The Bank of England is not “paralysed” on interest-rates

From time to time we have the opportunity to observe the spinning efforts of the house journal of the Bank of England. So without further ado let me hand you over to the Financial Times.

Bank of England ‘paralysed’ on rates by Brexit uncertainty.

The first thought is which way?But then we get filled in.

Turmoil of EU departure constrains policymakers despite tight labour market.

So up it is then, but of course that brings us to territory which is rather well trodden. You see the Bank of England has raised Bank Rate a mere two times in the last eleven years! Thus the concept of it being paralysed by Brexit prospects is a little hard to take. Whereas on the other side of the coin it was able to cut interest-rates from the 5.75% of the summer of 2007 to the emergency rate of 0.5% very quickly including a reduction of 1.5%. That reduction was twice the current Bank Rate and six times the size of the 0.5% rises. Also we note that the panic rate cut of August 2016 not only happened quickly but means that the net interest-rate increase since the comment below has been a mere 0.25%.

This has implications for the timing, pace and degree of Bank Rate increases.
There’s already great speculation about the exact timing of the first rate hike and this decision is becoming
more balanced.
It could happen sooner than markets currently expect.

That was Governor Mark Carney at Mansion House in June 2014 and we now know that “sooner than markets expect” turned out to be more than four years before Bank Rate rose above the 0.5% it was then. But I do not recall the FT telling us about paralysis then about our “rock star” central banker.

The case for an interest-rate rise

There is one relief as we do not get a mention of the woefully wrong output gap concept. But we do get this.

Unless the UK’s sub-par productivity improves, the BoE has argued, unemployment cannot remain at current lows without wage growth feeding consumer prices. The latest data showed the labour market tightening again with employment at a record high and wage growth back to pre-crisis levels. “If they further home in on labour market trends, it will be a clear steer that they have a bias to tighten,” said David Owen, chief European economist at Jefferies, who thinks market pricing currently underestimates the likelihood of UK interest rates rising.

There are two main issues with the argument presented. The first is the productivity assumption where the Bank of England now assumes it has a cap based on a “speed limit” for the economy of an annual rate of growth of 1.5%. It’s assumptions are more likely to be wrong that right. Next is that wage growth is back to pre-crisis levels which is simply wrong. It is around 1% per annum short in nominal terms and simply nowhere near in real terms.

According to Kallum Pickering at Berenberg the Bank of England has really,really,really,really,really,really ( Carly Rae Jepsen)  wanted to raise interest-rates.

“The BoE would be close to the Fed on rate profile if it weren’t for Brexit . . . The Fed wants to pause, but the BoE has gone slower than otherwise,” he said, adding that barring a hard Brexit, the MPC would need to increase rates for a couple of years to catch up.

Sooner of later someone will turn up with the silliest example of all.

Although the BoE maintains it has plenty of firepower to fight any downturn, some outsiders believe one motive to raise interest rates is to gain space to inject stimulus if needed.

A type of Grand Old Duke of York strategy where you march interest-rates to the top of a hill just so that you can march them down again.

Some Reality

The water gets rather choppy as we find a mention of the inflation target.

Similarly, the BoE is likely to cut its near-term forecast for inflation — already close to target, at 2.1 per cent in December, and set to fall further after a drop in energy prices.

If you were serious about raising interest-rates then the period since February 2017 when inflation went over target would be an opportunity to do so except we only got a reversal of the August 2016 mistake and one other. If you go at that pace when inflation is above target it would be really rather odd to do much more when it is trending lower.

The next issue is the economic outlook where we have been recording economic slow downs in both China and Europe. Some of this is related to the automotive sector which has always affected the UK via Jaguar Land Rover and more recently Nissan. On its own that would make this an odd time to raise interest-rates. If we move to the UK outlook then this mornings Markit Purchasing Manager’s Index or PMI tells us this.

January data indicated a renewed loss of momentum for
the UK service sector, with a decline in incoming new work
reported for the first time since July 2016. Subdued demand
conditions meant that business activity was broadly flat
at the start of 2019, while concerns about the economic
outlook weighed more heavily on staff recruitment. Latest
data pointed to an overall reduction in payroll numbers for
the first time in just over six years.

Some care is needed here as the Markit PMI misfired in July 2016 but we need to recall that the Bank of England relied on it. We know this because that October Deputy Governor Broadbent went out of his way to deny it.

All that said, there’s little doubt that the economy has performed better than surveys suggested immediately
after the referendum and, although we aimed off those significantly, somewhat more strongly than our near term forecasts as well.

So in spite of it being an unreliable indicator at times of uncertainty like now I expect the Bank of England to be watching it like a hawk. If so they will be looking at this bit.

Adjusted for seasonal influences, the All Sector Output Index posted 50.3 in January, down from 51.5 in December. The index has posted above the crucial 50.0 no-change mark in each month since August 2016, but the latest reading signalled the slowest pace of expansion over this period and the second-lowest since December 2012.

If accurate that is in Bank Rate cut territory rather than a raise.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here so let us start with the “paralysis” point and let me use the words of the absent-minded professor Ben Broadbent from October 2016.

Before August, the UK’s official interest rate had been held at ½% for over seven years, the longest period of
unchanged rates since 1950. No-one on the current MPC was on the Committee when rates were previously
changed, in early 2009; indeed there are children now at primary school who weren’t even alive at the time.

Oh well as Fleetwood Mac would put it. Next comes the issue of why the Bank of England is encouraging what is effectively false propaganda about raising interest-rates? Personally I believe it is a type of expectations management as they increasingly fear that they will have to cut them again. So we are being guided towards the view that events are out of their control. This is awkward as we note the scale of their interventions ( for example some £435 billion of QE) and the way that positive news is always presented as being the result of their actions. Yet they also claim when convenient that lower interest-rates are nothing to do with them at all.

As to my view I am still of the view that we need higher interest-rates but that now is not the time. The boat sailed in the period 2014-16 when the rhetoric of Forward Guidance was not matched by any action. It is hard not to have a wry smile at us being guided towards a 7% unemployment rate then 6.5% and so on to the current 4%.

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Hard Times at the Bank of England on both Forward Guidance and inflation expertise

It is time for us to dip back into the data in the UK economy as we look at retail sales, But before we get there we have seen another development and it has come from UK Gilt yields which are the cost of borrowing for the UK government. I have been writing for some time that they have been very low due to the fear for some or expectation for others that the Bank of England will start a new phase of QE ( Quantitative Easing) bond purchases. At the nadir the UK ten-year yield dipped below 1.2% which still left plenty of margin as the Sledgehammer QE drove it down to 0.5%. I still consider that to be madness but it is something the media and other economists do not understand so any debate stalls. But the Gilt yield issue is that it has risen to 1.37% which if it goes a little further will have economic effects via fixed-rate mortgages and business borrowing.

In terms of context other bond yields have also risen but the UK has seen its rise faster. Even I cannot entirely avoid politics so let me add that there were roads this week when Brexit developments ,might have led to UK Gilt yields falling due to expectations of more Bank of England QE in spite of the international trend. Should fixed-rate mortgages rise in price then we can perhaps expect a little more of this.

The UK housing market ended 2018 on a weak note with uncertainty still biting, alongside continuing lack of stock and affordability issues, according to the December 2018 UK Residential Market Survey. ( Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors or RICS)

Also they expect things to get worse.

Moving forward, however, over the next three months sales expectations are now either flat or negative across the UK. The headline net balance of -28% represents the poorest reading since the series was formed in 1999. The twelve-month outlook is a little more upbeat, suggesting that some of the near-term pessimism is linked to the lack of clarity around what form of departure the UK might make from the EU in March.

Worse for them I mean as lower house prices would benefit first time buyers who have seen house prices accelerate away from them in nominal and real terms in the credit crunch era.

Also they seem to have their doubts about the promised future supply.

Meanwhile it is hard to see developers stepping up the supply pipeline in this environment. Getting to the government’s 300,000 building target was never going to be easy but pushing up to anywhere near this figure will require significantly greater input from other delivery channels including local authorities taking advantage of their new-found freedom.

That of course would be a case of history on repeat or as the Four Tops put it.

Now it’s the same old song
But with a different meaning
Since you been gone

Ben Broadbent

The issues above will not make the Bank of England very happy and this will add to the dark cloud around Deputy Governor Broadbent otherwise known as the absent-minded professor. Here is an excerpt from something I posted on the Royal Statistics Society website in October.

” there are fewer than 10 million owner occupier mortgages. Is the cost of a house to someone who happens
already to have paid off his or her mortgage really zero?”

So we see that we cannot use something which is used around 10 million times but we can use the Imputed Rents which are used precisely zero times! I do not recall anyone arguing for mortgage costs to be used for those who do not have one, in the way he is calling for rents to be used for those who do not pay them. For example the RPI has mortgage costs, but also as a considerably larger component house prices  via  the use of depreciation.

The absent-minded professor spoke up strongly for the Rental Equivalence model which the House of Lords rejected this week. Also they were disappointed with other aspects of his performance.

Let me end by congratulating the Lords and Baroness Bowles on pressing the Deputy Governor responsible for the RPI on the issue of what Yes Prime Minster satirised as “Masterly Inaction”. As they point out there are changes which could have been made as opposed to the state of play during his tenure.

“That process seems to have stalled.”

Retail Sales

These were something of a journey and had a kicker that seems to have been missed in the melee so let me explain.

When compared with the previous month, the quantity bought in December 2018 decreased by 0.9%, as all sectors except food stores and fuel stores declined on the month.

So down except we know the numbers are regularly erratic and are likely to be even more so with the advent of Black Friday in November. Let us therefore look for more perspective.

In the three months to December 2018, estimates in the quantity bought decreased by 0.2% with declines across all main sectors except fuel.

As to the wider impact Rupert Seggins has crunched some numbers.

UK retail sales fell -0.2%q/q in the final quarter of 2018, indicating that the retail sector took -0.01% off GDP growth in Q4.

If we move to the annual comparison though we get some relief as the volume figures were 3% higher if we return to the December numbers with fuel sales and 2.6% without or a 0.17% addition to GDP using Rupert’s calculator. But there has been a slowing even with such numbers.

Looking at annual growth rates, the whole of 2018 increased by 2.7% in the quantity bought; an annual slowdown in comparison with the peak of 4.7% experienced in 2016.

One of the things which bemuses me from time to time is that it is often those who support issues such as climate change who seem most unhappy about a decline in retail sales growth missing the logical link. But my main point here is that if we compare the volume and sales figures retail inflation is a mere 0.7% on an annual basis.

Comment

It was only last week that I suggested that the Bank of England was giving the wrong Forward Guidance about interest-rates as the economic outlook darkens. If the rough and ready calculator for retail inflation is in any way accurate then that is reinforced by today;s number and that adds to the lower consumer inflation numbers we saw earlier this week. Added to that the Bank of England has publicly backed the wrong horse in the inflation measurement stakes.

Even worse it has backed the establishment line driven by Her Majesty’s Treasury which is precisely the body it is supposed to be independent from. Perhaps that is something to do with the fact that the Deputy-Governors are HM Treasury alumni in a case of what in another form we call “regulatory capture”.

Podcast

 

 

What can we expect next from UK house prices?

A feature of the credit crunch era has been the way that central banks have concentrated so much firepower on the housing market so that they can get house prices rising again. Of course they mostly hide under the euphemism of asset prices on this particular road. For them it is a win-win as it provides wealth effects and supports the banking sector via raising the value of its mortgage book. The increasingly poor first time buyer finds him or herself facing inflation via higher prices rather than wealth effects as we note the consumer inflation indices are constructed to avoid the whole issue.

This moves onto the issue of Forward Guidance which exists mostly in a fantasy world too. Let me give you an example from the Bank (of England) Underground Blog.

 It is reasonable to suppose that the more someone knows about a central bank and how it conducts policy, the more confidence they will have that the central bank will act to bring inflation back to target.

Really? To do so you have to ignore the two main periods in the credit crunch era when the Bank of England “looked through” inflation above target as real wages were hit hard. Yet they continue to churn out this sort of thing.

 And Haldane and McMahon, using the institutional knowledge score discussed above, show that for the UK, higher knowledge corresponds to greater satisfaction with the Bank, and inflation expectations closer to 2% at all horizons.

So according to the Bank of England you are none to bright if you disagree with them! I think it would have been better if Andy Haldane stuck to being a nosy parker about others Spotify play lists.

The area where the general public has I think grasped the nettle as regards central banking forward guidance is in the area of house prices. The Bank of England loudspeakers have been blaring out Yazz’s one hit.

The only way is up, baby
For you and me now
The only way is up, baby
For you and me now

Indeed even if things go wrong then we can apparently party on.

But if we should be evicted
Huh, from our homes
We’ll just move somewhere else
And still carry on

Where are we now?

If we switch to the current state of play we are in a situation where the new supply of moves to boost house prices have dried up. For example the Term Funding Scheme ended in February and after over four years of dithering the Bank of England raised Bank Rate to 0.75% in August. Combining this with the fall in real wages after the EU leave vote led to me expecting house prices to begin to fall but so far only in London has this happened. One factor in this has led to a blog from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research or NIESR last week.

The key point is that although the political turmoil was of great concern, the impact on bond prices followed a pattern we have seen before in which risk rises but expectations of a policy response militate against the risk.

The politics may be of great concern to the NIESR but the UK Gilt market has been driven by the intervention of the Bank of England. Not only has it already bought some £435 billion of it but its behaviour with the Sledgehammer QE of August 2016 has led to expectations of more of it in any setback. The irony is that good news may make the Gilt market fall because it makes extra QE less likely. The impact of this has been heightened by the way the Bank of England was apparently willing to pay pretty much any price for Gilts in the late summer of 2016. For the first time ever one section of the market saw negative yields as the market picked off the Bank of England’s buyers.

Mortgage Rates

This is where the Gilt yield meets an economic impact. If we think about mortgage rates then they are most driven by the five-year yield. On the day of the August Bank Rate it was 1.1% and of course according to the Bank of England the intelligent observer would be expecting further “limited and gradual rises” along the lines of its forward guidance. Yet it is 0.96% as I type this and the latest mortgage news seems to be following this. From Mortgage Strategy.

TSB has reduced interest rates by up to 0.35 per cent on mortgages for residential, home purchase and remortgage borrowers.

Changes applied include reductions of up to 0.35 per cent on five-year fixed deals up to 95 per cent LTV in its house purchase range; reductions of up to 0.25 per cent on two-year fixes up to 90 per cent LTV; and up to 0.30 per cent on five-year fixes up to 90 per cent LTV for remortgage borrowers.

That was from Friday and this was from Thursday.

Investec Private Bank has announced cuts to a series of its fixed and tracker mortgages.

Reductions total up to 0.50 per cent, and all within the 80 per cent – 85 per cent owner-occupier category.

Specifically, the variable rate mortgage has been cut by 0.50 per cent, the three-year fixed rate product by 0.10 per cent, the four-year by 0.15 per cent, and the five-year fixed rate by 0.20 per cent.

So the mortgage rates which had overall risen are in some cases on the way back down again. We will have to see how this plays out as Moneyfacts are still recording higher 2 year mortgage rates ( 2.51% now versus the low of 2.33% in January). I am placing an emphasis on fixed-rate mortgages because of the recent state of play.

The vast majority of new mortgage loans – 96% – are on fixed interest rates, typically for two or five years.

Currently half of all outstanding loans are on fixed rates, equating to about 4.7 million households.  ( BBC in August).

Lending

According to UK Finance which was the British Bankers Association in the same way that the leaky Windscale nuclear reprocessing plant became the leak-free Sellafield this is the state of play.

Gross mortgage lending across the residential market in October was £25.5bn, some 5.6 per cent higher than last October. The number of mortgages approved by the main high street banks in October was 4.1 per cent lower than last October; although approvals for house purchase were 3.6 per cent higher, remortgage approvals were 13.5 per cent lower and approvals for other secured borrowing were 1.3 per cent lower.

If they are right this seems to be a case of steady as she goes.

Comment

The situation so far is one of partial success for my view if the monthly update from Acadata is any guide.

House prices rebounded in October, up 0.4% – the first increase since February. The annual rate of price increases
continued to slow, however, dropping to just 1.0%.
Despite this, most regions continue to show growth, the exceptions being both the South East and North East, which show modest falls on an annual basis. The average price of a home in England and Wales is now £304,433, up from £301,367 last October.

So no national fall as hoped ( lower house prices would help first time buyers) but at east a slowing of the rise to below the rate of growth of both inflation and wages. There is also plenty of noise around as one official measure is still showing over 3% growth whilst the Rightmove asking prices survey shows falls. As ever the numbers are not easy to wade through as for example I have my doubts about this.

In London annual price growth has slowed substantially in the last month, falling to just 1.8%, yet there has still been an increase of £10,889 in the last twelve months with the average price in London now standing at £620,571.

The noose around house prices is complex as for example we have seen today in the trajectory of mortgage rates and reporting requires number-crunching as this from Politics Live in the Guardian shows.

GDP per head would fall by 3% a year, amounting to an average cost per person a year of £1,090 at today’s prices.

I would like to see an explanation of why it would fall 3% a year wouldn’t you? Much more likely the NIESR suggests a 3% fall in total and just for clarity it is against a rising trend. Of course if we saw falls as reported in the Guardian we would see the 18% drop in house prices suggested by some before the EU referendum whereas so far we have seen a slowing of the rises. But the outlook still looks cloudy for house prices and I still hope that first time buyers get some hope in terms of lower prices rather than help to borrow more.

Podcast

The Mark Carney Show has misfired again

Yesterday was something of an epoch-making day for the UK but it also turned into a rather odd one. Also this morning has produced another piece of evidence for my argument that we finally got a rise in official interest-rates above the emergency 0.5% level because the Bank of England finally thought the banks have recovered enough to take it. From the Financial Times.

Royal Bank of Scotland will pay its first dividend since it was bailed out during the financial crisis, marking a major milestone on the bank’s road to recovery and paving the way for a further reduction of the government’s 62.4 per cent stake. The bank will pay an interim dividend of 2p per share after it confirms a final agreement on a recent fine with the US Department of Justice.

So even RBS has made some progress although it remains attracted to disasters like iron filings to a magnet as this seems a clear hint that it managed to be long Italian bonds into the heavy falls.

 RBS blamed “turbulence in European bond markets” for a 20 per cent drop in income at Natwest Markets.

As an aside the Italian bond market is being hit again today with the ten-year yield pushing over 3%.

Returning to the UK we also saw a 9-0 vote for a Bank Rate rise as I predicted in my podcast. This was based on my long-running theme that they are a bunch of “Carney’s Cronies” as five others suddenly changed their mind at the same moment as him, making the most popular phrase “I agree with Mark”. As some are on larger salaries added to by generous pension schemes we could make savings here.

A Space Oddity

This was provided by the currency markets which initially saw the UK Pound £ rally but then it fell back and at the time of writing it has dipped just below US$1.30. The US Dollar has been strong but at 1.122 we have not gained any ground against the Euro either at 145 we lost ground against the Japanese Yen.Why?

At first Governor Carney backed up his interest-rate rise with talk of more as in the press conference he suggested that 3 rises over the next 3 years was his central aim. Of course his aim has hardly been true but this disappeared in something of a puff of smoke when he later pointed out that he could keep interest-rates the same or even cut them. This rather brain-dead moment was reinforced by pointing out that he had cut interest-rates after the EU leave vote. This left listeners and viewers thinking will he cut next March?

Then he told Sky News this.

Mark Carney tells me is prepared to cut interest rates back again depending on how Brexit negotiations go. ( Ed Conway)

This morning he has managed to end up discussing interest-rate cuts with Francine Lacqua of Bloomberg after a brief mention of further rises. Then he added to it with this.

Mark Carney threw himself back into the thick of the Brexit debate on Friday, saying the chance of the U.K. dropping out of the European Union without a deal is “uncomfortably high.”

He also spoke to the Today programme on Radio Four which of course has its own audience troubles and here is the take away of Tom Newton Dunn of The Sun,

Blimey. Carney reveals the BoE recently ran a Brexit no deal exercise that saw property prices plummet by a third, interest rates go up to 4%, unemployment up to 9%, and a full-blown recession.

You can see from that why rather than a rally the UK Pound £ has struggled rather than rallied.  Due to his strong personal views Governor Carney keeps finding himself enmeshed in the Brexit debate which given his views on the subject will always head towards talk of interest-rate cuts. He is of course entitled to his personal views but in his professional life he keeps tripping over his own feet as just after you have raised interest-rates this is not the time for it. He could simply have said that like everyone else he is waiting for developments and will respond if necessary when events change.

Oh and we have heard this sort of thing from Governor Carney before. How did it work out last time?

interest rates go up to 4%

 

Today’s News

This has added to the theme I posited yesterday about the interest-rate increase which can be put most simply as why now?

The latest survey marked two years of sustained
new business growth across the service sector
economy. However, the rate of expansion eased
since June and was softer than seen on average
over this period. ( Markit PMI )

This followed a solid manufacturing report and a strong construction one but of course the services sector is by far the largest. This added to the report from the Euro area.

If the headline index continues to track at its current
level, quarterly GDP growth over the third quarter as
a whole would be little-changed from the softer-than expected expansion of 0.3% signalled by official
Eurostat data for quarter two.

Whilst these surveys are by no mean perfect guides there does seem to be something going on here and as I pointed out yesterday it is consistent with the weaker trajectory for money supply growth.

The UK Pound £

This did get a mention in the Minutes.

The sterling effective exchange rate had depreciated slightly since the Committee’s previous meeting and was down 2.5% relative to the 15-day average incorporated in the May Report.

This is awkward on two fronts. Firstly the fall was at least partly caused by the way Governor Carney and his colleagues clearly hinted at an interest-rate rise back then but then got cold feet in the manner of an unreliable boyfriend. Next comes the realisation that all the furore over a 0.25% interest-rate rise mostly ignores the fact that monetary conditions have eased as the currency fall is equivalent to a ~0.6% cut.

R-Star

This appeared having been newly minted in the Bank of England Ivory Tower. Or at least newly minted in £ terms as the San Francisco Fed put it like this last year.

The “natural” rate of interest, or r-star (r*), is the inflation-adjusted, short-term interest rate that is consistent
with full use of economic resources and steady inflation near the Fed’s target level.

If anyone has a perfect definition of “full use of economic resources” then please send it to every Ivory Tower you can find as they need one. Actually the Bank of England has by its actions suggested it is near to here which is rather awkward when they want to claim it is somewhere above 2%. Actually I see no reason why there is only one and in fact it seems likely to be very unstable but in many ways David Goodman of Bloomberg has nailed it.

They don’t know their r* from their elbow

Comment

This is all something of a dog’s dinner and I mean that in the poetic sense because in reality dog’s in my family  always seem to be fed pretty well. We have monetary policy being delivered by someone who looks as though he does not really believe in it. Even the traditional support from ex Bank of England staff seems to be half-hearted this time around and remember that group usually behave as if The Stepford Wives is not only their favourite film but a role-model.

If this is the best that Mark Carney can do then the extension of his term of tenure by Chancellor Hammond can be summed up by Men At Work.

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

 

 

 

The Bank of England is in a mess of its own making

Today looks as if it may be something of an epoch-making day for the UK as there is finally a decent chance that the 0.5% emergency Bank Rate will be consigned into history. Actually one way or another the decision has already been made as the Monetary Policy Committee voted last night. This was a rather unwise change made by Governor Carney as it raises the risk of leaks or what is called the early wire as the official announcement is not made until midday. As you can see from the chart below the BBC seems to think that the decision is a done deal or knows it is ( h/t @Old_Grumpy_Dave ).

This provides us scope for a little reflection as any move hardly fulfils this from back in June 2014.

This has implications for the timing, pace and degree of Bank Rate increases.
There’s already great speculation about the exact timing of the first rate hike and this decision is becoming
more balanced.
It could happen sooner than markets currently expect.

This was taken at the time as a promise and markets responded accordingly as interest-rate futures surged and the UK Pound £ rallied. From time to time people challenge me on this and say it was not a promise. What that misses is that central bankers speak in a coded language and in that language  this was a clear “Tally Ho”. Of course the “sooner than markets currently expect” never happened and whilst you may or may not have sympathy for professional investors and traders it was also true that ordinary people and businesses switched to fixed-rate borrowing in response to this. The reality was that the Bank of England via its credit easing policies and then Bank Rate cut of August 2016 pushed mortgage and borrowing rates lower affecting them adversely. Such has been the record of Forward Guidance.

What about now?

There was something else in that speech which was revealing as a sentence or two later we were told this.

The ultimate decision will be data-driven

Okay so let us take the advice of Kylie and step back in time. If we do so we see that the UK economy was on a bit of a tear which of course was another reason for those who took Governor Carney at his word. In terms of GDP growth the UK economy had gone 0.6%,0.5%,0.9% and 0.5% in 2013 which was then followed by 0.9% in the first quarter of 2014. It did the same in the second quarter which he would not have known exactly but he should have known things were going well.

Let us do the same comparison for now and look at 2017 where GDP growth went 0.3%,0.2%,0.5% and 0.4% followed by 0.1% in the first quarter of this year. If you were “data driven” which sequence would have you pressing the interest-rate trigger? I think it would be a landslide victory. The MPC may not have known these exact numbers due to revisions but a 0.1% here or there changes little in the broad sweep of things.

Some might respond with the pint that he is supposed to achieve an inflation target of 2% per annum. That is true but that has not bothered the MPC much in the credit crunch era as we have just been through a phase of above target inflation which of course they not only cut Bank Rate into but promised a further cut before even they came to the realisation that their Forward Guidance had been very wrong. Also before Governor Carney took office the MPC turned a blind eye to inflation going above 5%. Whereas post the EU leave vote they rushed to ease policy in something of a panic in response to expectations of a weaker economy.

The Speed Limit

The Bank of England Ivory Tower has had a very poor credit crunch. It has clung to outdated theories rather than respected the evidence. Perhaps the most woeful effort has been around the output gap which if you recall led to it highlighting an unemployment rate of 7% which the economy blasted through ( which you might consider was yet another case for an interest-rate rise in 2014). It has clung to equilibrium unemployment rates of 6.5%,6% 5.5% and 4.5% which of course have all been by-passed by reality. Such outdated thinking has led it to all sorts of over optimism on wage growth. Yet is seems to have learned little as this illustrates.

We think our economy can only grow at a new, lower speed limit of around one-and-a-half per cent a year. We also currently think actual demand is growing close to this speed limit. This means demand can’t grow faster than at its current pace without causing prices to start rising too quickly.

This is the MPC rationale for a Bank Rate rise and the problem is that they simply do not know that. They keep trying to build theoretical scaffolding around the reality of the UK economy but seem to learn little from the way the scaffolding regularly collapses.After all we grew much faster in 2014.

The banks

As ever the precious will be at the forefront of the Bank of England’s mind. I cannot help thinking that having noted the apparent improvement shown below maybe the real reason for a change is that the banks can now take it. First Lloyds Banking Group.

Since taking over the reins in 2011, Horta-Osório has presided over a bank which has swung from an annual loss of £260mln to a profit of £3.5bn.  ( Hargreaves Landsdown).

Then Barclays.

Barclays reported pretax profit of 1.9 billion pounds ($2.49 billion) for the three months from April-June, up from 659 million pounds a year ago and higher than the 1.46 billion average of analysts’ estimates compiled by the bank. ( Reuters)

Comment

A Martian observing monetary policy in the UK might reasonably be rather confused by the course of events. He or she might wonder why now rather than in 2014? Furthermore they might wonder why a mere 0.25% change is being treated as such a big deal? After all it is only a small change and the impact of such a move on those with mortgages will be both lower and slower than in the past.

Nationwide: The vast majority of new mortgages have been extended on fixed interest rates. The share of outstanding mortgages on variable interest rates has fallen to its lowest level on record, at c.35% from a peak of 70% in 2001. ( h/t @moved_average )

So if they do move the impact will be lower than in the past which makes you wonder why they have vacillated so much and been so unreliable?

The MPC have got themselves on a road where all the indecision means that the timing is likely to be off. What I mean by that is that whilst I expect economic growth to pick-up from the first quarter this year will merely be an okay year and currently the threats seem to the downside in terms of trade for example. We do not yet know where the Trump trade tariffs will lead but we do know that the Euro area has seen economic growth fall such that the first half of 2018 was required to reach what so recently was the quarterly growth rate. Also the ongoing rhetoric of the Bank of England about Brexit prospects hardly makes a case for a Bank Rate rise now either as it would be impacting as we leave ( assuming we do leave next March).

The next issue is money supply growth which in 2018 so far has been weak and now (hopefully) has stabilised. That does not make much of a case for raising now and would lead to the MPC operating in the reverse way to monetary trends as it cut into strength in August 2016 and now would be raising into relative weakness.

So there you have it on what is an odd day all round. I think UK interest-rates should be higher but also think that timing matters and that a boat or two has sailed already without us on it. Accordingly my view would be to wait for the next one. For the reasons explained above whilst the MPC has managed to verbally box itself into a corner I still  think that there is a chance ( 1/3rd) of an unchanged vote today. It is always the same when logic points in a different direction to hints of direction.

There is also the issue of QE which rarely gets a mention. If we skip the embarrassment all round of the Corporate Bond purchases we could also have taken the chance to trim the QE package when money supply growth was strong. I remember making that case nearly five years ago in City-AM.

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“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” says Mark Carney

Last night the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney gave a speech which was extraordinary even for him. At the Society of Professional Economists he stood up and immediately took listeners into a parallel universe that was like the episode in Star Trek where Spock was irrational and violent.

Our guidance means that those who follow us will be better able to anticipate our actions. It will make those
actions more powerful. And it will help households and businesses consume, save, hire and invest with
confidence as the UK determines its path forward.

Just for clarity he is talking about the Forward Guidance of the Bank of England where he has promised interest-rate rises and not only not delivered them but of course ended up making a cut and adding £60 billion of Quantitative Easing. So guiding you in the wrong direction up the garden path helps? Well apparently it is most helpful when he sends you the wrong way.

Guidance is most useful at such turning points.

I was challenged on social media last night by those who claimed he has never promised interest-rate rises. I responded by taking them back to Mansion House in June 2014 when Governor Carney announced this.

There’s already great speculation about the exact timing of the first rate hike and this decision is becoming
more balanced.
It could happen sooner than markets currently expect.

This is because central bankers speak in code as Alan Greenspan of the US Federal Reserve pointed out back in the day.

 I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.

Returning to June 2014 financial markets were sure they knew what Mark Carney meant and that was that an interest-rate rise was coming soon. In response the Short Future for interest-rate expectations soared as did the UK Pound £. Here is a nuance to this which is that those who were going to be right as in nothing would happen were probably stopped out of their positions. This was added to by even David ” I can see for” Miles the easing fan writing this about interest-rate rises in the Sunday Telegraph.

But that day is coming.

Back in my days on Mindful Money I pointed this out on the 24th of June 2014.

 If we were in America then Mark Carney would be called a “flip-flopper” as we have had a lot of different types of Forward Guidance from an individual who has not yet been in office for a year. Others may be wondering at Mark Carney’s claim that he has met “thousands of businesses” in less than a year which is quite a rate!

The version according to Mark Carney

Remember this.

the MPC would not even think about tightening policy at least until the unemployment rate had fallen below 7%

Which went wrong about as fast as it could as even the Governor admits.

In the event, the unemployment rate fell far faster than we had expected, falling below 7% in February 2014

If we skip the obvious issue of Forward Guidance from an organisation making yet another large forecasting error there is a clear issue of logic. This is that a sharp fall in unemployment suggests a stronger economy and thus Bank Rate rises as it is a measure according to Governor Carney that is.

– a clear and widely understood indicator of the degree of slack

But apparently less slack meant this.

That guidance was effective. Surveys conducted in the months that followed indicated high awareness of it
among companies, with almost half reporting that they expected Bank Rate to remain at low levels for longer
than they would have done were guidance not in place

So it worked by being wrong! Of course if we switch to the real world companies were probably ignoring all the “flip-flopping” that was already evident. After all he had only been Governor for a year when this happened. From the BBC.

The Bank of England has acted like an “unreliable boyfriend” in hints over interest rate rises, according to MP Pat McFadden…………

“We’ve had a lot of different signals,” he said. “I mean it strikes me that the Bank’s behaving a bit like a sort of unreliable boyfriend.

“One day hot, one day cold, and the people on the other side of the message are left not really knowing where they stand.”

Apparently misleading is helpful

The next section was aptly described by Earth Wind and Fire.

Every man has a place
In his heart there’s a space
And the world can’t erase his fantasies

We find that according to Governor Carney being an unreliable boyfriend brings a whole raft of benefits.

The MPC’s guidance speaks first and foremost to UK households and businesses.

Okay so he is swerving away from the financial markets he has misled to take us where?

And last year, we introduced layered communications, with simpler, more accessible language and graphics to
reach the broadest possible audience.

So we have had some dumbing down and then climbed the steps to the highest Ivory Tower he could find.

It now publishes its best collective judgments on the natural rate of unemployment, the output gap, as well as the
expected growth in productivity, labour supply and potential output.

I would like to pick out just one to illustrate how lost in the clouds this particular Ivory Tower is and that is the natural rate of unemployment. Was it the 7% he first used? Er no. In fact on the 28th of June 2014 it was already in disarray.

Governor Mark Carney pointed out that some work had suggested that the equilibrium unemployment rate (the lowest rate compatible with non-accelerating inflation) may be more like 5.5% than the 6.5% previously used.

I cannot recall if it went to 5% but it did go to 4.5% and is now 4.25%. Imagine the Bank of England had used such “science” to design the Titanic. They would be able to claim that it had not hit the iceberg but only because it would have sunk before it got out of port.

Reality got most suspended here.

The interest rate expectations of households and businesses have remained in line with the MPC’s limited
and gradual guidance………Guidance has reduced the impact of economic uncertainty on short-term interest rates

No the regular hints of an interest-rate rise have increased uncertainty especially when as has so often happened the unreliable boyfriend has flip-flopped. Ironically the next bit is true but not for the reasons given.

Guidance has dampened the volatility of interest rates, consistent with the expected and actual path of policy
rates (Chart 4). Guidance has reduced the impact of economic uncertainty on short-term interest rates.

The truth is that fewer and fewer people take any notice of his pronouncements. This was highlighted last night by the way the UK Pound £ responded with a yawn to the speech. Such a development must be most hurtful to someone whose ego is such that they changed the Bank of England website to have “Latest from the Governor” on the front page.

Comment

This is provided by two responses to last night’s speech. Here is a view which is clear on one side.

Okay so the only way is up! Or perhaps not. From Reuters.

The Bank of England could pump more stimulus into Britain’s economy if this year’s Brexit negotiations result in a bad deal, BoE governor Mark Carney said on Thursday.

In the past this would have been considered to be a masterly speech from a central bank Governor but not when he/she is claiming to provide Forward Guidance. because as you can see they can claim to be right whatever happens via some selective cherry picking but the ordinary person can not.

Why might Governor Carney hint at interest-rate rises and not do them. As ever the “precious” seems to be in the mix. From @IrkHudson.

Helps banks margins

The unreliable boyfriend has tripped over his own feet again

Today brings the “unreliable boyfriend” centre stage as we come to the moment when he gave Forward Guidance that he will raise interest-rates. Of course he would not be the unreliable boyfriend if things did not look very different by the time the event arrived! Sadly that has been the history of Bank of England Forward Guidance under Governor Mark Carney which has been anything but. From the initial false start of flagging up an unemployment rate of 7% that was supposed to be like the “train in the distance” sung about by Paul Simon but actually then arrived at high-speed it has been an error strewn path. Reuters have put it like this.

The BoE governor’s guidance on the path for interest rates has repeatedly been knocked off course by surprises in the economy, hence the accusation of unreliability from a lawmaker.

Care is needed as there are always going to be surprises and in a way that is a good thing as fans of the novel Dune will know. But there are themes that can be got right and sadly Governor Carney grasped the wrong stick right from the beginning. If we think back to yesterday’s article on Japan its unemployment rate of 2.5% is relevant here as tucked away in the original Forward Guidance was the Bank of England saying the natural rate of unemployment ( which some take as the equilibrium one and others even as a guide to full employment) was 6.5% The utter hopelessness of this view is shown by looking at the UK unemployment rate or even worse the Japanese one. Or if you prefer the natural rate in the UK has been 6%,5.5% then 4.5% and more recently 4.25% which illustrates the words of Oliver Hardy.

That’s another fine mess you’ve got me into

Sadly I do see teachers on social media referring to such views at the Bank of England and fear for what their students are being taught.

Also of course the media do need to keep their place in the pecking order for questions at press conferences and interviews which I think we should keep in mind as we read this from Reuters.

Drab data show Bank of England’s Carney a ‘sensitive boyfriend’

The data view was highlighted here.

Carney’s highlighting last month of “mixed” economic signals shocked investors who had bet the BoE would raise rates to a new post-financial-crisis high of 0.75 percent on May 10.

Since then, almost all the gauges of Britain’s economy have disappointed. Financial markets now point to a less than 10 percent chance of a rate hike on Thursday, compared with 90 percent a month ago.

Britain’s economy barely grew in the first three months of 2018 and bad weather was not the only reason why, official statisticians said last month.

Today’s data

The opening salvo was again drab.

In March 2018, total production was estimated to have increased by 0.1% compared with February 2018.Manufacturing fell by 0.1% in March 2018 compared with February 2018.

Maybe the weather had an impact but not a large one according to our official statisticians. If we look for some perspective we find ourselves continuing the recent theme of a slowing down economy.

>In the three months to March 2018, the Index of Production increased by 0.6% compared with the three months to December 2017, due mainly to a rise of 2.5% in energy supply; this was supported by rises in mining and quarrying of 2.2% and manufacturing of 0.2%.

It is kind of an irony that we find a positive impact from the weather! Although of course for domestic consumers this is a cost and a likely subtraction from other output for those whose budgets are tight.

If we step back and consider the credit crunch era then unless you raise the counterfactual to heroic levels then the £435 billion of QE and an emergency interest-rate of 0.5% seem to have failed here.

Since then, both production and manufacturing output have risen but remain below their level reached in the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008, by 5.1% and 0.8% respectively in the three months to March 2018.

Construction

The news here was better but only in the context of not being quite as bad as we had previously thought.

Construction output continued its recent decline in the three-month on three-month series, falling by 2.7% in March 2018, the biggest fall seen in this series since August 2012.

Here there was much more likely to have been an adverse impact from the weather and the recent pattern has been grim. However the overall picture is rather different to that shown by the production sector.

Construction output peaked in December 2017, reaching a level that was 30.3% higher than the lowest point of the last five years, April 2013. Despite the month-on-month decrease in March 2018, construction output remains 22.7% above this level.

If we consider monetary policy then supporters of the QE era have a case for arguing that there was a boost here from easy monetary policy and perhaps the Funding for Lending Scheme which did so much to reduce mortgage rates. So the implicit bank bailout did help one sector perhaps. The catch comes with the slow down as it was already happening before the Bank Rate rise last November and of course the Term Funding Scheme only ended in February. Even in the wildest dreams of Mark Carney and he has had some pretty wild ones monetary policy does not act that quickly.

Trade

Here the news was ( fortunately) better.

The UK total trade deficit (goods and services) narrowed £0.7 billion to £6.9 billion in the three months to March 2018, due mainly to falling goods imports from non-EU countries.

Even data over 3 months is not entirely reliable but the longer data was better too.

In the 12 months to March 2018, the total trade deficit narrowed £13.3 billion to £26.6 billion due to 9.2% export growth exceeding 6.4% growth for imports.

There is some genuine good news for the UK economy there in the growth achieved by our exporters. Because of our long-running trade deficit we need export growth to exceed import growth for us to make any progress. Also I am pleased to point out that earlier this week news appeared that confirmed my theme that our services exports have been badly measured and if we put more effort into recording them we were likely to get some good news.

provisional revisions to the UK trade balance range from a downward revision of £1.2 billion to the total trade deficit (goods and services) in 2001 to an upward revision of £9.8 billion in 2016 (Table 1). The £9.8 billion upward revision to the total trade deficit in 2016 means the deficit has been revised from £40.7 billion to £30.9 billion

As you can see the ch-ch-changes make quite a difference. If we factor in the impact of the lower UK Pound £ since the EU leave vote the narrative shifts somewhat. My opinion is that we have had long-running deficits but they have not been as bad as the numbers produced. As ever care is needed because do we really know this even now.

The main driver of the revision in 2016 came from improvements made to methods used to estimate net spread earnings, which feed into exports of services. The net spread earnings improvement revised trade in services exports back to 2004.

Well done to the Office for National Statistics for making a new effort something I asked for in my response to the Charlie Bean review. Of course the former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King was always keen on some rebalancing although it did not happen on poor Mervyn’s watch. By poor I do not mean financially poor as I am sure Baron King of Lothbury will be enjoying the benefits of his RPI-linked pensions as well as his other work.

Comment

The simple fact is that if we look at past Forward Guidance from the Bank of England then its conventional view would be moving towards a Bank Rate cut rather than a rise today. So yet again it has tripped over its own feet. The only factor heading in the other direction is the higher price of crude oil ( Brent Crude is over US $77 as I type this) which will push inflation higher further down the line. Although of course such influences are usually described as “temporary” however long they last and thereby get ignored.

An actual cut would be silly because as I have pointed it before the drop in the UK Pound £ since the unreliable boyfriends latest public U-Turn has been the equivalent of a 0.5% Bank Rate cut as it is. You could argue that would aid a Bank Rate rise but with monetary and economic data slowing I think that now would be a case of bad timing and I am someone who wants Bank Rate back up between 1.5% and 2% to provide a better balance between savers and depositors.

I would not worry too much about Governor Carney’s future though as those at the top of the establishment have a Teflon coating. After his role in the Libor scandal you might think that ex Bank of England Governor Paul Tucker should be in obscurity if not jail and yet apparently his thoughts are valuable. From the Brookings Institute.

Paul Tucker, drawing from his 33 years as a central banker, says that Congress should be much more specific about the objectives it wants the Federal Reserve to achieve and the Fed should try harder to explain what it’s doing

Tucker’s Luck?

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