Has the UK just lost £490 billion as claimed in the Daily Telegraph?

As someone who pours over the UK’s economic statistics this from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Telegraph yesterday was always going to attract my attention.

Global banks and international bond strategists have been left stunned by revised ONS figures showing that Britain is £490bn poorer than had been ­assumed and no longer has any reserve of net foreign assets, depriving the country of its safety margin as Brexit talks reach a crucial juncture.

It is presented as the sort of thing we in the UK should be in a panic about like being nuked by North Korea or back in the day Iraq. Although the global strategists cannot have been much good if they missed £490 billion can they? Anyway there is more.

A massive write-down in the UK balance of payments data shows that Britain’s stock of wealth – the net international investment position – has collapsed from a surplus of £469bn to a net deficit of £22bn. This transforms the outlook for sterling and the gilts markets.

Okay so we have a transformed outlook for the Pound £ and Gilt market so let us take a look.

GBP/USD +0.10% @ 1.33010 as UK’s May and Davis meet EU’s Juncker and Barnier in Brussels. . ( DailyFX)

I am not sure that this is what Ambrose meant! It gets even worse if we look at the exchange rate against the Euro which has risen to 1.128 or up 0.4%. I will let you decide whether it is worse for a journalist not to be read or to be read and ignored! The UK 10 year Gilt yield has risen from 1.37% to 1.38% but that is hardly being transformed and in fact simply follows the US Treasury Note of the same maturity as it so often does.

Before we move on there is more.

“Half a trillion pounds has gone missing. This is equivalent to 25pc of GDP,” said Mark Capleton, UK rates strategist at Bank of America.

Okay so we have moved onto to comparing a stock (wealth) with an annual flow ( GDP) . I kind of like the idea of “gone missing” though should we start a search on the moors or perhaps take a look behind our sofas? If nothing else we might find some round £1 coins to take to the bank as they are no longer legal tender.

What has happened here?

If we move on from the click bait and scaremongering the end of September saw not only the usual annual revision of the UK national accounts but also the result of some “improvements”. The latter do not happen every year but they are becoming more frequent as it becomes apparent that much of our economic data is simply not fit for purpose. Part of the issue is simply that the credit crunch has put more demands on the data with which it cannot cope and part of it is that the data was never really good enough.

The data

Here is what was announced.

From 2009 onwards, the total revisions to the international investment position (IIP) are negative with the largest revision occurring in 2016.

So let us look at what it means.

In contrast, the IIP is the counterpart stock position of these financial flows. The IIP is a statement of:

  • the holdings of (gross) foreign assets by UK residents (UK assets)
  • the holdings of (gross) UK assets by foreign residents (UK liabilities)

The difference between the assets and liabilities shows the net position of the IIP and represents the level of UK claims on the rest of the world over the rest of the world’s claims on the UK. The IIP therefore provides us with the UK’s external financial balance sheet at a specific point in time. The net IIP is an important barometer of the financial condition and creditworthiness of a country.

Well it would be an important barometer if we could measure it! Some investments are clear such as Nissan in Sunderland but others will be much more secretive. This leads to problems as I recall back in the past the data for the open interest in the UK Gilt futures contract being completely wrong allowing the Prudential which was on the ball to clean up. Such things do not get much publicity as frankly who wants to admit they have been a “muppet”? There was an international example of this around 3 years ago when Belgian holdings of US Treasury Bonds apparently surged to US $381 billion before it was later realised that it was much more likely to be a Chinese change. If we look at the City of London such things can happen on an even larger scale in the way that overseas businesses in Ireland may be little more than a name plate. What does that tell us? That the scope for error is enormous.

Specific ch-ch-changes

Corporate bonds are one area.

improvements made to the corporate bonds interest, which has led to an increase in the amount of income earned on foreign investment in the UK (liabilities).

Which leads to this.

The largest negative revision occurs in 2016 (£27.3 billion) and includes improvements to corporate bond interest and late and revised survey data.

So as yields have collapsed all over the world as ELO might point out foreign investors have earned more in the UK from them? Also what about those who sold post August 2016 to the Bank of England? But that is a flow with only an implied stock impact so let us look at the main player on the pitch.

caused mainly by the share ownership benchmarking that has led to a greater allocation of investment in UK equities to the rest of the world. The largest downward revision is in 2016 (negative £489.8 billion) and includes these improvements, as well as the inclusion of revised data.

Share ownership benchmarking

Regular readers of my work in this area will be familiar with the concept that big changes sometimes come from a weak base and here it is.

The benchmarks were last updated in 2012, when the 2010 Share Ownership Survey was available. Since that time, we have run the 2012 and 2014 Share Ownership Surveys and reprocessed the 2010 survey.

So the numbers being used in 2016 are from 2014 at best and the quality and reliability of the numbers is such that the 2010 ones are still be reprocessed in 2017. On that basis the 2014 survey will still be open for change until at least 2021. Or to put it another way they simply do not know.

Comment

So in essence the main changes in the recent UK numbers for the stock and flow of our international position depend on assumptions about foreign holding of equities and corporate bonds respectively. There are a range of issues but let us start with the word assumption which means they do not know and could be very wrong. This is an area where a UK strength which is the City of London is an issue as the international flows in and out will be enormous and let us face the fact that a fair bit of it will be flows which are the equivalent of the “dark web”. So we have a specific problem in terms of scale compared to the size of our economy.

Before we even get to these sort of numbers we have a lot of issues with our trade data. You do not have to take my word for it as here is the official view from the UK Statistics Authority.

For earlier monthly releases of UK Trade Statistics that have also been affected by this error, the versions on the website should be amended to make clear to users that the errors led the Authority to suspend the National Statistics designation on 14 November 2014.

So this is balanced let me give you an example in the other direction from the same late September barrage of data.

In 2016, the Blue Book 2017 dividends income from corporations is £61.7 billion, compared with £12.2 billion for households and NPISH as previously published

Or the way our savings data surged!

I do not mean to be critical of individual statisticians many of whom no doubt do their best and work hard. But sadly much of the output simply cannot be taken at face value.

 

 

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Will the Spanish economic boom be derailed by separatism?

There is a truism that political problems invariably follow economic ones. If that is true in Spain at the moment then there has been quite a lag as it was several years ago now that the consequences of the Euro area crisis reached a crescendo. If we look back we see the economy as measured by GDP peaked at 103.7 in 2008 and then fell to 100 in the (benchmark) 2010 as the credit crunch hit. But then the Euro area crisis hit as GDP fell to 96.1 in 2012 and 94.5 in 2013 and the latter year saw the unemployment rate rise above 26%. So that was the nadir in economic terms as a recovery began and saw GDP rise again to 95.8 in 2014 and then 99.1 in 2015 followed by 102.3 in 2016.  So we see that in essence there has been something of a lost decade as earlier this year the output of 2007 was passed as well as a recent strong recovery. If economics was the driver one might have expected political issues to arise in say 2014.

What about now?

At the end of last week the Bank of Spain published its latest projections for the economy. Firstly it is nice to see that they have fallen in line with my argument that the lower oil price provided a boost to the Spanish economy mostly via consumption.

In particular, compared with the expansionary fiscal policy stance of the period 2015‑16 and the declines in oil prices observed between mid‑2014 and 2016 Q1

Of course that is a clear contradiction of the official inflation target of 2% per annum being good for the economy but I doubt many will point that out. You may note that they try to cover off the consumption rise as a response to the crunch.

Moreover, the expansionary effect resulting, in recent years, from certain spending (on consumer durables) and investment decisions being taken after their postponement during the most acute phases of the crisis is expected to gradually peter out.

Factoring in everything it expects this.

Indeed it is estimated that, in 2017 Q3, GDP growth could have decelerated somewhat, as anticipated in the June projections. As a result of all the above, it is estimated that, after growing by 3.1% this year, GDP will grow by 2.5% in 2018 and by 2.2% in 2019.

A driver of the economic growth seen so far has been export success.

Accordingly, for example in 2016, GDP growth was more reliant on the external component than had been estimated to date.

Also there are hopes that this will continue.

The data on the Spanish economy’s external markets in the most recent period have been more favourable than was expected a few months ago.

Although there is a worry which will be familiar to readers of my work.

owing to the exchange rate appreciation effect,

Oh and there is a thank you Mario Draghi in there as well!

by the continuing favourable financial conditions.

What could go wrong? Well……

Turning to the risks surrounding these GDP growth projections, on the domestic front, the political tension in Catalonia could potentially affect agents’ confidence and their spending decisions and financing conditions

This issue is currently playing out in the banking sector where some are fearful of no longer being backed by the Bank of Spain and hence ECB. Banco Sabadell has just announced it will have a board meeting this afternoon to consider moving its corporate address to Alicante in response. Of course if you wanted custom in Catalonia this is not the way to go about it as we mull the words of the Alan Parsons Project.

I just can’t seem to get it right
Damned if I do
I’m damned if I don’t

What about the business surveys?

Firstly the Euro area background is the best it has been for some time.

The final September PMI numbers round off an impressive third quarter for which the surveys point to GDP rising 0.7%.
The economy enters the fourth quarter with business energized by inflows of new orders growing at the fastest rate for over six years and expectations of future growth reviving after a summer lull.

However that sort of economic growth has been something of a normal situation for Spain in recent times. Let us look at the detail for it.

New orders rose across the service sector for the fiftieth month running, with the latest expansion the strongest since August 2015. Where an increase in new business was recorded, this was attributed by panellists to improving economic conditions.

From this there was a very welcome side-effect.

Responding to higher workloads, service providers increased their staffing levels solidly in September

If we move to the economy overall then we see this.

Taken alongside faster growth in the manufacturing sector, these figures point to a positive end to the third quarter of the year. Over the quarter as a whole, we look to have seen only a slight slowdown from Q2, suggesting a further robust GDP reading is likely. IHS Markit currently forecasts growth of 0.7% for Q3.”

Today’s Euro area survey on retail sales does not reach Spain but yesterday’s retail sales release shows they are struggling relatively with annual growth in August at 1.7% but retail sales are erratic.

Population and Demographics

There has also been some better news on this front as highlighted by this below.

The resident population in Spain grew in 2016 for the first time since 2011. It stood at 46,528,966 inhabitants on January 1, 2017, with an increase of 88,867 people.

This matters because the decline in population exacerbated a problem highlighted by Edward Hugh back in 2015. One of his worries was the ratio of births to deaths which had been shifting unfavourably and was -259 last year. This led to this and the emphasis is mine.

Furthermore, INE projections suggest the over-65s will make up more than 30% of the population by 2050 (almost 13 million people) and the number of over-eighties will exceed 4 million, thus representing more than 30% of the total 65+ population.
International studies have produced even more pessimistic estimates and the United Nations projects that Spain will be the world’s oldest country in 2050, with 40% of its population aged over 60. At the present time the oldest countries in Europe are Germany and Italy, but Spain is catching up fast.

Comment

Spain is an example of what is called a V shaped economic recovery as it has bounced strongly as opposed to the much sadder state of play in Greece which has seen an L shaped or if you prefer little bounce-back at all. If you were using economics to predict secessionist trouble you would be wrong about 100 times out of 100 using it. However if we move to what caused trouble in Greece when it had its recent political crisis we see that the driving force was the monetary system of which a signal is that the ECB is still providing over 32 billion Euros of Emergency Liquidity Assistance to it.

So as we stand the impact on the Spanish economy is small as businesses may be affected but moves if they physically happen will boost GDP and shift mostly from one region to another. However if there is any large movement of funds then all this changes as eyes will turn to the banking system at a point when people are wondering if and not when the Bank of Spain will step in? After all would it help a bank that is no longer in Spain? There are rumours that UK banks could have gone to the ECB if they had back in the day thought ahead about their locations. But imagine the scenario if a bank in Catalonia tries to go to the ECB when there is doubt over whether it was in the European Union?

Personally I would expect, after a suitable delay, the ECB would step in but the price would be high as Greece has found out from the years of the Troika which have been so bad they change their name to the institutions.

Tomorrow

I have a morning appointment with my knee specialist so I intend to post an article but it could easily be somewhat later than usual.

 

 

 

 

The stability of the UK economy is quite remarkable

Today gives us another opportunity to take a look under the engine cover of the UK economy and to do so considering the stated position of the Bank of England.

If the economy continues on the track that it’s been on… we can expect interest rates would increase somewhat.

Those were the words of Bank of England Governor Mark Carney on the BBC’s Today programme on Radio Four last week. Listeners will have been wondering if it will be third time lucky for his “Forward Guidance” as he has tried this tack before? More tucked away at the end of last week was a consequence of the actions of Governor Carney and his colleagues in August 2016 when they cut Bank Rate to 0.25% added a “Sledgehammer” to the QE ( Quantitative Easing ) programme and added a soupcon of credit easing with the Term Funding Scheme. Please remember the implications of giving banks cheap funding as you read this from the BBC about the interview with Governor Carney.

“What we’re worried about is a pocket of risk – a risk in consumer debt, credit card debt, debt for cars, personal loans,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.
He said banks had “not been as disciplined as they should be” in their underwriting standards and pricing of this debt.

How is that going?

This is the data up to the end of August from the Bank of England.

The annual growth rate of consumer credit remained at 9.8%, with a flow of £1.6 billion in August.

As you can see this is a triumph for the “Sledgehammer QE” of Chief Economist Andy Haldane who wanted precisely this. Oh hang on sorry, it is now the result of unexpected behaviour by the banking system and is a worry for the Bank of England.

Also we see that monetary growth has picked up more generally.

Broad money increased by £16.6 billion in August (Table A), the highest flow since September 2016. Within this, flows for all sectors were positive (Tables B-D) with the largest contribution from non-intermediate other financial corporations (NIOFCs) (Table D).

The monthly numbers are very erratic but this was a surge but the overall picture remains one of strong unsecured credit growth and growth in the wider aggregates that may be picking up again. What is in doubt is the mix that this monetary growth will provide between economic growth and inflation but it suggests that if inflation is 3% economic growth will be 2%.

Remember when we were told that all of this was for smaller businesses or SMEs? Well lending to smaller businesses fell by £200 million in July and £100 million in August.

Business Surveys

Today saw the last of the PMI business surveys for the UK and it was a case of steady as she goes.

The headline seasonally adjusted IHS Markit/CIPS Services PMI® Business Activity Index posted 53.6 in September, up from an 11-month low of 53.2 in August. Looking at Q3 as a whole, growth has eased slightly since the previous quarter (the index averaged 54.3 in Q2, compared to 53.5 in Q3).

So the changes are much less that the likely error term. This was reflected in the overall picture described.

The three PMI surveys put the economy on course for another subdued 0.3% expansion in the third quarter, but the fourth quarter could see even slower growth.

Markit have a default setting of downbeat on the UK economy which is a switch of sorts as they used to treat France like that. But there is an interesting perspective in the detail of their report.

The rise in price pressures will pour further fuel on expectations that the Bank of England will soon follow-up on its increasingly hawkish rhetoric and hike interest rates. However, the decision is likely to be a difficult one, as the waning of the all-sector PMI in September pushes the surveys slightly further into territory that would normally be associated with the central bank loosening rather than tightening policy.

The inflation picture

We learnt more about this at midnight from the British Retail Consortium or BRC.

In September, Shop Prices reached the shallowest deflation level in the last four years of 0.1%, with prices falling just 0.1% compared to a 0.3% year-on-year decline in August. Non-Food price deflation accelerated to 1.5% in September, from 1.3% in August, although Non-Food prices are less deflationary than in September 2016, when they had fallen 2.1% year on year. Food prices increased in September to 2.2%, up from 1.3% in August.

So food prices are rising but other prices are falling as we seem set to shift from disinflation to inflation in the retail sector although the BRC gets itself into quite a mess on this subject.

Overall shop price deflation reached an all-time low in September with prices now teetering on the edge of inflation.

The food inflation is being driven by butter prices ( a worldwide issue presumably leading to happy days in New Zealand) and on a personal level I note that the rises in the price of broccoli we looked at a while back don’t seem to have reversed much if at all.

Government policy

We should find out more later about this. We are already expecting a boost to the Help To Buy scheme which has led to this.

3,858 first time buyers earning over £100k appear to have had Help2Buy…  ( @HenryPryor )

Also the mind boggles as to what the with a household income below £20,000 per annum were able to buy! Maybe it’s because I am a Londoner………

Also the new £10 billion will be an expansion on what has gone so far ( figures to June 2017).

The total value of these equity loans was £6.72 billion, with the value of the properties sold under the scheme totalling £32.37 billion.

Perhaps we will see more emphasis on social housing later as well.

Comment

Imagine you are an “unreliable boyfriend” what is the worst scenario? It is of course the sort of stability that the UK economy seems to be providing as it seems fairly likely that the first three-quarters will each provide GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) growth of 0.3%. Of course the unreliable boyfriend in question will be hoping we forget his Forward Guidance for what 2017 would be like and instead focusing on his heroic efforts which prevented that. The same heroic efforts he now hints he will reverse. As he spins like a top we are reminded that in monetary policy of a version of  the Bananarama critique.

It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it
It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it
It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it
And that’s what gets results

Putting UK interest-rates back where they were clearly suggests that they should never have been cut in the first place. Even worse an unsecured credit boom has been fed. Oh and even the ratings agencies are raising the issue of credibility.

S&P troll BOE

S&P: WE BELIEVE RECENT STATEMENTS BY BOE AND CARNEY ARE PRIMARILY AIMED AT PROPPING UP GBP TO REDUCE IMPORTED INF PRESSURES ( @stewhampton )

Can Portugal trade its way out of its lost decade?

The weekend just gone has brought some good news for the Republic of Portugal. This came from the Standard and Poors ratings agency when it announced this after European markets had closed on Friday.

On Sept. 15, 2017, S&P Global Ratings raised its unsolicited foreign and local currency long- and short-term sovereign credit ratings on the Republic of  Portugal to ‘BBB-/A-3’ from ‘BB+/B’. The outlook is stable.

Bloomberg explains the particular significance of this move.

Portuguese Finance Minister Mario Centeno expects greater demand for his nation’s debt from a broader array of investors to spur lower borrowing costs both for the government and corporations, after the country’s credit rating was restored to investment grade status by S&P Global Ratings.

So the significance of their alphabetti spaghetti is that Portugal has been raised from junk status to investment grade. I will deal with the impact on bond markets later but first let us look at the economic situation.

Portugal’s economy

The key to this move is an upgrade to economic prospects.

We now project that Portuguese GDP will grow by more than 2% on average between 2017 and 2020 compared to our previous forecast of 1.5%.

This is significant because one of my themes on the Portuguese economy is that if we look back over time it has struggled to grow by more than 1% per annum on any sustained basis. This has led to other problems such as its elevated national debt to economic output level and makes it very similar to Italy in this regard. So should it be able to perform as S&P forecast it will be a step forwards for Portugal in terms of looking forwards.

If we look for grounds for optimism there is this bit.

We expect Portugal will maintain its strong export performance over the forecast horizon, reflecting solid growth in external demand and an uptick in exports.

Export- led growth is of course something highly prized by economists.

A solid external performance is likely to bring goods and services exports to around 44% of GDP in 2017, from below 29% just seven years ago.

Portugal has done well on the export front but S&P may have jointed the party after the music has stopped as this from Portugal Statistics earlier this month implies.

In July 2017, exports and imports of goods recorded year-on-year nominal growth rates of +4.6% and +12.8%
respectively (+6.7% and +6.6% in the same order, in June 2017)…….The deficit of trade balance amounted to EUR 1,057 million in July 2017, increasing by EUR 446 million when compared with July 2016.

Okay so worse than last year. I often observe that monthly trade figures are unreliable so let us move to the quarterly ones.

In the quarter ended in July 2017, exports and imports of goods grew by 9.0% and 13.4% respectively, vis-à-vis
the quarter ended in July 2016.

If we look back we see that if we calculate a number for the latest quarter then we now have had a year of monthly data showing a deterioration for the trade balance. Just to be clear exports have grown but imports have grown more quickly. So the monthly trade deficits have gone back above 1 billion Euros having for a while looked like going and maybe staying below it.

If we move to the other side of the trade balance sheet we see that imports have surged which will be rather familiar to students of Portuguese economic history ( as in a reason why they have so frequently had to call in the IMF). This year the rate of growth ( quarterly) has varied between 12.2% and 15.9% in the seven months of data seen.

There is a clear tendency for ratings agencies to be a fair bit behind the news and the export success story would have fitted better a year or two ago. Let us wish Portugal well as we note the recent growth has been in imports and also note that in general in 2017 so far the Euro has risen putting something of a squeeze on exports which compete in terms of price. The trade weighted exchange-rate rose from 93 in April to 99 now in round terms. So the gains of the “internal devaluation” which involved a lot of economic pain are being eroded by a higher exchange rate.

Debt

If you look at the economy of Portugal then the D or debt word arrives usually sooner rather than later. This is why an improved trade performance is more important than just its impact on GDP ( Gross Domestic Product). This is how it is put by S&P.

Estimated at about 236% in 2017, we view Portugal’s narrow net external debt to CARs (our preferred measure of the external position) as being one of the highest among the sovereigns we rate, albeit on a steady declining trend.

There has been deleveraging but of course this drags on growth before hopefully providing a benefit.

Data from the Portuguese central bank, Banco de
Portugal, indicate that resident private nonfinancial sector gross debt on a nonconsolidated basis was still at a high 217% of GDP in June 2017, down from 260% at end-2012.

So far I think I have done well in avoiding mentioning the ECB ( European Central Bank) but this is an area where it has really stepped up to the plate.

The ECB’s QE has helped to further bring down the government’s and corporate sector’s borrowing costs.

Although it does pose a challenge to this assertion from S&P.

While we view the high level of public and private sector indebtedness as a credit weakness, we observe that external financing risks have declined significantly reflected in a substantial improvement in the government’s borrowing conditions.

Maybe but you cannot ignore the fact that the ECB has purchased some 29 billion Euros of Portuguese government bonds as part of its ongoing QE programme. To this you can add purchases of the bonds of Portuguese corporates and of course the 91 billion Euro rump of the Securities Markets Programme which also had Greek and Irish bonds. If you read about lower purchases of Portuguese bonds it is mostly because the ECB already has so many of them. Last time I checked large purchases of something tend to raise the price and lower the yield.

According to the latest ECB data, the central bank acquired €0.4 billion of Portuguese government bonds in August 2017, hitting a new low since the beginning of the
PSPP. The peak was in May 2016, at €1.4 billion.

The banks

Even S&P is none to cheerful here pointing out that the sector remains on life support.

It remains reliant on ECB funding.

Indeed the prognosis remains rather grim.

Banks’  earnings generation capacity also remains under significant pressure given the ultra-low interest rates, muted volume growth, and still large stock of
problematic assets (about 19% of gross loans) and foreclosed real estate assets (including restructured loans not considered in the credit-at-risk definition) as of mid-2017.

Internal Devaluation

If you improve your position via an internal devaluation involving lower wages and higher unemployment then moves like this are simultaneously welcome and risky.

In our opinion, consecutive increases in the minimum wage, most recently by 5.1% in January 2017, accompanied by measures to offset some of the additional cost for employers, are unlikely to have weakened the cost competitiveness of Portuguese goods and services.

Comment

Portugal is a lovely country so let us look at something which is really welcome.

As such, the jobless rate has almost halved from its peak of 17.5% during 2013 and is currently at 9.1% (July 2017), in line with the eurozone average and lower than in France, Italy, and Spain.

Good. However this does not change the fact that Portugal has travelled back to between 2004 and 2005. What I mean by that is that annual GDP peaked at 181.5 billion Euros in 2008 and after the credit crunch hit there was a recovery but then a sharp downturn such that GDP in 2013 was 167.2 billion Euros. The more recent improvement raised GDP to 173.7 billion Euros in 2016 and of course things have improved a bit so far this year to say 2005 levels.

Why is there an ongoing problem? Tucked away in the S&P analysis there is this.

we consider that Portugal’s fragile demographics, weakened by substantial net emigration and a declining labor force, exacerbate these challenges. Low productivity growth would likely stifle the economy’s growth potential (though this is not unique to Portugal), without further improvements in the efficiency of the public administration,
judiciary, and the business environment, including with respect to barriers in services markets (for example, closed professions).

Let me end by pointing out the rally in Portuguese bonds today with the ten-year yield now 2.5% although having issued 3 billion Euros of such paper with a coupon of 4.125% in January it will take a while for the gains to feed in. Also let me wish those affected by the severe drought well.

 

 

 

How are UK manufacturing, trade and construction doing?

Let me commence today with some Friday humour provided by the British Chamber of Commerce. At this time of hurricanes and now an earthquake off Mexico we could do with it.

UK GDP growth forecast for 2017 is upgraded to 1.6% from 1.5%, and is expected to slow to 1.2% in 2018 (downgraded from 1.3%), before rising to 1.4% in 2019 (downgraded from 1.5%)

Yes they think they can forecast UK GDP to 0.1%! Also whilst it has caught some headlines it is pretty much what it was before. But there is a difference to what we have been hearing from the CBI ( Confederation of British Industry) and the Markit business surveys ( PMIs).

The contribution of net trade to UK GDP growth is not expected to be as strong as we previously predicted, as we see little evidence that the depreciation of the pound is materially boosting the UK’s external position.

Of course only time will tell as to whether our manufacturing industry will see a boost but it would appear that the BCC has a strong sense of humour.

Our new forecast is that the first increase in UK official interest rates, to 0.5%, will occur in Q3 2018. This is two quarters later than predicted in our Q2 forecast.

UK Manufacturing

The official data this morning brought some positive news on this front.

In July 2017, total production was estimated to have increased by 0.2% compared with June 2017, due mainly to a rise of 0.5% in manufacturing; the largest contribution to the rise came from transport equipment, which rose by 7.6%.

The good news from the motor industry was not a surprise as the industry had reported good numbers for July.

The monthly increase within transport equipment was due to motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers, which rose by 13.7%, the strongest growth since March 2009; evidence suggested that the production of new models contributed to the growth.

The industry which had been pushing the numbers around has been the pharmaceutical one but by its standards a 7% monthly fall had a mild impact as it was up 2% on a year ago. You get an idea of what it has been doing by the way a 7% monthly change seems mild. On the subject of pharmaceuticals there was some chilling news from a research project in the US yesterday from which I spotted this . From Alan Krueger of Princeton University and NLF is not in the US labour force.

Nearly half of prime age NLF men take pain medication on a daily basis, and in nearly two-thirds of these cases they take prescription pain medication

This of course needs further investigation as indeed does the mushrooming opium problem.

Back to UK production and the only slightly smaller gap between surveys and the official data there is this from Markit.

ONS say having best month this year in July. Further rebound expected in August according to PMI. ONS data very volatile…  ( Chris Williamson ).

There is a bit of a cheek calling the official data volatile if you look at the PMI series but also some truth.

 

Construction

There were promises of more house building from Bovis earlier this week however this bit caught my eye.

Special dividends totalling £180m equivalent to c.134 pence per share to be paid over three years to 2020…….Group will continue to be strongly cash generative and the Board is committed to reviewing further capacity for returns to shareholders over time.

There are two issues here. Firstly the main beneficiaries of the Help To Buy programme seem to have been construction company shareholders. But a more subtle point was made to me, if the outlook is as bright as we are told why are they returning money to shareholders? After all ordinary dividends are rising anyway.

Board to recommend 5% increase in ordinary dividend in 2017 to 47.5p with a further 20% increase in 2018 to c.57p, demonstrating its confidence in the business and the strong outlook.

Yet all this largesse for building company shareholders of which Bovis is just an example does not seem to have had much of a lasting impact on UK construction if today’s figures are any guide.

Construction output contracted by 1.2% in the 3 month on 3 month series in July 2017 but remains at relatively high levels……Construction output also fell month-on-month, falling by 0.9% in July 2017, predominantly driven by a 1.4% fall in all new work.

Also the outlook was none too bright either.

New orders fell 7.8% in Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2017 compared with the previous quarter, dropping to its lowest level since Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2014.

I have written before that I do not have much confidence in the official construction data. For newer readers they had a lot of trouble with the deflator ( inflation measure) and shifted a large business from services to construction which meant it was hard to keep the faith. Also the numbers tend to be revised higher over time. However they have presented a declining trend in 2017 which has persisted, perhaps the election was an influence on infrastructure projects but that of course will fade over time.

Trade

There is an element of repetition here as we note the ongoing deficit and the fact that it seems unusually stable.

Between the 3 months to April 2017 and the 3 months to July 2017, the total UK trade (goods and services) deficit widened by £0.4 billion to £8.6 billion.

But these numbers are very unreliable as the revisions below show.

A downward revision to both imports of goods and services (negative £0.6 billion and negative £0.8 billion respectively) and an upward revision of £0.3 billion to total trade exports resulted in a narrowing of the trade deficit by £1.7 billion in June 2017 compared with the previous UK trade release.

Comment

Overall today’s data brought a possible hint of good news for the UK economy as manufacturing had a better month. In terms of the detail however the boost from the car industry seems unlikely to persist so we will still wait for a clear impact ( J-Curve) from the lower level of the UK Pound £. Construction continues to struggle.

Meanwhile there was troubling news for the Bank of England from its own inflation survey. Firstly the respondents do not seem to have much faith in it hitting its target.

Asked about expectations of inflation in the longer term, say in five years’ time, respondents gave a median answer of 3.4%, compared to 3.3% in May.

It is particularly interesting that the ordinary person seems to have a completely different view of inflation trends to central bankers. Maybe they have caught on that the central bankers are usually wrong! Or perhaps they consider  a “non-core” factor as well say vital for life.

Price inflation for food and drink rose sharply between July 2016 and July 2017, going from minus 2.6% to +2.6%.

The 3 economists who started their Underground report at the Bank of England with this are probably wondering where the tea and cake trolley has gone? If we return to the survey there was a further problem for central bankers who want higher inflation.

By a margin of 53% to 7%, survey respondents believed that the economy would end up weaker rather than stronger if prices started to rise faster.

Oh and this on Twitter provided some food for thought.

USD has stopped out everyone this morning and hence has no other place to go but up. ( h/t @FemaleTrader_A ).

@boomsbustsshow has expressed the same view and these attracted my attention because the media is now full of reports of a weak US Dollar.

Steely Dan

As a fan let me mourn the death of Walter Becker this week and leave you with this from Aja. RIP Walter.

Up on the hill
They’ve got time to burn
There’s no return
Double helix in the sky tonight
Throw out the hardware
Let’s do it right
Aja
When all my dime dancin’ is through
I run to you

Me on Core Finance TV

http://www.corelondon.tv/uk-economy-official-figures-yet-confirm-j-curve-effect-not-yes-man-economics/

 

The brightest sector in the UK economy appears to be manufacturing

Today has seen a raft of news on the state of play in the UK economy and let us start with what the consumer has been up to. The British Retail Consortium has told us this.

August provided a welcome pick-up in retail sales across channels, with Non-Food returning to growth as shoppers’ attentions turned to homewares, autumn clothing ranges and the new school term.

The BBC gives us a breakdown of the data.

The British Retail Consortium, working with consultancy KPMG, said like-for-like sales rose 1.3% in August, against a 0.9% fall for the same month in 2016.

Actually total sales rose by 2.4% which suggests that there was an opening of retail stores in some form which seems strange with the switch to online ( “from strength to strength”) that is happening. Also there was a dichotomy between the views of consumers about the future and the BRC. Here is the consumer view.

Shopper confidence has been building. 23 per cent expect to be financially better off over the next 12 months, compared with 20 per cent in the election month of June.

So an improvement albeit a small one whereas the BRC itself is much more downbeat.

Purchasing decisions are very much dictated by a shrinking pool of discretionary consumer spend, with the amount of money in people’s pockets set to be dented by inflation and statutory rises in employee pension contributions in a few months’ time.

Data from Barclaycard which claims to cover nearly half of UK credit and debit card transactions put a different spin on things.

Consumer spending growth slowed to 2.9 per cent in August, compared to a 2017 average of 3.8 per cent, as consumers rowed back across the board.

So they have seen growth but maybe not much if we allow for inflation and in the detail I noted that we seem to feel we need a drink!

Pub growth fell to single digits for only the second time this year (9.2 per cent), and spend on cinemas and event tickets flatlined (0.4 per cent) after the 24.3 per cent boost seen in July.

Also I saw this earlier and of course with a lag we tend to follow the United States in such things.

US box office -35 per cent in August, worst in 20 yrs raises Q’s about the future of cinema in the age of digital streaming!?  ( h/t @CompoundIncome )

Car Sales

This have hit a decidedly rough patch however which we have noted by the proliferation of scrappage schemes which add to the definition of “price cuts” in my financial lexicon for these times. From the SMMT.

New car registrations fall -6.4% in August to 76,433……Year-to-date market holds steady, down -2.4%, with 1.64 million cars joining British roads in 2017.

So bad news for sales however not so much for manufacturing as we mostly import the cars we lease. Europe’s trade body gave us an idea of how much last September.

The other way round, the EU represents 81% of the UK’s motor vehicle import volume, worth €44.7 billion

So a small drain for UK manufacturers and a larger one for foreign manufacturers so ironically if we continue to export as usual a possible improvement in the trade figures.

UK business surveys

The Markit PMI for services this morning had some odd combinations in it as shown below.

new order volumes increased at the second slowest rate since September 2016….. fragile business confidence

So a slowing but one which caused backlogs and increased employment?

This was highlighted by the steepest rise in backlogs of work since July 2015. Service providers responded to rising workloads and pressures on operating capacity by recruiting additional staff in August.

We have found employment to be a reasonably reliable forward indicator over the last few years or so meaning that the down reported could be an “unexpected” up.

If we move to manufacturing nearly everyone except the official figures are telling us that things are on the up.

All five of the PMI components – output, new orders, employment, suppliers’ delivery times and stocks of purchases – were consistent with a stronger performance for the manufacturing industry during August.

There was also this from another source earlier.

Britain’s manufacturers are enjoying buoyant conditions on the back of export markets going from strength to strength according to a major survey published today by EEF , the manufacturers’ organisation and accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP……  Output and orders bounce back to historic highs.

The picture is completed by a weak period for construction and particularly infrastructure spending from the PMI there. Maybe the election was an influence on the public-sector but we cannot say that for ever! However the overall picture suggested is of steady as she goes.

the latest two months’ data put the economy on course for another 0.3% expansion in the third quarter

What about flows of money?

This morning has brought news that suggests at least one company sees UK businesses attractive at current exchange rates. From the Financial Times.

 

Schneider Electric will contribute its own software division to Aveva in exchange for new shares in the UK company. Schneider will own 60 per cent of the enlarged company’s stock, valued at approximately £1.7bn. Existing Aveva shareholders will own the remaining 40 per cent.

However this morning we got official data saying that in the second quarter foreign acquisitions of UK companies had fallen! One area where there may be a change if ( as often happens) similar investors fall into line was this announced by the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund.

 In future, the benchmark index for the bond portfolio should consist of nominal government bonds issued in dollars, euros and pounds……….The benchmark index for bonds currently consists of 23 currencies. Our recommendation is that the number of currencies in the bond index is reduced.

These things take a long time to happen usually and some emerging bond markets will be hit but it seems that there will be a purchase of UK bonds ( as well as Euro and US Treasuries) which will be mostly a currency play.

Comment

On the surface we see that there is an element of “same as it ever was” as  the UK economy continues to grow but slowly. However underneath a fair bit seems to be changing as we see more and more reports of UK manufacturing doing well albeit that we wait to see that reflected in the official data. I have to confess I am unclear why services output is falling as backlogs and employment both rise!

The danger remains of a lower UK Pound £ pushing inflation higher but the main burst of that is fading now and if other sovereign wealth funds match Norway it may see some investing flows. On the other side of the coin even Markit seems to be trolling the Bank of England these days.

the overall level of the PMI remains more consistent with policymakers erring towards stimulus rather than hiking interest rates, suggesting the doves will continue to outnumber the hawks.

 

 

India gives us an update on the war on cash

A feature of these times is what has been called the “war on cash” It’s proponents argue for it on two main grounds. The first is that cash and in particular large denomination banks notes are used by criminals (especially by organised crime) and terrorists and so eliminating such notes would be part of the various wars against them. Others make the case that we may need to cut interest-rates even further when the next recession arrives which means that even more countries will experience negative interest-rates and that they will go even more negative for those that already have them. Cash is a barrier to this because it provides 0%. Who would have thought that 0% would be attractive? It is of course as Prince would say A Sign O’ The Times.

Of course interest-rates were supposed to go up in a recovery but Michael Saunders of the Bank of England has opened more than one can of worms with this in his speech this morning.

It is fully 10 years since the MPC last tightened monetary policy

India

If we go back to early November last year this happened.

Government of India vide their Notification no. 2652 dated November 8, 2016 have withdrawn the Legal Tender status of ` 500 and ` 1,000 denominations of banknotes of the Mahatma Gandhi Series issued by the Reserve Bank of India till November 8, 2016.

What was called Demonetisation was publicised as an effort to cut corruption. crime and also terrorism and there was a day to consider it as November 9th was a bank holiday. Also as I pointed out on November 11th it was suggested that it would provide an economic boost.

I hope that they have success in that and also that the official claims of a 1.5% increase in GDP as a result turn out to be true.

There were official claims that around 3 lakh crore or 20% of the currency would not come back and therefore a significant cost would be imposed on the criminal and terrorist worlds.Actually I note that the Financial Times is reporting that there were even more inflated claims.

 

At the time, government officials had suggested that as much as one-third of India’s outstanding currency would be purged from the economy — as the wealthy abandoned or destroyed it, rather than admit to their hoardings — reducing central bank liabilities and creating a government windfall.

 

Not everyone was convinced that it would be that easy including The Times of India.

Firstly, gone are the days when people hoarded wealth in gunny bags full of banknotes. In today’s world, there are refined ways of laundering money or stashing it away in benami properties, offshore bank accounts and foreign currency. Only the small fish keep their ill-gotten wealth in currency and the impact on black money will therefore be very limited in this exercise.

What happened next?

As I pointed out on the 26th of November the initial economic effects were negative and some of them were quite strong.

The automobile industry, which accounts for 7.1% of the GDP, is witnessing a fall in stock prices of up to 12% since the demonetisation. Himanshu Sharma, auto analyst at Centrum Broking, said two-wheeler sales can get affected by 40- 45%. The impact on cars is less, since most of them are bought on loan, but it could still be 10-12%……..Things aren’t any better with pharmaceutical companies, as sales of medicines have plunged almost 15%.

If we move to overall economic output we see that it in fact slowed. The annual rate of economic growth fell to 6.1% in the first quarter of this year so we can say that it showed no signs of the economic boost promised. As to how much demonetisation contributed to the fall we can say that there were downward effects but as ever it is hard to be precise.

What happened to the cash?

Yesterday the Reserve Bank of India gave its annual report and here is The Times of India on the subject.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Wednesday said that Rs 15.28 lakh crore –or 99% of the Rs 15.44 lakh crore demonetised by withdrawal of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes on November 8, 2016 –has been deposited with banks.

So the promises and suggestions of a large windfall gain for the government via the central bank have turned out not to be true. Seignorage is usually a theoretical number but in this instance it became reality except as we looked at above it was expected to be much more than this. Also according to the RBI there were costs in doing this.

Expenditure on Security Printing and Distribution
VIII.12 The total expenditure incurred on security printing stood at `79.65 billion for the current year (July 2016 – June 2017) as against `34.2 billion
during 2015-16.

More fake notes were uncovered than usual ( 345% up on the previous year) but considering what was taking place the number remained low especially if the rumours about how many fake bank notes there are in India have any basis in fact. As some of the returned bank notes have not been counted yet could we see the number of notes climb to say 101%?

According to The Times of India the official response is as follows.

The finance ministry said the five main objects of demonetisation were: -Flushing out black money -Eliminating fake currency – Ending financing of terrorism and left-wing extremism – Converting the non-formal economy into a formal economy to expand the tax base and employment — Giving a big boost to digitisation of payments to make India a less cash economy

Well I suppose the last bit is probably true but this bit is pretty woeful if we note the government’s previous rhetoric.

The finance ministry said in a statement that the government had in fact expected the bulk of the cash to be returned to become effectively usable currency.

Although no doubt you can define “bulk” in a variety of ways.

Comment

Let me completely support efforts to reduce organised crime and terrorism with the only caveat being that care is needed how you define that. After all an area pretty much ignored by Demonetisation is that a clear example of what many would consider organised crime in recent times has involved the banks. For obvious reasons it is hard to get accurate estimates but it seems likely that “banking crime” exceeds “cash crime”.

Returning to the Indian experience there were clear stoppages in the economy and I speculated on the 11th of November last year on who it would hit the most.

I remember watching the excellent BBC 4 documentaries on the Indian railway system and the ( often poor) black market sellers on the trains saw arrest as simply a cost of business. Will this be the same? Also there is the issue of whether it will all just start up again with the new 2000 Rupee notes.

Also let us remind ourselves that India now has more 2000 Rupee notes which surely will only make the stated objectives harder to achieve. The timeline we now know also perhaps provides insight into the resignation of the previous RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan..

On the other side of the balance sheet then if this claim from the Finance Ministry is true maybe there will be a gain going forwards.

Advance collections of personal income tax showed a growth of 41.79% on August 5 over the corresponding year-earlier period. Personal income tax under self-assessment grew 34.25%.

Having mentioned the Indian railways it reminds me of the impact the Monsoon season has on the ( Monsoon Railway if you have not seen it) and that it has been severe this year. My sympathies to those affected.

Me on Core Finance TV

http://www.corelondon.tv/unsecured-credit-boom-j-curve-effect-uk-not-yes-man-economics/