The ECB bails out the banks yet again, the Euro area economy not so much

One of the battles in economics is between getting data which is timely and it being accurate and reliable. Actually we struggle with the latter points full stop but especially if we try to produce numbers quickly. As regular readers will be aware we have been observing this problem in relation to the Markit Purchasing Manager Indices for several years now. They produce numbers which if this was a London gangster movie would be called “sharpish” but have missed the target on more than a few occasions and in he case of the Irish pharmaceutical cliff their arrow not only missed the target but the whole field as well.

Things start well as we note this.

The eurozone economic downturn eased markedly
for a second successive month in June as
lockdowns to prevent the spread of the coronavirus
disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak were further
relaxed, according to provisional PMI® survey data.
The month also saw a continued strong
improvement in business expectations for the year
ahead.

As it is from the 12th to the 22nd of this month it is timely as well but then things go rather wrong.

The flash IHS Markit Eurozone Composite PMI rose
further from an all-time low of 13.6 seen back in
April, surging to 47.5 in June from 31.9 in May. The
15.6-point rise was by far the largest in the survey
history with the exception of May’s record increase.
The latest gain took the PMI to its highest since
February, though still indicated an overall decline in
business output.

Actually these numbers if we note the Financial Times wrong-footed more than a few it would appear.

The rise in the eurozone flash Composite PMI in June confirms that economic output in the region is recovering rapidly from April’s nadir as restrictions are progressively eased. ( Capital Economics )

Today’s PMI numbers provide further evidence of what initially looks like a textbook V-shaped recovery. As much as more than a month of (full) lockdowns had sent economies into a standstill, the gradual reopenings of the last two months have led to a sharp rebound in activity. ( ING Di-Ba)

The latter is an extraordinary effort as a number below 50 indicates a further contraction albeit with a number of 47.5 a minor one. So we have gone enormous contraction , what would have been called an enormous contraction if they one before had not taken place and now a minor one. But the number now has to be over 50 as the economy picks up and this below is not true.

Output fell again in both manufacturing and
services, the latter showing the slightly steeper rate
of decline

On a monthly basis output rose as it probably did at the end of last month, it is just that it is doing so after a large fall. The one number which was positive was still way too low.

Flash France Composite Output Index) at 51.3
in June (32.1 in May), four-month high.

For what it is worth the overall view is as follows.

We therefore continue to expect GDP to slump by over 8% in 2020 and, while the recovery may start in the third quarter, momentum could soon fade meaning it will likely
take up to three years before the eurozone regains
its pre-pandemic level of GDP.

Actual Data

From Statistics Netherlands.

In May 2020, prices of owner-occupied dwellings (excluding new constructions) were on average 7.7 percent up on the same month last year. This price increase is higher than in the previous months.

Well that will cheer the European Central Bank or ECB. Indeed ECB President Lagarde may have a glass of champagne in response to this.

 In May 2020, house prices reached the highest level ever. Compared to the low in June 2013, house prices were up by 47.8 percent on average in that month.

Staying with the Netherlands and switching to the real economy we see this.

According to figures released by Statistics Netherlands (CBS), in April 2020 consumers spent 17.4 percent less than in April 2019. This is by far the largest contraction in domestic household consumption which has ever been recorded by CBS. Consumers mainly spent less on services, durable goods and motor fuels; on the other hand, they spent more on food, beverages and tobacco.

If we try to bring that up to date we see that if sentiment is any guide things have improved but are still weak.

At -27, the consumer confidence indicator in June stands far below its long-term average over the past two decades (-5). The indicator reached an all-time high (36) in January 2000 and an all-time low (-41) in March 2013.

Moving south to France we were told this earlier today.

In June 2020, the business climate has recovered very clearly, in connection with the acceleration of the lockdown exit. The indicator that synthesizes it, calculated from the responses of business managers from the main market sectors, has gained 18 points, its largest monthly increase since the start of the series (1980).

The jump is good news for the French economy although the rhetoric above does not match the detail.

At 78, the business climate has exceeded the low point reached in March 2009 (70), but remains far below its long-term average (100).

The situation is even worse for employment.

At 66, the employment climate still remains far below its May 2009 low (73), and, a fortiori, its long-term average (100).

Oh and staying with France I know some of you like to note these numbers.

At the end of Q1 2020, Maastricht’s debt reached €2,438.5 billion, a €58.4 billion increase in comparison to Q4 2019. It accounted for 101.2% of gross domestic product (GDP), 3.1 points higher than last quarter, the highest increase since Q2 2019.

Just as a reminder the UK measuring rod is different and tends to be around 4% of GDP lower. But of course both measures will be rising quickly in both France and the UK.

Comment

Let me now switch to a speech given earlier today by Philip Lane of the ECB.

 Euro area output contracted by a record 3.6 percent in the first quarter of the year and is projected to decline by a further 13 percent in the second quarter. While growth will partially rebound in the second half of this year, output is projected to return to the level prevailing at the end of 2019 only at the end of 2022.

In fact all of that is open to doubt as the first quarter numbers will be revised over time and as discussed above we do not know where we are right now. The forecasts are not realistic but manufactured to make other criteria such as the debt metrics look better than otherwise.

Also there is a real problem with the rhetoric below which is the cause of the policy change which was the Euro area economy slowing.

Thanks to the recalibration of our monetary policy measures announced in September 2019 – namely the cut in our deposit facility rate, enhanced forward guidance, the resumption of net asset purchases under the asset purchase programme (APP) and the easing of TLTRO III pricing – sizeable monetary accommodation was already in place when Europe was confronted with the COVID-19 shock.

As that was before this phase he is trying to hide the problem of having a gun from which nearly all the bullets have been fired. If we cut through the waffle what we are seeing are yet more banking subsidies.

The TLTRO programme complements our asset purchases and negative interest rate policy by ensuring the smooth transmission of the monetary policy stance through banks.

How much well here was @fwred last week.

ECB’s TLTRO-III.4 : €1308bn The Largest Longer Term Refinancing Operation ever………Banks look set to benefit, big time. All TLTRO-III will have an interest rate as low as -1% between Jun-20 and Jun-21, resulting in a gross transfer to banks of around €15bn. Most banks should qualify. Add tiering and here you are: from NIRP to a net transfer to banks!

So the banks get what they want which is interest-rate cuts to boost amongst other things their mortgage books which is going rather well in the Netherlands. Then when they overdose on negative interest-rates they are bailed out, unlike consumers and businesses. Another sign we live in a bankocracy.

Apparently the economy will win though says the judge,jury and er the defence and witness rather like in Blackadder.

An illustrative counterfactual exercise by ECB staff suggests that the TLTRO support in removing tail risk would be in the order of three percentage points of euro area real GDP growth in cumulative terms over 2020-22.

Austria

I nearly forgot to add that Austria is issuing another century bond today and yes I do mean 100 years. Even more extraordinary is that the yield looks set to be around 0.9%.

The Investing Channel

 

 

Can US house prices bounce?

The US housing market is seeing two tsunami style forces at once but in opposite directions. The first is the economic impact of the Covid-19 virus pandemic on both wages (down) and unemployment (up). Unfortunately the official statistics released only last week are outright misleading as you can see below.

Real average hourly earnings increased 6.5 percent, seasonally adjusted, from May 2019 to May 2020.
The change in real average hourly earnings combined with an increase of 0.9 percent in the average
workweek resulted in 7.4-percent increase in real average weekly earnings over this period.

We got a better idea to the unemployment state of play on Thursday as we note the scale of the issue.

The advance unadjusted number for persons claiming UI benefits in state programs totaled 18,919,804, a decrease of 178,671 (or -0.9 percent) from the preceding week.

The only hopeful bit is the small decline. Anyway let us advance with our own view is that we will be seeing much higher unemployment in 2020 although hopefully falling and falling real wages.

The Policy Response

The other tsunami is the policy response to the pandemic.

FISCAL STIMULUS (FEDERAL) – The U.S. House of Representatives passed a $2.2 trillion aid package – the largest in history – on March 27 including a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 to millions of U.S. families.

That was the Reuters summary of the policy response which has been added to in the meantime. In essence it is a response to the job losses and an attempt to resist the fall in wages.

Next comes the US Federal Reserve which has charged in like the US Cavalry. Here are their words from the report made to Congress last week.

Specifically, at two meetings in March, the FOMC lowered the target range for the federal funds rate by a total of 1-1/2 percentage points, bringing it to the current range of 0 to 1/4 percent.

That meant that they have now in this area at least nearly fulfilled the wishes of President Trump. They also pumped up their balance sheet.

The Federal Reserve swiftly took a series of policy actions to address these developments. The FOMC announced it would purchase Treasury securities and agency MBS in the amounts needed to ensure smooth market functioning and the effective transmission of monetary policy to broader financial conditions. The Open Market Desk began offering large-scale overnight and term repurchase agreement operations. The Federal Reserve coordinated with other central banks to enhance the provision of liquidity via the standing U.S. dollar liquidity swap line arrangements and announced the establishment of temporary U.S. dollar liquidity arrangements (swap lines) with additional central banks.

Their explanation is below.

 Market functioning deteriorated in many markets in late February and much of March, including the critical Treasury and agency MBS markets.

Let me use my updated version of my financial lexicon for these times. Market function deteriorated means prices fell and yields rose and this happening in the area of government and mortgage borrowing made them panic buy in response.

Mortgage Rates

It seems hard to believe now but the US ten-year opened the year at 1.9%, Whereas now after the recent fall driven by the words of Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell it is 0.68%. Quite a move and it means that it has been another good year for bond market investors. The thirty-year yield is 1.41% as we note that there has been a large downwards push as we now look at mortgage rates.

Let me hand you over to CNBC from Thursday.

Mortgage rates set new record low, falling below 3%

How many times have I ended up reporting record lows for mortgage rates? Anyway we did get some more detail.

The average rate on the popular 30-year fixed mortgage hit 2.97% Thursday, according to Mortgage News Daily……..For top-tier borrowers, some lenders were quoting as low as 2.75%. Lower-tier borrowers would see higher rates.

Mortgage Amounts

CNBC noted some action here too.

Low rates have fueled a sharp and fast recovery in the housing market, especially for homebuilders. Mortgage applications to purchase a home were up 13% annually last week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

According to Realtor.com the party is just getting started although I have helped out with a little emphasis.

Meanwhile, buyers who still have jobs have been descending on the market en masse, enticed by record-low mortgage interest rates. Rates fell below 3%, to hit an all-time low of 2.94% for 30-year fixed-rate loans on Thursday, according to Mortgage News Daily.

Mortgage demand is back on the rise according to them.

For the past three weeks, the number of buyers applying for purchase mortgages rose year over year, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Applications shot up 12.7% annually in the week ending June 5. They were also up 15% from the previous week.

Call me suspicious but I thought it best to check the supply figures as well.

Mortgage credit availability decreased in May according to the Mortgage Credit Availability Index (MCAI)………..The MCAI fell by 3.1 percent to 129.3 in May. A decline in the MCAI indicates that lending standards are tightening, while increases in the index are indicative of loosening credit.

So a decline but still a lot higher than when it was set at 100 in 2012. The recent peak at the end of last year was of the order of 185 and was plainly singing along to the Outhere Brothers.

Boom boom boom let me here you say way-ooh (way-ooh)
Me say boom boom boom now everybody say way-ooh (way-ooh)

What about prices?

As the summer home-buying season gets underway, median home prices are surging. They shot up 4.3% year over year as the number of homes for sale continued to dry up in the week ending June 6, according to a recent realtor.com® report. That’s correct: Prices are going up despite this week’s announcement that the U.S. officially entered a recession in February.

Comment

As Todd Terry sang.

Something’s goin’ on in your soul

The housing market is seeing some surprises although I counsel caution. As I read the pieces about I note that a 4.3% rise is described as “shot up” whereas this gives a better perspective.

While that’s below the typical 5% to 6% annual price appreciation this time of year, it’s nearly back to what it was before the coronavirus pandemic. Median prices were rising 4.5% in the first two weeks of March before the COVID-19 lockdowns began. Nationally, the median home list price was $330,000 in May, according to the most recent realtor.com data.

But as @mikealfred reports there is demand out there.

Did someone forget to tell residential real estate buyers about the recession? I’m helping my in-laws buy a house in Las Vegas right now. Nearly every house in their price range coming to market sees 40+ showings and 5+ offers in the first few days. Crazy demand.

Of course there is the issue as to at what price?

So there we have it. The Federal Reserve will be happy as it has created a demand to buy property. The catch is that it is like crack and if they are to keep house prices rising they will have to intervene on an ever larger scale. For the moment their policy is also being flattered by house supply being low and I doubt that will last. To me this house price rally feels like trying to levitate over the edge of a cliff.

Podcast

 

 

 

Where next for UK house prices?

Today we are going to start by imagining we are central bankers so we will look at the main priority of the Bank of England  which is UK house prices. Therefore if you are going to have a musical accompaniment may I suggest this.

The only way is up, baby
For you and me now
The only way is up, baby
For you and me…  ( Yazz0(

In fact it fits the central banking mindset as you can see below. Even in economic hard times the only way is up.

Now we may not know, huh,
Where our next meal is coming from,
But with you by my side
I’ll face what is to come.

From the point of view of Threadneedle Street the suspension of the official UK house price index is useful too as it will allow the various ostriches to keep their head deep in the sand. This was illustrated in the Financial Stability Report issued on the 7th of May.

As a result, the fall in UK property prices incorporated in
the desktop stress test is less severe than that in the 2019 stress test.

Yes you do read that right, just as the UK economy looked on the edge of of substantial house price falls the Bank of England was modelling weaker ones!

Taking these two effects together, the FPC judges that a fall of 16% in UK residential property prices could be
consistent with the MPR scenario. After falling, prices are then assumed to rise gradually as economic activity in the
UK recovers and unemployment falls in the scenario.

Whether you are reassured that a group of people you have mostly never heard of forecast this I do not know, but in reality there are two main drivers. The desire for higher house prices which I will explain in the next section and protection of “My Precious! My Precious!” which underpins all this.

Given the loan to value distribution on banks’ mortgage books at the end of 2019, a 16% house price fall would not be likely to lead to very material losses in the event of default.

So the 16% was chosen to make the banks look safe or in central banking terms “resilient”

Research

I did say earlier that I would explain why central bankers are so keen on higher house prices, so here is the latest Bank Underground post from yesterday.

Our results also suggest that the behaviour of house prices affects how monetary policy feeds through. When house prices rise, homeowners feel wealthier and are more able to refinance their mortgages and release housing equity in order to spend money on other things. This can offset some of the dampening effects of an increase in interest rates. In contrast, when house prices fall, this channel means an increase in interest rates has a bigger contractionary effect on the economy, making monetary policy more potent.

Just in case you missed it.

Our findings also suggest that the overall impact of monetary policy partly depends on the behaviour of house prices, and might not be symmetric for interest rate rises and falls.

So even the supposedly independent Bank Underground blog shows that “you can take the boy out of the city but not the city out of the boy” aphorism works as we see it cannot avoid the obsession with house prices. The air of unreality is added to by this.

 we look at the response of non-durable, durable and total consumption in response to a 100bp increase in interest rates.

The last time we had that was in 2006/07 so I am a little unclear which evidence they have to model this and of course many will have been in their working lives without experiencing such a thing. Actually it gives us a reason why it is ever less likely to happen with the present crew in charge.

When the share of constrained households is large, interest rate rises have a larger absolute impact than interest rate cuts.

Oh and is that a confession that the interest-rate cuts have been ineffective. A bit late now with Bank Rate at 0.1%! I would also point out that I have been suggesting this for some years now and to be specific once interest-rates go below around 1.5%.

Reasons To Be Cheerful ( for a central banker )

Having used that title we need a part one,two and three.

1.The UK five-year Gilt yield has gone negative in the last week or so and yesterday the Bank of England set a new record when it paid -0.068% for a 2025 Gilt. As it has yet to ever sell a QE bond that means it locked in a loss. But more importantly for today’s analysis this is my proxy for UK fixed-rate mortgages. So we seem set to see more of this.

the average rate on two and five year fixed deals have fallen to lows not seen since Moneyfacts’ electronic records began in July 2007. The current average two year fixed mortgage rate stands at just 2.09% while the average rate for a five year fixed mortgage is 2.35%. ( Moneyfacts 11th May)

2. The institutional background for mortgage lending is strong. The new Term Funding Scheme which allows banks to access funding at a 0.1% Bank Rate has risen to £11.9 billion as of last week’s update. Also there is the £107.1 billion remaining in the previous Term Funding Scheme meaning the two add to a tidy sum even for these times. Plus in a sign that bank subsidies never quite disappear there is still £3 billion of the Funding for Lending Scheme kicking around. These schemes are proclaimed as being for small business lending but so far have always “leaked” into the mortgage market.

3. The market is now open. You might reasonably think that a time of fears over a virus spreading is not the one to invite people into your home but that is apparently less important than the housing market.  Curious that you can invite strangers in but not more than one family member or friend.

News

Zoopla pointed out this earlier.

Buyer demand across England spiked up by 88% after the market reopened, exceeding pre-lockdown levels in the week to 19th May; this jump in demand in England is temporary and expected to moderate in the coming weeks

Of course an 88% rise on not very much may not be many and the enthusiasm seemed to fade pretty quickly.

Some 60% of would-be home movers across Britain said they plan to go ahead with their property plans, according to a new survey by Zoopla, but 40% have put their plans on hold because of COVID-19 and the uncertain outlook.

Actually the last figure I would see as optimistic right now.

Harder measures of market activity are more subdued – new sales agreed in England have increased by 12% since the market reopened, rising from levels that are just a tenth of typical sales volumes at this time of year.

Finally I would suggest taking this with no just a pinch of salt but the full contents of your salt cellar.

The latest index results show annual price growth of +1.9%. This is a small reduction in the annual growth rate, from +2% in March.

Comment

So far we have been the very model of a modern central banker. Now let us leave the rarified air of its Ivory Tower and breathe some oxygen. Many of the components for a house price boom are in place but there are a multitude of catches. Firstly it is quite plain that many people have seen a fall in incomes and wages and this looks set to continue. I know the travel industry has been hit hard but British Airways is imposing a set of wage reductions.

Next we do not know how fully things will play out but a trend towards more home working and less commuting seems likely. So in some places there may be more demand ( adding an office) whereas in others it may fade away. On a personal level I pass the 600 flats being built at Battersea Roof Garden on one of my running routes and sometimes shop next to the circa 500 being built next to The Oval cricket ground. Plenty of supply but they will require overseas or foreign demand.

So the chain as Fleetwood Mac would put it may not be right.

You would never break the chain (Never break the chain)

We should finally see lower prices but as to the pattern things are still unclear. So let me leave you with something to send a chill down the spine of any central banker.

Chunky price cut for Kent estate reports
@PrimeResi as agent clips asking price from £8m to £5.95m (26%). (£) ( @HenryPryor)

Me on The Investing Channel

The one thing we can be sure of is that the inflation numbers are wrong

Today’s has brought us inflation data with more and indeed much more than its fair share of issues. But let me start by congratulating the BBC on this.

The UK’s inflation rate fell in April to its lowest since August 2016 as the economic fallout of the first month of the lockdown hit prices.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) fell to 0.8% from 1.5% in March, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

Falling petrol and diesel prices, plus lower energy bills, were the main drivers pushing inflation lower.

But prices of games and toys rose, which the ONS said may have come as people occupied their time at home.

They have used the CPI inflation measure rather than the already widely ignored CPIH which the propagandists at HM Treasury are pushing our official statisticians to use. Although in something of an irony CPIH was lower this month! Also it would be better to use the much more widely accepted RPI or Retail Prices Index and the BBC has at least noted it.

Inflation as measured by the Retail Prices Index (RPI) – an older measure of inflation which the ONS says is inaccurate, but is widely used in bond markets and for other commercial contracts – dropped to 1.5% from 2.6%.

Yes it is pretty much only the establishment which makes that case about the RPI now as supporters have thinned out a lot. It also has strengths and just as an example does not require Imputed or fantasy Rents for the housing market as it uses actual prices for houses and mortgages.

So as an opener let us welcome the lower inflation numbers which were driven by this.

Petrol prices fell by 10.4 pence per litre between March and April 2020, to stand at 109.0 pence per litre, and
diesel prices fell by 7.8 pence per litre, to stand at 116.0 pence per litre……..which was the result of a 0.2% rise in
the price of electricity and a 3.5% reduction in the price of gas between March and April 2020, compared with price rises of 10.9% and 9.3% for electricity and gas over the same period last year.

Problems. Problems,Problems

Added to the usual list of these was the fact that not only did the Office for National Statistics have to shift to online price collection for obvious reasons which introduces a downwards bias there was also this.

Hi Shaun, the number of price quotes usually collected in store was about 64% of what was collected in February – so yes just over a third. This is for the local collection only.

Let me say thank you to Chris Jenkins for replying so promptly and confirming my calculations. However the reality is that there is a problem and let me highlight with one example.

prices for unavailable seasonal items such as international travel were imputed for April 2020. This imputation was calculated by applying the all-items annual growth rate to the index from April 2019.

Yes you do read that correctly and more than one-third of the index was imputed. In addition to this rather glaring problem there is the issue of the weighting being wrong and I am sure you are all already thinking about the things you have spent more on and others you have spent less on. Officially according to our Deputy National Statistician Jonathan Athow it does not matter much.

A second was to also account for lower consumption of petrol and diesel, which has been falling in price. Reducing the weight given to petrol and diesel gives a figure similar to the official CPI estimate.

Sadly I have learnt through experience that such research is usually driven by a desire to achieve the answer wanted rather than to illuminate things. If we switch to the ordinary experience I was asked this earlier on social media.

Are face masks and hand sanitiser included in the CPI basket? (@AnotherDevGuy)

I have just checked and they are not on the list. This poses a couple of issues as we note both the surge in demand ( with implications for weighting) and the rise in price seen. A couple of area’s may pick things up as for example household cleaners are on the list and judging by their suddenly popularity albeit in a new role lady’s scarves but they are on the margins and probably underweighted.

The New Governor Has A Headache

If we check the inflation remit we see that the new Governor Andrew Bailey will be getting out his quill pen to write to the new Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

If inflation moves away from the target by more than 1 percentage point in either direction, I
shall expect you to send an open letter to me, covering the same considerations set out above
and referring as necessary to the Bank’s latest Monetary Policy Report and forecasts, alongside
the minutes of the following Monetary Policy Committee meeting.

He will of course say he is pumping it up with record low interest-rates and the like. He is unlikely to be challenged much as this morning has brought news of a welcome gift he has given the Chancellor.

Negative Interest-Rates in the UK Klaxon!

For the first time the UK has issued a Gilt (bond) with a negative yield as the 2023 stock has -0.003%. So yes we are being paid to borrow money.

A marginal amount but it establishes a principle which we have seen grow from an acorn to an oak tree elsewhere.

There is trouble ahead

There are serious issues I have raised with the ONS.

How will price movements for UK houses be imputed when there are too few for any proper index? The explanation is not clear at all and poses issues for the numbers produced.

Also this feeds into another issue.

“It should be noted that the methodologies used in our consumer price statistics for many of these measures tend to give smoothed estimates of price change and will therefore change slowly.”

The suspension of the house price index below after today poses big problems for the RPI which uses them and actually as happens so often opens an even bigger can of worms which is smoothing.

In other words we are being given 2019 data in 2020 and this is quite unsatisfactory. So whilst the ONS may consider this a tactical success it is a strategic failure on the issue of timeliness for official statistics. I think all readers of this would like to know more detail on the smoothing process here as to repeat myself it goes against the issue of producing timely and relevant numbers.

Some of you may recall the disaster smoothing had on the with-profits investment industry and once people understand its use in inflation data there will be plenty of issues with it there too. My full piece for those who want a fuller picture is linked to below.

https://www.statsusernet.org.uk/t/measuring-prices-through-the-covid-19-pandemic/8326/2

Comment

As the media projects lower inflation ahead sadly the picture is seeing ch-ch-changes,

Oil prices rose for a fourth straight session on Tuesday amid signs that producers are cutting
output as promised just as demand picks up, stoked by more countries easing out of curbs
imposed to counter the coronavirus pandemic. Brent crude, climbed 25 cents or 0.7% to
$35.06 a barrel, after earlier touching its highest since April 9. (uk.reuters.com 19 May 2020)

That may not feed into the May data but as we move forwards it will. That also highlights something which may be one of the Fake News events of our time which is the negative oil price issue. Yes it did happen but since then we have seen quite a bounce as we are reminded that some issues are complex or in this instance a rigged game.

How much of other price rises the inflation numbers will pick up is open to serious doubt. Some of this is beyond the control of official statistics as they could hardly be expected to know the changes in the patterns for face masks for example. But the numbers will be under recorded right now due to factors like this from the new HDP measure.

Out of stock products have been removed where these are clearly labelled, however, there may be products out of stock that have still been included for some retailers. If the price of these items do not change, this could cause the index to remain static.

What do you think might have happened to prices if something is out of stock?

Meanwhile there is another signal that inflation may be higher ahead.

BoE Deputy Governor Ben Broadbent said it might go below zero around the end of 2020

The reality is of a complex picture of disinflation in some areas and inflation sometimes marked inflation in others.

 

 

 

Negative GDP growth and negative interest-rates arrive in the UK

Sometimes things are inevitable although what we are seeing now is a subplot of that. What I mean is that with the people in charge some trends have been established that I have warned about for most if not all of the credit crunch era. Let us start with something announced this morning which is more of a symptom than a cause.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) in volume terms was estimated to have fallen by 2.0% in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2020, the largest fall since Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2008.

When compared with the same quarter a year ago, UK GDP decreased by 1.6% in Quarter 1 2020; the biggest fall since Quarter 4 2009, when it also fell by 1.6%.

This was in fact a story essentially about the Ides of March.

The decline in the first quarter largely reflects the 5.8% fall in output in March 2020, with widespread monthly declines in output across the services, production and construction industries.

Let us look deeper into that month starting with what usually is a UK economic strength.

There was a drop of 6.2% in the Index of Services (IoS) between February 2020 and March 2020. The biggest negative driver to monthly growth, wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles, contributed negative 1.27 percentage points; public administration and defence was the largest positive driver, contributing 0.01 percentage points.

Well there you have it as the biggest upwards move was 0.01%! There were other factors which should be under the category that Radiohead would describe as No Surprises.

In services, travel and tourism fell the most, decreasing by 50.1%, while accommodation fell by 45.7% and air transport by 44%.

By the entirely unscientific method of looking up in the air in Battersea and noting the lack of planes it will be worse in April. Next up was this.

Construction output fell by 5.9% in the month-on-month all work series in March 2020; this was driven by a 6.2% decrease in new work and a 5.1% decrease in repair and maintenance; all of these decreases were the largest monthly falls on record since the monthly records began in January 2010.

Then this.

Production output fell by 4.2% between February 2020 and March 2020, with manufacturing providing the largest downward contribution, falling by 4.6%……….The monthly decrease of 4.6% in manufacturing output was led by transport equipment, which fell by 20.5%, with the motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers industry falling by a record 34.3%

So the vehicle sector which was already seeing hard times got a punch to the solar plexus.

The Problems Here

There are a whole multitude of issues with this. I regularly highlight the problems with the monthly GDP data and this time we see it is that month ( March) which is material. So we have a drop based on numbers which are unreliable even in ordinary times and let me give you a couple of clear examples of what Taylor Swift would call “Trouble,Trouble,Trouble”.

However, non-market output has long been recognised as a measurement challenge and is one that is likely to be impacted considerably by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

What do they mean? Let me look at what right now is the crucial sector.

The volume of healthcare output in the UK is estimated using available information on the number of different kinds of activities and procedures that are carried out in a period and weighting these by the cost of each activity.

In other words they do not really know. Regular readers will recall I covered this when I looked at a book I had helped a bit with which was when Pete Comley wrote a book on inflation. This pointed out that the measurement in the government sector was a combination of sometimes not very educated guesses. Some areas have surged.

The rise in the number of critical care cases is likely to increase healthcare output, as this is among some of the most high-cost care provided by the health service.

Some have not far off collapsed.

For example, the suspension of dental and ophthalmic activities (almost 6% of healthcare output), the cancellation and postponement of outpatient activities (13% of healthcare output), and elective procedures (19% of healthcare output) will likely weigh heavily on our activity figures.

So the numbers will be not far off hopeless. I mean what could go wrong?

 Further, our estimates may be affected by the suspension of some data collections by the NHS in England, which include patient volumes in critical care in England.

Inadvertently our official statisticians show what a shambles the measurement of education is at the best of times.

The volume of education output is produced by weighting the number of full-time equivalent students in different educational settings by the costs of educating the students in that setting.

They miss out another factor which is people doing stuff for themselves. For example my neighbour who fixed his washing machine. I have joined that club but more incompetently as I have a machine that now works but with a leak. Another example is parents now doing their own childcare rather than using nurseries or nanny’s which make be better but reduces GDP.

Oh and it would not be me if I did not point out that the inflation estimates used may be of the Comical Ali variety.

Comment

Now let me switch to the trends which the pandemic has given a shove to but were already on play. Let me return to my subject of yesterday and apologies for quoting my own twitter feed but it is thin pickings for mentions.

Negative Interest-Rates in the UK Klaxon! The two-year UK Gilt yield has fallen to -0.04% this morning

Not entirely bereft though as this from Moyeen Islam notes.

GBP 50yr OIS swap now negative for the first time

This matters if you are a newer reader because once this starts it spreads and sometimes like wildfire. A factor in this was the fact that one of the Bank of England’s loose cannons was on the airwaves yesterday.

“The committee are certainly prepared to do what is necessary to meet our remit with risks still to the downside,” Broadbent told CNBC on Tuesday.

“Yes, it is quite possible that more monetary easing will be needed over time.”

The absent-minded professor needs a minder or two as he can do a lot of damage.

“That is not to say that we stop thinking about this question, but that for the time being is where rates have gone,” he added.

So we have a level of layers here. How did he ever get promoted for example? In some ways even worse how he was switched from being an external member to being a Deputy Governor which opens a Pandora’s Box of moral hazard straight out of the television series Yes Prime Minister. The one clear example of him standing out from the crowd was in the late summer of 2016 when he got things completely wrong.

Moving on “My Precious! My Precious!” is rarely far away.

Broadbent said the potential to stimulate demand would have to be weighed against the impact on banks’ ability to lend, adding that “this is a question that has been thought about on and off since the financial crisis.”

Today we see action on that front.

Britain’s housing market set for comeback ( Financial Times)

I hardly know where to start with that but if we clear the room from the champagne corks fired by the FT I have two thoughts for you. I did warn that all the promised small business lending would end up in the mortgage market just like last time and indeed the time before ( please feel free to add a few more examples). Next whilst some prices may look the same for a while the champagne corks will be replaced by a sense of panic as prices sing along to Tom Perry and his ( Bank of England ) Heartbreakers.

And all the bad boys are standing in the shadows
And the good girls are home with broken hearts
And I’m free
Free fallin’, fallin’
Now I’m free
Free fallin’, fallin’

The Investing Channel

 

 

The Bank of England sets interest-rates for the banks and QE to keep debt costs low

This morning has seen a change to Bank of England practice which is a welcome one. It announced its policy decisions at 7 am rather than the usual midday. Why is that better? It is because it voted last night so cutting the time between voting and announcing the result reduces the risk of it leaking and creating an Early Wire. The previous Governor Mark Carney preferred to have plenty of time to dot his i’s and cross his t’s at the expense of a clear market risk. If it was left to me I would dully go back to the old system where the vote was a mere 45 minutes before the announcement to reduce the risk of it leaking. After all the Bank of England has proved to be a much more leaky vessel than it should be.

Actions

We got further confirmation that the Bank of England considers 0.1% to be the Lower Bound for official UK interest-rates.

At its meeting ending on 6 May 2020, the MPC voted unanimously to maintain Bank Rate at 0.1%.

That is in their terms quite a critique of the UK banking system as I note the Norges Bank of Norway has cut to 0% this morning and denied it will cut to negative interest-rates ( we know what that means) and of course the ECB has a deposit rate of -0.5% although to keep that it has had to offer Euro area banks a bung ( TLTRO) at -1%

Next comes an area where action was more likely and as I will explain we did get a hint of some.

The Committee voted by a majority of 7-2
for the Bank of England to continue with the programme of £200 billion of UK government bond and sterling
non-financial investment-grade corporate bond purchases, financed by the issuance of central bank reserves, to
take the total stock of these purchases to £645 billion. Two members preferred to increase the target for the
stock of asset purchases by an additional £100 billion at this meeting.

The two who voted for “More! More! More!” were Jonathan Haskel and Michael Saunders. The latter was calling for higher interest-rates not so long ago so he has established himself as the swing voter who rushes to vote for whatever is right in front of his nose. Anyway I suspect it is moot as I expect them all to sing along with Andrea True Connection in the end.

(More, more, more) how do you like it, how do you like it
(More, more, more) how do you like it, how do you like it

What do they expect?

The opening salvo is both grim and relatively good.

The 2020 Q1 estimate of a fall in GDP of around 3% had been informed by a wide range of high-frequency indicators, as set out in the May Monetary Policy Report.

A factor in that will be that the UK went into its version of lockdown later than many others. But then the hammer falls.

The illustrative scenario in the May Report incorporated a very sharp fall in UK GDP in 2020 H1 and a
substantial increase in unemployment in addition to those workers who were furloughed currently. UK GDP was
expected to fall by around 25% in Q2, and the unemployment rate was expected to rise to around 9%. There were large uncertainty bands around these estimates.

As you can see GDP dived faster than any submarine But fear not as according to the Bank of England it will bounce like Zebedee.

UK GDP in the scenario falls by 14% in 2020 as a whole. Activity picks up materially in the latter part of 2020 and into 2021 after social distancing measures are relaxed, although it does not reach its pre‑Covid level until the second half of 2021 . In 2022, GDP growth is around 3%. Annual household consumption growth follows a similar
pattern.

Is it rude to point out that it has been some time since we grew by 3% in a year? If so it is perhaps even ruder to point out that it is double the speed limit for economic growth that the Bank of England keeps telling us now exists. I guess they are hoping nobody spots that.

Anyway to be fair they call this an illustrative scenario although they must be aware it will be reported like this.

NEW: UK GDP set for ‘dramatic’ 14% drop in 2020 amid coronavirus shutdown, Bank of England predicts ( @politicshome )

Inflation Problems

In a way this is both simple and complicated. Let us start with the simple.

CPI inflation had declined to 1.5% in March and was likely to fall below 1% in the next few months, in large
part reflecting developments in energy prices. This would require an exchange of letters between the Governor
and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

So for an inflation targeting central bank ( please stay with me on this one for the moment) things are simple. Should the Governor have to write to the Chancellor he can say he has cut interest-rates to record lows and pumped up the volume of QE. The Chancellor will offer a sigh of relief that the Bank of England is implicitly funding his spending and try to write a letter avoiding mentioning that.

However things are more complex as this sentence hints.

Measurement challenges would temporarily increase the noise in the inflation data, and affect the nature and behaviour of the index relative to a normal period.

It is doing some heavy lifting as I note this from the Office for National Statistics.

There are 92 items in our basket of goods and services that we have identified as unavailable for the April 2020 index (see Annex B), which accounts for 16.3% of the CPIH basket by weight. The list of unavailable items will be reviewed on a monthly basis.

There is their usual obsession with the otherwise widely ignored CPIH, But as you can see there are issues for the targeted measure CPI as well and they will be larger as it does not have imputed rents in it. A rough and ready calculation suggests it will be of the order of 20%. Also a downwards bias will be introduced by the way prices will be checked online which will mean that more expensive places such as corner shops will be excluded.

Also I am not surprised the Bank of England does not think this is material as the absent-minded professor Ben Broadbent is the Deputy Governor is in charge of this area but I do.

The ONS and the joint producers have taken the decision to temporarily suspend the UK House Price Index (HPI) publication from the April 2020 index (due to be released 17 June 2020) until further notice……..The UK HPI is used to calculate several of the owner occupiers’ housing costs components of the RPI. The procedures described in this plan apply to those components of the RPI that are based on the suspended UK HPI data.

Perhaps they will introduce imputed rents via the back door which is a bit sooner than 2030! Also the point below is rather technical but is a theme where things turn out to be different from what we are told ( it is annual) so I will look into it.

 

Unfortunately, since weights are lagged by two years, we would see no effect until we calculate the 2022 weights1. This means that the current weights are not likely to be reflective of current expenditure and that the 2022 weights are unlikely to be reflective of 2022 expenditure.

That sort of thing popped up on the debate about imputed rents when it turned out that they are (roughly) last year’s rather than the ones for now.

Comment

There are three clear issues here. Firstly as we are struggling to even measure inflation the idea of inflation-targeting is pretty much a farce. That poses its own problems for GDP measurement. Such as we have is far from ideal.

The all HDP items index show a stable increase over time, with an increase of 1.1% between Week 1 and Week 7. The index of all food has seen no price change from Week 5 to Week 7, resulting in a 1.2% price increase since Week 1.

As to Bank of England activity let me remind you of a scheme which favours larger businesses as usual.

As of 6 May, the Covid Corporate Financing Facility
(CCFF), for which the Bank was acting as HM Treasury’s agent, had purchased £17.7 billion of commercial
paper from companies who were making a material contribution to the UK economy.

I wonder if Apple and Maersk are on the list like they are for Corporate Bonds?

Within that increase, £81 billion of UK government bonds,
and £2.5 billion of investment-grade corporate bonds, had been purchased over recent weeks.

By the way that means that their running totals have been wrong. As to conventional QE that is plainly targeted at keeping Gilt yields very low ( the fifty-year is 0.37%)

Let me finish by pointing out we have a 0.1% interest-rate because it is all the banks can stand rather than it being good for you,me or indeed the wider business sector. Oh did I mention the banks?

As of 6 May, participants had drawn £11 billion from the TFSME

Podcast

 

 

Where next for the economy of Spain and house prices?

We can pick up on quite a lot of what is happening economically by taking a look at Spain which has been something of a yo-yo in the credit crunch era. It was hit then began to recover then was affected by the Euro area crisis but from around 2014/15 was maybe the clearest case of the Euro boom as it posted GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth as high as 4.2% in late 2015. Since then in something of a contradiction for the policies of the ECB economic growth has slowed but nonetheless Spain was an outperformer. Indeed such that things were quiet on the usual metrics such as national debt and so on. It shows how a burst of GDP growth can change things.

Of course that was this and we are now in the eye of the economic storm of the Covid-19 pandemic. At the end of last month Spain’s official statisticians fired an opening salvo on the state of play.

The Spanish GDP registered a variation of ─5.2% in the first quarter of 2020 with respect to the previous quarter in terms of volume. This rate was 5.6 points lower than that
recorded for the fourth quarter…….. Year-on-year GDP variation of GDP stood at ─4.1%, compared with 1.8% in the previous quarter.

To be fair to them they had doubts about the numbers but felt they had a duty to at least produce some.

Today

Markit INS offered us some thoughts earlier.

Record falls in both manufacturing and service sector output ensured that the Spanish private sector overall experienced a considerable and unprecedented contraction of economic activity during April. After accounting for seasonal factors, the Composite Output Index* recorded a new low of 9.2, down from 26.7 in March.

A single-digit PMI still comes as a bit of a shock as we recall that Greece in its crisis only fell to around 30 on this measure. Here is some more detail from their report.

The sharp contraction was driven by rapid reductions in
demand and new business as widespread government
restrictions on non-essential economic activity – both
at home and abroad – weighed heavily on company
performance. There was a record reduction in composite
new business and overall workloads – as measured by
backlogs of work – during April.

We can spin that round to an estimated impact on GDP.

Allowing for a likely shift in the traditionally strong linear relationship between GDP and PMI data, we estimate the economy is currently contracting at a quarterly rate of around 7%.

They then confess to something I have pointed out before about the way they treat the Euro area.

Whilst startling enough, this figure may well prove
to be conservative, with the depth of the downturn
undoubtedly greater than anything we have ever seen
before.

For our purposes we see that a double-digit fall in GDP seems likely and even this morning’s forecasts from the European Commission are on that road.

For the year as whole, GDP is forecast to
decline by almost 9½%.

I do like the 1/2% as if any forecast is that accurate right now! One element in the detail that especially concerns me is the labour market because it had been something of a laggard in the Spanish boom phase.

The unemployment rate is expected to rise rapidly, amplifying the shock to the economy, although job losses should be partly reabsorbed as activity picks up again. However, the recovery in the labour market is expected to be slower amid high uncertainty, weak corporate balance-sheet positions, and the disproportionate impact of the
crisis on labour intensive sectors, such as retail and
hospitality.

This was the state of play at the end of March.

The unemployment rate increased 63 hundredths and stood at 14.41%. In the last 12 months, this rate decreased by 0.29 hundredths.

Actually if we note the change in the inactivity rate then the real answer was more like 16%. As Elton John would say.

It’s sad, so sad (so sad)
It’s a sad, sad situation.

This bit is like licking your finger and putting it out the window to see how fast your spaceship is travelling.

This, together with a strong positive
carry-over from the last quarters of 2020, would bring annual GDP growth to 7% in 2021, leaving
output in 2021 about 3% below its 2019 level.

Perhaps the European Commission is worried about the effect on its own income which depends on economic output in the member states and does not want to frighten the horses.

ECB

I have already pointed out that Euro area monetary policy has been out of kilter with Spain. In fact the ECB got out the punch bowl when the Spanish economy was really booming in 2015 as an annual economic growth rate of 4.2% was combined with an official interest-rate of -0.2% and then -0.3%. Oh Well! As Fleetwood Mac would say.

One area that will have benefited is the Spanish government via the way that the QE bond buying of the ECB has reduced sovereign bond yields. Thus Spain can borrow very cheaply as it has a ten-year yield of 0.86% which reflects the 271 billion Euro purchased by the ECB. This will have oiled the public expenditure wheels although this gets very little publicity as the official bodies which tend to be copied and pasted by the media have no interest in pointing it out.

Yesterday though there was something to get Lyndsey Buckingham singing.

I should run on the double
I think I’m in trouble,
I think I’m in trouble.

This was when we learnt a couple of things from the German Constitutional Court. Firstly it would appear that judges everywhere were a quite ridiculous garb. Next that they discovered something they had previously overlooked was an issue and posed questions for the ECB QE programme or at least the Bundesbank version of it. This did affect Spain as whilst it still borrows cheaply yields have risen this week.

Comment

The first context is one of sadness as the Spanish economy recovery not only grinds to a halt but engages reverse gear and at quite a rate. As an aside I wonder what those who use “output gap” style analysis are doing now? I would say they would be hoping we have forgotten that but it is like an antibiotic resistant bacteria that keeps coming back. As to 2021 I find it amazing that we have forecasts when we do not even know where we are now!

Switching to the Bank of Spain ( which operates QE in Spain on behalf of the ECB) it must be having a wry smile. I expect a Euro area version of Yes Prime Minister to play out where the German Constitutional Court ends up taking so long to act that by the the new PEPP programme is over. There is a deeper issue though about the fact that the ECB has found itself trapped in a spiders web of QE and negative interest-rates from which it has been unable to escape from.

Also an important area for Spain which will have benefited from the NIRP policy is this.

The annual rate of the Housing Price Index (HPI) in the fourth quarter of 2019 decreased one
percentage point, standing at 3.6%. This was the lowest since the first quarter of 2015.

Let me leave that as a question. What do readers think will happen next?

The Investing Channel

 

Do we know where we are going in terms of inflation and house prices?

The credit crunch has posed lots of questions for economic statistics but the Covid-19 epidemic is proving an even harsher episode. Let me illustrate with an example from my home country the UK this morning.

The all items CPI annual rate is 1.5%, down from 1.7% in February…….The all items CPI is 108.6, unchanged from last month.

So the March figures as we had been expecting exhibited signs of a a downwards trend. But in terms of an economic signal one of the features required is timeliness and through no fault of those compiling these numbers the world has changed in the meantime. But we do learn some things as we note this.

The CPI all goods index annual rate is 0.6%, down from 1.0% last month…..The CPI all goods index is 105.7, down from 105.8 in February.

The existing world economic slow down was providing disinflationary pressure for goods and we are also able to note that domestic inflationary pressure was higher.

The CPI all services index annual rate is 2.5%, unchanged from last month.

So if it is not too painful to use a football analogy at a time like this the inflation story was one of two halves.

Although as ever the picture is complex as I note this.

The all items RPI annual rate is 2.6%, up from 2.5% last month.

Not only has the RPI risen but the gap between it and CPI is back up to 1.1%. Of this some 0.4% relates to the housing market and the way that CPI has somehow managed to forget that owner occupied housing exists for around two decades now. Some episode of amnesia that! Also in a rather curious development the RPI had been lower due to different weighting of products ( partly due to CPI omitting owner-occupied housing) which pretty much washed out this month giving us a 0.3% shift on the month.

Of course the RPI is unpopular with the UK establishment because it gives higher numbers and in truth is much more trusted by the wider population for that reason.

But let me give you an irony for my work from a different release.

UK average house prices increased by 1.1% over the year to February 2020, down from 1.5% in January 2020.

I have argued house prices should be in consumer inflation measures as they are in the RPI albeit via a depreciation system. But we are about to see them fall and if we had trade going on I would be expecting some large falls. Apologies to the central bankers who read my blog if I have just made your heart race. Via this factor we could see the RPI go negative again like it did in 2009 although of course the mortgage rate cuts which also helped back then are pretty much maxxed out now.

If we switch to the widely ignored measure that HM Treasury is so desperately pushing we will see changes here as well.

Private rental prices paid by tenants in the UK rose by 1.4% in the 12 months to March 2020, unchanged since February 2020…..Private rental prices grew by 1.4% in England, 1.2% in Wales and by 0.6% in Scotland in the 12 months to March 2020…..London private rental prices rose by 1.2% in the 12 months to March 2020.

Rises in rents are from the past. I have been told of examples of rents being cut to keep tenants. Of course that is only anecdotal evidence but if we look at the timeliness issue at a time like this it is all we have. Returning to the conceptual issue the whole CPIH and Imputed Rents effort may yet implode as we mull this announcement.

Cancelled

The comparison of private rental measures between the Office for National Statistics and private sector data will be published in the Index of Private Housing Rental Prices bulletin released on 22 April 2020.

Oh well! As Fleetwood Mac would say.

Oil Prices

We can look at a clear disinflationary trend via the inflation data and to be fair our official statisticians are awake.

U.S. crude oil futures turned negative for the first time in history, falling to minus $37.63 a
barrel as traders sold heavily because of rapidly filling storage space at a key delivery point.
Brent crude, the international benchmark, also slumped, but that contract is not as weak
because more storage is available worldwide. The May U.S. WTI contract fell to settle at a
discount of $37.63 a barrel after touching an all-time low of -$40.32 a barrel. Brent was down
to $25.57 a barrel. (uk.reuters.com 19 April 2020)

Actually Brent Crude futures for June are now US $18 so more is on its way than they thought but it is a fast moving situation. If we look at diesel prices we see that falls were already being noted as per litre prices had gone £1.33, £1.28 and £1.24 so far this year. As of Monday that was £1.16 which of course is well before the recent plunge in oil prices. This feeds in to the inflation data in two ways.

A 1 pence change on average in the cost of a litre of motor fuel contributes approximately 0.02 percentage points to the 1-month change in the CPIH.

Also in another way because the annual comparison will be affected by this.

When considering the price of petrol between March and April 2020, it may be useful to note
that the average price of petrol rose by 3.8 pence per litre between March and April 2019, to
stand at 124.1 pence per litre as measured in the CPIH.

If we switch to the producer price series we see that the Russo/Saudi oil price turf war was already having an impact.

The annual rate of inflation for materials and fuels purchased by manufacturers (input prices) fell by 2.9% in March 2020, down from negative 0.2% in February 2020. This is the lowest the rate has been since October 2019 and the sixth time in the last eight months that the rate has been negative.

The monthly rate for materials and fuels purchased was negative 3.6% in March 2020, down from negative 0.9% in February 2020. This is the lowest the rate has been since January 2015.

Roughly they will be recording about half the fall we are seeing now.

Comment

These times are providing lots of challenges for economic statistics. For example if we stay with oil above then it is welcome that consumers will see lower prices but it is also true we are using less of it so the weights are wrong ( too high). As to this next bit I hardly know where to start.

Air fares have shown variable movements in April which can depend on the position of Easter.

I could of course simply look at the skies over Battersea which are rather empty these days. I could go on by looking at the way foreign holidays are in the RPI and so on. There will of course be elements which are booming for example off-licence alcohol sales. DIY is booming if the tweet I received yesterday saying paint for garden fences had sold out is any guide. So you get the drift.

Returning to other issues the UK remains prone to inflation as this suggests.

“It’s right that retailers charge a fair price for fuel that reflects the price of the raw product, and in theory petrol prices could fall below £1 per litre if the lower wholesale costs were reflected at the pumps – but at the same time people are driving very few miles so they’re selling vastly lower quantities of petrol and diesel at the moment. This means many will be at pains to trim their prices any further.” ( RAC)

We learnt last week that some areas are seeing a fair bit of it as the new HDP ( Higher Demand Products) inflation measure recorded 4.4% in just 4 weeks.

So there are plenty of challenges. Let me give you an example from house prices where volumes will be so low can we calculate an index at all? Regular readers may recall I have pointed this out when wild swings have been recorded in Kensington and Chelsea but based on only 2 sales that month. What could go wrong?

Also we are in strange times. After all someone maybe have borrowed at negative interest-rates this week to buy oil at negative prices and then maybe lost money. If so let us hope they get some solace from some glam-rock from the 70s which is rather sweet.

Does anyone know the way?
Did we hear someone say
“We just haven’t got a clue what to do!”
Does anyone know the way?
There’s got to be a way
To Block Buster!

 

 

Where next for UK house prices?

This week has opened in what by recent standards is a relatively calm fashion. Well unless you are involved in the crude oil market as prices have taken another dive. That does link to the chaos in the airline industry where Easyjet has just grounded all its fleet. Although that is partly symbolic as the lack of aircraft noise over South West London in the morning now gives a clear handle on how many were probably flying anyway. So let us take a dip in the Bank of England’s favourite swimming pool which is UK house prices.

Bank of England

It has acted in emergency fashion twice this month and the state of play is as shown below.

Over recent weeks, the MPC has reduced Bank Rate by 65 basis points, from 0.75% to 0.1%, and introduced a Term Funding scheme with additional incentives for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (TFSME). It has also announced an increase in the stock of asset purchases, financed by the issuance of central bank reserves, by £200 billion to a total of £645 billion.

If we look for potential effects then the opening salvo of an interest-rate cut has much less impact than it used to as whilst there are of course variable-rate mortgages out there the new mortgage market has been dominated by fixed-rates for a while now. The next item the TFSME is more significant as both its fore-runners did lead to lower mortgage-rates. Also the original TFS and its predecessor the Funding for Lending Scheme or FLS lead to more money being made available to the mortgage market. This helped net UK mortgage lending to go from being negative to being of the order of £4 billion a month in recent times. The details are below.

When interest rates are low, it is likely to be difficult for some banks and building societies to reduce deposit rates much further, which in turn could limit their ability to cut their lending rates.  In order to mitigate these pressures and maximise the effectiveness of monetary policy, the TFSME will, over the next 12 months, offer four-year funding of at least 10% of participants’ stock of real economy lending at interest rates at, or very close to, Bank Rate. Additional funding will be available for banks that increase lending, especially to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

We have seen this sort of hype about lending to smaller businesses before so let me give you this morning;s numbers.

In net terms, UK businesses borrowed no extra funds from banks in February, and the annual growth rate of bank lending to UK businesses remained at 0.8%. Within this, the growth rate of borrowing from SMEs picked up to 0.7%, whilst borrowing from large businesses remained at 0.9%.

It is quite unusual for it to be that good and has often been in the other direction.

In theory the extra bond purchases (QE) should boost the market although it is not that simple because if the original ones had worked as intended we would not have seen the FLS in the summer of 2012.

Today’s Data

It is hard not to have a wry smile at this.

Mortgage approvals for house purchase (an indicator for future lending) had continued to rise in February, reaching 73,500 . This took the series to its highest since January 2014, significantly stronger than in recent years. Approvals for remortgage also rose on the month to 53,400. Net mortgage borrowing by households – which lags approvals – was £4.0 billion in February, close to the £4.1 billion average seen over the past six months. The annual growth rate for mortgage borrowing picked up to 3.5%.

As you can see the previous measures to boost smaller business lending have had far more effect on mortgage approvals and lending. Also there is another perspective as we note the market apparently picking up into where we are now.

In terms of mortgage rates in February the Bank of England told us this.

Effective rates on new secured loans to individuals decreased 4bps to 1.81%.

So mortgages were getting slightly cheaper and the effective rate for the whole stock is now 2.36%.

The Banks

There is a two-way swing here. Help was offered in terms of a three-month payment holiday which buys time for those unable to pay although in the end they will still have to pay but for new loans we have quite a different situation. From The Guardian on Thursday.

Halifax, the UK’s biggest mortgage lender, has withdrawn the majority of the mortgages it sells through brokers, including all first-time buyer loans, citing a lack of “processing resource”.

In a message sent to mortgage brokers this morning, Halifax said it would no longer offer any mortgages with a “loan-to-value” (LTV) of more than 60%. In other words, only buyers able to put down a 40% deposit will qualify for a loan.

Other lenders have followed and as Mortgage Strategy points out below there are other issues for them and prospective buyers.

Mortgage lenders are in talks with ministers over putting the housing market in lockdown and transactions on hold, according to reports.

Lenders have been withdrawing products and restricting loan-to-values as they are unable to get valuers to do face-to-face inspections.

Property transactions are failing because some home owners in the chain are in isolation and unable to move house or complete on purchases.

Removals firms have been advised by their trade body not to operate, leaving movers in limbo.

So in fact even if the banks were keen to lend there are plenty of issues with the practicalities.

Comment

The next issue for the market is that frankly a lot of people are now short of this.

Money talks, mmm-hmm-hmm, money talks
Dirty cash I want you, dirty cash I need you, woh-oh
Money talks, money talks
Dirty cash I want you, dirty cash I need you, woh-oh ( The Adventures of Stevie V )

I have been contacted by various people over the past few days with different stories but a common theme which is that previously viable and successful businesses are either over or in a lot of trouble. They will hardly be buying. Even more so are those who rent a property as I have been told about rent reductions too if the tenant has been reliable just to keep a stream of income. Now this is personal experience and to some extent anecdote but it paints a picture I think. Those doing well making medical equipment for example are unlikely to have any time to themselves let alone think about property.

Thus we are looking at a deep freeze.

Ice ice baby
Ice ice baby
All right stop ( Vanilla Ice)

Whereas for house prices I can only see this for now.

Oh, baby
I, I, I, I’m fallin’
I, I, I, I’m fallin’
Fall

Podcast

A blog from my late father about the banks

The opening today is brought to you by my late father. You see he was a plastering sub-contractor who was a mild man but could be brought to ire by the subject of how he had been treated by the banks. He used to regale me with stories about how to keep the relationships going he would be forced to take loans he didn’t really want in the good times and then would find they would not only refuse loans in the bad but ask for one’s already given back. He only survived the 1980-82 recession because of an overdraft for company cars he was able to use for other purposes which they tried but were unable to end. So my eyes lit up on reading this from the BBC.

Banks have been criticised by firms and MPs for insisting on personal guarantees to issue government-backed emergency loans to business owners.

The requirement loads most of the risk that the loan goes bad on the business owner, rather than the banks.

It means that the banks can go after the personal property of the owner of a firm if their business goes under and they cannot afford to pay off the debt.

Whilst borrowers should have responsibility for the loans these particular ones are backed by the government.

According to UK Finance, formerly the British Bankers Association, the scheme should offer loans of up to £5m, where the government promises to cover 80% of losses if the money is not repaid. But, it notes: “Lenders may require security for the facility.”

In recent times there has been a requirement for banks to “Know Your Customer” or KYC for short. If they have done so then they would be able to sift something of the wheat from the chaff so to speak and would know which businesses are likely to continue and sadly which are not. With 80% of losses indemnified by the taxpayer they should be able to lend quickly, cheaply and with little or no security.

For those saying they need to be secure, well yes but in other areas they seem to fall over their own feet.

ABN AMRO Bank N.V. said Thursday that it will incur a significant “incidental” loss on one of its U.S. clients amid the new coronavirus scenario.

The bank said it is booking a $250 million pretax loss, which would translate into a net loss of around $200 million.

Well we now know why ABN Amro is leaving the gold business although we do not know how much of this was in the gold market. Oh and the excuse is a bit weak for a clearer of positions.

ABN AMRO blamed the loss on “unprecedented volumes and volatility in the financial markets following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.”

Returning to the issue of lending of to smaller businesses here were the words of Mark Carney back as recently as the 11th of this month when he was still Bank of England Governor.

I’ll just reiterate that, by providing much more flexibility, an ability to-, the banking system has been put in
a position today where they could make loans to the hardest hit businesses, in fact the entire corporate
sector, not just the hardest hit businesses and Small and Medium Sized enterprises, thirteen times of
what they lent last year in good times.

That boasting was repeated by the present Governor Andrew Bailey. Indeed he went further on the subject of small business lending.

there’s a very clear message to the banks-, and, by the way, which I think has been reflected in things that a number of the banks have already said.

Apparently not clear enough. But there was more as back then he was still head of the FCA.

One of the FCA’s core principles for business is treating customers fairly. The system is now, as we’ve said many times this morning, in a much more resilient state. We expect them to treat customers fairly. That’s what must happen. They know that. They’re in a position to do it. There should be no excuses now, and both we, the Bank of England, and the FCA, will be watching this very
carefully.

Well I have consistently warned you about the use of the word “resilient”. What it seems to mean in practice is that they need forever more subsidies and help.

On top of that, we’re giving them four-year certainty on a considerable amount of funding at the cost of
bank rate. On top of that, they have liquidity buffers themselves, but, also, liquidity from the Bank of
England. So, they are in that position to support the economy. ( Governor Carney )

Since then they can fund even more cheaply as the Bank Rate is now 0.1%.

Meanwhile I have been contacted by Digibits an excavator company via social media.

Funding For Lending Scheme was crazy. We looked at this to finance a new CNC machine tool in 2013. There were all sorts of complicated (and illogical) strings attached and, at the end of the day, the APR was punitive.

I asked what rate the APR was ( for those unaware it is the annual interest-rate)?

can’t find record of that, but it was 6% flat in Oct 2013. Plus you had to ‘guarantee’ job creation – a typical top-down metric that makes no sense in SME world. IIRC 20% grant contribution per job up to maximum of £15k – but if this didn’t work out you’d risk paying that back.

As you can see that was very different to the treatment of the banks and the company was worried about the Red Tape.

The grant element (which theoretically softened the blow of the high rate) was geared toward creating jobs, but that is a very difficult agreement (with teeth) to hold over the head of an SME and that contribution could have been clawed back.

Quantitative Easing

There is a lot going on here so let me start with the tactical issues. Firstly the Bank of England has cut back on its daily QE buying from the £10.2 billion peak seen on both Friday and Monday. It is now doing three maturity tranches ( short-dated, mediums and longs) in a day and each are for £1 billion.

Yet some still want more as I see Faisal Islam of the BBC reporting.

Ex top Treasury official @rjdhughes

floated idea in this v interesting report of central bank – (ie Bank of England) temporarily funding Government by buying bonds directly, using massive increase in Government overdraft at BoE – “ways & means account”

Some of you may fear the worst from the use of “top” and all of you should fear the word “temporarily” as it means any time from now to infinity these days.

This could be justified on separate grounds of market functioning/ liquidity of key markets, in this case, for gilts/ Government bonds. There have been signs of a lack of demand at recent auctions…

Faisal seems unaware that the lack of demand is caused by the very thing his top official is calling for which is central bank buying! Even worse he seems to be using the Japanese model where the bond market has been freezing up for some time.

“more formal monetary support of the fiscal response will be required..prudent course of action is yield curve control, where Bank can create fiscal space for Chancellor although if tested this regime may mutate into monetary financing”

Those who have followed my updates on the Bank of Japan will be aware of this.

Comment

Hopefully my late father is no longer spinning quite so fast in his Memorial Vault ( these things have grand names).  That is assuming ashes can spin! We seem to be taking a familiar path where out of touch central bankers claim to be boosting business but we find that the cheap liquidity is indeed poured into the banks. But it seems to get lost as the promises of more business lending now morph into us seeing more and cheaper mortgage lending later. That boosts the banks and house prices in what so far has appeared to be a never ending cycle. Meanwhile the Funding for Lending Scheme started in the summer of 2012 so I think we should have seen the boost to lending to smaller businesses by now don’t you?

Meanwhile I see everywhere that not only is QE looking permanent my theme of “To Infinity! And Beyond” has been very prescient. No doubt we get more stories of “Top Men” ( or women) recommending ever more. Indeed it is not clear to me that a record in HM Treasury and the position below qualifies.

he joined the International Monetary Fund in 2008 where he headed the Fiscal Affairs Department’s Public Finance Division and worked on fiscal reform in a range of crisis-hit advanced, emerging, and developing countries.