The UK has opened the fiscal taps and started a fiscal stimulus

The credit crunch era has seen some extraordinary changes in the establishment view of monetary policy. The latest is this from the Peterson Institute from earlier this month.

On October 1, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government raised the consumption tax from 8 percent to 10 percent. Our preference would have been that he not do it. We believe that, given the current Japanese economic situation, there is a strong case for continuing to run potentially large budget deficits, even if this implies, for the time being, little or no reduction in the ratio of debt to GDP.

Indeed they move on to make a point that we have been making for a year or two now.

Very low interest rates, current and prospective, imply that both the fiscal and economic costs of debt are low.

The authors then go further.

When the interest rate is lower than the growth rate—the situation in Japan since 2013—this conclusion no longer follows. Primary deficits do not need to be offset by primary surpluses later, and the government can run primary deficits forever while still keeping the debt-to-GDP ratio constant.

As they mean the nominal rate of growth of GDP that logic also applies to the UK as I have just checked the 50 year Gilt yield. Whilst UK yields are higher than Japan we also have (much) higher inflation rates and in general we face the same situation. As it happens the UK 50 year Gilt yield is not far off the annual rate of growth of real GDP at 1.17%.

They also repeat my infrastructure point.

To the extent that higher public spending is needed to sustain demand in the short run, it should be used to strengthen the supply side in the long run.

However there are problems with this as it comes from people who told us that monetary policy would save us.

Monetary policy has done everything it could, from QE to negative rates, but it turns out it is not enough.

Actually in some areas it has made things worse.One issue I think is that the Ivory Towers love phrases like “supply side” but in practice it does not always turn out to be like that. Also there is a problem with below as otherwise Japan would have been doing better than it is.

And the benefits of public deficits, namely higher activity, are high…….The benefits of budget deficits, both in sustaining demand in the short run and improving supply in the long run are substantial.

Are they? There are arguments against this as otherwise we would not be where we are. In addition it would be remiss of me not to point out that one of the authors is Olivier Blanchard who got his fiscal multipliers so dreadfully wrong in the Greek crisis.

UK Policy

If we look at the latest data for the UK we see that in the last fiscal year the UK was not applying the logic above. Here is the Maastricht friendly version.

In the financial year ending March 2019, the UK general government deficit was £41.5 billion, equivalent to 1.9% of gross domestic product (GDP) ; this is the lowest since the financial year ending March 2002 when it was 0.4%. This represents a decrease of £14.7 billion compared with the financial year ending March 2018.

In fact we were applying the reverse.

Fiscal Rules

The Resolution Foundation seems to have developed something of an obsession with fiscal rules which leads to a laugh out loud moment in the bit I emphasise below.

Some of the strengths of the UK’s approach have been the coverage of the entire public sector, the use of established statistical definitions, clear targets, a medium term outlook, and a supportive institutional framework. But persistent weaknesses remain, including the disregard for the value of public sector assets, reliance on rules which are too backward or forward looking, setting aside too little headroom to cope with forecast errors and economic shocks, and spending too little time building a broad social consensus for the rules.

Actually the “clear targets” bit is weak too as we see them manipulated and bent. But my biggest critique of their obsession is that they do not acknowledge the enormous change by the fall in UK Gilt yields which make it so much cheaper to borrow.

Today’s Data

That was then but this is now is the new theme.

Borrowing (public sector net borrowing excluding public sector banks) in September 2019 was £9.4 billion, £0.6 billion more than in September 2018; this is the first September year-on-year borrowing increase for five years.

Actually there was rather a lot going on as you can see from the detail below.

Central government receipts in September 2019 increased by £4.0 billion (or 6.9%) to £61.2 billion, compared with September 2018, while total central government expenditure increased by £4.3 billion (or 6.8%) to £67.6 billion.

As to the additional expenditure we find out more here.

In the same period, departmental expenditure on goods and services increased by £2.6 billion, compared with September 2018, including a £0.9 billion increase in expenditure on staff costs and a £1.6 billion increase in the purchase of goods and services.

The numbers were rounded out by a £1.6 billion increase in net investment which shows the government seems to have an infrastructure plan as well.

It is noticeable too that the tax receipt numbers were strong too as we saw this take place.

Income-related revenue increased by £1.7 billion, with self-assessed Income Tax and National Insurance contributions increasing by £1.1 billion and £0.6 billion respectively, compared with September 2018.

VAT receipts were solid too being up £500 million or 4%. But the numbers were also flattered by this.

Over the same period, interest and dividends receipts increased by £1.6 billion, largely as a result of a £1.1 billion dividend payment from the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

Stamp Duty

We get an insight into the UK housing market from the Stamp Duty position. September was slightly better than last year at £1.1 billion. But in the fiscal year so far ( since March) receipts are £200 million lower at £6.3 billion.

Comment

We find signs that of UK economic strength and extra government spending in September. They are unlikely to be related as the extra government spending will more likely be picked up in future months. If we step back for some perspective we see that the concept of the fiscal taps being released remains.

Over the same period, central government spent £392.4 billion, an increase of 4.5%.

The main shift has been in the goods and services section which has risen by £11.6 billion to £145.7 billion. Of this some £3.5 billion is extra staff costs. Some of this will no doubt be extra Brexit spending but we do not get a breakdown.

As to economic growth well the theme does continue but it also fades a bit.

In the latest financial year-to-date, central government received £366.5 billion in receipts, including £270.0 billion in taxes. This was 2.8% more than in the same period last year.

How strong you think that is depends on the inflation measure you use. It is curious that growth picked up in September. As to the total impact of the fiscal stimulus the Bank of England estimate is below.

The Government has announced a significant increase in departmental spending for 2020-21, which could raise GDP by around 0.4% over the MPC’s forecast period, all else equal.

If we move to accounting for the activities of the Bank of England then things get messy.

If we were to exclude the Bank of England from our calculation of PSND ex, it would reduce by £179.8 billion, from £1,790.9 billion to £1,611.1 billion, or from 80.3% of GDP to 72.2%.

Also it is time for a reminder that my £2 billion challenge to the impact of QE on the UK Public Finances in July has yet to be answered by the Office for National Statistics. Apparently other things are more of a priority.

 

 

The UK Public Finances continue to underperform the economy

A feature of the modern era is that way that the establishment economic debate has changed. There was a spell post credit crunch that we were told that fiscal deficits were a bad idea and most countries then set about trying to reduce them. The UK headed on that road although the reductions in the deficit came more slowly than promised and the surplus that was supposed to be achieved now somehow found itself some 3/4 years away. More recently there has been a shift in favour of fiscal stimuli both generally and in the UK. Even Mario Draghi of the ECB (European Central Bank) was at this game yesterday.

Fiscal policies should also support the economic recovery, while remaining in compliance with the fiscal rules of the European Union………At the same time, all countries should strive for a more growth-friendly composition of fiscal policies.

This is of course the same ECB which has enforced exactly the reverse in places like Greece and still supports the Growth and Stability Pact that even Germany ignores! Also Mario has driven many bonds including corporate ones into negative yields but still has the chutzpah to proclaim this.

so far we haven’t seen evidence of bubbles.

Although should Portugal be downgraded later it will fall out of the ECB QE criteria and would be forced to head in the opposite direction.

The UK

The impact of the vote to leave the EU was likely to have two impacts according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. First a gain.

In principle, the UK’s public finances could be strengthened by that full £14.4 billion a year if we were to leave the EU. However, the EU returns a significant fraction of that each year. The amount varies, but on average our net contribution stands at around £8 billion a year.

But as they forecast a weakening of the UK economy there was also a loss depending on how much it weakened.

We estimate that if NIESR has broadly the right range of possible outcomes for GDP, then the budget deficit in 2019–20 would be between about £20 billion and £40 billion higher than otherwise.

Earlier this month The Times waded into the issue with a claimed leak of cabinet papers that actually turned out to be the pre vote Treasury analysis.

The net impact on public sector receipts – assuming no contributions to the EU and current receipts from the EU are replicated in full – would be a loss of between £38 billion and £66 billion per year after 15 years, driven by the smaller size of the economy.

There are obvious issues looking so far ahead and depend on the assumptions made. What we know so far is that the UK economy has not been plunged into a recession as some claimed but here at least we expect an impact next year as inflation rises in response to the lower UK Pound. Although of course indirect taxes gain from inflation on the one hand and index-linked Gilts mean the government pays out more so the picture is as ever complex.

Today’s numbers

Actually one is left wondering whether the proposed plan for an easing of fiscal policy in the UK is already in play.

Central government expenditure (current and capital) in September 2016 was £57.2 billion, an increase of £2.4 billion, or 4.3%, compared with September 2015.

As we look into the detail we see that expenditure is indeed higher but that there was another factor at play.

debt interest in September 2016 increased by £0.9 billion, or 34.6%, to £3.3 billion;

This initially looks odd because as I pointed out on Tuesday UK Gilt yields remain extraordinarily low in spite of the efforts of the Financial Times on Monday to convince us that the end of the world is nigh. Of course it may be but not this week (so far)! However just as I was remembering that September is a “heavy” month for index-linked Gilts Fraser Munro of the ONS kindly reinforced my thoughts.

We are seeing the recovery of the RPI impact on the uplift on index linked gilts and pushing up interest.

So we are already seeing costs arise from higher inflation and I do hope that fans of higher inflation will admit this rather than parking it at the back of their darkest cupboard.

Actually revenue growth was not to bad at 2.6% but the increased expenditure meant this.

In September 2016, public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) was £10.6 billion; an increase of £1.3 billion, or 14.5% compared with September 2015.

This meant that the official plan to chop another £20 billion or so of UK annual borrowing is struggling so far this financial year.

In the financial year-to-date (April to September 2016), public sector net borrowing excluding public sector banks (PSNB ex) was £45.5 billion; a decrease of £2.3 billion, or 4.8% compared with the same period in 2015.

 

Over this period the debt interest position is much more favourable showing that we will continue to benefit from low conventional Gilt yields ( assuming they stay low) but see an upwards push from index-linkers from time to time. Those of you with longer memories will recall that several years ago I suggested that if the UK was to borrow it should be via conventional Gilts when Jonathan Portes was arguing we should use index-linked ones. If you take his forecasts going forwards ( inflation and maybe a recession) you will see why.

What about the national debt?

An objective of the previous Chancellor George Osborne has been achieved again but of course to late for him.

This month debt as a percentage of GDP fell by 1.0 percentage point compared with September 2015. This is the fourth successive month of debt falling on the year as a percentage of GDP and indicates that GDP is currently increasing (year-on-year) faster than net debt excluding public sector banks.

The official numbers tell us this.

Public sector net debt (excluding public sector banks) at the end of September 2016 was £1,627.2 billion, equivalent to 83.3% of gross domestic product (GDP); an increase of £39.5 billion compared with September 2015.

However these are different to what is the usual international standard so here is that version.

At the end of the financial year ending March 2016, UK government gross debt was £1,651.9 billion (87.8% of GDP).

Unfortunately those numbers are from further back but whilst the total is rising the percentage ratio to GDP has also been falling.

Term Funding Scheme

The new bank assistance scheme of the Bank of England will raise the national debt but reduce borrowing.

that (all else being equal) Public Sector Net Debt will be increased by the liability relating to the creation of the central bank reserves and Public Sector Net Borrowing will be decreased by the net interest flows relating to the TFS loans and central bank reserves.

So far it amounts to £1.279 billion.

Comment

We find ourselves noting yet again that the UK fiscal performance is disappointing. Or at least it was under the old plan! Maybe now borrowing a little extra is considered a success. Of course this means that the room for extra borrowing by the Chancellor Phillip Hammond in the upcoming Autumn Statement declines. Oh what a tangled web and all that. Also because we have had economic growth we have seen our national debt to GDP ratio fall as growth exceeds borrowing.

The next challenge will come in 2017 as inflation continues to pick up and the UK faces a benefit as indirect taxes are on nominal not real spending but also a loss as it will have to pay extra on index-linked debt. The government could win as the ordinary person loses but the bigger picture depends on economic growth. If we continue to grow then there will be a range of choices,if we do not then it will get harder. Meanwhile it is hard not to have a wry smile at one of the reasons for the increase in government expenditure both in September and in the fiscal year so far.

along with subsidies and contributions to the EU