What is happening to the economy of Germany?

This morning has brought news which will bring a smile of satisfaction to the central bankers at the ECB (European Central Bank). From the German statistics office.

The harmonised index of consumer prices (HICP) for Germany, which is calculated for European purposes, rose by 2.2% in September 2018 on September 2017. Compared with August 2018, the HICP increased by 0.4% in September 2018.

All the ECB’s efforts have got German inflation pretty much to where they want it to be. It has been quite an effort as the official deposit rate is still -0.4% and there are still around US $1.5 trillion of bonds with a negative yield in the Euro area. But we are near to the target and the extra 0.2% can be responded to by pointing out that the amount of monthly QE is on its way to zero.

The ordinary German consumer and worker may not be quite so keen as items downgraded to non-core by central bankers are important to them.

 Energy prices rose 7.7% in September 2018 on September 2017. The rate of energy price increase thus increased again (August 2018: +6.9%). ………Food prices rose above average (+2.8%) from September 2017 to September 2018. The year-on-year price increase thus accelerated slightly in September 2018 ( August 2018: +2.5%).  ( From the German CPI detail)

Indeed they may be wondering how to translate ” I cannot eat an I-Pad” into German?

Consumers benefited, among other things, of lower prices of telephones (-5.3%) and consumer electronics (-4.6%).

Those who think that rents are related to real wage growth will get a little food for thought from this.

 A major factor contributing to the increase in service prices was the development of net rents exclusive of heating expenses (+1.5%), as households spend a large part of their consumption expenditure on this item.

Travelling through the detail shows us that whilst the aggregate looks good in fact the inflation numbers have only moved to around the target level because of energy costs. All that monetary easing had little effect on consumer inflation but of course saw large wealth gains for those holding assets and subsidised government borrowing costs.

Asset Prices

This has been an area of satisfaction for the central banker play book as we note that in the first two quarters of 2018 house prices rose at an annual rate of 5.5% and 4.7%. The index set at 100 in 2015 has reached 115.1. So a win double for the establishment as it can claim wealth effects of between 4% and 5% whilst as we have observed above tell the ordinary person that via the use of fantasy imputed rents inflation in this area is only 1.5%.

Although as DW pointed out in May last year not even every central banker is a believer.

Bundesbank warns of German real estate bubble

Why might this be?

Due to mortgage interest rates of well below two percent, Germany has been experiencing a rapid transition towards home ownership in recent years, now creating fears familiar in many other property markets. Housing prices, which were relatively cheap compared with other European countries in the past, have risen sharply.

Real estate prices in cities like Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and Frankfurt have increased by more than 60 percent since 2010, according to recent estimates by the German central bank, the Bundesbank.

We look from time to time for examples of mortgage rates and DW provided us with one.

Commerzbank, the country’s second-largest lender, offers a mortgage with an ultra-cheap fixed rate of just 0.94 percent for a 10-year loan.

It is hard to over emphasise how extraordinary that is! Also should it carry on it may lead to quite a change in the structure of German life.

For many well-off Germans with permanent jobs renting no longer makes sense.

Since then house prices have continued to rise.

Economic growth

As recently as the middle of June the German Bundesbank was very upbeat.

Germany’s economic boom will continue. The already high level of capacity utilisation in the economy will increase up until 2020,

Although hang on.

although growth is unlikely to be quite as strong as in 2017. Growth in exports and business investment will be less strong. In addition, the rising shortage of skilled workers will increasingly dampen employment growth.

Indeed as we look at the specifics frankly it does not look much of a boom to me.

Against this backdrop, the Bundesbank‘s economists expect calendar-adjusted economic growth of 2.0% this year and 1.9% next year. In 2020, real gross domestic product (GDP) could increase by 1.6% in calendar-adjusted terms.

If we apply the rule that has been suggested in the comments on here that official economic growth needs to be 2% per annum for people to feel it then Germany may even be slipping backwards. This week as MarketWatch points out below has seen others fall in line with this growth but perhaps not as we know it scenario.

Germany’s economic growth is now expected to come in at 1.8% this year, rather than the 2.3% forecast previously, the government said Thursday in its autumn report. Next year’s expansion is now seen at 1.8% instead of 2.1%……..Earlier this week, the International Monetary Fund cut its growth forecasts for Germany to 1.9% for both this year and the next, decreases of 0.3 and 0.2 percentage points respectively.

We can bring this up to date by noting the industrial production figures released today by Eurostat. These show a flatlining in August meaning that the annual figure had declined by 0.5%.

Comment

After a good spell for the German economy ( which expanded by 2.2% in 2017) we are starting to wonder if that was as good as it gets? Regular readers will be aware of the way that money supply growth has been fading in the Euro area over the past year or so, and thus will not be surprised to see official forecasts of a boom if not fading to dust being more sanguine. As the money supply changes have as a major factor the fading of ECB QE we return to the theme of Euro area economies being monetary junkies which perhaps Mario Draghi has confirmed this morning.

*DRAGHI: SIGNIFICANT MONETARY POLICY STIMULUS IS STILL NEEDED

After all we are in official parlance still in a broad-based expansion. Moving back to Germany it is starting a little bit to feel like what happened to high streets when they lost individuality and became clones. Some economic growth accompanied by asset price rises whilst official inflation rises by less than you might have thought.Or the equivalent of finding Starbucks and various estate agents on every high street,or putting it another way look at this from the Bundesbank.

German economic growth will therefore consistently outstrip potential output growth,

Yes even the sub 2% economic growth is apparently too much just like most of us in Europe. One can go too far of course as there are the surpluses to consider in trade and government finances. The former was supposed to be something that was going to be dealt with post credit crunch but by now you know the familiar and some might think never-ending story. Sometimes life feels a bit like this experience for a City-AM journalist.

Hey . How am I meant to log into my account to report my lost phone when the login process requires sending a text to my phone?

As has been pointed out the concept of Catch-22 has reached Milennials. Let me leave you with something for the weekend which believe it or not is to promote Frankfurt.

 

 

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The UK economy puts on an economic growth spurt

Today brings us to a pretty full data set on the UK economy with the headline no doubt the monthly GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) number. This week has brought news on a sector which is often quite near to me and has been a strength we have been regularly noting. From the Financial Times.

Tax relief for UK-made movies, television series and video games is fuelling a production boom that has transformed Britain into a global hub of filmed entertainment, according to a report by the creative industries. The tax incentives have sparked a rush of inward investment as Hollywood studios and other international production companies cash in on British talent — the latest Star Wars movie was made in the UK, alongside top television series such as The Crown and Poldark.

So we should try to be nice to any luvvies that we meet as whilst they are prone to ridiculous statements they are providing a much-needed economic boost. Here is some more detail on the numbers.

The new report commissioned by the British Film Institute found that an estimated £632m in UK tax relief for the creative industries in 2016 led to £3.16bn in production spending on films, TV programmes, animation and video games — a 17 per cent increase on 2015. The industries’ “overall economic contribution” to Britain came to £7.9bn in 2016, which included £2bn in tax revenues.

Since 2016 the numbers have boomed further and the local reference is due to the fact that Battersea Park in particular is regularly used by the film industry. Much of this is a gain as I recall one cold Sunday night when the filming must have disturbed very few. However it is not all gravy as there is also a tendency to use it as a lorry and caravan park for work going on elsewhere.

Bank of England and Number Crunching

There was some numerical bingo from the Financial Policy Committee yesterday. The headline was that the UK has some £69 trillion of financial contracts with European Union counterparties which need some sort of deal for next March.Or if you prefer a derivatives book of the size of Deutsche Bank.

Also we for the assertion that debt has fallen since 2008 which looked better on their chart via comparing it ( a stock) with annual GDP (a flow). They seem to have forgotten public debt which has risen and more latterly even their data poses a question.

Borrowing by UK companies from UK banks has also been subdued, rising by just 2.7% in the past year……. household mortgage borrowing increased by only 3.1% in the year to August, broadly in line with household disposable income growth.

Both are growing a fair bit faster than the economy and of course much faster than real wages.Mind you someone has probably got promoted for finding an income number which has grown as fast, or a lifetime free pass to the cake and tea trolley.Would it be rude to point out they seem to have forgotten unsecured credit is rising at an annual rate of 8%+ as they seem to have missed it out?

UK economic growth

The number released today backed up quite a multitude of my themes. There was the evidence of a growth spurt for the UK economy, various examples of monthly GDP data being so unreliable that you have to question its introduction, and finally even evidence that the monetary slow down has hit the economy! Let us open with the latter.

The month-on-month growth rate was flat in August 2018. (UK GDP)

That looked rather grim until it was combined with something that was much better news.

Rolling three-month growth increased by 0.7% in August 2018, the same rate of growth as in July 2018. These were the highest growth rates since February 2017. The growth continued to pick up from the negative growth in April 2018,

Suddenly the picture looked very different as we got confirmation that it was a long hot summer for the UK in economic as well as weather terms. Some of that was literal as the utility industry saw rises in electricity consumption which looks to have been driven by the use of air conditioning in the unusual heat. If we look at the breakdown we see something familiar in that the major part was the services sector (0.42%), we got some production growth (0.1%) and the construction sector was on a bit of a tear (0.18%),

If we return to the travails and troubles of the monthly series we see this.

Growth rates in June and July 2018 were both revised up by 0.1 percentage points to 0.2% and 0.4%, respectively.

That opens a can of worms. Because whilst you can argue compared to the total number for GDP the changes are minor the catch is that these numbers are presented not as totals but first and second derivatives or speed and acceleration. At these levels the situation becomes a mess and let me illustrate by switching to the American style of presentation. UK GDP rose at an annualised rate of 4.8% in July followed by annualised rate of growth of 0% in August, does anybody outside the Office for National Statistics actually believe that?

Putting it another way we can see a clear issue in the main player which is services I think.

The Index of Services was flat between July 2018 and August 2018…………The 0.7% increase in the three months to July 2018 is the strongest services growth since the three months to December 2016.

So it went from full steam ahead to nothing? The recent strength has been driven by computer programming so let us hope that has been at the banks especially TSB.

Production

This had some welcome snippets.

The rise of 0.7% in total production output for the three months to August 2018, compared with the three months to May 2018, is due primarily to a rise of 0.8% in manufacturing, which displays widespread strength throughout the sector with 10 of the 13 sub-sectors increasing.

As so often we find that the ebbs and flows are driven by the chemicals and pharmaceuticals sector which had a good quarter followed by a decline in August.

Construction

The official data seems to have caught up with crane-ometer ( 40 between Battersea Dogs Home and Vauxhall) although it too supposedly hit trouble in August.

Construction output increased by 2.9% in the three months to August 2018, as the industry continues to recover following a weak start to the year………Construction output declined by 0.7% between July and August 2018, driven by falls in both repair and maintenance and all new work which decreased by 0.6% and 0.8% respectively.

Comment

We see that the UK economy had a remarkably good summer. Actually it seems sensible to smooth it out a bit and shift some of it into August but if we were to see quarterly growth of 0.5% or so that is pretty solid in the circumstances. We are managing that in spite of weak monetary data and disappointing growth from some of our neighbours, although if the recent IMF forecasts are any guide France is in a surge.

Speaking of surges Andy Haldane of the Bank of England has given a speech today and yet again pay growth is just around the corner. Pretty much like it has been since he became Bank of England Chief Economist . You might have thought his consistent record of failure would have meant he was a bad choice as the new UK productivity czar but of course in Yes Prime Minister terms he is the perfect choice.

Sir Humphrey Well, what is he interested in? Does he watch television?
Jim Hacker: He hasn’t even got a set.
Sir Humphrey: Fine, make him a Governor of the BBC.

Meanwhile his own words.

That is quite sobering if, like me, you have never moved job

What is the economic impact of a US $100 price for crude oil?

The last few days have seen something of an explosion in mentions of a one hundred-dollar price for crude oil. Usually they mean the price for Brent Crude Oil which went above US $86 per barrel last week and is now around US $84. This means that we have seen a 50% rally over the past year for it. Some care  is needed as the other main benchmark called West Texas Intermediate is around ten dollars lower at around US $74 per barrel. The last time we saw the spread between these two indices widening then it looked like the bank trading desks and especially the Vampire Squid were to blame and it went as wide as twenty dollars. For those wondering what the Russians get then the Urals benchmark is around 4 or 5 dollars lower than Brent but what always amazes me is the price that Canada get. The price of Western Canada Select is US $25.20 although it was as high as US $58 in the summer. Whatever the cause it is a very odd price for a type of oil that is relatively expensive to produce.

Economic effects

The Far East

The Financial Times took a look at some research on the impact here.

According to Citi’s Johanna Chua, Asian countries suffer the most when oil prices rise because, aside from Malaysia, most are net oil importers. Singapore runs a sizable 6.5 per cent oil and gas deficit, followed closely by Pakistan, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Taiwan. Indonesia and Vietnam manage slightly smaller deficits of roughly 1 per cent.

Given this exposure, many of these economies see the largest inflation swings when oil prices rise…….Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Vietnam lead the pack, with Thailand, India and Taiwan rounding out the top six:

They do not say it but we are of course aware that especially these days inflation rises can have a strong economic impact via their impact on real wages. Of course if an economy is vulnerable higher oil prices can push it over the edge and it has hit Pakistan.From the International Monetary Fund or IMF.

The fast rise in international oil prices, normalization of US monetary policy, and tightening financial conditions for emerging markets are adding to this difficult picture. In this environment, economic growth will likely slow significantly, and inflation will rise.

Some of the impact of the IMF arriving again in Lahore feels eye-watering.

The team welcomes the policy measures implemented since last December. These include 18 percent cumulative depreciation of the rupee, interest rate increases of cumulatively 275 bps, fiscal consolidation through the budget supplement proposed by the minister of finance, a large increase in gas tariffs closer to cost recovery levels, and the proposed increase in electricity tariffs. These measures are necessary steps that go in the right direction.

Whether the population in what is a poor country think this is in the right direction is a moot point but as a cricket fan let me wish the administration of Imran Khan well. Sadly just as I type this the price of oil has just risen another 8.5% via this morning’s devaluation.

What the research above seems to have skipped over to my mind is the impact on China as according to WTEx it was 18.6% of the world’s oil imports totaling US $162 billion last year. Its own production is in decline according to OilPrice.com.

Crude oil production alone fell by an annual 4 percent to 191.51 million tons — or about 3.85 million bpd in 2017 — to the lowest in nine years, due to maturing fields and few viable new discoveries at home.

So we are left wondering how strong a factor the higher oil price was in the monetary easing in China last weekend?

First World

The FT gives us a familiar list of those it expects to be impacted.

For Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Ethan Harris, Japan, Europe and the UK are “clear losers,” with growth there coming under pressure by 0.2 to 0.5 percentage points next year. Not only do all three import their oil, but also, households in Europe and the UK save little, leaving them with smaller nest eggs to buffer price increases.

I am not sure about the latter point but much of this is familiar with Japan being a big energy importer and Europe not a lot different.The UK became a net importer a while back although there have been some changes recently. What I mean by that is that according to the official data we are importing less and producing slightly more. Firstly that is not quite the picture on North Sea Oil we are sometimes told which did fall but seems currently stable whereas we are using less (-7.4% in the latest quarter). Perhaps it is the impact of a growing share of renewables in electricity production which is 20% or just under 7 Gigawatts as I type this.

Inflation

The IMF researched the impact of a higher oil price last year.

A 10 percent increase in global oil inflation increases, on average, domestic inflation by about 0.4 percentage at impact. The effect is short-lasting—vanishing two years after the shock—, similar between advanced and developing economies and tends to be larger for positive oil price shocks than for negative ones.

I am sure that nobody is surprised that there is more enthusiasm for raising than there is for cutting prices! If we translate that into what we have seen over the past 12 months then the IMF would expect to see a rise in inflation of 2% due to this. More accurately we should say up to as not all prices have risen as much as Brent Crude.

The Winners

There are obvious winners here such as Saudi Arabia and several other Gulf States, Russia, Canada, Brazil and Mexico. Some African countries such as Ghana and Nigeria will benefit and the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund will have to invest even more money. But as it is American foreign policy which has driven the reduction in supply mostly via pressure and embargoes on Iran it is rude to point this out?

Crude oil production in the U.S. shale patch will hit 7.59 million bpd next month, the Energy Information Administration said in its latest Drilling Productivity Report. This is 79,000 bpd more than this month’s estimated production. ( OilPrice.com )

I have written before that due to their high debts this industry is driven by cash flows which currently are pouring in.Is it a coincidence that US foreign policy is so beneficial for them? Or if we go deeper the role of QE and low interest-rates in the shale oil business model.

Comment

Some mathematical economists may be sure there is no impact as overall this is a zero sum game. Also for central bankers the oil price is non-core but in reality it does have an impact as oil producers spend less than oil importers on average.

 If oil prices head above US$100 a barrel, it could shave 0.2 percentage points from global economic growth next year – but this hinges crucially on the US dollar, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. ( Straits Times)

I think it might be more than that but the issue is never simple. Also they are right to point out that the US Dollar has strengthened when the convention is for it to fall with an oil price rise. Continuing my theme above is it rude to point out that the US military industrial complex is likely to be a major beneficiary from the extra cash flowing into the Gulf?

There is a catch here which is that so far we have seen “experts” promise us US $200 oil and US $20 oil and we have seen neither? So perhaps we should be looking at the economic effect of an oil price fall.Meanwhile one likely winner from the oil price rises has managed via extreme incompetence to be a loser.

VENEZUELA INFLATION TO REACH 10 MILLION PERCENT IN 2019: IMF ( @lemasabachthani )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Italian job just got a whole lot harder

The last few days have brought back memories of old times as an old stomping ground has returned to the forefront of financial news. This has been the Italian bond market which has been since Friday morning a real life example of the trading phrase “Don’t try to catch a falling piano”, or in some cases knife. If we look at the Italian bond future it has fallen 6 points since late on Thursday from a bit above 127 to a bit above 121. For these times a 2 point a day drop in a bond market is quite a bit especially when we consider that one large holder will not be selling. That is of course the European Central Bank or ECB which as of the 21st of September had bought some 356.4 billion Euros of them. So we note as an initial point that  falls of this magnitude, which has been on average the old price limit for US Treasury Bond futures ( a 2 point move led to a temporary trading stop back in the day) can happen even in the QE era.

Putting this another way the yield on the Italian ten-year benchmark bond has risen to 3.4%. This means that if we look at the deposit rate of the ECB which is -0.4% there is quite a yield curve here. It starts early with for those who have been invested here quite a chilling thought. You see as recently as mid may the Italian two-year yield was negative ( last December it was -0.36%) whereas at the time of typing this it is 1.56%. So those long have had a disaster although of course they can hold the bond to maturity and just lose the yield. Although of course we would not be here if there were not at least the beginnings of fears over the maturity itself such as perhaps you not being paid in Euros. From @DailyFXTeam.

EUR Borghi comments on the desirability of Italy having its own currency push Italian 10-yr yields to 3.4%, highest since March, 2014

Claudio Borghi is the chief adviser to Matteo Salvini who is Deputy Prime Minister and has been upping the rhetoric himself this morning. Via Twitters translation service.

In Italy No one is drinking the threats of Juncker, which now associates our country with Greece.

Madness they call it madness

There has been plenty of this including this curious statement yesterday from Matteo Salvini.

*ITALY’S SALVINI SAYS `GENTLEMEN OF THE SPREAD’ WILL UNDERSTAND

If we bypass the obvious sexism he is referring to the yield spread between Italian bonds and the benchmark for the Euro area which is of course Germany. A part of the Euro project is that these should converge over time as economies also converge. Except we have seen quite a divergence recently as if we look at the ten-year gap this morning it reached 3% per annum, which if you held to maturity would be a tidy sum especially if this fantasy came true.

Borghi advocating an ECB enforced max spread to Germany of 150bps. ( h/t @stewhampton )

In recent times it would appear that the ECB has been the main buyer of BTPs but it as of this week has reduced again its purchases and will buy around 1.7 billion Euros only in October. As we stand it seems unlikely to fire up its QE programme just for Italy. It did buy Italian bonds back at the peak of the Euro area crisis but bond yields were more than double what they are now.

The Deficit

In the grand scheme of things the change here has been quite minor. From Reuters.

Italy new eurosceptic government proposed on Thursday a budget that increases the deficit to 2.4 percent of gross domestic product in 2019, tripling it in comparison with the plans of its predecessors.

Actually the real change has been from 1.8% of GDP as rumoured just over a week ago, as we find that 0.6% of GDP has turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Actually the real switch in my opinion is not to be found here but rather in the implications for the national debt.

Under EU law Italy should reduce its public debt rather than increase borrowing. Rome’s total debt is worth 133 percent of GDP.

Just as a reminder the Euro area limit is supposed to be 60% of GDP. Thus Italy is supposed to be reducing its ratio but we know that it has been increasing it over the credit crunch era. Should the higher bond yields last then they will put further upwards pressure on it and in some respects Italy will start to look a little like Greece.

The economy

This is the crux of the matter as the most revealing point is that the budget forecast relies on Italy growing at 1.6% or 1.7% next year. The catch for those who have not followed its economic trajectory is that it only grows at about 1% in the good years and has had a dreadful credit crunch era. Those who were cheerleaders for the “Renzinomics” of around 2014 need to eat more than one slice of humble pie as it never happened. Yesterday brought another same as it ever was signal.

Manufacturing operating conditions in Italy stagnated during September as output and new orders both fell marginally. Job creation was sustained, but at a much slower rate as signs of spare capacity persisted………September’s data also marked the first time in just over two years that the sector has failed to expand.
Manufacturing output fell in September. Although negligible, the decline in production marked a second successive monthly contraction in line with a similar development for new orders.

If we switch to the official monthly economic report it too is downbeat.

In August, both consumer confidence and the composite business indicator declined, influenced respectively by the worsening of economic expectations and the climate in manufacturing sector, which is further affected by the
decline in book orders and expectations on production.

So we see that Italy which grew by 0.5% in the first half of the year will do well to repeat that in the second half especially if we note the slowing of the Euro area money supply we looked at last Thursday.

Much better news came from the labour market.

In August 2018, 23.369 million persons were employed, +0.3% over July. Unemployed were 2.522 million,
-4.5% over the previous month……..Employment rate was 59.0%, +0.2 percentage points over the previous month, unemployment rate was 9.7%, -0.4 percentage points over July 2018 and inactivity rate was 34.5%, +0.1 points over the previous month.

Let us hope that is true as Italy badly needs some good economic news, but it has developed a habit of declaring such numbers and then revising them higher later. Also it remains a bad time to be young in Italy.

Youth unemployment rate (aged 15-24) was 31.0%, +0.2 percentage points over the previous month

Comment

The situation here is something which has been changed by some rather small developments. Why? Well it is a consequence of my “Girlfriend in a Coma” theme which I have been running for some years now. When you grow by so little in the good times you are left vulnerable to changes, and hence apparently small ones can cause trouble. This has been added to by the frankly silly rhetoric on both sides.

Added to this is the issue of the consequences of the QE era which has been a subject over the past couple of weeks. Italy tucked itself under the “Whatever it takes” umbrella of President Draghi of the ECB but has not reformed much if at all so as the umbrella gets folded up and put away it is vulnerable again. Since that speech was given in the summer of 2012 the Italian economy has grown by a bit over 2% and is still some 4-5% smaller than it was a decade ago. This is the real Girlfriend in a coma issue which has led to the problems with the banks and the national debt and has given us the Italian version of a lost decade. As the population has been growing the individual experience has been even worse than that.

The other way that Italy is different to Greece is that in Euro terms it is indeed systemic due to its much larger size.

 

 

 

 

The Bank of England is struggling badly on the subject of the impact of QE

This week has brought us more opinions from the Bank of England.Yesterday saw the man who Time magazine decided was one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2014. Sadly it has been rather a slippery slope since then for the Bank of England’s Chief Economist Andy Haldane who did at least offer some variety on the apochryphal story about the two-handed economist. From Reuters.

Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane said on Thursday that the central bank could decide to raise interest rates or to cut them if there was a disorderly, no-deal Brexit.

Although much more of a clue was given in the follow-up detail.

“on the balance of factors such as a fall in the value of the pound and the reduction in supply………just as it did pre-referendum,”

If we assume he has confused the word pre and post we see he is signalling us towards a fall in the pound £ he ignored and the way he panicked and demanded a cut in interest-rates as well as more QE. Also according to @LiveSquawk he told the audience this.

BoE Haldane: Impact Of Rate Hikes So Far Modest

That might be because in net terns there has only been one as the move in November simply reversed the 2016 mistake.

I note these days that those who tell us how intelligent he is, seem to have disappeared, and even the Reuters piece is accompanied by a picture of him looking a bit wild-eyed. The mainstream view that he is/was a deep thinker has been replaced by the view he is deep in something else. As to his campaign to be the next Governor of the Bank of England? You find out all you need to know by the way he was at Symonds College on Monday. His idea of a Grand Tour around the country to a chorus of acclaim has morphed into giving talks to sixth-form colleges and please do not misunderstand me I mean no offence to the students of Winchester. However I do suggest they ignore the failed output gap theory that he keeps trotting out.

QE

Earlier this week Gertjan Vlieghe was more revealing than I think he intended about QE and its effects. Let me illustrate with his view on how it works.  First he tells us that unwinding QE is no big deal.

This view of how QE works implies that unwinding QE need not have a material impact on the shape of the yield curve, or indeed on the economy, if properly communicated and done gradually.

There is an obvious problem here which is that if taking it away does not have a material effect on the economy then how did applying it have a positive effect? Also if it is so easy to do there is the issue of why the Bank of England has not done any? Let us see how he thinks it works.

I argue against the view that QE works primarily by pushing down long-term interest-rates directly, through compressing the term premium  ( the portfolio balance channel)……..my view that QE works primarily via expectations, with powerful additional liquidity effects which are temporary and mainly relevant during periods of market stress.

We note immediate;y that he downplays the most obvious effect it has had with is the lowering of many bond yields around the world to what have been unprecedented levels. Odd when that was so clearly in play when Gertjan applied QE in August 2016 and the UK ten-year Gilt yield plunged to an extraordinary 0.5% and some yields in the short to medium range went negative for a while. No doubt economic historians will call that “Haldane’s heights” or the “Carney peak” for Gilt prices because unless the Bank of England has another go at impersonating a headless chicken such levels are extremely unlikely to be seen again.

Rather than the route above where bond yields fall and have an impact via lower fixed rate mortgage and company borrowing costs he seems to prefer the expectations fairy. Here individuals and companies are supposed to respond positively to something the vast majority do not understand and more than a few either have not heard of or do not care. This sort of thinking has been notable in the rise of Forward Guidance where central bankers seem to believe or at least be willing to claim and imply that the population hangs on their every word.

The view on liquidity is interesting as it is another clear area where there is an impact as money is indeed created in electronic form and the money supply raised. This particularly affects narrow measures of the money supply as for example in Japan an initial target was to double the amount of base money.  The problem comes when we try to follow the trail of where the liquidity created went? In the early days of Bank of England QE much of it seemed to get deposited straight back to the Bank itself. But over time we can spot clear signs of its impact on the financial system in two ways. The first is the impact on asset prices and especially house prices with London in the van. But even that is complicated as credit easing most recently in the form of the £126 billion or so of the Term Funding Scheme was also required. Next is the way that the Bank of England so often denies any such impact these days which relies on us forgetting the research produced by it around 2012.

Also you note that Gertjan seems to have forgotten the meaning of the word temporary as in “liquidity effects” as not one penny of the £435 billion of Bank of England QE has ever been withdrawn. So on the state of play so far it has been permanent and furthermore there is no apparent plan to change that.

Comment

As we note yet more attempts from the Bank of England to tell us that up is the new down another issue has popped up this morning that they will have hoped we have forgotten. Here is Ben Broadbent on the first quarter of 2018 from the May Inflation Report press conference.

they’re nonetheless consistent with growth much stronger than 0.1%………do not point to anything like as weak as 0.1%

Next here is the announcement this morning from the Office for National Statistics.

This follows a soft patch earlier in the year, where the UK economy grew by a revised 0.1% in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2018.

So we have seen a downwards revision to 0.1% meaning that the antennae of Ben Broadbent now have a 100% failure rate. So it is way past time for him to stop relying on surveys which keep misleading him. Actually if we look at the source of the change we see that the ONS is also finding itself in quicksand.

Construction output fell by a revised 1.6% in Quarter 1 2018, marking its weakest quarterly growth since mid- 2012. It was previously highlighted that the adverse weather conditions earlier in the year had some impact on the construction industry.

I guess they are hoping we have forgotten that they told us the weather was not much of a factor! More serious is the fact that for the past 4/5 years their measurement of construction output has been a complete mess. The have told us it was in recession ( now revised) and then that it was doing much better ( which also seems to have now been revised). Along the way we have had a large company switched from services to construction and modifications to the deflation measure of inflation. I can tell you that my Nine Elms crane index is still at its peak of 40.

So there have been much better days for both the ONS and the Bank of England. Returning to the issue of QE I would like to remind you of Wednesday’s article on the drawbacks from it which look rather more concrete than the claimed gains. As for Governor Carney he has been too busy this week flying to North America and back so he can lecture people on the dangers of climate change.

 

 

Slowing money supply growth puts the ECB between a rock and a hard place

Sometimes life is awkward and this morning is an example of that for the central bankers of the Euro area at the European Central Bank or ECB. Let me open with the hard place which is a development we have been following closely in 2018 and comes direct from the ECB Towers.

The annual growth rate of the broad monetary aggregate M3 decreased to 3.5% in August 2018 from 4.0% in July, averaging 4.0% in the three months up to August.

This matters because if we look forwards the rule of thumb is that it represents the sum of economic growth and inflation. So we initially see that something of a squeeze is on. In fact it has been one of the guiding variables for ECB policy. Let me give you an example of this from the January press conference where Mario Draghi told us this.

Turning to the monetary analysis, broad money (M3) continues to expand at a robust pace, with an annual rate of growth of 4.9% in November 2017, after 5.0% in October, reflecting the impact of the ECB’s monetary policy measures and the low opportunity cost of holding the most liquid deposits.

Back then the garden looked rosy with the Euroboom apparently still continuing. But in the April press conference Mario Draghi had gone from bullish to nervous.

 It’s quite clear that since our last meeting, broadly all countries experienced, to different extents of course, some moderation in growth or some loss of momentum. When we look at the indicators that showed significant, sharp declines, we see that, first of all, the fact that all countries reported means that this loss of momentum is pretty broad across countries. It’s also broad across sectors because when we look at the indicators, it’s both hard and soft survey-based indicators.

He did not specifically refer to the money supply data but we now know that in March the rate of M3 growth had fallen to 3.7% and that whilst he may not have had all the data warning signs would be there. In such circumstances always look for what they do not tell you about!

Since then the numbers have fluctuated somewhat as it their want but the trend is clear as they sing along to “Fallin'” by Alicia Keys. The big picture is that the 5.3% of March 2018 has been replaced by 3.5% now.

The Rock

This for the ECB is its inflation target as it is one of the central banks who really do try very hard to achieve it as opposed to the lip-service of say the Bank of England. I still recall Jean-Claude Trichet defining it as 1.97% in his valedictory speech, and whilst that contains some spurious accuracy you get the idea. So in a sense what we now have are happy days.

The euro area annual inflation rate was 2.0% in August 2018, down from 2.1% in July 2018. A year earlier, the rate
was 1.5%.

Except if you take my rule of thumb above and in a broad sweep the amount left over for economic growth has gone from ~3.5% to more like 1.5%. This morning has brought news which suggests the inflation collar may be getting a little tighter. We do not get the overall number for Germany until later today but the individual lander have been reporting higher numbers with Bavaria leading the charge at 0.5% monthly and 2.5% annually for its CPI. However we do now have what appears to be a leaked number as @fwred explains.

Yep, German CPI apparently leaked early once again . 0.4% MoM consistent with strong regional data, would push inflation rate to 2.3-2.4% YoY, way above expectations.

As the largest economy in the Euro area that will pull inflation higher directly and of course there is also the implicit influence that many inflation trends will be international within the shared currency. Returning to my rule of thumb there is even less scope for economic growth if this is an accurate picture of the inflation trend.

Narrow Money

If broad money growth gives us the general direction of travel then narrow money gives us the impulse for the next few months or so. How is that going?

The annual growth rate of the narrower aggregate M1, which comprises currency in circulation and overnight deposits, decreased to 6.4% in August from 6.9% in July.

This compares to the 9.9% of September last year which is the recent peak. So the short-term impulse has weakened considerably since then and in terms of quarterly GDP growth we have seen a drop from around 0.7% to 0.4% or so. Of course we are now left wondering if more is to come?

A significant part of this has been the actions of the ECB itself as the 9.9% growth of last September was a consequence of monthly QE purchases being ramped up 80 billion Euros per month in the year from April 2016. Now of course we are in a different situation with them about to drop from 30 billion to 15 billion. This suggests that the fall in M1 growth has further to go.

What about credit?

These have been in a better phase so we can expect the ECB and its area of influence to give them emphasis.

However in my view there are two issues with this. The opening one is that they are  backwards as well as forwards looking as they represent a response to the better growth phase the Euro area was in. The next is that they are in the M3 numbers and in fact represent basically its growth right now ( 3.4%) as the other components net out.

Comment

Today’s news continues a theme of 2018 which is that money supply growth has been fading. In the Euro area this has been exacerbated by the winding down of the expansionary monetary policy of the ECB. Some of it is still there as it used to tell us that a deposit rate of -0.4% was a powerful influence here but much of the QE flow has gone. Thus in the period ahead we will find out if the Euro area economy was like a junkie sipping the sweet syrup of combined QE and NIRP. This morning’s economic sentiment data showing a drop of 0.7 to 110.9 might be another example of people and businesses getting the message.

Looking at the international environment we see that the ECB is increasingly out of phase. Not only did the US Federal Reserve raise interest-rates but so did a central bank nearer to home.

At its meeting today, the CNB Bank Board increased the two-week repo rate (2W repo rate) by 25 basis points to 1.50% ( C = Czech )

The situation is complex as we wait to see if they depress the international economy or we shake it off. But the ECB remains with negative interest-rates when economic growth looks set to slow. What could go wrong?

Me on Core Finance TV

 

 

 

 

The struggles of the French economy are continuing

This morning has brought more disappointing news both for and from the French economy. The statistics institute has released this.

In September 2018, households’ confidence in the economic situation has declined: the synthetic index has lost 2 points and reached its lowest level since April 2016. It remains below its long-term average (100).

This index has been in use for 31 years now so the fact that it is below its long-term average does give us some perspective. Also reaching a level not seen since April 2016 takes us back to around when what we might call the Euroboom began (in the second quarter of 2016 the French economy shrank by 0.2%) which will provide some food for thought for the European Central Bank or ECB. It has been on the wires leaking hints about how it will continue to withdraw its monetary stimulus just as its second largest economy has shown more hints of weakness. If we stay with the Euro theme this measure welcomed it by going above 120 but such heady days were capped by 9/11 and now we have seen 97,97,96 and then 94 in September. So there has been a long-running decline overall which did see a rally in the period 2013 to 17 but perhaps ominously turned down at a similar level to 2007/08. Also the outlook is not bright according to French households.

Future standard of living in France: strong
degradation……… The share of households
considering that the future standard of living in France
will improve in the next twelve months has sharply
declined: the corresponding balance has lost 7 points
and stands below its long-term average.

Markit PMI

This hammered out a similar beat last week.

Output growth across the French private sector
slipped to its lowest since December 2016 during the
latest survey period, with data indicating a broadbased
slowdown across both the manufacturing and
service sectors.

This slowdown had as part of it something you might expect with the ongoing diesel debacle and the trade wars.

Manufacturing businesses frequently reported a deterioration in the automotive sector.

This poses a question if we move to what the French economy did in the first half of 2018. Just as a reminder quarterly economic growth went 0.2% in something of a surprise but then backed it up with another 0.2% reading. I contacted Markit’s chief economist pointing out that a reduction on 0.2% as implied by their survey looked grim. But they are sticking to the view that France did better in the first half of the year and in spite of the recorded slowdown is doing this.

Across the region, growth slowed in Germany and
France but both continued to outperform the rest of
the eurozone as a whole, where the pace of
expansion held close to two-year lows.

I have no idea how France is outperforming by doing worse but there you have it. There were times when Markit was accused by the French government of being too pessimistic about France whereas now it must be delighted with its work.

The official surveys for businesses are also above their long-term averages but the situation here is awkward especially if we look at services. Here the confidence indicator has been stable around 105 for a few months or so suggesting growth and yet if we move to the actual data we know that the French economy has struggled.

Bank of France

In the circumstances the projections released earlier this month look rather optimistic.

In a less dynamic, more uncertain international
environment, French GDP is expected to expand
by 1.6% in 2018, 2019 and 2020. GDP growth
should remain above potential, helping to drive
further reductions in France’s unemployment rate.

They are plainly suggesting that the first half of 2018 will be followed by a vastly more dynamic second half involving growth of 1.2% as opposed to 0.4%. But once you look past that I note that 1.6% economic growth is described as “above potential” which to me seems somewhat depressing. Central bankers have a habit of thinking the same thing at the same time and this reads rather like the 1.5% speed limit that the Bank of England Ivory Tower has suggested for the UK economy.

In essence it is downbeat for domestic demand but hopes that export growth and some investment growth will take up the slack. Let us hope that it is right about the area below as unemployment in France remains elevated compared to its peers.

The ILO unemployment rate should fall gradually
to 8.3% at the end of 2020 (France and overseas
departments)

Although that is still high meaning that for some in France unemployment will be all that they have known.

Public Finances

Perhaps we are seeing an official response to the growth malaise. From Reuters.

France will reduce the tax burden on households and companies by nearly 25 billion euros ($29.4 billion) next year, the government said in its 2019 budget bill, pushing the deficit up towards an EU cap as the economy fails to gain pace.

This represents a change of direction although we do see something very familiar these days in the split between businesses and individuals.

Households will see their tax bill reduced by a total 6 billion euros while business taxes will fall by 18.8 billion euros, resulting in the overall tax burden decreasing to 44.2 percent of national income, the lowest for France since 2012.

There is also some pump priming on the expenditure side of the accounts although it is a reduction on the previous 1.4%.

While the government has kept overall public spending stable this year after inflation, the 2019 budget foresees an increase of 0.6 percent after inflation.

If we move to the debt situation we see what is a factor in President Macron’s enthusiasm for a shared budget in the Euro area.

At the end of Q1 2018, the Maastricht debt reached
€2,255.3 billion, a €36.9 billion increase in comparison
to Q4 2017. It accounted for 97.6% of gross domestic
product (GDP), 0.8 points higher than last quarter’s
level.

This looked like it was going through 100% but was rescued by the growth spurt. Now we wait to see what happens next should the French economy continue the struggles of the first half of 2018.Also there are risks on the debt costs side as we see two factors at play.The first is the tend towards higher bond yields we have sen recently and the second is the ongoing reduction in ECB purchases of French government bonds which had reached 410 billion Euros at the end of August.

Comment

If you want some good news then the sporting front has provided it for France in 2018 with its football world cup victory and it is just about to host golf’s Ryder Cup. But the economic news has disappointed pretty much across the board in an irony considering it is supposed to now have a business friendly government. It is true that the tax cuts are weighted towards the private-sector but so far the economy has slowed down rather than speeding up.

Unless the French statistics office has been missing things the ECB will also be noting that its second largest economy has turned weaker. That will provoke thoughts suggesting it can only boom in response to pretty much flat out monetary stimulus. Also there will be worries about what might happen if the ECB tightens policy as opposed to reducing stimulus. There is a case for that from the inflation data as the annual rate has risen to 2.6% on the equivalent measure to UK CPI which may be why French consumers feel so negative about the economy.

The current issues with the sale of Rafale fighter jets to India seems symbolic too. Corruption in such sales is of course far from unique to France but I also note that the way President Macron is distancing himself from it ( It was not on my watch….) bodes badly for what may happen next.