Trade Wars what are they good for?

This week trade is in the news mostly because of the Donald and his policy of America First. This has involved looking to take jobs back to America which is interesting when apparently the jobs situation is so good.

Our economy is perhaps BETTER than it has ever been. Companies doing really well, and moving back to America, and jobs numbers are the best in 44 years. ( @realDonaldTrump )

This has involved various threats over trade such as the NAFTA agreement primarily with Canada and Mexico and of course who can think of Mexico without mulling the plan to put a bit more than another brick in the wall? Back in March there was the Trans Pacific Partnership or TPP. From Politico.

While President Donald Trump announced steel and aluminum tariffs Thursday, officials from several of the United States’ closest allies were 5,000 miles away in Santiago, Chile, signing a major free-trade deal that the U.S. had negotiated — and then walked away from.

The steel and aluminium tariffs were an attempt to deal with China a subject to which President Trump has returned only recently. From the Financial Times.

Equities sold off and havens firmed on Tuesday after Donald Trump ordered officials to draft plans for tariffs on a further $200bn in Chinese imports should Beijing not abandon plans to retaliate against $50bn in US duties on imports announced last week.

According to the Peterson Institute there has been a shift in the composition of the original US tariff plan for China.

 Overall, 95 percent of the products are intermediate inputs or capital equipment. Relative to the initial list proposed by the Office of the US Trade Representative on April 3, 2018, coverage of intermediate inputs has been expanded considerably ……….Top added products are semiconductors ($3.6 billion) and plastics ($2.2 billion), as well as other intermediate inputs and capital equipment. Semiconductors are found in consumer products used in everyday life such as televisions, personal computers, smartphones, and automobiles.

The reason this is significant is that the world has moved on from even the “just in time” manufacturing model with so many parts be in sourced abroad even in what you might think are domestic products. This means that supply chains are often complex and what seems minor can turn out to be a big deal. After all what use are brakes without brake pads?

Thinking ahead

Whilst currently China is in the sights of President Trump this mornings news from the ECB seems likely to eventually get his attention.

In April 2018 the euro area current account recorded a surplus of €28.4 billion.

Which means this.

The 12-month cumulated current account for the period ending in April 2018 recorded a surplus of €413.7 billion (3.7% of euro area GDP), compared with €361.3 billion (3.3% of euro area GDP) in the 12 months to April 2017.

 

 

So the Euro area has a big current account surplus and it is growing.

This development was due to increases in the surpluses for services (from €46.1 billion to €106.1 billion) and goods (from €347.2 billion to €353.9 billion

There is plenty for the Donald to get his teeth into there and let’s face it the main player here is Germany with its trade surpluses.

Trade what is it good for?

International trade brings a variety of gains. At the simplest level it is access to goods and resources that are unavailable in a particular country. Perhaps the clearest example of that is Japan which has few natural resources and would be able to have little economic activity if it could not import them. That leads to the next part which is the ability to buy better goods and services which if we stick with the Japanese theme was illustrated by the way the UK bought so many of their cars. Of course this has moved on with Japanese manufacturers now making cars in the UK which shows how complex these issues can be.

Also the provision of larger markets will allow some producers to exist at all and will put pressure on them in terms of price and quality. Thus in a nutshell we end up with more and better goods and services. It is on these roads that trade boosts world economic activity and it is generally true that world trade growth exceeds world economic activity of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth.

Since the Second World War, the
volume of world merchandise trade
has tended to grow about 1.5 times
faster than world GDP, although in the
1990s it grew more than twice as fast. ( World Trade Organisation)

Although like in so many other areas things are not what they were.

However, in the aftermath of the global
financial crisis the ratio of trade growth
to GDP growth has fallen to around 1:1.

Although last year was a good year for trade according to the WTO.

World merchandise trade
volume grew by 4.7 per
cent in 2017 after just
1.8 per cent growth
in 2016.

How Much?

Trying to specify the gains above is far from easy. In March there was a paper from the NBER which had a go.

About 8 cents out of every dollar spent in the United States is spent on imports………..The estimates of gains from trade for the US economy that we review range from 2 to 8 percent of GDP.

Actually there were further gains too.

When the researchers adjust by the fact that domestic production also uses imported intermediate goods — say, German-made transmissions incorporated into U.S.-made cars — based on data in the World Input-Output Database, they conclude that the U.S. import share is 11.4 percent.

So we move on not enormously the wiser as we note that we know much less than we might wish or like. Along the way we are reminded that whilst the US is an enormous factor in world trade in percentage terms it is a relatively insular economy although that is to some extent driven by how large its economy is in the first place.

Any mention of numbers needs to come with a warning as trade statistics are unreliable and pretty universally wrong. Countries disagree with each other regularly about bilateral trade and the numbers for the growing services sector are woeful.

Comment

This is one of the few economic sectors where theory is on a sound footing when it meets reality. We all benefit in myriad ways from trade as so much in modern life is dependent on it. It has enriched us all. But the story is also nuanced as we do not live in a few trade nirvana, For example countries intervene as highlighted by the World Trade Organisation in its annual report.

Other issues raised by members
included China’s lack of timely and
complete notifications on subsidies
and state-trading enterprises,

That is pretty neutral if we consider the way China has driven prices down in some areas to wipe out much competition leading to control of such markets and higher prices down the road. There were plenty of tariffs and trade barriers long before the Donald became US President. Also Germany locked in a comparative trade advantage for itself when it joined the Euro especially if we use the Swiss Franc as a proxy for how a Deutschmark would have traded ( soared) post credit crunch.

Also there is the issue of where the trade benefits go? As this from NBC highlights there were questions all along about the Trans Pacific Partnership.

These included labor rights rules unions said were toothless, rules that could have delayed generics and lead to higher drug prices, and expanded international copyright protection.

This leads us back to the issue of labour struggling (wages) but capital doing rather well in the QE era. Or in another form how Ireland has had economic success but also grotesquely distorted some forms of economic activity via its membership of the European Union and low and in some cases no corporate taxes. Who would have thought a country would not want to levy taxes on Apple? After all with cash reserves of US $285.1 billion and rising it can pay.

So the rhetoric and actions of the Donald does raise fears of trade wars and if it goes further the competitive devaluations of the 1920s. But it is also true that there are genuine issues at play which get hidden in the melee a bit like Harry Kane after his first goal last night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The UK joins France and Germany with falling production in April

Today brings us a raft of new detail on the UK economy and as it is for April we get the beginnings of some insight as to whether the UK economy picked up after the malaise of only 0.1% GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) growth in the first quarter of this year. According to Markit PMI business survey we have in the first two months of this quarter but of course surveys are one thing and official data is another.

So far, the three PMI surveys indicate that GDP looks set to rise by 0.3-0.4% in the second quarter.

As for the manufacturing sector the same set of surveys has told us this.

The seasonally adjusted IHS Markit/CIPS Purchasing Managers’ Index® (PMI®
) rose to 54.4, up slightly from April’s
17-month low of 53.9, to signal growth for the
twenty-second straight month.

So we see that April can be looked at almost any way you like. Manufacturing has been in a better phase for a while now partly in response to the post EU leave vote fall in the UK Pound £. According to the survey we are still growing but April was the weakest month in this phase although some caution is required as I doubt whether a survey that can be in the wrong direction is accurate to anything like 0.5.

Of course the attention of Mark Carney and the Bank of England will be on a sector that it considers as and maybe more vital. From the Local Government Association.

Councils’ ability to replace homes sold under Right to Buy (RTB) will be all but eliminated within five years without major reform of the scheme, new analysis from the Local Government association reveals today.

The detail of the numbers is below.

The LGA said that, in the last six years, more than 60,000 homes have been sold off under the scheme at a price which is, on average, half the market rate, leaving councils with enough funding to build or buy just 14,000 new homes to replace them.

We sometimes discuss on here that the ultimate end of the house price friendly policies of the UK establishment will be to give people money to buy houses. Well in many ways Right To Buy does just that as those who have qualified buy on average at half-price. Also we see that one of the other supposed aims of the scheme which was to replace the property sold with new builds is failing. I guess we should not be surprised as pretty much every government plan for new builds fails.

Production and Manufacturing

These were poor numbers as you can see below.

In April 2018, total production was estimated to have decreased by 0.8% compared with March 2018, led by a fall of 1.4% in manufacturing and supported by falls in energy supply (2.0%), and water and waste (1.8%).

The fall in energy supply is predictable after the cold weather of March but the manufacturing drop much less so. If we review the Markit survey it was right about a decline but in predicting growth had the direction wrong. On a monthly basis the manufacturing fall was highest in metal products and machinery which both fell by more than 3% but the falls were widespread.

with 9 of the 13 sub-sectors falling;

If we step back to the quarterly data we see that it has seen better times as well.

In the three months to April 2018, the Index of Production increased by 0.3% compared with the three months to January 2018, due primarily to a rise of 3.2% in energy supply; this was supported by a rise in mining and quarrying of 4.3%………..The three-monthly fall to April 2018 in manufacturing of 0.5% is the largest fall since May 2017, due mainly to decreases in electrical equipment (9.4%), and basic metals and metal products (1.8%).

So on a quarterly basis we have some production growth but not much whereas manufacturing which was recently a star of our economy has lost its shine and declined. There has been a drop in trade which has impacted here.

The fall in manufacturing is supported by widespread weakness throughout the sector due to a reduction in the growth rate of both export and domestic turnover.

Actually for once the production and trade figures seem to be in concert.

Goods exports fell £3.1 billion, due mainly to falls in exports of machinery, pharmaceuticals and aircraft, while services exports also fell £2.5 billion in the three months to April 2018…….Falling volumes was the main reason for the declines in exports of machinery, pharmaceuticals and aircraft in the three months to April 2018 as price movements were relatively small.

That is welcome although the cause is not! But we see a signs of a slowing from the better trend which still looks good on an annual comparison.

In the three months to April 2018, the Index of Production increased by 2.3% compared with the same three months to April 2017, due mainly to a rise of 2.3% in manufacturing.

If we compare ourselves to France we see that it’s manufacturing production rose by 1.9% over the same period. However whilst we are ahead it is clear that our trajectory is worsening and we look set to be behind unless there is quite a swing in May. As to the Markit manufacturing PMI then its performance in the latest quarter has been so poor it has been in the wrong direction.

As we move on let me leave you with this as a possible factor at play in April.

 It should also be noted that survey response was comparatively high this month and notable weakness was due mainly to the cumulative impact of large businesses reporting decreased turnover.

Trade

We have already looked at the decline in good exports but in a way this was even more troubling.

 services exports also fell £2.5 billion in the three months to April 2018.

Regular readers will be aware that I have a theme that considering how important the services sector is to the UK economy we have very little detail about its impact on trade. As an example a 28 page statistical bulletin I read had only one page on services. I am reminded of this as this latest fall comes after our statisticians had upgraded the numbers as you see the numbers are mostly estimates.

So not a good April but the annual picture remains better.

The UK total trade deficit (goods and services) narrowed £6.7 billion to £30.8 billion in the 12 months to April 2018. An improvement to the trade in services balance was the main factor, as the trade surplus the UK has in services widened £9.9 billion to £108.7 billion. The trade in goods deficit worsened, widening £3.2 billion to £139.5 billion over the same period.

Construction

This was yet again a wild card if consistency can be that.

Construction output continued its recent decline in the three-month on three-month series, falling by 3.4% in April 2018; the biggest fall seen in this series since August 2012.

The consistency comes from yet another fall whereas the wild card element is that it got worse on this measure in spite of a small increase in April

Comment

There is a lot to consider here today but let us start with manufacturing where there are three factors at play. The money supply numbers have suggested a slow down and it would seem that they have been accurate. Next we have the issue that exports are weak and of course this is into a Euro area economy which is also slowing as for example industrial production fell by 0.5% in France and 1% in Germany in April on a monthly basis. Some are suggesting it is an early example of the UK being dropped out of European supply chains but I suspect it is a bit early for that.

Moving to construction we see that it is locked in the grip of an icy recession even in the spring. It seems hard to square with the 32 cranes between Battersea Dogs Home and Vauxhall but there you have it. I guess the failure of Carillion has had quite an effect and linking today’s stories we could of course build more social housing.

Looking forwards the UK seems as so often is the case heavily reliant on its services sector to do the economic heavy lifting, so fingers crossed.

 

 

Can negative interest-rates prevent a recession in Denmark?

One of the features of the response to the credit crunch was a general reduction in interest-rates. This was followed later by Quantitative Easing and around the Euro area in particular by further reductions in interest-rates. This was evidenced by Denmark where its Nationalbanken cut its current account rate to 0% in June 2012 where it remains. Even more so by its certificate of deposit or CD rate which moved into negative territory in July 2012 at -0.2% and is now -0.65% having been as low as -0.75%. So after raising interest-rates almost unbelievably as the credit crunch hit the Nationalbanken became an enthusiastic cutter of them and before we get to the impact on the Danish economy we need to remind ourselves that there is an external or foreign restraint at play here.

Denmark maintains a fixed-exchange-rate policy vis-à-vis the euro area and participates in the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, ERM 2, at a central rate of 746.038 kroner per 100 euro with a fluctuation band of +/- 2.25 per cent.

So it is no great surprise to note that Danish interest-rates were in effect sucked lower by the impact of Mario Draghi’s “Whatever it takes ( to save the Euro) speech and policies. Of course all interest-rate policies have external and internal economic implications but when you have such an explicit one the external takes over at times of stress. For choice I would call it a pegged currency rather than fixed as whilst it is unlikely it could more easily change the rate than it could leave the “irreversible” Euro if it had joined it. Anyway here is how the Nationalbanken  reviewed events back in the summer of 2012.

For the first time in its nearly 200-year history, one of Danmarks Nationalbank’s interest rates is negative. Negative monetary-policy interest rates are also unique in an international perspective.

They were not lonely for long!

The economic situation

At the end of last month the Nationalbanken told us this.

The Danish economy is in a boom where the
growth outlook is slightly better than the potential……. There is consensus that labour market
pressures will intensify.

We get the picture although the discussion with the Danish Economic Council did have something from the left field.

In addition, the calculation assumes an increase in the retirement age by 12 years relative to today.

Really? It seems for best that they think that the public finances are in good shape. Although I note that the enthusiasm for easy monetary policy does not spread to fiscal policy.

This should not be perceived as scope for fiscal policy accommodation within a foreseeable time horizon. The cyclical position must be taken into account.

Returning to the economic situation we were told this back in March.

The upswing continued in the 2nd half of 2017 and the Danish economy has now entered a boom phase. Labour market pressures have increased, but so far the upswing has been balanced.

That is Danmarks Nationalbank’s conclusion in a new projection of the Danish economy, in which growth in the gross domestic product, GDP, is expected to be 1.9 per cent this year, 1.8 per cent next year and 1.7 per cent in 2020.

We need a caveat for those who think that these days we need recorded growth of 2%  per annum just to stand still but Nationalbanken Governor Lars Rhode is not one of them.

The Danish economy is booming

In fact the outlook is so good that the brakes may need to be applied although it is revealing that Governor Rhode seems to have forgotten that the task below is usually considered to be the role of monetary policy because it is more flexible.

So the government should be prepared to introduce preventive fiscal tightening at short notice if there are signs that the economy is overheating.

The boom

We get a new perspective on the concept of boom if we note that at current prices the GDP of Denmark was 537.9 billion Danish Krone in the first quarter of 2017 and 537.3 billion in the first quarter of this year. This was driven by this.

Gross domestic product fell 0.6 percent in the third quarter from the previous three-month period, Statistics Denmark said on Thursday ( Bloomberg).

In fact we know that on the measure looked at above it fell by 0.8% and unknown to Bloomberg back then it had also fallen by over 1% in the second quarter so there had in fact been a recession in the boom. How can this be? Well there was an element of the Irish problem.

The reason is primarily a large payment of a Danish owned patent which is temporarily accounted for as service exports in Q1 2017. That leaves Q1 GDP at a massive 2.3% q/q growth and Q2 at -1.2%. Q3 turned out even worse than previously suggested at -0.8% but it is largely attributed to negative stock building and the above mentioned sudden stop in car sales. ( Danske Bank ).

This meant that if you looked at 2017 as a calendar year things looked like a boom. From the Financial Times.

Gross domestic product increased 2.1 per cent for the year overall, the country’s best performance since 2006. Jan Størup Nielsen, chief analyst at Nordea, said the country is now “running at full capacity” for the first time in 10 years, and said the solid performance “will likely continue in 2018”.

Yet if you look from the latest data then the economy is smaller than a year before! If we move to the cause here is the likely factor.

However, most of Denmark’s most valuable patents are held by pharmaceuticals companies and several economists pointed to a payment made to Danish group Forward Pharma last January. Nasdaq-listed Forward received a $1.25bn payment from US biotech Biogen as part of a dispute over patents for multiple sclerosis treatments. Forward chief executive Claus Bo Svendsen said the data showed “a nice time-wise correlation with our deal with Biogen”.

House Prices

From the Nationalbanken.

As a result of the gradual shift from bank loans to
mortgage loans in recent years, mortgage lending
continues to drive lending growth.

They will need to drive it a bit faster as at the end of 2017 there was a dip in house prices after a spell of rises which in the light of the negative interest-rates era you may not be surprised to learn began in 2012.  The 85.7 of the index was replaced by 111 in the autumn of last year but it ended the year at 109.1 . Like many capital cities Copenhagen is now under much cooler pressures than were seen before.

Comment

Let me open with this from Bloomberg yesterday.

In the world-record holder of negative rates, there’s been another eye-catching development.

Danes are richer than ever before, according to central bank data on savings and home equity. But they’re spending less, in relative terms. The gap between private consumption and household wealth is the biggest it’s been in three decades.

Those familiar with my analysis will not be surprised unlike those Bloomberg go on to quote. This is because there is a large group of losers as those who do not own property face inflation which does not show up in the Consumer Price Index which is at 102.2 compared to 100 in 2015. Whereas the winners are really only those who have sold and made a profit or more implicitly those who have used higher prices to borrow more.

So wealth is not what is used to be as we get another reminder that GDP isn’t either.

Though private consumption did inch up 0.9 percent in the first quarter, it wasn’t enough to prevent the economy from shrinking on an annual basis.  Danske says GDP growth this year probably won’t exceed 2 percent.

Furthermore will Denmark be influenced by the slowing in the UK and Euro area and with interest-rates already negative how would it respond in such a scenario?

 

 

Trade what is it good for?

Yesterday brought news which financial markets have received warmly this morning. From the Financial Times.

The US has stepped back from the brink of a trade war with China after Washington halted plans to impose tariffs on up to $150bn of imports, according to the US Treasury secretary.  “We’re putting the trade war on hold,” Steven Mnuchin said in a television interview on Sunday.

My first thought is one of simple relativity which is how important numbers for the world economy get dwarfed these days when we look at central bank balance sheets. Moving back to the trade issue we have been facing this situation.

 Chinese negotiators resisted a Trump administration push to make a commitment to increase purchases by $200bn annually.

Such numbers fascinate me as in the nice round number mostly seems to ignore what will be bought and what would be done with them as the detail falls rather short.

Mr Mnuchin said. But he said the US side had very specific “industry by industry” targets in mind, raising the possibility of a 35-40 per cent increase in agricultural imports this year and an additional $50bn-$60bn in annual US energy exports over the next three to five years.

For example the agricultural numbers are a “possibility” even in the rhetoric. Whilst we could see more shale oil production how much more food can the US grow and produce? This seems much more a nod to the support base for President Trump that a real plan. If we move on the real issue is driven by this though.

Critics in the US are also concerned that its main emphasis appears to be on meeting Mr Trump’s goal of reducing the US’s annual $337bn trade deficit with China rather than tackling more difficult structural issues in the Chinese economy, such as Beijing’s subsidisation of key industries and systemic theft of US intellectual property.

Yes the trade deficit as we get a reminder that one of the global imbalances which the so-called great and the good told us needed fixing has not been fixed. Or as the Bureau for Economic Analysis puts it for the first three months of 2018.

Year-to-date, the goods and services deficit increased $25.5 billion, or 18.5 percent, from the same period in 2017. Exports increased $39.2 billion or 6.8 percent. Imports increased $64.7 billion or 9.1 percent.

Trade is good

It is not often put this way but let me point out that there are good elements here. For example the United States is boosting economic output in the rest of the world both with its purchases and its larger deficit. Most countries are of course poorer than the US but some more so and thereby benefit. The numbers below are the deficits for March

China ($35.4),Mexico ($7.0),India ($1.4)

Trade is very badly measured

Numbers are bandied about in this area implying far more accuracy than in fact exists. As I looked at the numbers I noted for example that the US had a small deficit with Canada in March whereas I recall a while back both thought they were in surplus. From Bloomberg.

Canadian officials tend to use U.S. data to make their case and the Bureau of Economic Analysis has calculated the U.S. had a $7.7 billion surplus in 2016. But Statistics Canada data show it’s Canada with the surplus in goods and services, totaling C$18.8 billion ($14.6 billion) last year.

As Hot Chocolate put it “Everyone’s a Winner” except of course they cannot be in a zero-sum game. Actually you might think it would make everyone happy in the mirage but of course we do not seem to be. An example of the problems and issues here was provided by the UK statistical office on the 8th of this month.

The £9.8 billion upward revision to the total trade deficit in 2016 means the deficit has been revised from £40.7 billion to £30.9 billion (Table 2). The main driver of the revision in 2016 came from improvements made to methods used to estimate net spread earnings, which feed into exports of services. The net spread earnings improvement revised trade in services exports back to 2004.

The good part is that they are working on the data and there is specific good news for the UK. But the catch is that it opens a window onto matters which are missed or badly measured. I have long argued on here that this is a serious issue for the UK as we have little detail on our services exports which is an important factor in our economy and seems likely to be something which would reduce our trade deficit it it was measured properly. These are difficult areas for statisticians as numbers from financial markets are unreliable as for example if you had a “good thing” you would want to keep it quiet in the way that the Prudential rather famously wrong-footed the rest of the UK Gilt market back in the early days of my career. Also this is true.

This collection of NSE has proved challenging as it is not something the reporting units are required to report under financial regulations.

World Trade Growth

Last year was a good year. From the World Trade Organisation.

Trade volume growth in 2017, the strongest since 2011, was driven mainly by cyclical factors, particularly increased investment and consumption expenditure. Looking at the situation in value terms, growth rates in current US dollars in 2017 (10.7% for merchandise exports, 7.4% for commercial services exports) were even stronger, reflecting both increasing quantities and rising prices.

In general world trade growth is around 1.4/1.5 times world GDP growth although of course even here we hit trouble. From Luis Martinez of the University of Chicago

The results indicate that yearly GDP growth rates are inflated by a factor of between 1.15 and 1.3 in the most authoritarian regimes. Correcting for manipulation substantially changes our understanding of comparative economic performance at the turn of the XXI century.

The catch is that we in the west have been getting more authoritarian and of course there is the possibility that they do not leave their lights on all night as some do in the west.

I show that the elasticity of official GDP figures to nighttime lights is systematically larger in more authoritarian regimes.

Comment

There is a lot to consider here and the headline comes from Trump Town with a protectionist agenda based on America First. Of course before that came other moves such as the way China subsidises industries to crowd out competition and the way that Germany got a lower exchange-rate via membership of the Euro.

Next comes the issue of whether it will provide yet another signal of an economic slow down? So far the outlook seems good as the Harpex shipping index has been rising and is now at 657.

As to trade itself the issue is complex as the issue of US energy production reminds us. This is because whilst the US Energy Information Agency reports the quote below the issue is not that simple.

The United States has been a net energy importer since 1953, but AEO2018 projects the United States will become a net energy exporter by 2022 in the Reference case.

You see that is different from self-sufficiency as the US will export more than it imports but due for example to the different types of crude oil will still be importing. In a way that is a reminder of the intricate links in trade these days as few products are now entirely from one country as so many have lots of links in their chain.

Chains keep us together (run into the shadows)
Chains keep us together (run into the shadows)
Chains keep us together (run into the shadows)
Chains keep us together (run into the shadows)
Chains keep us together (run into the shadows) ( Fleetwood Mac)

The Italian economic job has led us to the current mess

After looking at the potential plans of the new Italian coalition government, assuming it gets that far yesterday let us move onto the economic situation. Let us open with some news from this morning which reminds us of a strength of the Italian economy. From Istat.

The trade balance in March 2018 amounted to +4.5 billion Euros (+3.8 billion Euros for non EU area and +0.7
billion Euros for EU countries).

There is an immediate irony in having joined a single currency ( Euro ) to boost trade and find that your main surplus is elsewhere. However some 55.6% of trade is with the European Union and 44.4% outside so there is a sort of balance if we note we are not being told the numbers for the Euro area itself. If we do an annual comparison then it is not a good day for economics 101 either as the relatively strong Euro has not had much of an effect at all as the declines are mostly within the European Union.

Outgoing flows fell by 2.2% for non EU countries and by 1.5% for EU countries. Incoming flows increased by 0.4% for EU area and decreased by 0.5% for non EU area.

Actually both economic theory and Euro supporters will get some more cheer if we look at the year so far for perspective as exports with the EU ( 5.5%) have grown more quickly than those outside it (0,5%). The underlying picture though is of strength as in the first quarter of 2018 a trade surplus of 7.5 billion Euros has been achieved. If we look back and use 2015 as a benchmark we see that exports are at 114.1 and imports at 115.9 so Italy is in some sense being a good citizen as well by importing.

The main downside is that Italy is an energy consumer ( net 9.4 billion Euros in 2018 so far) which is not going to be helped by the current elevated oil price.

Inflation

This is an intriguing number as you might think with all the expansionary monetary policy that it was a racing certainty. But reality as so often is different. If we look at the trading sector we see this.

In March 2018 the total import price index decreased by 0.1 % compared to the previous month ; the total twelvemonth
rate of change increased by 1.0%.

So quite low and this is repeated in the consumer inflation data series.

In April 2018, according to preliminary estimates, the Italian harmonised index of consumer prices (HICP) increased by 0.5% compared with March and by 0.6% with respect to April 2017 (it was +0.9% in the previous month).

Just for clarity that is what we call CPI in the UK and is not called that in Italy because it has its own measure already called that. Apologies for the alphabetti spaghetti. Such a low number was in spite of a familiar influence in March.

The increase on monthly basis of All items index was mainly due to the rises of prices of Non-regulated energy products (+1.1%) ( from the CPI breakdown).

Although there was also a reduction in regulated energy prices. But in essence the theme here is not much and personally I welcome this as I think that driving inflation up to 2% per annum would be likely to make things worse if we note the sticky nature of wage growth these days.

If we move to an area where we often see inflation after expansionary monetary policy which is asset prices we again see an example of Italy being somewhat different.

According to preliminary estimates, in the fourth quarter of 2017: the House Price Index (IPAB) increased by 0.1% compared with the previous quarter and decreased by 0.3% in comparison to the same quarter of the previous year (it was -0.8% in the third quarter of 2017);

The numbers are behind the others we have examined today but the message is loud and clear I think. Putting it another way Mario Draghi is I would imagine rather disappointed in the state of play here as it would help the struggling Italian banks by improving their asset base especially as such struggles draw attention to the legal basis for them known as the Draghi Laws which have been creaking.

Growth

The good news is that there is some as you see there is a case to be made that the trend rate of growth for Italy is zero which is not auspicious to say the least.

In the first quarter of 2018 the seasonally and calendar adjusted, chained volume measure of Gross
Domestic Product (GDP) increased by 0.3 per cent with respect to the fourth quarter of 2017 and by 1.4 per
cent in comparison with the first quarter of 2017.

If we stick with what Chic might call “Good Times” then Italy beat the UK and drew with Germany and France in the quarter just gone. However it was more their woes than Italian strength sadly as I note that even with this economic growth over the past four years has been 4.3%. This is back to my theme that Italy grows at around 1% per annum in the good times that regular readers will be familiar with and the phrase girlfriend in a coma. Less optimistic is how quarterly GDP growth has gone 0.5% (twice), 0.4% (twice) and now 0.3% (twice).

Labour Market

Here is where we get signs of real “trouble,trouble,trouble” as Taylor Swift  would say.

unemployment rate was 11.0%, steady over February 2018…..Unemployed were 2.865 million, +0.7% over the previous month.

The number has fallen by not by a lot and is still a long way above the 6-7% of the pre credit crunch era. So whilst it is good news that 190,000 more Italians gained jobs over the preceding 12 months that is very slow progress. Also wage growth seems nothing to write home about either.

At the end of March 2018 the coverage rate (share of national collective agreements in force for the wage setting aspects) was 65.1 per cent in terms of employees and 62.1 per cent in terms of the total amount of wages.

In March 2018 the hourly index and the per employee index increased by 0.2 per cent from last month.

Compared with March 2017 both indices increased by 1.0 per cent.

So a very marginal increase in real wages.

Comment

One thing that has struck me as I have typed this is the many similarities with Japan. Let me throw in another.

According to the median scenario, the resident population for Italy is estimated to be 59 million in 2045 and 54.1 million in 2065. The decrease compared to 2017 (60.6 million) would be 1.6 million of residents in 2045 and 6.5 million in 2065.

A clear difference can be seen in the unemployment rate and of course even Italy’s national debt is relatively much smaller although not as the Japanese measure such things.

The bond yield is somewhat higher especially after yesterday’s price falls and the ten-year yield is now 2.12% but here is another similarity from a new version of the proposed coalition agreement.

I imagine this would mean asking banks to hold less capital for the loans they give to SMEs. This would make banks more fragile and – in the 5 Star/League world – could lead to more “public gifts” to private banks. ( @FerdiGuigliano )

The Bank of Japan had loads of such plans and of course the Bank of England modified its Funding for Lending Scheme in this way too. Neither worked though.

Meanwhile we cannot finish without an apparent eternal  bugbear which is the banks.

League and 5 Star also have plans for Monte dei Paschi, which has been recently bailed out by the Italian government. They want to turn it into a utility, where the State (as opposed to an independent management) decides the bank’s objectives.

Me on Core Finance TV

 

 

What are the prospects for the US economy?

As we progress through 2018 we find eyes as ever turning regularly to the US economy. Not only to see what the world’s largest economy is up to but also to note any changes. The economic growth news for the first quarter was pretty solid. From the Bureau of Economic Analysis or BEA.

Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 2.3 percent in the first quarter of 2018
according to the “advance” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the
fourth quarter, real GDP increased 2.9 percent.

So whilst we see a slowing it is exacerbated in feel by the way the numbers are annualised and is much lower than that seen in the UK and much of Europe. Also the US has developed something of a pattern of weak first quarter numbers so we need to remind ourselves that the number is better than that seen in both 2016 and 2017. As to the detail the slowing was fairly general. If we were looking for an estimate of the recovery since the credit crunch hit then we get it from noting that if we use 2009 as out 100 benchmark then the latest quarter was at 120.58.

Let us move on with a reminder of the size of the US economy.

Current-dollar GDP increased 4.3 percent, or $211.2 billion, in the first quarter to a level of $19.97
trillion.

Looking ahead

There was something potentially rather positive tucked away in the Income report that was released with the GDP data.

Disposable personal income increased $222.1 billion, or 6.2 percent, in the first quarter, compared with
an increase of $136.3 billion, or 3.8 percent, in the fourth quarter. Real disposable personal income
increased 3.4 percent, compared with an increase of 1.1 percent.

At a time of weak wages growth considering the economic situation that was a strong reading which may feed forwards into future consumption numbers. I wondered what drove it but in fact it was pretty broad-based across the different sectors with the only fall being in farm income. As an aside the personal income from farming was surprisingly small considering the size of the US farming sector at US $27.9 billion.

Moving onto the Nowcasts of GDP the news has also been good. From the Atlanta Federal Reserve.

The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the second quarter of 2018 is 4.0 percent on May 3, down from 4.1 percent on May 1.

They start the series in optimistic fashion so let us say that around 3% may well be where they end up unless something fundamental changes.

Moving onto the business surveys we saw this yesterday.

April survey data indicated a strong expansion in
business activity across the U.S. service sector.
However, although the rate of growth accelerated, it
remained below the series’ long-run average.
Meanwhile, the upturn in new business quickened
to a sharp rate that was the fastest since March
2015. ( Markit PMI ).

Which added to this from May Day.

April survey data signalled a steep improvement in
operating conditions across the U.S. manufacturing
sector. The latest PMI reading was the highest since
September 2014, supported by stronger expansions
in output and new orders. Moreover, new business
rose at the sharpest pace in over three-and-a-half
years. ( Markit PMI)

Thus the summary for the start of the second quarter is so far so good which again means the US is in better shape than elsewhere at least for now.

Inflation

Earlier this week I note that the US Federal Reserve was for once on target. What I mean by that was that the PCE ( Personal Consumption Expenditure) inflation rate rose by 2% in March compared to a year before. Expectations of this are what caused the addition of the word I have highlighted in Wednesday’s Fed statement.

The Committee will carefully monitor actual and expected inflation developments relative to its symmetric inflation goal.

There has been a lot of debate over this much of it misinformed. Firstly central bankers virtually never mean it and secondly they are hinting at a possible run higher after a long period when it has been below the 2% target.

Such a likelihood was reinforced by the Markit PMI surveys.

On the price front, input cost inflation picked up in
April. The rate of increase was strong overall and
the second-quickest since June 2015. (services)

Meanwhile, average prices charged rose at the
quickest pace since June 2011, with the rate of
inflation accelerating for the fourth successive
month. Survey respondents commonly noted that
higher charges were due to increased costs being
passed on to clients. (Manufacturing)

Of course having begun the process of raising interest-rates without the most common cause of it these days ( a currency collapse) the US Fed is not in that bad a place at least in its own mind should inflation overshoot the target in the summer. Although of course as I have pointed out before in terms of logic it should have been more decisive rather than dribbling out increases along the lines expected for the rest of 2018 by Reuters.

While the Fed left interest rates unchanged on Wednesday, it is possibly set to raise them by a total of 75 basis points this year.

King Dollar

This was summarised by Reuters thus.

In just two weeks the dollar has surged nearly four percent against a basket of the most traded currencies, erasing all the losses it had suffered since the start of 2018 .DXY.

Against a broader group of currencies, including those from emerging markets, the greenback is now in positive territory against half of them.

This brings us back to the topic of yesterday where the US Dollar rebound has hit the weaker currencies such as the Turkish Lira and the Argentine Peso hard. Following on from the change of heart of the unreliable boyfriend in the UK it has seen the UK Pound £ dip below US $1.36 and the Euro is below US $1.20.

Is this a return to the interest-rate differentials that had up to then been ignored? Maybe a bit but perhaps the reality is more that the modern currency trade seems to be to follow the economic growth and as we have observed above at the moment the US economy looks relatively strong.

Comment

So in terms of conventional economic analysis things look pretty good for the US economy as we stand. The danger might be highlighted this afternoon from the wages data in the non farm payrolls release. This is because rising inflation will chip away at real wages if the rate of wages increase stays at 2.7%. Of course that reminds us of the issue of the fact that wages growth is only at that level with an unemployment rate at 4% leading many economists to scrabble through Google searches trying to redact references to full employment at a higher rate.

Elsewhere there are potential concerns of which one is debt. Should growth continue on its current path then it will help the national debt withstand the pressure placed on it by the Trump tax plan. On the private-sector side though familiar fears are on the scene.

 

Yahoo Finance helpfully updates us with this.

They’re also safer than junk bonds, at least in theory, with lenders getting repaid before creditors when firms get into trouble

What could go wrong?

Finally in spite of the recent dollar strength the Yen has pushed its way back to 109 leaving me with this from Carly Simon.

Why does your love hurt so much?
Don’t know why

 

 

 

The economy of Italy continues to struggle

It is past time for us to revisit the economy of Italy which will no doubt be grimly mulling the warnings of a Euro area slow down from ECB ( European Central Bank) President Draghi and Italians will be hoping that their countryman was not referring to them.

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.

We know that Bank of Italy Governor Visco will have given his views but at this stage we have no detail on this.

 All Governing Council members reported on the situation of their own countries.

This particularly matters for Italy because its economic record in the Euro era has been poor. One different way of describing those has been released this morning by the Italian statistical office.

In March 2018, 23.134 million persons were employed, +0.3% over February. Unemployed were 2.865 million, +0.7% over the previous month.

Employment rate was 58.3%, +0.2 percentage points over the previous month, unemployment rate was 11.0%, steady over February 2018 and inactivity rate was 34.3%, -0.3 percentage points in a month.

Youth unemployment rate (aged 15-24) was 31.7%, -0.9 percentage points over the previous month and youth unemployment ratio in the same age group was 8.3%, -0.3 percentage points over February 2018.

The long-term picture implied by an unemployment rate that is still 11% is not a good one as we note that even in the more recent better phase for Italy it has not broken below that level. Actually Italy has regularly reported that it has ( to 10.8% or 10.9%) but the number keeps being revised upwards. Now whether anyone really believed the promises of economic convergence given by the Euro founders I do not know but if we look at the unemployment rate released by Germany last week there have to be fears of divergence instead,

The adjusted unemployment rate was 3.4% in March 2018.

The database does not allow me to look back to the beginning of the Euro area but we can go back to January 2005. Since then employment in Italy has risen by 722,000 but unemployment has risen by 977,000 which speaks for itself.

If we look at the shorter-term it is hardly auspicious that unemployment rose in March although better news more in tune with GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) data in 2017 is the employment rise.

Manufacturing

The warning from ECB President Draghi contained this.

 Sharp declines were experienced by PMI, almost all sectors, in retail, sales, manufacturing, services, in construction.

We can say that this continued in the manufacturing sector according to the Markit PMI.

The recent growth slowdown of the Italian
manufacturing sector continued during April as
weaker domestic market conditions limited order
book and production gains. Business sentiment
softened to an eight-month low.

The actual number is below.

declined for a third successive month
in April to reach a level of 53.5 (from 55.1 in
March). The latest PMI reading was the lowest
recorded by the survey since January 2017.

So a fall to below the UK and one of Mario’s sharp declines which seems to be concentrated here.

The slowdown was centred on the intermediate
goods sector, which suffered a stagnation of output
and concurrent declines in both total new orders
and sales from abroad.

If we try to peer at the Italian economy on its own this is hardly reassuring.

There were widespread reports of a
softening of domestic market conditions which
weighed on total order book gains.

Also it seems a bit early for supply side constraints to bite especially if we look at Italy’s track record.

“On the contrary, anecdotal evidence in recent
months has pointed to global supply-side
constraints as a factor limiting growth, and these
issues in April were exacerbated by increased
weakness in domestic market conditions

GDP

This morning’s official release is a bit of a curate’s egg so let us go straight to it.

In the first quarter of 2018 the seasonally and calendar adjusted, chained volume measure of Gross
Domestic Product (GDP) increased by 0.3 per cent with respect to the fourth quarter of 2017 and by 1.4 per
cent in comparison with the first quarter of 2017.

So the good news is that the last actual quarterly contraction was in the spring of 2014 and since then there has been growth. But the problem is something we have seen play out many times. From February 12th 2016.

The ‘good’ news is that this is above ‘s trend growth rate of zero

It is also better than this from the same article.

The number below was one of the reasons why the former editor of the Economist magazine Bill Emmott described it as like a “girlfriend in a coma”.

between 2001 and 2013 GDP shrank by 0.2%. (The Economist)

So better than that but the recent experience in what has been called the Euroboom brings us back to my point that Italy has struggled to maintain an annual economic growth rate above 1%. The latest numbers bring that to mind as the annual rate of GDP growth has gone 1.8%, 1.6% and now 1.4%. The quarterly numbers have followed something of a Noah’s Ark pattern as two quarters of 0.5% has been followed by two of 0.4% and now two of 0.3%. Neither of those patterns holds any reassurance in fact quite the reverse.

Why might this be?

There are many arguments over the causes of the problems with productivity post credit crunch but in Italy it has been a case of Taylor Swift style “trouble,trouble,trouble” for some time now. From the Bank of Italy in January and the emphasis is mine.

Over the period 1995-2016 the performance of the Italian
economy was poor not only in historical terms but also and more importantly as compared with its
main euro-area partners. Italy’s GDP growth – equal to 0.5 per cent on an average yearly basis against
1.3 in Germany, 1.5 in France and 2.1 in Spain – was supported by population dynamics, entirely due to
immigration, and the increase in the employment rate, while labor productivity and in particular TFP
gave a zero (even slightly negative) contribution,

Comment

The main issue is that the economy of Italy has barely grown in the credit crunch era. If we use 2010 as our benchmark for prices then the 1.5 trillion Euros of 1999 was replaced by only 1.594 trillion in 2017. So it is a little higher now but the next issue is the decline in GDP per capita or person from its peak. One way of looking at it was that it was the same in 2017 as it was in 1999 another is that the 28700 Euros per person of 2007 has been replaced by 26,338 in 2017 or what is clearly an economic depression at the individual level.

It is this lack of growth that has led to the rise and rise of the national debt which is now 131.8% of annual GDP. It is not that Italy is fiscally irresponsible as its annual deficits are small it is that it has lacked economic growth as a denominator to the ratio. Thus it is now rather dependent on the QE bond purchases of the ECB to keep the issue subdued. Of course the best cure would be a burst of economic growth but that seems to be a perennial hope.

Looking ahead deomgraphics are a developing issue for Italy. From The Local in March.

Thanks to the low number of births, the ‘natural increase’ (the difference between total numbers of births and deaths) was calculated at -134,000. This was the second greatest year-on-year drop ever recorded.

On this road a good thing which is rising life expectancy also poses future problems.

As to the banking system well we have a familiar expert to guide us. So far he has had an accuracy rate of the order of -100%!