlier months of the
financial year. Last month, borrowing was revised down by £5.2 billion for earlier months while
this month’s release reduced borrowing by a further £1 billion.  The ONS has also revised down 2018-19 borrowing by £3.3 billion in this month’s release. ( OBR last month)

Assuming the numbers are accurate we see that the rise in borrowing so far this year has not only been caused by more spending but also by weakish receipts.

In the current financial year-to-date, central government receipts grew by 2.3% on the same period last year to £548.2 billion, including £402.7 billion in tax revenue.

On that road we see again a hint of a pick-up in the economy in December.

The National Debt

This turns out to be a complex issue and the simple version is this.

Debt (public sector net debt excluding public sector banks, PSND ex) at the end of December 2019 was £1,819.0 billion (or 80.8% of gross domestic product, GDP); this is an increase of £35.5 billion (or a decrease of 0.9 percentage points) on December 2018.

Actually the Bank of England managed to make things even more complex as one of its bank subsidies ended up boosting the national debt.

Debt at the end of December 2019 excluding the Bank of England (BoE) (mainly quantitative easing) was £1,644.2 billion (or 73.0% of GDP); this is an increase of £48.0 billion (or a decrease of 0.1 percentage points) on December 2018.

Actually it was the Term Funding Scheme which was badly designed rather than QE as the release seems to realise later.

The introduction of the Term Funding Scheme (TFS) in September 2016 led to an increase in public sector net debt (PSND), as the loans provided under the scheme were not liquid assets and therefore did not net off in PSND (against the liabilities incurred in providing the loans). The TFS closed for drawdowns of further loans on 28 February 2018 with a loan liability of £127.0 billion.

Unfortunately I seem to be the only person who ever calls out the Bank of England about this.

Comment

There are three lessons from today’s numbers. The first is that there is an ongoing fiscal boost especially if we allow for the impact of lower debt costs via lower inflation ( RPI). Next we again see a hint of the UK economy being stronger than indicated by economic output or GDP if December’s receipts data are to be relied upon. However and thank you to Fraser Munro of the Office for National Statistics for replying there is always doubt as the December income tax receipts are a forecast rather than a known number.

PAYE in December is based on HMRC’s cash forecast for January so we could see a revision next month.

So the truth is that the numbers are a rather broad brush and on that theme let me end with some national debt numbers which are internationally comparable.

General government gross debt was £1,821.9 billion at the end of the financial year ending March 2019, equivalent to 84.0% of gross domestic product (GDP) and 24.0 percentage points above the reference value of 60.0% set out in the protocol on the excessive deficit procedure.

Me on The Investing Channel

 

Is the US fiscal stimulus working?

One of the problems of economics is that reality rarely works out like theory. Indeed it is rather like the military dictum that tells us that a battle plan rarely survives first contact with the enemy. However we are currently seeing the world’s largest economy giving us a worked example of the policy being pushed by central bankers. Indeed it rushed to do so as we look back to the Jackson Hole symposium in the summer of 2017.

With tight constraints on central banks, one may expect—or maybe hope for—a more active response of fiscal policy when the next recession arrives.

Back on August 29th of that year I noted a paper presented by Alan Auerbach and Yuriy Gorodnichenko which went on to tell us this.

We find that in our sample expansionary government spending shocks have not been followed by persistent increases in debt-to-GDP ratios or borrowing costs (interest rates, CDS spreads). This result obtains especially when the economy is weak. In fact, a fiscal stimulus in a weak economy may help improve fiscal sustainability along the metrics we study.

Since then those two voices have of course been joined by something of a chorus line of central bankers and their ilk. But there was somebody listening or having the same idea as in short order Donald John Trump announced his tax cuts moving us from theory to practice.

Where are we now?

Led me hand you over to CNBC from two days ago.

The U.S. fiscal deficit topped $1 trillion in 2019, the first time it has passed that level in a calendar year since 2012, according to Treasury Department figures released Monday.

The budget shortfall hit $1.02 trillion for the January-to-December period, a 17.1% increase from 2018, which itself had seen a 28.2% jump from the previous year.

There is a sort of back to the future feel about that as the US returns to levels seen as an initial result of the credit crunch. If we look at the US Treasury website it needs a slight update but gives us an overall picture.

Year-end data from the September 2019 Monthly Treasury Statement of Receipts and Outlays of the United States Government show that the deficit for FY 2019 was $984 billion, $205 billion higher than the prior year’s deficit[3]. As a percentage of GDP, the deficit was 4.6 percent, an increase from 3.8 percent in FY 2018.

So the out-turn was slightly higher but we see something a little awkward. If the US economy was booming as the Donald likes to tell us why was their a deficit in the first place and why is it rising?

We see that on the good side revenues are rising.

Governmental receipts totaled $3,462 billion in FY 2019. This was $133 billion higher than in FY 2018, an increase of 4.0 percent,

But outlays have surged.

Outlays were $4,447 billion, $339 billion above those in FY 2018, an 8.2 percent increase.

Economic Growth

Three, that’s the Magic Number
Yes, it is, it’s the magic number
Somewhere in this hip-hop soul community
Was born three: Mase, Dove and me
And that’s the magic number

It turns out that inadvertently De La Soul were on the ball about the economic growth required to make fiscal policy look successful. So there was method in the apparent madness of President Trump proclaiming that the US economy would grow at an annual rate of 3% or more. In doing so he was mimicking the numbers used in the UK,for example, after the credit crunch to flatter the fiscal outlook. Or a lot more bizarrely ( the UK does at least occasionally grow by 3%) by the current coalition government in Italy.

Switching now to looking at what did happen then as 2018 progressed things looked okay until the last quarter when the annualised growth rate barely scraped above 1%. A brief rally back to target in the opening quarter of last year was followed by this.

Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 2.1 percent in the third quarter of 2019 (table 1), according to the “third” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the second quarter, real GDP increased 2.0 percent. ( US BEA )

If we now move forwards there is this.

The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 1.1% for 2019:Q4 and 1.2% for 2020:Q1.

News from this week’s data releases decreased the nowcast for 2019:Q4 by 0.1 percentage point and left the nowcast for 2020:Q1 broadly unchanged.

Negative news from international trade data accounted for most of the decrease.

Should this turn out to be accurate then it will be damaging for the deficit because the revenue growth we observed earlier ( 4%) will fade. There is a risk of the deficit ballooning should things weaken further and outlays rise to to social spending and the like if the labour market should turn.So far it has only signalled a slowing of real wage growth.

Cost of the debt

A rising fiscal deficit means that the national debt will grow.

As deficits have swelled, so has the national debt, which is now at $23.2 trillion. ( CNBC )

Or as the Congressional Budget Office puts it.

Debt. As a result of those deficits, federal debt held by the public is projected to grow steadily, from 79 percent of GDP in 2019 to 95 percent in 2029—its highest level since just after World War II. ( care is needed here as it only counts debt held by the public not the total)

But as I pointed out back in August 2017 the baying pack of bond vigilantes seem soundly muzzled these days.

 So we have seen central banks intervening in fiscal policy via a reduction in bond yields something which government’s try to keep quiet. We have individual instances of bond yield soaring such as Venezuela but the last few years have seen central banking victories and defeats for the vigilantes.

So as a consequence we find ourselves in an era of “Not QE” asset purchases and more importantly for today’s purposes a long bond ( 30 year) yield of 2.25% or less than half of what it was at times in 2011. So the debt has grown but each unit is cheap.

The government’s net interest costs are also anticipated to
grow in 2019, increasing by $47 billion (or 14 percent),
to $372 billion.

This means that the total costs are much lower than would have been expected back in the day.

Comment

Has it worked? Party so far in that the economic outcome in the US was better than that in the UK, Europe and Japan. But the “winning” as President Trump likes to put it faded and now we see that economic growth at an expected just over 1% is rather similar to the rest of us except the fiscal deficit and national debt are higher. So whilst it was nice now we look ahead to a situation where it could become a problem. I do not mean in the old-fashioned way of rising bond yields because let’s face it “Not QE” would become “Not bond buying” to get them back lower.

But if you keep raising the debt you need economic growth and should the present malaise continue then the US will underperform the CBO forecasts which expect this.

After 2019, consumer spending and purchases of goods and services by federal, state, and local governments
are projected to grow at a slower pace, and annual output growth is projected to slow—averaging
1.8 percent over the 2020–2023 period—as real output returns to its historical relationship with
potential output.

There is also another problem which the CBO has inadvertently revealed showing that the certainty with which some speak is always wrong.

The largest factor contributing to that change
is that CBO revised its forecast of interest rates downward, which lowered its projections of net interest
outlays by $1.4 trillion.

So the fiscal stimulus has helped so far but now the hard yards begin and they will get a lot harder in any further slow down. In the end it is all about the economic growth.

The Investing Channel