The good news from lower UK inflation ( think real wages) may not last

Today brings the various UK inflation numbers into focus as we get the updates for consumer, producer and house prices. Already though the Bank of England has given its view on the general outlook.

Second, the most likely outlook is a further period of subdued growth, and hence a disinflationary backdrop
of a persistent – albeit modest – output gap.

That is from Michael Saunders who is giving a speech in Northern Ireland and we see him backing up the previously expressed view of UK inflation falling towards 1.25% in the early part of this year. It is sad though that he still uses the “output gap” that has worked so poorly even some ex-central bankers are being forced to admit it has been a failure. Here is the former Vice-President of the ECB ( European Central Bank) Vitor Constancio.

In “FED listens” events, they found that:..”there is more “slack” than the Fed had thought — more people who could still come into the labour force, particularly in poorer areas”. I am sure the same is true in Europe. Forget output gaps

If only those still in power would see the light and accept reality!

There is an irony in all of this as we note that whilst the Bank of England expects lower inflation it is presently trying to raise it and Micheal Saunders has another go.

Fourth, against this backdrop, it probably will be appropriate to maintain an expansionary monetary policy
stance and possibly to cut rates further, in order to reduce risks of a sustained undershoot of the 2% inflation
target. With limited monetary policy space, risk management considerations favour a relatively prompt and aggressive response to downside risks at present.

This is via the impact of their words on the value of the UK Pound £ and the way a lower value ( mostly via the role of the US Dollar in setting commodity prices) tends to raise subsequent inflation. You may note that the bi-polar view of monetary policy space continues to be in play as he joins Mark Carney’s statement that it is limited from last Wednesday which morphed into the equivalent of a Bank Rate cut of 2.5% as quickly as Thursday. What a difference a day made!

twenty four little hours
Brought the sun and the flowers where there use to be rain ( Dinah Washington )

If we complete the points made by Michael Saunders we see something of an obsession with output gap theory.

First, with softer global growth and high Brexit uncertainty, the UK economy has remained sluggish. The
slowdown has created a modest output gap, and there are signs that the labour market is turning.

Also something perhaps even sillier.

Third, the neutral level of interest rates may have fallen further over the last year or two, both in the UK and
externally.

Or, of course, it may not.

Consumer Inflation

The backdrop was worrying because US consumer inflation had risen yesterday and Euro area inflation had risen last week and that is before we get to this.

Also, Zimbabwe’s annual inflation rate (the one that is officially concealed) rose to 521% in December. ( Joseph Cotterill)

But the numbers were good possibly showing that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 1.3% in December 2019, down from 1.5% in November 2019.

There were two main factors at play and I wonder if any of you spotted this one?

Restaurants and hotels, where prices for overnight hotel accommodation fell by 7.5% between November and December 2019, compared with a rise of 0.9% between November and December 2018;

Also the next one may have affects elsewhere because the last time we saw a burst of this as we saw retail sales rise in response ( thank you ladies) which is against the present consensus.

Clothing and footwear, where the largest individual downward contributions came from women’s casual jackets and cardigans, where prices fell between November and December 2019 but rose between the same two months in 2018. There were also small individual downward contributions from formal trousers and formal skirts

Also if we continue to look wider we see a possible impact from the slow down in car sales.

There was also a smaller downward contribution from the purchase of vehicles where prices overall were little changed in 2019 but increased by 0.7% in 2018.

Let us move on but not without noting that the impact of the UK Pound £ is for once zero compared to the Euro as we have the same inflation rate.

Euro area annual inflation is expected to be 1.3% in December 2019,

What Happens Next?

There is still a slight downwards push but the impetus has gone.

The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process was negative 0.1% on the year to December 2019, up from negative 1.9% in November 2019.

Indeed if we switch to output prices we see that there are ongoing albeit small rises in play.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 0.9% on the year to December 2019, up from 0.5% in November 2019.

If we look to future influences we know that 70% of the input number comes from the £ and the oil price. As we stand at US $64.40 for a barrel of Brent Crude that is where it roughly was in mid-December so maybe not much influence. With the Bank of England engaging in open mouth operations against the £ it may come into play.

House Prices

There was a worrying change here.

UK average house prices increased by 2.2% over the year to November 2019, up from 1.3% in October 2019……Average house prices increased over the year in England to £251,000 (1.7%), Wales to £173,000 (7.8%), Scotland to £155,000 (3.5%) and Northern Ireland to £140,000 (4.0%).

This adds a little credibility to the Halifax 4% reading for December although we await the official December data. As to the breakdown we have observed parts of the Midlands leading the line in recent times.

The annual increase in England was driven by the West Midlands and North West…..The lowest annual growth rate was in the East of England (negative 0.7%) followed by London (positive 0.2%).

Although that is for just England so we should also look wider and whilst it looks an anomaly there was this.

House price growth in Wales increased by 7.8% over the year to November 2019, up from 3.6% in October 2019, with the average house price in Wales at £173,000.

Comment

There is some much needed good news in today’s report for real wage growth as we see inflation dip. However we need context because if we switch to the UK’s longest running measure of inflation there is a different story in play.

The all items RPI annual rate is 2.2%, unchanged from last month.

The difference neatly illustrates my major theme in this area.

Other housing components, which increased the RPI 12-month rate relative to the CPIH 12-month rate by 0.06 percentage points between November and December 2019. The effect came mainly from house depreciation.

As you can see our official statisticians are desperate to make everyone look at their widely ignored favourite measure called CPIH which I will cover in a moment. But for now we see that past house prices via depreciation are exerting an upwards pull on the RPI and November’s number suggests this may continue. Most will understand that for many house prices are a big deal but the fact that they usually pull inflation higher means the establishment has launched an increasingly desperate campaign to ignore them.

If we now cover the official CPIH measure it indulges in a fleet of fantasy by assuming that owners pay themselves rent and then includes this fantasy in its inflation reading. Even worse there have been problems in measuring rents so it may well be a fantasy squared should such a thing exist. Anyway the effort to reduce the inflation reading has backfired this month as CPIH is above CPI due to this.

In December 2019, the largest upward contribution to the CPIH 12-month inflation rate came from housing and household services. The division has provided the largest upward contribution since November 2018.

Oh well…..

The inflation problem is only in the minds of central bankers

Yesterday we looked at the trend towards negative interest-rates and today we can link this into the issue of inflation. So let me open with this morning’s release from Swiss Statistics.

The consumer price index (CPI) remained stable in December 2019 compared with the previous month, remaining at 101.7 points (December 2015 = 100). Inflation was +0.2% compared with the same month of the previous year. The average annual inflation reached +0.4% in 2019.These are the results of the Federal Statistical Office (FSO).

The basic situation is not only that there is little or no inflation but that there has been very little since 2015. Actually if we switch to the Euro area measure called CPI in the UK we see that it picks up even less.

In December 2019, the Swiss Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) stood at 101.17 points
(base 2015=100). This corresponds to a rate of change of +0.2% compared with the previous month
and of –0.1% compared with the same month of the previous year.

Negative Interest-Rates

There is a nice bit of timing here in that the situation changed back in 2015 on the 15th to be precise and I am sure many of you still recall it.

The Swiss National Bank (SNB) is discontinuing the minimum exchange rate of CHF 1.20 per euro. At the same time, it is lowering the interest rate on sight deposit account balances that exceed a given exemption threshold by 0.5 percentage points, to −0.75%.

If we look at this in inflation terms then the implied mantra suggested by Ben Bernanke yesterday would be that Switzerland would have seen some whereas it has not. In fact the (nearly) 5 years since then have been remarkable for their lack of inflation.

There is a secondary issue here related to the exchange rate which is that the negative interest-rate was supposed to weaken it. That is a main route as to how it is supposed to raise inflation but we find that we are nearly back where we began. What I mean by that is the exchange-rate referred to above is 1.084 compared to the Euro. So the Swiss tried to import inflation but have not succeeded and awkwardly for fans of negative interest-rates part of the issue is that the ECB ( European Central Bank) joined the party reminding me of a point I made just under 2 years ago on the 9th of January 2018.

For all the fire and fury ( sorry) there remains a simple underlying point which is that if one currency declines falls or devalues then others have to rise. That is especially awkward for central banks as they attempt to explain how trying to manipulate a zero-sum game brings overall benefits.

The Low Inflation Issue

Let me now switch to another Swiss based organisation the Bank for International Settlements  or BIS. This is often known as the central bankers central bank and I think we learn a lot from just the first sentence.

Inflation in advanced economies (AEs) continues to be subdued, remaining below central banks’ target
in spite of aggressive and persistent monetary policy accommodation over a prolonged period.

As we find so often this begs more than a few questions. For a start why is nobody wondering why all this effort is not wprking as intended? The related issue is then why they are persisting with something that is not working? The Eagles had a view on this.

They stab it with their steely knives
But they just can’t kill the beast

We then get quite a swerve.

To escape the low inflation trap, we argue that, as suggested by Jean-Claude Trichet, governments
and social partners put in place “consensus packages” that include a fiscal policy that supports demand
and a series of ad hoc nominal wage increases over several years.

Actually there are two large swerves here. The first is the switch away from the monetary policies which have been applied on an ever larger scale each time with the promise that this time they will work. Next is a pretty breathtaking switch to advocacy of fiscal policy by the very same Jean-Claude Trichet who was involved in the application of exactly the reverse in places like Greece during his tenure at the ECB.

Their plan is to simply add to the control freakery.

As political economy conditions evolve, this role should be progressively substituted by rebalancing the macro
policy mix with a more expansionary fiscal policy. More importantly, social partners and governments
control an extremely powerful lever, ie the setting of wages at least in the public sector and potentially
in the private sector, to re-anchor inflation expectations near 2%.

The theory was that technocratic central bankers would aim for inflation targets set by elected politicians. Now they want to tell the politicians what to so all just to hit an inflation target that was chosen merely because it seemed right at the time. Next they want wages to rise at this arbitrary rate too! The ordinary worker will get a wage rise of 2% in this environment so that prices can rise by 2% as well. It is the economics equivalent of the Orwellian statements of the novel 1984

Indeed they even think that they can tell employers what to do.

Finally, in a full employment context,
employers have an incentive to implement wage increases to keep their best performing employees
and, given that nominal labour costs of all employers would increase in parallel, they would able to raise
prices in line with the increase of their wage bills with limited risk of losing clients

Ah “full employment” the concept which is in practical terms meaningless as we discussed only yesterday.

Also as someone who studied the “social contracts” or what revealingly were called “wage and price spirals” in the UK the BIS presents in its paper a rose tinted version of the past. Some might say misleading. In the meantime as the economy has changed I would say that they would be even less likely to work.

Putting this another way the Euro area inflation numbers from earlier showed something the ordinary person will dislike but central bankers will cheer.

Looking at the main components of euro area inflation, food, alcohol & tobacco is expected to have the highest
annual rate in December (2.0%, compared with 1.9% in November),

I would send the central bankers out to explain to food shoppers how this is in fact the nirvana of “price stability” as for new readers that is what they call inflation of 2% per annum. We would likely get another ” I cannot eat an I-Pad” moment.

Comment

Let me now bring in some issues which change things substantially and let me open with something that has got FT Alphaville spinning itself into quicksand.

As far as most people are concerned, there is more than enough inflation. Cœuré noted in his speech that most households think the average rate in the eurozone between 2004 and last year has been 9 per cent (in fact it was 1.6 per cent). That’s partly down to higher housing costs (which are not wholly included in central banks’ measurement of inflation).

That last sentence is really rather desperate as it nods to the official FT view of inflation which is in quite a mess on the issue of housing inflation. Actually the things which tend to go up ( house prices) are excluded from the Euro area measure of inflation. There was a plan to include them but that turned out to be an attempt simply to waste time ( about 3 years as it happened). Why? Well they would rather tell you that this is a wealth effect.

House prices, as measured by the House Price Index, rose by 4.2% in both the euro area and the EU in the
second quarter of 2019 compared with the same quarter of the previous year.

Looking at the situation we see that a sort of Holy Grail has developed – the 2% per annum inflation target – with little or no backing. After all its use was then followed by the credit crunch which non central bankers will consider to be a rather devastating critique. One road out of this is to raise the inflation target even higher to 3%, 4% or more, or so we are told.

There are two main issues with this of which the first is that if you cannot hit the 2% target then 3% or 4% seems pointless. But to my mind the bigger one is that in an era of lower numbers why be King Canute when instead one can learn and adapt. I would either lower the inflation target and/or put house prices in it so that they better reflect the ordinary experience. The reason they do not go down this road is explained by a four letter word, debt. Or as the Eagles put it.

Mirrors on the ceiling
The pink champagne on ice
And she said: “We are all just prisoners here
Of our own device”

Slow house price growth and a fall in credit card borrowing will worry the Bank of England

2020 has only just begun to borrow a phrase from The Carpenters but already the pace has picked up. Should the oil price remain above US $68 for a barrel of Brent Crude there will be consequences and impacts. But also we can look back on the Bank of England’s priority indicator in 2019 and on the subject here is the Nationwide.

Annual UK house price growth edged up as 2019 drew to a
close, with prices 1.4% higher than December 2018, the first
time it been above 1% for 12 months.

I have put in the format that would be most sensible for whoever is presenting the Bank of England Governor’s morning meeting. That is because pointing out the rise was only 0.1% in December does not seem as good and noting that unadjusted average prices fell by £452 may rewarded with an office that neither the wifi nor the cake trolley reach.

Continuing with that theme perhaps looking north of the border will help.

Scotland was the strongest performing home nation in
2019, with prices up 2.8% over the year.

Might be best to avoid this though.

London ended the year as the weakest performing region,
with an annual price decline of 1.8%.

If you are forced into looking at London then the Nationwide has done some PR spinning of the numbers.

While this marks the tenth quarter in row that prices have fallen in the capital, they are still only around 5% below the all-time highs recorded in Q1 2017 and c50% above their 2007 levels (UK prices are only around 17% higher than their 2007 peak).

Best to avoid the fact that London is usually a leader of the pack for the rest of the country.

Affordability

Should our poor graduate find themselves in this area then perhaps a new career might be advisable as even the Nationwide cannot avoid this.

“Even in the North and Scotland, where property appears
most affordable, it would still take someone earning the
average wage and saving 15% of their take home pay each
month more than five years to save a 20% deposit. In Wales
and Northern Ireland, it would take prospective buyers nearly seven years, and almost eight years for people living in the West Midlands.
“Reflecting the trend in overall house prices, the deposit
challenge is most daunting in the South of England, where it would take an average earner almost a decade to amass a 20% deposit. Again, the pressures are most acute in the
capital, where someone earning an average income would
need around 15 years to save a 20% deposit on the typical
London property (this is even longer than was the case
before the financial crisis, when it would have taken around
ten and a half years).”

So houses are very expensive and in many cases effectively unaffordable which contradicts the official measures of inflation which somehow ( somehow of course means deliberately) miss this out. So officially you are richer it is just unfortunate that you cannot afford housing….

Consumer Credit

Our unfortunate trainee cannot catch a break today as we note this.

The net flow of consumer credit was £0.6 billion in November, the smallest flow since November 2013.

Within it was something to send a chill down the spine of a modern central banker. The emphasis is mine and it will also have stood out in capitals to the Bank of England.

The extra amount borrowed by consumers in order to buy goods and services fell to £0.6 billion in November. This is the weakest since November 2013, and below the £1.1 billion average seen since July 2018. Within this, there was a net repayment of credit cards for the first time since July 2013, of £0.1 billion. Net borrowing for other loans and advances also weakened, to £0.7 billion.

Actually the stock of credit card borrowing fell by a larger amount from £72.4 billion to £72.1 billion. However whilst the drop stands out a little care is needed as the October flow was more than has become usual ( +£400 million) so the drop may be a bit of an aberration.

We learn more from the next bit.

These weak flows mean the annual growth rate of consumer credit fell to 5.7% in November, compared to 6.1% in October. It has now fallen 3.7 percentage points since July 2018, when it was 9.4%.

Whilst that may be true ( we recently had some large upwards revisions which reduced confidence in the accuracy of the data series) it dodges some important points. For example 5.7% is still much faster than anything else in the economy and because of the previous high rate of growth had to slow to some extent due to the size of the amount of consumer credit now ( £225.3 billion in case you were wondering). Also the other loans and advances section continues to grow at an annual rate of 6.6% which has not only been stable but seems to be resisting the impact of a weaker car market as car loans are a component of it.

Mortgage Lending

This morning’s release was a case of steady as she goes.

Lending in the mortgage market continued to be steady in November, and in line with levels seen over the past three years. Net mortgage borrowing fell marginally to £4.1 billion, and mortgage approvals for house purchase remained unchanged at 65,000.

The catch is that the push which began with the interest-rate cuts and QE bond buying after the credit crunch and was turbo-charged by the Funding for Lending Scheme in the summer of 2012 is losing its impact on house prices.

For those of you wondering what the typical mortgage rate now is another release today gave us a pointer.

Effective rates on new secured loans to individuals decreased 9bps to 1.87%.

For more general lending they seem a little reticent below so let me help out by saying it is 6.88%.

Effective rates on outstanding other unsecured loans to individuals decreased 4bps

That is another world from a Bank Rate of 0.75%. Meanwhile on that theme I would like to point out that the quoted interest-rate for credit cards is 20.3%. I have followed it throughout the credit crunch era and it is up by 2.5%. Yes I do mean up so relatively it has risen more as official interest-rates declined. This is something that has received a bit of an airing in the United States and some attention but not so here.

Comment

Let me open with two developments in the credit crunch era. The first is that even high interest-rates ( 20%) above do not seem to discourage credit card borrowing these days. I will also throw in that numbers from Sweden and Germany suggest that a combination of zero interest-rates for many and negative ones for some seem to encourage saving. That is a poke in not one but both eyes for the Ivory Towers.

Moving to our trainee at the Bank of England then I suggest as a short-term measure as the Governor is only around until March suggesting a man of international distinction is required to deal with issues like this.

Meteorologists say a climate system in the Indian Ocean, known as the dipole, is the main driver behind the extreme heat in Australia.

However, many parts of Australia have been in drought conditions, some for years, which has made it easier for the fires to spread and grow.

Returning to the economy then there was some better news from the broad money figures as November was a stronger month raising the annual rate of M4 growth to 4%. The catch is that it takes a while to impact and so is something for around the middle of 2021.

Me on The Investing Channel

 

 

What happens now to UK house prices?

It was only on Friday that I looked at something potentially beneficial for UK house prices which is a Bank of England interest-rate cut. That could come as soon as this week and later in the day markets adjusted to this as the Gilt market rallied and a ten-year yield of 0.86% has been replaced by one of 0.77% this morning. So maybe some cheaper mortgage rates are on their way.

London

This morning the Financial Times has moved onto one of its favourite topics and here it comes.

Agents for high-end London property have reported a bounce in multi-million-pound home sales after Boris Johnson’s election victory. Buying and selling agents said purchasers were committing to buy homes worth up to £50m after the decisive Conservative win provided political clarity. Overseas buyers also want to pre-empt a stamp duty surcharge planned by Mr Johnson’s government.

So even if we allow for some estate agent hype the new government and the prospect of some Brexit certainty does seem to have had a impact. We also got some more specific details.

Camilla Dell, founder of the buying agency Black Brick, said many of her clients had waited to exchange contracts until after the vote, including one buying a £3.8m newly built apartment in St John’s Wood. She said most of her company’s pipeline of £50m in home purchases would now proceed quickly. “They all want to get on and exchange, and not just because of potential stamp duty changes. A more confident market will make sellers more bullish on price,” she said.

Actually when we look at the next quote £50 million can go quite quickly.

Trevor Abrahmsohn, managing director of Glentree International — which specialises in super-prime north London homes — said an Asian buyer had committed on Friday to buying a £28m home and another purchaser to spending £5m on a property. “This is a shot of adrenalin in a market that was comatose,” he said.

So far you may note that these are commitments relying on estate agent’s word rather than actual purchases. To be fair it is so soon after the election that actual purchases are unlikely. But there does seem to be something going on as the often reliable Henry Pryor has tweeted this.

I’ve got a dozen clients looking for new homes with £25m between them bit.ly/35scLtK plus a group of others with a pot of £50m for post-Election, pre-Brexit, pre-Budget opportunities.

If we ask the Carly Simon question which is Why? We see that there are some factors at play. The settled election result is one although I note that Henry Pryor seems dubious about this concept.

 I even heard of deals going through with a ‘Corbyn clause’ where the contracts could be rescinded if Labour got in . .

Also there is this.

In November the Conservatives pledged to charge overseas buyers an additional 3 per cent of the purchase price in stamp duty when they buy homes in England. This would add to an existing 3 per cent surcharge for buyers of second and additional homes.

The Asian buyer above should he/she exist would have to pay an extra £840,000 which feels eye-watering.

Context

Whilst there is no doubt some hype in the above there is probably something going on. However there is a catch as it faces quite a lot of extra supply in central London. For example I went for a run yesterday and passed through the Battersea Power Station site where there is a large advert for Battersea Roof Garden with 600 flats being built. The roof garden is a nice touch but the description of “much needed green space” raises a smile once you know it is about 100 years from Battersea Park.

Added to this is the rest of the Nine Elms development and the Qatari development on Chelsea Bridge Road. Of course there is bias here as the main developments are in my area but the scale of them is significant and will require what are at those prices a significant number of purchasers as time passes.

Builders Share Prices

It would seem that investors on Friday were mulling a new version of Help To Buy.

In early trading, Taylor Wimpey shares rose 15% to 200p, while Barratt Developments and Berkeley Homes both registered rises of 13%, taking their share prices to 755p and 5,084p respectively.

Persimmon and Bellway were up 11%, to 2,784p and 3,086p, while Bovis and Redrow saw their stocks rise by 9% to 1,363p and 746p respectively. ( Building Magazine)

So there may be some support from that looking ahead. Whilst many developments in central London are too expensive to qualify some studio flats are priced within its range.

Rightmove

They have also joined the fray today.

LONDON (Reuters) – Asking prices for British houses fell this month by the smallest amount for any December since 2006, a survey showed on Monday, pointing to some upside for a housing market subdued by Brexit and election uncertainty.

Rightmove said asking prices, which are not seasonally adjusted, fell by 0.9% on a monthly basis after a bigger-than-normal 1.3% drop in November.

Indeed they go further with this.

Rightmove forecasts a 2% rise in asking prices in 2020.

That is a fascinating conclusion for an organisation which thinks this!

“With much of the political uncertainty removed, we expect that the number of properties for sale will recover as more new sellers come to market, making up some of this year’s lost ground,” Rightmove director Miles Shipside said.

So more sellers will lead to higher prices. Really?

Comment

The media seem to be starting something of a campaign on this front as even the i newspaper was on the case on Friday.

Property experts now expect those who have been holding off to go back to doing deals potentially driving house prices up.

“Expect a sharp uplift in transaction levels starting early in 2020, as buyers and sellers who have played it safe put their plans into motion,“ said Andrew Montlake, managing director of mortgage broker Coreco, adding that a ”huge amount“ of pent-up demand out there looks set to be unleashed on the market next year.

They should introduce Mr.Montlake to Rightmove as his “huge amount” of buyers could meet all their sellers.

However some factors have been in play all along. For example if you trusted the polls and bought UK property when the UK Pound £ was at US $1.19 and various FT journalists were saying on social media it was going lower you now have a solid return ( US $1.33. It will vary between foreign buyers as to how strong the exchange rate influence is but for some it will be major. Asian buyers may note that against the Japanese Yen there has been a rally from 127 to 146 already.

Thus my conclusion is that any rally in UK house prices will require more government and Bank of England intervention/ Otherwise we are on a road to nowhere with possible falls. I welcome that as with real wages rising finally affordability is heading in the right direction.

Podcast

Where next for US house prices?

Yesterday brought us up to date in the state of play in the US housing market. So without further ado let us take a look.

The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index, covering all nine U.S. census divisions, reported a 3.2% annual gain in September, up from 3.1% in the previous month. The 10-City Composite annual increase came in at 1.5%, no change from the previous month. The 20-City Composite posted a 2.1% year-over-year gain, up from 2.0% in the previous month.

The first impression is that by the standards we have got used to that is a low number providing us with another context for the interest-rate cuts we have seen in 2019 from the US Federal Reserve. Of course it is not only the Fed that likes higher asset prices.

“DOW, NASDAQ, S&P 500 CLOSE AT RECORD HIGHS”

Another new Stock Market Record. Enjoy!

Those are 2 separate tweets from Monday from President Trump who not only loves a stock market rally but enjoys claiming it is all down to him. I do not recall him specifically noting house prices but it seems in the same asset price pumping spirit to me.

In my opinion the crucial part of the analysis provided by S&P comes right at the beginning.

After a long period of decelerating price increases, it’s notable that in September both the national and
20-city composite indices rose at a higher rate than in August, while the 10-city index’s September rise
matched its August performance. It is, of course, too soon to say whether this month marks an end to
the deceleration or is merely a pause in the longer-term trend.

If we look at the situation we see that things are very different from the 10% per annum rate reached in 2014 and indeed the 7% per annum seen in the early part of last year.That will concern the Fed which went to an extreme amount of effort to get house prices rising again. From a peak of 184.62 in July of 2006 the national index fell to 134.62 in February of 2012 and has now rallied to 212.2 or 58% up from the low and 15% up from the previous peak.

As ever there are regional differences.

Phoenix, Charlotte and Tampa reported the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities. In
September, Phoenix led the way with a 6.0% year-over-year price increase, followed by Charlotte with
a 4.6% increase and Tampa with a 4.5% increase. Ten of the 20 cities reported greater price increases
in the year ending September 2019 versus the year ending August 2019…….. Of the 20 cities in the composite, only one (San Francisco) saw a year-over-year price
decline in September

Mortgage Rates

If we look for an influence here we see a contributor to the end of the 7% per annum house price rise in 2018 as they rose back then. But since then things have been rather different as those who have followed my updates on the US bond market will be expecting. Indeed Mortgage News Daily put it like this.

2019 has been the best year for mortgage rates since 2011.  Big, long-lasting improvements such as this one are increasingly susceptible to bounces/corrections……Fed policy and the US/China trade war have been key players.

But we see that so far a move that began in bond markets around last November has yet to have a major influence on house prices. If you wish to know what US house buyers are paying for a mortgage here is the state of play.

Today’s Most Prevalent Rates For Top Tier Scenarios

  • 30YR FIXED -3.75%
  • FHA/VA – 3.375%
  • 15 YEAR FIXED – 3.375%
  • 5 YEAR ARMS –  3.25-3.75% depending on the lender

More recently bonds seem to be rallying again so we may see another dip in mortgage rates but we will have to see and with Thanksgiving Day on the horizon things may be well be quiet for the rest of this week.

The economy

This has been less helpful for house prices.There may be a minor revision later but as we stand the third quarter did this.

Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased 1.9 percent in the third quarter of 2019, according to the “advance” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the second quarter, real GDP increased 2.0 percent. ( US BEA ).

Each quarter in 2019 has seen lower growth and that trend seems set to continue.

The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 0.7% for 2019:Q4.

News from this week’s data releases increased the nowcast for 2019:Q4 by 0.3 percentage point.

Positive surprises from housing data drove most of the increase.

Something of a mixture there as the number rallied due to housing data from building permits and housing starts.Mind you more supply into the same demand could push future prices lower! But returning to the wider economy back in late September the NY Fed was expecting economic growth in line with the previous 5 months of around 2% in annualised terms.But now even with a rally it is a mere 0.7%.

Employment and Wages

The situation here has continued to improve.

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 128,000 in October, and the unemployment rate was little
changed at 3.6 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Notable job gains occurred in
food services and drinking places, social assistance, and financial activities……..In October, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 6 cents to $28.18. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 3.0 percent.

But the real issue here is the last number. Yes the US has wage gains and they are real wage gains with CPI being as shown below in October.

Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 1.8 percent before seasonal adjustment.

So this should be helping although it is a slow burner at just over 1% per annum and of course we are reminded that according to the Ivory Towers the employment situation should mean that wage growth is a fair bit higher and certainly over 4% per annum.

Moving back to looking at house prices then wage growth is pretty much the same so houses are not getting more affordable on this criteria.

Comment

As we review the situation it is hard not to laugh at this from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on Monday.

While events of the year have not much changed the outlook,

You can take this one of two ways.Firstly his interest-rate cuts are not especially relevant or you can wonder why he did them? Looking at the trend for GDP growth does few favours to his statement nor for this bit.

Fortunately, the outlook for further progress is good

Indeed he seemed to keep contradicting himself.

 The preview indicated that job gains over that period were about half a million lower than previously reported. On a monthly basis, job gains were likely about 170,000 per month, rather than 210,000.

But I do note that house prices did get an implicit reference.

But the wealth of middle-income families—savings, home equity, and other assets—has only recently surpassed levels seen before the Great Recession, and the wealth of people with lower incomes, while growing, has yet to fully recover.

As to other signals we get told pretty much every day that the trade war is fixed so there is not a little fatigue and ennui on this subject. Looking at the money supply then it should be supportive but the most recent number for narrow money M1 at 6.8% shows a bit of fading too.

So whilst we may see a boost for the economy from around the spring of next year we seem set for more of the same for house prices.Unless of course the US Federal Reserve has to act again which with the ongoing Repo numbers is a possibility. The background is this though which brings me back to why central bankers are so keen on keeping on keeping house prices out of consumer inflation measures.Can you guess which of the lines below goes into the official CPI?

https://www.bourbonfm.com/blog/house-price-index-vs-owners-equivalent-rent-residences-1990

Whilst it is not sadly up to date it does establish a principle….

 

 

The UK sees some welcome lower consumer,producer and even house price inflation

Today we complete a 3 day sweep which gives us most of the UK economic data with the update on inflation. Actually the concept of “theme days” has gone overboard with Monday for example giving us way too much information for it to be digested in one go. Of course the apocryphal civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby from Yes Prime Minister would regard this as a job well done. Actually in this instance they may be setting a smokescreen over good news as the UK inflation outlook looks good although of course the establishment does not share my view of lower house price growth.

The Pound

This has been in a better phase with the Bank of England recording this in its Minutes last week.

The sterling exchange rate index had increased by around 3% since the previous MPC meeting

If they followed their own past rule of thumb they would know that this is equivalent to a 0.75% Bank Rate rise or at least used to be. Then they might revise this a little.

Inflationary pressures are projected to lessen in the near term. CPI inflation remained at 1.7% in September
and is expected to decline to around 1¼% by the spring, owing to the temporary effect of falls in regulated
energy and water prices.

As you can see they have given the higher value of the UK Pound £ no credit at all for the projected fall in inflation which really is a case of wearing blinkers. The reality is that if we switch to the most significant rate for these purposes which is the US Dollar it has risen by around 8 cents to above US $1.28 since the beginning of September. Actually at the time of typing this it may be dragged lower by the Euro which is dicing with the 1.10 level versus the US Dollar but I doubt it will be reported like that.

For today’s purposes the stronger pound may not influence consumer inflation much but it should have an impact on the producer price series. This was already pulling things lower last month.

The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process was negative 2.8% on the year to September 2019, down from negative 0.9% in August 2019.

Oil Price

The picture here is more complex. We saw quite a rally in the early part of the year which peaked at around US $75 for Brent Crude in May. Then there was the Aramco attack in mid=September which saw it briefly exceed US $70. But now we are a bit below US $62 so there is little pressure here and if we add in the £ rally there should be some downwards pressure.

HS2 and Crossrail

If you are looking for signs of inflation let me hand you over to the BBC.

A draft copy of a review into the HS2 high-speed railway linking London and the North of England says it should be built, despite its rising cost.

The government-commissioned review, launched in August, will not be published until after the election.

It says the project might cost even more than its current price of £88bn.

According to Richard Wellings of the IEA it started at £34 billion. Indeed there also seems to be some sort of shrinkflation going on.

These include reducing the number of trains per hour from 18 to 14, which is in line with other high-speed networks around the world.

Here is the Guardian on Crossrail.

Crossrail will not open until at least 2021, incurring a further cost overrun that will take the total price of the London rail link to more than £18bn, Transport for London (TfL) has announced.

According to the Guardian it was originally budgeted at £14.8 billion.

If we link this to a different sphere this poses a problem for using low Gilt yields to borrow for infrastructure purposes. Because the projects get ever more expensive and in the case of HS2 look rather out of control, How one squares that circle I am not sure.

Today’s Data

This has seen some welcome news.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month inflation rate was 1.5% in October 2019, down from 1.7% in September 2019.

Both consumers and workers will welcome a slower rate of inflation and in fact there were outright falls in good prices.

The CPI all goods index is 105.6, down from 106.0 in September

The official explanation is that it was driven by this.

Housing and household services, where gas and electricity prices fell by 8.7% and 2.2%, respectively, between September and October 2019. This month’s downward movement partially reflected the response from energy providers to Ofgem’s six-month energy price cap, which came into effect from 1 October 2019……Furniture, household equipment and maintenance, where prices overall fell by 1.1% between September and October this year compared with a fall of 0.1% a year ago.

That is a little awkward as the official explanation majors on services when in fact it was good prices which fell outright. Oh dear! On the other side of the coin have any of you spotted this?

The only two standout items were women’s formal trousers and branded trainers.

Perhaps more are buying those new Nike running shoes which I believe are around £230 a pair.

There was an even bigger move in the RPI as it fell by 0.3% to 2.1% driven also by these factors.

Other housing components, which decreased the RPI 12-month rate relative to the CPIH 12-month rate by 0.05 percentage points between September and October 2019. The effect mainly came from house depreciation………Mortgage interest payments, which decreased the RPI 12-month rate by 0.08 percentage points between September and October 2019 but are excluded from the CPIH

Regular readers will know via the way I follow Gilt yields that I was pointing out we would see lower interest-rates on fixed-rate mortgages for a time. Oh and if you look at that last sentence it shows how laughable CPIH is as an inflation measure as it blithely confesses it ignores what are for many their largest payment of all.

House Prices

There was more good news here as well.

UK average house prices increased by 1.3% over the year to September 2019, unchanged from August 2019.

So as you can see we are seeing real wage growth of the order of 2% per annum in this area which is to be welcomed. Not quite ideal as I would like 0% house price growth to maximise the rate of gain without hurting anyone but much better than we have previously seen. As ever there are wide regional variations.

Average house prices increased over the year in England to £251,000 (1.0%), Wales to £164,000 (2.6%), Scotland to £155,000 (2.4%) and Northern Ireland to £140,000 (4.0%).London experienced the lowest annual growth rate (negative 0.4%), followed by the East of England (negative 0.2%).

Comment

The “inflation nation” which is the UK has shifted into a better phase and I for one would welcome a little bit of “Turning Japanese” in this area. However the infrastructure projects above suggest this is unlikely. But for now we not only have a better phase more seems to be on the horizon.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 0.8% on the year to October 2019, down from 1.2% in September 2019…..The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process was negative 5.1% on the year to October 2019, down from negative 3.0% in September 2019.

As I pointed out yesterday this will provide a boost for real wages and hence the economy. It seems a bit painful for our statisticians to admit a stronger £ is a factor but they do sort of get there eventually.

All else equal a stronger sterling effective exchange rate will lead to less expensive inputs of imported materials and fuels.

Meanwhile let me point out that inflation measurement is not easy as I note these which are from my local Tesco supermarket.

Box of 20 Jaffa Cakes £1

Box of 10 Jaffa Cakes £1.05

2 packets of Kettle Crisps £2

1 packet of Kettle Crisps £2.09

Other supermarkets are available…..

 

 

The success story of Spain faces new as well as old challenges

Back in the Euro area crisis the Spanish economy looked in serious trouble. The housing boom and bust had fit the banking sector mostly via the cajas and the combination saw both unemployment and bond yields soar. It seems hard to believe now that the benchmark bond yield was of the order of 7% but it posed a risk of the bond vigilantes making Spain look insolvent. That was added to by an unemployment rate that peaked at just under 27%. The response was threefold as the ECB bought Spanish bonds under the Securities Markets Programme to reduce the cost of debt. There was also this.

In June 2012, the Spanish government made an official request for financial assistance for its banking system to the Eurogroup for a loan of up to €100 billion. It was designed to cover a capital shortfall identified in a number of Spanish banks, with an additional safety margin.

In December 2012 and January 2013, the ESM disbursed a total of €41.3 billion, in the form of ESM notes, to the Fondo de Restructuración Ordenada Bancaria (FROB), the bank recapitalisation fund of the Spanish government. ( ESM)

Finally there was the implementation of the “internal competitiveness” model and austerity.

What about now?

Things are very different as Spain has been in a good run. From last week.

Spanish GDP registers a growth of 0.4% in the third quarter of 2019 compared to to the previous quarter in terms of volume. This rate is similar to that recorded in the
second trimester.The interannual growth of GDP stands at 2.0%, similar to the previous quarter.

There are two ways of looking at this in the round. The first is that for an advanced economy that is a good growth rate for these times, and the second is that it will be especially welcome on the Euro area. Combining Spain with its neighbour France means that any minor contraction in Germany does not pull the whole area in negative economic growth.

However there is a catch for the ECB as Spain has slowed to this rate of economic growth and had thus exceeded the “speed limit” of 1.5% per annum for quite a while now. That will keep its Ivory Tower busy manipulating, excuse me analysing output gaps and the like. In fact once the dog days of the Euro area crisis were over Spain’s economy surged forwards with annual economic growth peaking at 4.2% in the latter part of 2015 and then in general terms slowing to where we are now. As to why the ESM explanation is below.

 Strong job creation followed the economic expansion, and employment has recovered by more than 2.5 million. Structural reforms have been paying off: competitiveness gains have supported economic rebalancing towards tradable sectors, and exports of goods and services have stabilised at historical highs (above 30% of GDP). The large and persistent current account deficit, which had reached 9.6% of GDP in 2007, has turned into a surplus averaging 1.5% of GDP in 2014-18.

Actually the IMF must be disappointed it did not join the party as turning around trade problems used to be its job before it came under French management. But Spain certainly rebounded in economic terms.and has been a strength of the Euro area.

Looking at the broader economy, Spain returned to economic growth in 2014 and continues to perform above the euro area average in that category

Over the past six months external trade has continued to boost the economy in spite of conditions being difficult.

On the other hand, the demand external presents a contribution of 0.2 points, eight tenths lower than the quarter past.

The impact of all this has improved the employment situation considerably.

In interannual terms, employment increases at a rate of 1.8%, rate seven tenths
lower than the second quarter, which represents an increase of 332 thousand jobs
( full time equivalents) in one year.

In terms of a broad picture GDP in Spain peaked at 104.4 in the latter part of 2007 then had a double-dip to 94.3 in the autumn of 2013 and now is at 110.9. So it has recovered and moved ahead albeit over the 12 years not made much net progress.

Problems?

According to the ESM the banks remain a major issue.

Several legacy problems also remain in the banking sector. These include larger and more persistent-than-expected losses of SAREB, which pose a contingent liability to the state. Banks have adequate capital buffers, but should further strengthen them towards the euro area average to withstand any future risks. In addition, the privatisation of Bankia and the reform of cajas need to be completed.

Of course banking reform has been just around the corner on a Roman road in so many places. Also the balance sheet of the Spanish banks has received what Arthur Daley of the TV series Minder would call a “nice little earner”.

Housing prices rise 1.2% compared to the previous quarter.The annual variation rate of the Housing Price Index has decreased 1.5 points to 5.3%,

Annual house price growth returned in the spring of 2014 which the banks will welcome. The index based in 2015 is now at 124.2.

However not all ECB policies are welcomed by the banks.

Finally, banks still face pressure on profitability due to the low interest rate environment, and potentially from a price correction in financial assets if the macro environment deteriorates. ( ESM )

An official deposit rate of -0.5% does that to banking profitability. I do not recall seeing signs of the Spanish banks passing this on in the way that Deutsche Bank announced yesterday but the heat is on. I see that the ESM is covering its bases should house prices fall again.

If we look at mortgage-rates then they are falling again as the Bank of Spain records them as 1.83% in September which looks as though it may be an all time low but we do not have the full data set.

Comment

The new phase of economic growth has brought better news on another problem area as the Bank of Spain reports.

Indeed, the non-financial private sector debt ratio
relative to GDP stood at 132%, 5 pp down on a year earlier and 4 pp below the euro area average.

The ratio of the national debt to GDP has fallen to this.

Also, in June 2019 the public debt/GDP ratio stood at 98.9%, a level still 13 pp higher than the euro area average.

 

and these days it is much cheaper to finance as the 7% yields of the Euro area crisis have been replaced by some negative yields and even the benchmark ten-year being a mere 0.31%.

On the other side of the coin first-time buyers will not welcome the new higher house prices and there are areas of trouble.

In this respect, consumer credit grew in June 2019 at a year-on-year rate of around 12%, and non-performing consumer loans at 26%, raising the NPL ratio slightly to 5.6% ( Bank of Spain)

What could go wrong?

Another signal is the way that the growth in employment has improved things considerably but Spain still has an unemployment rate that has only just nudged under 14%.So there is still much to do just as we fear the next downturn may be in play.

A fifth successive monthly deterioration in Spanish
manufacturing operating conditions was signalled in October as a challenging business climate negatively impacted on sales and output……At 46.8, down from 47.7 in September, the index also posted its lowest level for six-and-half years.   ( Markiteconomics )