Of Denmark its banks and negative interest-rates

The situation regarding negative interest-rates mostly acquires attention via the Euro or the Yen. If the media moves beyond that it then looks at Switzerland and maybe Sweden. But there is an outbreak of negative interest-rates in the Nordic countries if we note that we have already covered Sweden, Finland is in the Euro and the often ignored Denmark has this.

Effective from 8 January 2016, Danmarks Nationalbank’s ( DNB ) interest rate on certificates of deposit is increased by 0.10 percentage point to -0.65 per cent.

Actually Denmark is just about to reach five years of negative interest-rates as it was in July of 2012 that the certificate of deposit rate was cut to -0.2% although it has not quite been continuous as it there were a few months that it rose to the apparently giddy heights of 0.05%.

In case you are wondering why Denmark has done this then there are two possible answers. Geography offers one as we note that proximity to the Euro area is associated with ever lower and indeed negative interest-rates. Actually due to its exchange rate policy Denmark is just about as near to being in the Euro as it could be without actually being so.

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.

Currently that involves an interest-rate that is -0.25% lower than in the Euro area but the margin does vary as for example when the interest-rate rose in 2014 when the DNB tried to guess what the ECB would do next and got it wrong.

A Problem

If we think of the Danish economy then we think of negative interest-rates being implemented due to weak economic growth. Well the DNB has had to face up to this.

However, the November revision stands out as an unusually large upward revision of the compilation of GDP level and
growth……… average annual GDP growth has now
been compiled at 1.3 per cent for the period 2010-
15, up from 0.8 per cent in the previous compilation.
GDP in volume terms is now 3.4 per cent higher in
2015 than previously compiled,

Ooops! As this begins before interest-rate went negative we have yet another question mark against highly activist monetary policy. The cause confirms a couple of the themes of this website.

new figures for Danish firms’ foreign
trading in which goods and services do not cross the
Danish border entailed substantial revisions

So the trade figures were wrong which is a generic statement across the world as they are both erratic and unreliable. Also such GDP shifts make suggestions like this from former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers look none too bright.

moving away from inflation targeting to something like nominal gross domestic product-level targeting would be a better idea.

In this situation he would be targeting a number which was later changed markedly, what could go wrong?

Also there is a problem for the DNB as we note that it has a negative interest-rate of -0.65% but faces an economy doing this.

heading towards a boom with output above the normal level of capacity utilisation……….The Danish economy is very close to its capacity limit.

Whatever happened to taking away the punchbowl as the party starts getting going?

Oh and below is an example of central banker speech not far off a sort of Comical Ali effort.

Despite the upward revision of GDP, Danmarks Nationalbank’s assessment of economic developments
since the financial crisis is basically unchanged.

The banks

This is of course “the precious” of the financial world which must be preserved at all costs according to central bankers. We were told that negative interest-rates would hurt the banks, how has that turned out? From Bloomberg.

Despite half a decade of negative interest rates, Denmark’s banks are making more money than ever before.

What does the DNB think?

Overall, the largest Danish banks achieved their
best ever performance in 2016, and their financial
statements for the 1st quarter of 2017 also recorded
sound profits…………In some areas, financial developments are similar to developments in the period up to the financial crisis in 2008, so there is every reason to watch out for
speed blindness.

Still no doubt the profits have gone towards making sure “this time is different”? Er, perhaps not.

On the other hand, the capital base has not increased notably since 2013, unlike in Norway and Sweden where the banks have higher capital adequacy.

What about house prices?

Both equity prices and prices of owner-occupied
homes have soared, as they did in the years prior to
the financial crisis.

Although the DNB is keen to emphasise a difference.

As then, prices of owner-occupied homes in Copenhagen have risen considerably, but with the difference that the price rises have not yet spread to the rest of Denmark to the same degree. The prices of rental properties have also increased and are back at the 2007 level immediately before
the financial crisis set in

It will have been relieved to note a dip in house price inflation to 4.2% at the end of 2016 although perhaps less keen on the fact that house prices are back to the levels which caused so much trouble pre credit crunch. Of course the banking sector will be happy with higher house prices as it improves their asset book whereas first-time buyers will be considerably less keen as prices move out of reach.

In spite of the efforts of the DNB I note that the Danes have in fact been reining in their borrowing. If we look at the negative interest-rate era we see that the household debt to GDP ratio has fallen from 135% to 120% showing that your average Dane is not entirely reassured by developments. A more sensible strategy than that employed by some of the smaller Danish banks who failed the more extreme version of the banking stress tests.

A Space Oddity

Politician’s the world over say the most ridiculous things and here is the Danish version.

Denmark should cut taxes to encourage people to work more, which would increase the supply of labour and help prevent the economy from overheating in 2018, Finance Minister Kristian Jensen said…

So we fix overheating by putting our foot on the accelerator?

Comment

If we look wider than we have so far today we see that international developments should be boosting the Danish economy in 2017. This mostly comes from the fact that the Euro area economy is having a better year which should boost the Danish trade figures if this from the Copenhagen News is any guide.

Denmark has been ranked seventh in the new edition of the World Competitiveness Yearbook for 2017, which has just published by the Swiss business school IMD.

But if we allow for the upwards revision to growth we see that monetary policy is extraordinarily expansionary for an economy which seems to be growing steadily ( 0.6% in Q1) . What would they do in a slow down?

We also learn a few things about negative interest-rates. Firstly the banking sector has done rather well out of them – presumably by a combination of raising margins and central bank protection as we have discussed on here frequently – and secondly they did not turn out to be temporary did they?

Yet as we see so often elsewhere some events do challenge the official statistics. From the Copenhagen Post.

Aarhus may be enjoying ample wind in its sails by being the European Capital of Culture this year, but not everything is jovial in the ‘City of Smiles’.

On average, the Danish aid organisation Kirkens Korshær has received 211 homeless every day in Aarhus from March 2016-March 2017, an increase of 42 percent compared to the previous year, where the figure was 159.

Portugal

Let me offer my deepest sympathies to all those affected by that dreadful forest fire yesterday.

Abenomics does not address the economic problems facing Japan

At the moment Japan must be looking at the UK with some bemusement. That is because it has been a country with political instability with a merry-go-round of Prime Ministers and yet an axis has shifted. We are now in a type of flux whereas Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been in power since November 2012. This means that his economics policy of Abenomics has had a decent run in terms of time and yet again we see someone who has taken the Matrix style blue pill and declared it a success. Let me hand you over to Matt O’Brien of the Washington Post.

Its unemployment rate has fallen to a 22-year low of 2.8 percent — yes, you read that right — due in large part to all the yen it has created the past four years.

The former which we have looked at before is a success and it is the flip side of this.

Maybe the best way to tell isn’t its super-low unemployment rate, but rather its super-high employment rate. That, as you can see below, has shot up since the start of Abenomics to an all-time high of 83.5 percent, making our own 78.3  ( He means the US ) percent rate look downright measly in comparison.

Again a success in itself as the quantity measures in the labour market are as strong as anywhere. But then we get an enormous leap of what I can only call faith.

It can’t be the fiscal or structural parts of Abenomics, because they’ve barely been tried……..All their money-printing seems to have given businesses the confidence — and the cheaper currency — they needed to expand a little more.

Thus we see a conclusion that the money printing has led to higher employment. Some would argue that with a fiscal deficit of 4.8% of GDP in 2015 and 4.5% last year with a debt to GDP ratio that fiscal stimulus had been tried rather a lot. Also there seems to be any lack of a causal relationship as the phrase “seems to have” suggests. Let us finish with some hyperbole.

And all it would have taken was printing a few trillion yen, which actually isn’t that high a price to pay.

Numbers may not be a strength for Matt as we remind ourselves of this from the 6th of this month.

At the end of May 31 2017, the Bank of Japan held a total of 500.8 trillion yen in assets,

Taking the red pill

Dissent in Japan is mostly considered to be non-Japanese so this from the Nikkei Asian Review ( NAR ) is interesting. First the ground is described.

“In order for Japan’s economy to achieve more than a recovery and continue stable, long-term growth after that, it is essential to strengthen Japan’s growth potential,” proclaimed a key economic and fiscal policy plan finalized in June 2013,

Okay so what has happened since then?

But the country’s potential growth rate now stands at 0.69%, according to the Bank of Japan, compared with 0.84% in the second half of fiscal 2014 — a sobering take on what Abenomics has actually accomplished.

If we return to the case made by Matt O’Brien above the fact that estimates of the potential growth rate have fallen seems to be missing doesn’t it? That is awkward for business supposedly being more confident in response to a promise to print money to infinity and maybe beyond. The tectonic plates on which supporters of QE stand would be on their own Ring of Fire if there are further suggestions that it reduces potential economic growth. I have been a critic of QE style policies and note that this below suggests yet another problem with the claimed transmission mechanism.

But while tax cuts helped boost businesses, many are merely hoarding their cash. Total internal reserves held by Japanese corporations have grown some 40% under Abe to 390 trillion yen. No solutions are in sight.

The NAR seems to agree with me about the trajectory of fiscal policy as well.

In terms of fiscal policy, Japan has passed seven supplementary budgets in just five years, spending about 25 trillion yen in the process.

“Extreme fiscal spending and other measures have led to a distorted allocation of resources in the economy and reduced productivity,” said Ryutaro Kono, chief Japan economist at BNP Paribas.

Also the NAR fires a lot of criticism at the so-called third arrow of Abenomics which is reform in Japan.

The debate on compensation for unfairly dismissed employees has stalled. While Tokyo opened the door for foreign workers with exceptional skills or those in certain sectors such as cleaning, it has shied away from a comprehensive discussion on immigration. Momentum to tackle regulatory barriers is fading.

It points out that if Abe wished to reform the labour market politically he is in what might be called a “strong and stable” position due to the way his party the LDP controls both the upper and lower houses in parliament.

The economy

There was some disappointment last week as the economic growth figures for the first quarter took a downwards revision.

The expansion in real gross domestic product, the total value of goods and services produced in the country adjusted for inflation, was revised to an annualized 1.0 percent growth from the previously estimated 2.2 percent expansion, the Cabinet Office said. ( The Japan Times ).

The good part of that was that it meant that Japan had grown for five quarters in a row which it had not done for over a decade. There were two bad parts though in that as well as being in the economic growth dog kennel with the UK there was an implication for the Abenomics plan of boosting inflation to 2% per annum.

In  nominal terms, or unadjusted for price changes, the economy shrank an annualized 1.2 percent, the biggest contraction since 2.2 percent registered in the July-September period of 2012.

Also the period of Abenomics was supposed to see a rise in inflation and more particularly a rise in wages. As the Japan Times reminds us the labour market is tight.

Moreover, there were 148 job positions open for every 100 people looking for work, the highest ratio in 43 years.

But wage growth is at best anemic.

But the labor ministry reported that in 2016, wages across the board — regardless of whether we’re talking full-time or part-time employment, regular or nonregular employees — only rose by 0.4 percent

Why? Well as we observe in some many countries official definitions of being in a job miss changes in the real world.

a larger portion of the workforce is in part-time and non regular jobs, which traditionally pay less.

Comment

There have been some extraordinary claims made for the success of monetary easing and QE. In my opinion we see a clear divorce between the financial and real economy. If we look at the financial economy in the era of Abenomics we see booming equity markets ( the Nikkei 225 has risen from 9000 or so to ~20,000), a lower currency ( versus the US Dollar it has gone from 80 to 110) and booming bond markets with a ten-year yield of 0%. But the real economy has not seen the boom in wages promised nor any great turn in the rate of GDP growth. Ironically it has been the recent fall in inflation that seems to have given GDP an upwards push rather than the claimed surge to 2% per annum.

Meanwhile the real challenge is adapting to this.

The annual number of babies born in Japan slipped below 1 million in 2016 for the first time since records began, with the estimated figure for the year coming in at 981,000, according to government figures. ( Japan Times)

The reminds us of the demographic changes underway highlighted by the fact that the figures for the 6 months to May showed the population falling by another 245,000. Exactly how will QE fix those?

 

 

 

 

The economics of the 2017 General Election

Tomorrow the United Kingdom goes to the polls for a General Election. Yesterday’s anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy in France reminded us that the ability to vote is a valuable thing that people have fought and died for. Let me repeat my usual recommendation to vote albeit with the realisation that as far as I can see it has been an insipid and uninspiring campaign. Time for “none of the above” to be on the ballot box I think.

Moving to economics there have been a couple of reminders over the past 24 hours that some themes remain the same. From BBC News.

RBS has finally reached a £200m settlement with investors who say they were duped into handing £12bn to the bank during the financial crisis.

The RBS Shareholders Action Group has voted to accept a 82p a share offer.

The amount is below the 200p-230p a share that investors paid during the fundraising in 2008, when they say RBS lied about its financial health.

If you look at the sums you see that the compensation is nowhere near the problem if you feel that there was a misrepresentation back then. Also as there was a 1:10 stock split back in 2012 is this not really an 8.2p offer? As to the theme of there being no punishment for bank directors there is also this.

A settlement means that the disgraced former chief executive of RBS, Fred Goodwin, will not appear in court.

Of course the UK is not alone in such machinations as I note this from Spain today. From Bloomberg.

Banco Popular Espanol SA was taken over by larger Spanish competitor Banco Santander SA after European regulators determined that the bank was likely to fail…..

The purchase price was 1 euro, according to the statement.

Santander plans to raise about 7 billion euros ($7.9 billion) of capital as part of the transaction. ( Bloomberg ).

That much? The situation has been summed up rather well in a reply to the article.

Santander could be buying a time bomb filled with bad debt. What is the CEO thinking? Why should shareholders bail out Popular?! ( @ ken_tex )

We are left with a general theme that the banking sector carries on regardless and simply ignores things like elections. Democracy has not reached the banking sector. There is a British implication as of course Santander is a big player in UK banking and as an aside this sees the first bail-in of a so-called Co-Co bond.

How is the economy doing?

We have the Bank of England with its foot hard down on the monetary policy pedal with a Bank Rate of 0.25% which as far as I can recall has barely merited a mention in the campaign! Amazing how that and £445 billion of QE ( including the Corporate Bonds) can be treated as something to be pretty much ignored isn’t it? Partly as a result of this we are facing a spell of higher consumer inflation which will lead to a contractionary effect on the economy due to the way it seems set to reduce real wages. But again this seems to have been ignored. Of course the Bank of England will be happy to be outside of the political limelight but when it is such a major part of economic policy there should at least be a debate.

Fortunately the edge has been taken off things by the decline in the price of crude oil back towards US $50 in Brent Crude terms and the rally of the UK Pound to US $1.29. This is a factor in the Markit business survey telling us this on Monday.

The three PMI surveys are running at levels that are historically consistent with GDP growing at a robust 0.5% rate, albeit with the slowing in May posing some downside risks to the near-term outlook.

So the economy continues to grow but at a slow pace overall. Of course the Bank of England will be concerned about this reported this morning by the Halifax.

House prices in the last three months
(March-May) were 0.2% lower than in
the previous three months (DecemberFebruary).

The mood of Bank of England Governor Mark Carney will not be improved by this as it refers back to a time before it began its house price policy push in the summer of 2013.

Prices in the three months to May
were 3.3% higher than in the same
three months a year earlier. This was
lower than April and is the lowest annual
rate since May 2013 (2.6%). The annual
rate is around a third of the 10.0% peak
reached in March 2016.

The Bank of England will also be worried by this signal that emerged yesterday. From Homelet.

UK rental price inflation fell for the first time in almost eight years in May, new data from HomeLet reveals. The average rent on a new tenancy commencing in May was £901, 0.3% lower than in the same month of 2016. New tenancies on rents in London were 3% lower than this time last year…….This is the first time since December 2009 the HomeLet Rental Index has reported a fall in rents on an annualised basis. The pace of rental price inflation across the UK has been slowing in recent months, having peaked at 4.7% last summer.

Of course whilst there will be concern and maybe some panic at the Bank of England that the £63 billion of the banking subsidy called the Term Funding Scheme has run out of puff. Meanwhile over at HM Treasury someone will be having a champagne breakfast as they slap themselves on the back for starting a rush to get rents in the official UK consumer inflation measure ( CPIH) last Autumn.

Fiscal policy

Back on the 23rd of May I looked at this.

Labour promised £75 billion a year in additional spending and £50 billion of additional taxes. The Liberal Democrats are also aiming for tens of billions of pounds in extra spending partially funded by more tax. Yesterday’s Conservative manifesto was much more, well, conservative………The Conservatives do not appear to have felt the need to spell out much detail. But they have left themselves room for manoeuvre.

Whoever wins we seem set for a period of higher taxation and higher expenditure but we remain in a situation where there is a lot of smoke blowing across the battlefield. There is of course also this from Labour.

we will establish a National Investment Bank that will bring in private capital finance to deliver £250 billion of lending power.

Comment

This has been an election where the economy has been out of the limelight. In a way this is summarised  by the fact that we have heard so little from the current Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond. This means that many important matters get ignored such as the apparent devolution of so much economic power to the Bank of England. An issue which is important as in my opinion it was captured by the UK establishment and now pursues policies that politicians would be afraid to implement.

Other important issues such as problems with productivity and real wages which have bedevilled us in the credit crunch era get little debate or mention. To that list we can add the ongoing current account deficit.

Yet some markets are at simply extraordinary levels and it is hard not to raise a wry smile at the ten-year Gilt yield being a mere 0.99%! Whatever happened to pricing an election risk? It also provides quite a boost over time to the fiscal numbers as it is well below the rate of inflation.

 

 

Spain continues to see a strong economic recovery

At the moment we could do with some good news. Saturday night’s dreadful terror attack was at a place I know well beginning from childhood as one set of grandparents lived near to Borough Market. A place that has found some economic good news in the past couple of years or so has been Spain. This followed something of a double whammy as the initial impact of the credit crunch was then followed by the Euro area crisis. As I look back it feels a little strange to see its ten-year bond yield above 7% as it was in July of 2012 when the latter crisis was raging. Of course those with the courage and foresight to buy Spanish government bonds back then were well rewarded if they held onto the position.

Today’s business survey

From Markit:

The recent strong growth rates generated by the
Spanish service sector continued in May. Further
sharp increases were recorded in business activity
and new orders. With workloads rising, and the
prospect of new projects in future, companies took
on extra staff again. Meanwhile, inflationary
pressures moderated during the month.

As you can see there are several points to not here. For example the situation looking ahead is strong.

Moreover, sentiment picked up to the highest in 26
months. More than 55% of respondents predict
output to be higher in 12 months’ time than current
levels.

Also we see that employment is on the rise which is welcome considering the still troubled unemployment picture.

Spanish service providers increased their staffing
levels during May, with new hires needed to work
on current and future projects. The rate of job
creation was solid and only slightly weaker than
April’s nine-month high.

Added to this is a decline in inflationary pressure which starts to make this look rather like a situation where Goldilocks porridge is at exactly the right temperature.

Inflationary pressures showed signs of easing in the
sector during May, with both input costs and output
charges rising at weaker rates than recorded in April.

At the end Markit are very bullish on GDP growth this quarter.

with nearly 1% being signalled for Spain

Should that prove to be true then the forecasts of the Bank of Spain will start to look a little pessimistic.

Based on our estimates, GDP could rise by 2.8% this year, before slipping to more moderate growth rates of 2.3% and 2.1%, respectively, in 2018 and 2019.

Although to be fair it was expecting a growth spurt based on something you do not often hear or read associated with the Euro area.

the expansionary fiscal policy

Official GDP growth

The first quarter of this year was a good one for economic activity in Spain according to its statistics office.

The Spanish economy registers a quarterly growth of 0.8% in the first quarter of 2017. This rate was one tenth higher than that registered in the fourth quarter of 2016.  The growth compared to the same quarter last year stands at 3.0%, the same rate as that recorded the previous quarter.

A phrase so beloved of economists can be deployed which is, export-led growth.

The contribution of net foreign demand of the Spanish economy to annual growth of the quarterly GDP was 0.8 points………Goods and services exports accelerated its rate of growth, increasing from 4.4% to 8.4%

This morning has brought more good news on this front. From Spanish statistics via Google Translate.

The total expenditure of international tourists who visit Spain in April increases by 19.7% compared to the same month of 2016. Average daily spending stands at 137 euros, 5.5% more than in April 2016……..During the first four months of 2017 the total expenditure of international tourists increased by 15.3% compared to the same period of the previous year, reaching 20,394 millions of euros.

Actually Spain was also a good global citizen in that it shared some of the benefits around too.

Imports of goods and services experienced an increase of 4.1 points, from 2.3% to 6.4%

As well as export-led growth there was also investment led growth.

Gross fixed capital formation registered a growth rate of 3.8%, indicating an increase of 1.6 points as compared with the previous quarter.

Unemployment

This is the achilles heel of the Spanish economy as the latest official quarterly survey informs us. Via Google Translate.

The unemployment rate stands at 18.75%, which is 12 cents higher than in the Previous quarter. In the last year this rate has fallen by 2.25 points.

The problem is shown by the fact that even after 3 good years for economic growth unemployment is still at a rate of 18.75% meaning that 4,255,000 Spaniards are recorded as unemployed. The good news is that until this quarter the rate has been falling and with the rate of economic growth the increase seems strange. As does the quarterly fall in employment of 69.800 which tells a different story to the GDP report.

Employment of the economy in terms of jobs equivalent to full-time employment registered a quarterly variation of 0.7%, three tenths higher than that registered in the previous quarter.

Over the past year we see that the two roads give similar answers ( 408k versus 435k) so if pressed one would say that the fall in employment from the labour market survey seems most suspect here. Maybe the 65,000 households surveyed had seen a particularly poor phase.

Monetary policy

This is a little awkward for Spain as the very expansionary policy does not go well with the economic strength we have looked at above. If we look for any sign of the “punch bowl” being taken away as the party gets started we see only a reduction in monthly ECB bond purchases to 60 billion Euros a month from 80 billion. The deposit rate at the ECB remains at -0.4% and helped by some 182.5 billion Euros of buying by the ECB the Spanish government can borrow at negative interest-rates on short-dated bonds and only 0.06% for five year ones. A little bit of a brake will have been applied by the rise in the Euro to around 1.12 versus the US Dollar.

Accordingly policy could not be much looser and it is hard to think of an economy in the past that has tried this sort of experiment in terms of expansionary monetary policy in such a boom.

House prices

So far we are not getting much of a clue from the various indices which tell us that they may be going up or down! This was interesting via Spanish property insight.

The outlier is the 7.74% increase reported by the registrars, using their repeat sales methodology that only looks at the price of property that has sold twice in the period of study.

The catch is that it must be a rather small sample size. Spanish statistics has the annual increase at 4.5%. So is this a case of once bitten twice shy? The index provided by Spanish notaries was set at 100 in 2007 and  was 70.7 at the end of 2016. Mind you for PropertyEU up seems to be the new down or something like that.

Looking at property performance returns in Europe in the last 10 years, Spain is second on the list after Sweden with a 13% return, followed by Ireland and then Portugal with 12 per cent.

Some of the gap can perhaps be provided by rents where as I reported on the 27th of January there has been a boom. From RTN online.

THE AVERAGE price of rental housing in Spain rose 8.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2017 due to increasing demand, according to the rental price evolution report published on Wednesday by Idealista.

Comment

The good news theme coming out of Spain was reinforced by Real Madrid retaining the football Champions League trophy on Saturday evening. The dangers for now seem to be a combination of monetary policy which if we allow for the fact that policy changes take 18 months or so to operate seems way too lax and the way that if a housing boom is underway it is in the rental sector this time around.

Also there is still some ground to be gained as even the really good growth of the last few years has only just got Spain back to its previous peak. With 2010 set as 100 that was the 104.4 of the second quarter of 2008 which if the releases above are accurate should now have been regained. Whichever way you look at that it remains odd that Banco Popular has hit trouble now I think.

Economists letters

In spite of the track record of such events it would appear that some are not deterred.

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/jun/03/the-big-issue-labour-manifesto-what-economy-needs

Will 2017 see an economic rennaisance for France?

This morning has opened with some better economic news for France as GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) growth was revised higher.

In Q1 2017, GDP in volume terms* rose barely less fast (+0.4%) than in Q4 2016 (+0.5%).

The French statistical service have put in it downbeat fashion and you have to read to the end to spot it as it is right at the bottom.

The GDP growth for Q1 2017 is raised from +0.3% to +0.4%.

There was also a good sign in the fact that investment was strong.

In Q1 2017, total GFCF accelerated sharply (+1.2% after +0.5%), especially that of enterprises (+1.9% after +0.9%)……Investment in manufactured goods was more dynamic (+1.6% after +0.4%), notably in equipment goods. Similarly, GFCF in market services accelerated sharply (+1.9% after +0.7%), notably in information-communication and business services.

However it was not a perfect report as there were signs of what you might call the British problem as trade problems subtracted from the growth.

Exports fell back in Q1 2017 (−0.8% after +1.0%), especially in transport equipment and “other manufactured goods”. Imports accelerated (+1.4% after +0.6%)………..All in all, foreign trade balance weighed down on GDP growth by −0.7 points, after a contribution of +0.1 points in the previous quarter.

If we look back there may be an issue building here as import growth was 4.2% in 2016 which considerably exceeded export growth at 2.1%. So it may well be true that the French are getting more like the British which is something of an irony in these times.

You may be wondering how there was any economic growth after the net trade deficit and that is because inventories swung the other way and offset it.

In Q1 2017, the contribution of changes in inventories to GDP growth amounted to +0.7 points (after −0.2 points at the end of 2016). They increased especially in transport equipment and “other industrial goods” (pharmaceuticals, metallurgy and chemicals).

The optimistic view on this is that French businesses are stocking up for a good 2017 with the danger being that any disappointment would subtract for growth later this year.

Also as feels so common in what we consider to be the first world the manufacturing industry continues to struggle.

Manufacturing output fell back (−0.2% after +0.7%), mainly due to a sharp decline in the coke and refined petroleum branch and a slowdown in transport equipment.

Looking ahead

The good news is that the private-sector business surveys are very optimistic at the moment.

The latest PMI data points to further strong growth momentum in the French private sector, with the expansion quickening to a six-year peak.

Of course France has been in a rough patch so that may not be as good as it reads or sounds so let us look further.

The service sector saw activity increase for the eleventh time in as many months. Moreover, the rate of expansion accelerated to a six-year high and was sharp overall. Manufacturing output also continued to rise markedly, albeit to a fractionally weaker extent than in April.

As you can see the service sector is pulling the economy forwards and manufacturing is growing as well according to the survey. Unusually Markit do not make a GDP prediction from this but we can if we note they think this for the Euro area which has a lower reading than France.

consistent with 0.6- 0.7% GDP growth.

So let us say 0.7% then and also remind ourselves that it has not been common in recent years for there to be an expectation that France will outperform its Euro area peers.

However this morning’s official survey on households did come with a worrying finale to the good news stream.

In May 2017, households’ confidence in the economic situation has improved anew after a four-month stability: the synthetic index has gained 2 points, reaching 102, above its long-term average and at its highest level since August 2007.

What could go wrong?

Unemployment

This has been the Achilles heel for France in the credit crunch era but this too has seen some better news.

In Q1 2017, the average ILO unemployment rate in metropolitan France and the overseas departments (excluding Mayotte) stood at 9.6% of active population, after 10.0% in Q4 2016.

The good news is that we see the unemployment rate finally fall into single digits. The bad news is that it mostly seems to be people who have given up looking for work.

The activity rate of people aged 15-64 stood at 71.4% in Q1 2017. It decreased by 0.3 percentage points compared to the previous quarter and a year earlier.

The business surveys are optimistic that employment is now improving as we see here.

Bolstered by strong client demand, French private sector firms raised their staffing numbers in May, thereby continuing a trend that has been evident since November last year. Furthermore, the rate of job creation quickened to a 69-month high.

Monetary policy

Yesterday we heard from ECB ( European Central Bank ) President Mario Draghi and he opened with some bombast.

Real GDP in the euro area has expanded for 16 consecutive quarters, growing by 1.7% year-on-year during the first quarter of 2017. Unemployment has fallen to its lowest level since 2009. Consumer and business sentiment has risen to a six-year high,

You might be wondering about monetary policy after such views being expressed but in fact we got this.

For domestic price pressures to strengthen, we still need very accommodative financing conditions, which are themselves dependent on a fairly substantial amount of monetary accommodation.

Is that a Tom Petty style full speed ahead and “Damn The Torpedoes”? For now perhaps but there are two other influences. In terms of a tactical influence Mario Draghi will have noted the rise of the Euro since it bottomed versus the US Dollar in December last year and would prefer it to be lower than the 1.12 it has risen to. Also more strategically as we have discussed on here before he will be waiting for the Euro area elections to pass before making any real change of course in my opinion. That leaves us mulling once again the concept of an independent central banker as we note that economic growth is on the upswing in election year.

Thus France finds itself benefiting from 293.7 billion Euros of sovereign bond purchases meaning it can issue and be paid for it out to around the 6 years maturity and only pay 0.74% on ten-year bonds. This is a considerable help to the fiscal situation and the government. In addition there are the corporate bond purchases and the covered bond purchases to help the banks. The latter gets so little publicity for the 232 billion Euros on the ECB’s books. Plus we have negative interest-rates and a Euro exchange rate pushed lower.

Has monetary policy ever been so expansionary at this stage of the economic cycle?

House prices

There was some further news to warm the cockles of Mario Draghi’s heart this morning.

In Q1 2017, the prices of second-hand dwellings kept increasing: +1.9% compared to the previous quarter (provisional seasonally adjusted results). The increase is virtually similar for flats (+1.9%) and for houses (+1.8%).

Over a year, the increase in prices was confirmed and strengthened: +3.0% compared to Q1 2016 after +1.5% the quarter before.

Up until now we have seen very little house price inflation in France and whilst the rate is relatively low it does look to be on the rise which represents a clear change. If you add this to the house price rises in Germany that I analysed on the 8th of this month then the ECB will be pleased if first-time buyers will not be.

Comment

It looks as though France is in a better phase of economic growth. This is certainly needed as we look at the unemployment rate issue but there is also another factor as this from French statistics indicates.

 2016 (GDP growth unchanged, at +1.1% WDA), 2015 (−0.2 points at +1.0%) and 2014 (+0.3 points at +1.0%)

As you can see the annual rate of economic growth has been essentially 1% as we note something of a reshuffle in the timing. Indeed in spite of a better couple of quarters the current annual rate of economic growth in France is you guessed it 1%! Somehow 1% became the new normal as we wait and hope for better news as 2017 develops. Should we get that then at this stage of the cycle I fear we may then be shifting to how long can it last?!

 

 

The possible road to another Bank of England Bank Rate cut

This morning has brought some disappointing news about the UK economy. From the Office for National Statistics.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) in volume terms was estimated to have increased by 0.2% between Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2016 and Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2017.

As the official release goes on to tell us this is slightly worse than the preliminary estimate.

UK GDP growth in Quarter 1 2017 has been revised down by 0.1 percentage points from the preliminary estimate published on 28 April 2017; mainly due to broad-based downward revisions within the services sector.

Whilst this was disappointing it was far from a complete surprise as there have been hints that the services sector had struggled in that quarter. Of course it makes up the vast majority of the UK economy these days leaving not much scope to regain the ground elsewhere.

The detail

It turns out that all sectors of the UK economy grew it is just that they did not do so by much.

In Quarter 1 2017, all four sectors show positive growth; agriculture increased by 0.3%, total production increased by 0.1% and construction and total services both increased by 0.2%.

If we look at the services sector we see that in football terms it was in a way a story of two halves.

The growth was focused in the business services and finance, and government and other services industrial groups, but there was a slow-down in growth in consumer-focused industries, such as retail sales and accommodation. Within the services industries, two of the four main sectors decreased in Quarter 1 2017; distribution, hotels and restaurants, and transport, storage and communications.

The area responsible for today’s downwards revision has ironically been a strength for the UK economy in recent quarters.

Services contributed 0.06 percentage points to the downward revision to UK GDP, the biggest contributor. Within services, the largest contributor to the downward revision is business services and finance. However, within this section, at the more detailed level, the revisions are small and broad-based, primarily reflecting late survey returns.

We can really drill down to see the state of play here.

Total services output rose by 0.2% in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2017, driven by 0.6% growth in business services and finance, and 0.4% growth in government and other services (Figure 3). Meanwhile, distribution, hotels and restaurants, and transport, storage and communication both recorded negative quarterly growth – falling by 0.6% and 0.2% respectively. This is the first negative quarter-on-quarter growth rate in each series since Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2012 and Quarter 3 (July to Sep) 2013.

What about the individual experience?

The aggregate levels above do not allow for changes in the population so for example a growing population would normally lead to higher economic output and GDP, but that higher GDP would not necessarily indicate people being better off. This often gets ignored by politicians and much of the media because it has shown that we are not doing as well as the headline number would suggest.

In Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2017, gross domestic product (GDP) per head was flat compared with Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2016. GDP per head is now 1.7% above the GDP pre-downturn peak in Quarter 1 2008, having surpassed it in Quarter 4 2015.

That compares with us being some 8.7% higher on the headline number and the gap has just widened even further as we were on a road to nowhere on an individual basis at the start to 2017.

GDP per head in volume terms was flat between Quarter 4 2016 and Quarter 1 2017.

If the trend from the migration data also released today continues then the numbers may be pulled back closer together.

Net long-term international migration was estimated to be +248,000 in 2016, down 84,000 from 2015 (statistically significant); immigration was estimated to be 588,000 and emigration 339,000.

The catch is that these numbers are probably even more unreliable than the GDP ones.

Nominal GDP

This is the number that will attract the interest of Mark Carney and the Bank of England.

GDP in current prices increased by 0.7% between Quarter 4 2016 and Quarter 1 2017.

This is because on an economy wide level it is a measure of how we can deal with the debt issues that exist. Mostly we pay these in nominal rather than real terms. Although they avoid putting it in these terms this is why central banks target a positive rate of inflation ( mostly 2% per annum) because it is in effect a subsidy for debtors as their debts get deflated in real terms. This is also why there are regular suggestions that the target rate of inflation should be raised to either 3% or 4% so that debts can be inflated away even more quickly.

So in terms of debt worries they will be pleased to see the effect of inflation on the GDP numbers so that real growth of 0.2% becomes nominal growth of 0.7%. You may note that the period when we had solid economic growth but around 0% inflation would be pretty much indistinguishable in these terms. Of course we as workers are worse off as this from today’s monthly commentary makes clear.

Adjusted for consumer price inflation including owner occupiers’ housing costs (CPIH), average weekly earnings increased by 0.1% including bonuses, but fell by 0.2% excluding bonuses, compared with a year earlier. This is the first decline in real earnings (excluding bonuses) since the 3 months to September 2014.

There are hints that consumers are beginning to feel some of the pinch of higher inflation as well.

The slowdown in Quarter 1 2017 compared with Quarter 4 2016 reflected a decline in output from consumer focused industries, including the retail industry. As a result, private consumption was a smaller contributor to GDP growth than in recent periods, adding 0.2 percentage points.

Trade

This is something of a problem that it a hardy perennial for the UK economy and GDP. It has been at play yet again.

the total trade deficit widened by £5.7 billion to £10.5 billion between Quarter 4 2016 and Quarter 1 2017. Both the monthly and quarterly widening of the trade deficit were mainly due to increased imports of oil, chemicals, mechanical machinery and cars.

More specifically it did this.

The negative contribution to GDP came from net trade, which contributed a negative 1.4 percentage points.

So over the last two quarters it has given us a large boost and now taken it away. If we look back it has taken 1.4% away, given us 1.7% and now taken 1.4% away over the past 3 quarters. An unlikely sequence which reminds us how volatile and unreliable the trade numbers are especially for the most important sector which is the services one.

Comment

Let me open with some optimistic thoughts. Firstly this is now exactly the same rate of economic growth we had at the opening of 2016 and very little below that in 2015. So we may have a systemic problem similar to the one which has affected the United States for a while. Also we are simply not able to measure GDP to 0.1% even when all the data is in as opposed to the 80% or so we have now. If investment is any guide companies seem to be planning hopefully which coincides with the latest business surveys.

For Quarter 1 2017, the largest positive contribution to GDP came from gross capital formation, which contributed 1.2 percentage points.

However the GDP growth number has just been revised lower by 0.1% and the danger for the rest of 2017 is that the higher trajectory for inflation subtracts from economic growth. Let me leave you with a thought that I expressed to TipTV Finance which is that in any sustained slow down the Bank of England would be likely to ease monetary policy again.

http://tiptv.co.uk/uk-election-manifestos-holes-swiss-cheese-not-yes-man-economics/

 

 

 

 

 

Greece, how long can it keep going like this?

Today’s topic reminds me of the famous quote by Karl Marx.

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.

Sadly Karl did not tell us what to do on the 4th,5th and 6th occasions of the same thing as I note the news from Reuters on Friday.

The legislation contains more austerity measures, including pension cuts and a higher tax burden that will go into effect in 2019-20 to ensure a primary budget surplus, excluding debt servicing outlays, of 3.5 percent of gross domestic product.

This sounds so so familiar doesn’t it which of course poses its own problem in the circumstances. This continues if we look at the detail.

The income tax exemption is reduced to 5,600-5,700 euros from 8,600 euros to generate revenues of about 1.9 billion euros. The lower threshold will mean an increased tax burden of about 650 euros for taxpayers.

Up to 18 percent cuts in main and supplementary pensions and freezing of benefits thereafter until 2022. The cuts will result in savings of 2.3 billion euros.

I do not know about you but if I was raising taxes in Greece I would not be raising them on the poorest as lowering the lower income tax threshold will hit them disproportionately. After all it was the very rich who helped precipitate this crisis by not paying tax not the poor. But the underlying principle’s are pretty much what we have seen since the spring of 2010 especially if we add in this part.

Sale of stakes in railways, Thessaloniki port, Athens International Airport, Hellenic Petroleum and real estate assets to generate targeted privatization revenue of 2.15 billion euros this year and 2.07 billion euros in 2018.

This reminds me of the original target which was for 50 billion Euros of revenue from privatisations by 2015. As you can see the objectives are much smaller now after all the failures in this area and of course these days assets in Greece have a much lower price due to the economic depression which has raged for the last 7 years. Back then for example the General Index at the Athens Stock Exchange was around 1500 as opposed to just below 800 now suggesting that this is yet another area where Greek finances are chasing their tail.

The same result?

Last week saw yet more sad economic news from Greece.

The available seasonally adjusted data indicate that in the 1 st quarter of 2017 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in volume terms decreased by 0.1% in comparison with the 4 th quarter of 2016, while it decreased by 0.5% in comparison with the 1 st quarter of 2016. ( Greece Statistics).

This meant that yet another recession had begun which will be a feature of the ongoing economic depression. Another feature of this era has been the official denials an example of which from the 8th of March is below.

Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was confident that the times of recession were over and that “Greece has returned back to growth” as he told his cabinet ministers……..After seven years of recession, Greece has returned to positive growth rates he underlined.

He was not alone as European Commissioner Pierre Moscovici was regularly telling us that the Greek economy had recovered. This means that as we look at the period of austerity where such people have regularly trumpeted success the reality is that the Greek economy has collapsed. The scale of this collapse retains the power to shock as the peak pre credit crunch quarterly economic output of 63.3 billion Euros ( 2010 prices) fell to 59 billion in 2010 which led to the Euro area stepping in. However rather than the promised boom with economic growth returning in 2012 and then continuing at 2%+ as forecast the economy collapsed in that year at an annual rate of between 8% and 10% and as of the opening of 2017 quarterly GDP was 45.8 billion Euros.

What is astonishing is that even after all the mishaps of 2015 with the bank run and monetary crisis there has been no recovery so far. The downwards cycle of austerity, economic collapse and then more austerity continues in a type of Status Quo.

Again again again again, again again again again

The Time Problem

The problem here is simply how long this has gone on for added to the fact that things are still getting worse or at best holding station in economic output terms. This means that numbers like those below have become long-term issues.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in February 2017 was 23.2% compared to 23.9% in February 2016 and the downward revised 23.3% in January 2017.

It is nice to see a fall but falls at the rate of 0.9% per annum would mean the unemployment rate would still be around 20% at the end of the decade following the “rescue” programme which I sincerely hope is not the “shock and awe” that Christine Lagarde proclaimed back then. If we move to the individual level there must be a large group of people who now are completely out of touch with what it means to work. I see a sign of this in the 25-34 age group where unemployment was 30.4% in February compared to 29.3% in the same month in 2012. This looks like a consequence of the young unemployed ( rate still 47.9%) simply getting older. As the female unemployment rate is higher I dread to think what the situation is for young women.

Meanwhile tractor production continues its rise apparently according to the German Finance Minister.

Schaeuble: Reforms Agreed By Greece Are Remarkable, Goal Is To Get Greece Competitive, It Is Not There Yet ( @LiveSquawk )

It reminds me of last summer’s hit song “7 Years” but after all this time if we had seen reform things would be better. The fact is that there has been so little of it. Putting it another way the IMF ( International Monetary Fund) has completely failed in what used to be its objective which was helping with Balance of Payments crises. Even after all the economic pain described above the Bank of Greece has reported this today.

Mar C/A deficit at €1.32 bln from €772.4 mln last year, 3-month C/A deficit at €2.53 bln from €2.37 bln last year ( h/t Macropolis )

QE for Greece

This is being presented as a type of solution but there are more than a few issues here. Firstly the reform one discussed above as Greece does not qualify. But also there is little gain for a country where its debt is so substantially in official hands anyway and the bodies involved ( ESM, EFSF) let Greece borrow so cheaply for so long. In fact ever more cheaply and ever longer as each debt crunch arrives. It would likely end up paying more for its debt in a QE world where it issues on its own and the ECB buys it later! So it could be proclaimed as a political triumph but quickly turn into a financial disaster especially as the ECB is likely to continue to taper the programme.

Also people seem to have forgotten that the ECB did buy a lot of Greek debt but more recently has been offloading it to other Euro area bodies who have treated Greece better than it did. One set of possible winners is holders of Greek government bonds right now who have had a good 2017 as prices have risen and yields fallen and good luck to them. But the media which trumpets this seems to have forgotten the bigger picture here and that if the hedge funds sell these at large profits to the ECB then the taxpayer has provided them with profits one more time.

Comment

So we arrive at yet another Eurogroup meeting on Greece and its problems. It is rather familiar that the economy is shrinking and the debt has grown again to 326.5 billion Euros in the first quarter of this year. There will be the usual proclamations of help and assistance but at the next meeting things are invariably worse. Is there any hope?

Well there is this from Greek Reporter.

The size of Greece’s underground economy — where transactions take place out of the radar of tax authorities — is estimated to be about one quarter of the country’s official GDP, according to University of Macedonia Professor Vassilis Vlachos….. Among the main factors contributing to the shadow economy increase, according to Vlachos, is the citizens’ sense that the tax burden is not distributed fairly and that there is a poor return in term of public services, as well as inadequate tax inspections……Based on the findings of the survey, participation in the shadow economy is at 60 percent for the general population and rises to 71.6 percent among the unemployed.

If he is correct then this is of course yet another fail for the Troika/Institutions. As to the official data there are some flickers of hope such as the recent industry figures and retail sales so let us cross our fingers.