Good to see UK wages rising much faster than house prices at last

Today feels like spring has sprung and I hope it is doing the same for you, or at least those of you also in the Northern Hemisphere. The economic situation looks that way too at least initially as China has reported annual GDP growth of 6.4% for the first quarter of 2019. However the industrial production data has gone in terms of annual rates 5.8%,5.9%,5.4%,5.7%, 5.3% and now 8.7% in March which is the highest rate for four and a half years. Or as C+C Music Factory put it.

Things that make you go, hmm
Things that make you go, hmm
Things that make you go, hmm, hey
Things that make you go, hmm, hmm, hmm

In the UK we await the latest inflation data and we do so after another in a sequence of better wage growth figures. In its Minutes from the 20th of March the Bank of England looked at prospects like this.

Twelve-month CPI inflation had risen slightly in February to 1.9%, in line with Bank staff’s expectations
immediately prior to the release, and slightly above the February Inflation Report forecast. The near-term path
for CPI inflation was expected to be a touch higher than at the time of the Committee’s previous meeting,
though remaining close to the 2% target over the coming months. This partly reflected a 6% increase in sterling
spot oil prices, and the announcement by Ofgem on 7 February of an increase in the caps for standard variable
and pre-payment tariffs, from April, which had been somewhat larger than expected.

I do like the idea of claiming you got things right just before the release, oh dear! Also it is not their fault but the price cap for domestic energy rather backfired and frankly looks a bit of a mess. It will impact on the figures we will get in a month.

Prospects

Let us open with the oil prices mentioned by the Bank of England as the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil has reached US $72 this morning. So a higher oil price has arrived although we need context as it was here this time last year. The rise has been taking place since it nearly touched US $50 pre-Christmas. Putting this into context we see that petrol prices rose by around 2 pence per litre in March and diesel by around 1.5. So this will be compared with this from last year.

When considering the price of petrol between February and March 2019, it may be useful to note that the average price of petrol fell by 1.6 pence per litre between February and March 2018, to stand at 119.2 pence per litre as measured in the CPIH.

Just for context the price now is a penny or so higher but the monthly picture is of past falls now being replaced by a rise. Also just in case you had wondered about the impact here it is.

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.

If we now switch to the US Dollar exchange rate ( as the vast majority of commodities are priced in dollars) we see several different patterns. Recently not much has changed as I think traders just yawn at Brexit news although we have seen a rise since it dipped below US $1.25 in the middle of December. Although if we look back we are around 9% lower than a year ago because if I recall correctly that was the period when Bank of England Governor Mark Carney was busy U-Turning and talking down the pound.

So in summary we can expect some upwards nudges on producer prices which will in subsequent months feed onto the consumer price data. Added to that is if we look East a potential impact from what has been happening in China to pig farming.

Chinese pork prices are expected to jump more than 70 percent from the previous year in the second half of 2019, an agriculture ministry official said on Wednesday………China, which accounts for about half of global pork output, is struggling to contain an outbreak of deadly African swine fever, which has spread rapidly through the country’s hog herd.

That is likely to have an impact here as China offers higher prices for alternative sources of supply. So bad news for us in inflation terms but good news for pig farmers.

Today’s Data

I would like to start with something very welcome and indeed something we have been waiting for on here for ages.

Average house prices in the UK increased by 0.6% in the year to February 2019, down from 1.7% in January 2019 . This is the lowest annual rate since September 2012 when it was 0.4%. Over the past two years, there has been a slowdown in UK house price growth, driven mainly by a slowdown in the south and east of England.

This means that if we look at yesterday’s wage growth data then any continuation of this will mean that real wages in housing terms are rising at around 3% per annum. There is a very long way to go but at least we are on our way.

The driving force is this and on behalf of three of my friends in particular let me welcome it.

The lowest annual growth was in London, where prices fell by 3.8% over the year to February 2019, down from a decrease of 2.2% in January 2019. This was followed by the South East where prices fell 1.8% over the year.

As they try to make their way in the Battersea area prices are way out of reach of even what would be regarded as good salaries such that they are looking at a 25% shared appreciation deal as the peak. Hopefully if we get some more falls they will be able to average down by raising  to 50% and so on but that is as Paul Simon would say.

Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance
Everybody thinks it’s true

One development which raises a wry smile is that house price inflation is now below rental inflation.

Private rental prices paid by tenants in the UK rose by 1.2% in the 12 months to March 2019, up from 1.1% in February 2019……..London private rental prices rose by 0.5% in the 12 months to March 2019, up from 0.2% in February 2019.

What that tells us is not as clear as you might think because the numbers are lagged. Our statisticians keep the exact lag a secret but I believe it to be around nine months. So whilst we would expect rents to be pulled higher by the better nominal and real wage data the official rental series will not be showing that until the end of the year

Comment

The development of real wages in housing terms is very welcome. Of course the Bank of England will be in a tizzy about wealth effects but like so often they are mostly for the few who actually sell or look to add to their mortgage as opposed to the many who might like to buy but are presently priced out. Also existing owners have in general had a long good run. Those who can think back as far as last Thursday might like to mull how house price targeting would be going right now?

Moving to consumer inflation then not a lot happened with the only move of note being RPI inflation nudging down to 2.4%. The effects I described above were in there but an erratic item popped up and the emphasis is mine.

Within this group, the largest downward effect came from games, toys and hobbies, particularly computer games

If a new game or two comes in we will swing the other way.

Looking further up the line I have to confess this was a surprise with the higher oil price in play.

The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process was 3.7% on the year to March 2019, down from 4.0% in February 2019.

So again a swing the other way seems likely to be in play for this month.

Meanwhile,what does the ordinary person think? It is not the best of news for either the Bank of England or our official statisticians.

Question 1: Asked to give the current rate of inflation, respondents gave a median answer of 2.9%, compared to 3.1% in November.

Question 2a: Median expectations of the rate of inflation over the coming year were 3.2%, remaining the same as in November.

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Could the UK target house price inflation and should we?

Yesterday brought news of a policy initiative from the Labour party on a subject close to my heart and was a subject which occupied much of my afternoon and evening. It also reminded me of the way that social media can have more than a few different but similar strands ongoing at the same time. So if I missed anyone out apologies but I did my best and did better at least that the respondent who seemed to think my name was Tom.

Here from The Guardian is the basis of the proposal.

The Bank of England could be set a target for house price inflation under plans being explored by the Labour party, with tougher powers to restrict mortgage lending to close the gap between property prices and average incomes.

The shadow housing secretary, John Healey, is considering whether, under a Labour government, the Bank should be set an explicit target following a decade of runaway growth in the property market, with the aim of tackling the housing crisis.

The author of the idea is Grace Blakeley and I replied to her that there are various problems with this but let us set out her idea properly from her paper for the think tank the IPPR.

This would be equivalent to the remit the Monetary Policy
Committee has to control consumer price inflation. Under such a target the Bank of England should aim to keep nominal house price inflation at (say) zero per cent for an initial period – perhaps five years – to reset expectations,
and allow affordability to improve.

As I replied to Grace I am a fan of that in spirit but there are issues including one from the next sentence which I have just spotted.

It should then be increased to the same
rate as the consumer price inflation target of 2 per cent per year, meaning zero real-terms house price growth.

Er no that is not zero in real terms because if you are aiming for “affordability to improve” your objective must be for wage growth to exceed house price growth yet it does not apparently merit a mention there. If for example both consumer and house price inflation were on this target at 2% per annum you would be losing ground if wage growth was below that level.

How would this be enacted?

The target should be implemented using
macroprudential tools such as capital requirements, loan-to-value, and debt to-income ratios.

The first question is whether you could do this? Mostly a new policy regime could as we already have some moves in this direction from the Bank of England as pointed out in the paper.

The FPC recently implemented a
loan-to-income ratio of 4.5 per cent for 15 per cent of new mortgages,

The two catches as that this area is one where the truth can be and sometimes is hidden as those who recall the  “liar loans” era will know. Next is the concept of shadow banking or if I may be permitted a long word the concept of disintermediation where you restrict the banks so people borrow form elsewhere such as offshore or overseas.

These problems would be especially evident if you tried to implement this.

Since house price inflation is different in parts of the country, the FPC’s guidance should be regionally specific.

That recognition is welcome but the scale of the issue troubles me. Let me give you some examples from right now where house prices are rising in much of the Midlands and Yorkshire as well as Northern Ireland whilst falling in and around London. Also as @HenryPryor pointed what the situation in Northern Ireland is very different to elsewhere.

Confirmation from that despite enjoying robust inflation in recent months, house prices in Northern Ireland remain some 41% 𝐥𝐨𝐰𝐞𝐫 than they were just prior to the start of the financial crisis in 2007.

Perhaps you could define Northern Ireland but is even it homogenous? A clear danger is that you end up with a bureaucratic nightmare with loads of different definitions and all sorts of border issues as well as increasing the likelihood of another form of disintermediation.

The relationship between the Bank of England and the government

A clear issue is that whilst the Bank of England can influence house prices it does not control them and the paper sets out areas where it is not in control.

House prices are also determined by other factors, not least the supply of housing, and therefore adoption of the target would need to be accompanied by a much more active housing policy. This might include public housebuilding, changes to planning policy, and curbs on overseas purchases of UK homes (Ryan-Collins et al 2017). The FPC should be able to request that the government do more with housing policy if it judges that it will be unable to meet its target through macroprudential tools alone.

The supply of housing is something we have discussed on here pretty much since I began writing articles and the theme has been that government’s of many hues have serially disappointed. The Ebbsfleet saga has been the headline in this respect. Also I have to say that the idea of the Financial Planning Committee needing to “request” help from government policy is welcome in one way but problematic in another. First it is a confession that macroprudential policies are far from a holy grail in this area. Second I can see many scenarios of which the main one would be an upcoming election when the government would simply pay lip service or worse ignore the “request”. Thus we would likely find ourselves singing along to Taylor Swift.

I knew you were trouble when you walked in
So shame on me now
Flew me to places I’d never been
Now I’m lying on the cold hard ground
Oh, oh, trouble, trouble, trouble
Oh, oh, trouble, trouble, trouble

I do mostly agree with this part though and so does the Bank of England as otherwise it would not have introduced the Funding for Lending Scheme back in the summer of 2012.

It is also worth noting, however, that recent research has shown that the level of mortgage lending is the primary determinant of house prices (Ryan-Collins et
al 2017).

Comment

There is a lot to consider here and let me again say that as regular readers will be aware I think that economic policy does need to take account of asset price booms and busts. The catch is in the latter part though because the very same Bank of England that you would be asking to reduce house price growth has been explicitly ramping it since the summer of 2012 and implicitly before then with the Bank Rate cuts and QE bond purchases that preceded it. So the current poachers would have to turn into gamekeepers. Would they? I have my doubts because as we look around the world central banks seem to fold like deck chairs when asset prices fall.

Next comes the issue of could this be done? To which the answer is definitely maybe as you could start on this road and at first your theories would apply. But if we look back to the past history of macroprudential policies there was a reason why they were abandoned and it is because they themselves lead to a boom and bust cycle and bringing things up to date I have doubts on these lines as well as I tweeted to Grace.

One of the problems of central banks in the modern era is that they have often ended up operating in a pro-cyclical fashion. How can you be sure with their poor Forward Guidance record that they can be counter cyclical?

It is easy to spot cycles in hindsight but looking ahead it is far harder as otherwise the aphorism that central banks have never predicted a recession would not keep doing the rounds.

Can we fix it? Yes we can make a start as I hinted at here.

Whilst I support the spirit of this in terms of including house prices. I would point out that the UK could change things by simply going back to the Retail Prices Index as an inflation target because it includes house prices.

Personally I would update the RPI ( using the RPIX version to exclude mortgage costs) so that it explicitly has house prices rather than reply on them implicitly via depreciation and as a stop-gap we could drop out fashion clothing to trim the formula effect. So in effect we would be reversing the changes made by Gordon Brown in the early part of the 2000s. Then off we go although something else would have to be changed as well as basically a clear out of current Bank of England policy makers.

you have the issue of it these days also supporting the economy as defined by GDP

Me on The Investing Channel

The UK productivity puzzle is mostly a result of outdated economics and statistics

Today has brought us two flashes of indirect insight on the issue of productivity and what has become called the productivity puzzle. In case you are wondered what that is here is the OECD from August last year.

Since the start of the Great Recession, labour productivity growth has been weak in the United Kingdom, weaker than in many other OECD countries. The productivity shortfall, defined as the gap between actual productivity and the level implied by its pre-crisis trend growth rate, was nearly 20% for output per hour at the end of 2016.

I am dubious about measures which use the bubbilicious boom for their trend but Ivory Towers love that. Also there is clearly an issue to consider and the OECD had a go at a breakdown.

Most of the UK productivity underperformance is structural rather than cyclical. Half of the productivity shortfall is explained by non-financial services (with information and communication being the largest contributor), a fourth by financial services, and another fourth by manufacturing, other production and construction.

Clearly the 5% productivity shortfall explained by the financial sector needs a much more thorough investigation as the ongoing weak state of the banks is due to the fact that their position was over reported on the pre crisis boom and thus so was productivity. Or as the OECD put it.

its steep increases in the run-up to the crisis.

But they do at least manage a minor swipe at the Zombie business era that has been supported by central bank QE.

weak corporate restructuring have both held back productivity improvements in the manufacturing sector.

Output Gap

Economic theory has had a real problem with this and let me give an example from Japan this morning. The Ivory Towers will tell you that wages should be soaring due to a tight labour market with unemployment at 2.3% and a number of jobs to applicants at a more than forty-year high. Meanwhile back on Earth.

Labour cash earnings dropped 0.8 per cent from a year ago, the ministry reported on Friday, compared with projections for them to advance 0.9 per cent. The reading for January was revised down to -0.6 per cent from 1.2 per cent………..

Real wages, which are adjusted for inflation, fell 1.1 per cent, compared with economists’ median forecast of 0.8 per cent.

The real wages figure for January was revised down to -0.7 per cent from 1.1 per cent. ( Business Times)

As you can see the output gap theory has had another complete failure as wages have failed to increase. This makes us mull productivity which is supposed to be strongly linked to wage growth and real wage growth especially. Also I am afraid we have another problem with official statistics as there has been a major revision after clear flaws were discovered such as only a third of the businesses in Tokyo with over 500 employees that were claimed to be sampled actually were. That adds to the problems seen elsewhere with official Japanese data such as the GDP numbers which is completely the opposite of stereotypes.

UK House Prices

These are beginning to offer a more hopeful perspective. The reason why I argue this is that in my opinion way too much economic effort in the UK has gone towards the housing sector where in many areas substantial capital gains have been available via owning a house. This led for quite some time to the boom in the buy-to-let sector and took both investment, attention and effort from other parts of the economy. This was fed by the various “Help To Buy” policies of the government and the multitude of efforts by the Bank of England to reduce mortgage rates and raise mortgage lending to get house prices higher.

Thus the numbers from the Halifax this morning are welcome as they show that things have slowed down.

The average UK house price is now £233,181 following a 1.6% monthly fall in March…….The more stable measure of annual house price growth rose slightly to 3.2% and is still within our expectation for the year.

You need to go through their numbers carefully to get to that as the monthly UK house prices series of the Halifax has become very erratic and has now gone 2.5%, -3% ,6% and now -1.6%. We thought the 5.9% rise in February was extraordinary at the time yet we now discover it was 6%! If we look at March compared to a year ago we see that there has been a 2.4% rise which seems to reflect better the numbers we get from elsewhere.

As to the overall reliability of the Halifax data well let me quote anteos who commented on the last set of numbers from them as follows.

So, just as the annual indicie was heading towards negative territory, up comes a 5.9% increase.
Very similar to Decembers figures which were then reversed the following month. If I was a betting man, a big negative value will pop up next month.

Chapeau.

Productivity Data

There was something of an irony as I searched for the update here.

404 – The webpage you are requesting does not exist on the site

That was not entirely hopeful for productivity as the UK Office for National Statistics and leads into the official enquiry into out data which is ongoing. Sadly the leadership seem lost in a world of click bait and telling us that tractor production is rising. When we got the numbers they posed another problem.

Labour productivity for Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2018, as measured by output per hour, decreased by 0.1% compared with the same quarter a year ago; this is the second successive quarterly fall following the decrease of 0.2% seen for the previous quarter.

If we look back it is the fall in the third quarter which is the most concerning as GDP growth was particularly strong at 0.7%. For the year just gone we had some growth but not much.

In 2018, labour productivity measured as output per hour grew by 0.5% compared with the previous year, with increases in both services and manufacturing of 0.8% and 0.3% respectively.

This meant that the overall picture in the credit crunch era is this.

Labour productivity increased by 0.3% in Quarter 4 2018 compared with the previous quarter. This increase left productivity 2.0% above its pre-downturn peak in Quarter 4 2007,

So not much allowing us to update the OECD style analysis above.

Productivity in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2018, as measured by output per hour, was 18.3% below its pre-downturn trend – or, equivalently, productivity would have been 22.5% higher had it followed this pre-downturn trend.

Comment

The first problem with the productivity puzzle is whether we can measure it with any degree of accuracy. As we have seen from the Japanese wages and UK house price data above both official and private-sector data have serious issues. This spreads wider and in my opinion is highlighted by this.

In Q4, public service productivity increased by 0.8% on the previous quarter, driven by unusually strong growth in output (1.3%)

It is my opinion that we have very little idea about public sector output and therefore even less about its productivity. Also there are areas we might not always be keen on higher productivity. Returning to the numbers I helped Pete Comley with some technical advice when he wrote his book on inflation and here is what he discovered about the government sector.

The upshot of that review is that estimates inflation on government expenditure no longer use real cost inflation (like wage increases, rises in raw materials costs, etc.) but instead use measures of quality (such as the number of GCSE grades A-C) to calculate the deflator.

So that is a mess.

Also there is a clear problem with the concept of productivity in the services sector. This is because we are often measuring intangible things rather than the tangible of manufacturing. The extraordinary changes for example in the world of information and communications are mostly only captured if there is a price change. I note the paper from Diane Coyle and others that suggested even these were wrong and the situation was much better ( lower prices and higher output). Also I have pointed out before as well as giving evidence to the Sir Charles Bean enquiry, that the UK trade release has at most a couple of pages on services out of the 30 or so with no geographical or sectoral breakdown. This matters even more as we rebalance towards services with growth in the index of services some 21% over the past decade.

Also there has been a shift towards self-employment which makes the numbers less reliable as we know even less about that area.

Finally it would be nice for us to get some capital productivity figures to compare with the labour ones.

Me on The Investing Channel

 

 

 

What is happening with US house prices and its economy?

Sometimes it helps to look back so let us dip into Yahoo Finance from the 17th of December last year.

Home price growth has slowed for six consecutive months since April, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller national home price index. And for the first time in a year, annual price growth fell below 6%, dropping to 5.7% and 5.5%, in August and September, respectively. October home price results will be released later this month.

So we see what has in many places become a familiar pattern as housing markets lose some of their growth. There was and indeed is a consequence of this.

“A couple of years of home prices running twice the rate of home income growth leads to affordability challenges,” said Mortgage Bankers Association Chief Economist Mike Fratantoni. “If you’re a buyer in 2019, you won’t see home price running away from you at the same speed in 2018.”

I think he means wages when he says “home income growth” but he is making a point which we have seen in many places where house price growth has soared and decoupled from wage growth. This has been oil by the way that central banks slashed official interest-rates which reduced mortgage-rates and then also indulged in large-scale bond buying which in the US included Mortgage-Backed Securities to further reduce mortgage-rates. This meant that affordability improved as long as you were willing to look away from higher debt burdens and the implication that should interest-rates rise the song “the heat is on” would start playing very quickly.

Or if you wish to consider that in chart form Yahoo Finance helped us out.

That is a chart to gladden a central bankers heart as it shows that the policy measures enacted turned house prices around and led to strong growth in them. The double-digit growth of late 2013 and early 2014 will have then scrambling up into their Ivory Towers to calculate the wealth effects. But the problem is that compared to wage growth they moved away at 8% per annum back then and the minimum since has been 2% per annum. That means that a supposed solution to house prices being too high and contributing to an economic crash has been to make them higher again especially relative to wages.

What about house price growth now?

Yesterday provided us with an update.

CoreLogic® (NYSE: CLGX), a leading global property information, analytics and data-enabled solutions provider, today released the CoreLogic Home Price Index (HPI) and HPI Forecast for February 2019, which shows home prices rose both year over year and month over month. Home prices increased nationally by 4 percent year over year from February 2018. On a month-over-month basis, prices increased by 0.7 percent in February 2019.

So there has been a slowing in the rate of growth which is reflected here.

“During the first two months of the year, home-price growth continued to decelerate,” said Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. “This is the opposite of what we saw the last two years when price growth accelerated early.

Looking ahead they do however expect something of a pick-up.

“With the Federal Reserve’s announcement to keep short-term interest rates where they are for the rest of the year, we expect mortgage rates to remain low and be a boost for the spring buying season. A strong buying season could lead to a pickup in home-price growth later this year.”

That gives us another perspective on the change of policy from the US Federal Reserve. So far its U-Turn has mostly been locked at through the prism of equity prices partly due to the way that President Trump focuses on them. But another way of looking at it is in response to slower house price growth which was being influenced by higher mortgage rates as the Federal Reserve raised interest-rates and reduced its bond holdings. This saw the 30-year mortgage-rate rise from just under 4% to a bit over 4.9% in November, no doubt providing its own brake on proceedings.

What about now?

If we look at monetary policy we see that perhaps something of a Powell Put Option is in place as at the end of last week the 30-year mortgage rate was 4.06%. Now bond yields have picked up this week so lets round it back up to say 4.15%. Even so that is quite a drop from the peak last year.

There is also some real wage growth according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Real average hourly earnings for all employees increased 1.9 percent, seasonally adjusted, from February 2018 to February 2019. The change in real average hourly earnings, combined with a 0.3-percent decrease in the average workweek, resulted in a 1.6-percent increase in real average weekly earnings over this 12-month period.

In terms of hourly earnings the situation has been improving since last summer whereas the weekly figures were made more complex by the drop in hours worked meaning we particularly await Friday’s update for them.

Moving to the economy then recent figures have been a little more upbeat than when we looked at the US back on the 22nd of February but not by much.

The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 1.3% for 2019:Q1 and 1.6% for 2019:Q2..News from this week’s data releases left the nowcast for 2019:Q1 unchanged and decreased the nowcast for 2019:Q2 by 0.1 percentage point.

Of the main data so far this week we did not learn an enormous amount from the retail sales numbers from the Census Bureau.

Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for February 2019, adjusted for seasonal variation
and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $506.0 billion, a decrease of 0.2
percent (±0.5 percent)* from the previous month, but 2.2 percent (±0.7 percent) above February 2018.

As these are effectively turnover rather than real growth figures a monthly fall is especially troubling but January had been revised higher.

Comment

We are observing concurrent contradictory waves at the moment. The effect from 2018 was of a slowing economy combined with monetary tightening in terms of higher mortgage-rates. More recently after the policy shift we have seen mortgage-rates fall pretty sharply and since last summer a pick-up in wage growth. So we can expect some growth and maybe we might even see a phase where wage growth exceeds house price growth. But it would appear that the US Federal Reserve has shifted policy to keep asset (house and equity) prices as high as it can so it may move again,

As to the overall picture this from Corelogic troubles me.

According to the CoreLogic Market Condition Indicators (MCI), an analysis of housing values in the country’s 100 largest metropolitan areas based on housing stock, 35 percent of metropolitan areas have an overvalued housing market as of February 2019. The MCI analysis categorizes home prices in individual markets as undervalued, at value or overvalued, by comparing home prices to their long-run, sustainable levels, which are supported by local market fundamentals (such as disposable income).

Only 35% overvalued? Look again at the gap between house price rises and wage rises in the Yahoo chart above. So if we look backwards very few places must have been overvalued just before the crash. Also times are hard for younger people.

Frank Martell, president and CEO of CoreLogic. “Our research tells us that about 74 percent of millennials, the single largest cohort of homebuyers, now report having to cut back on other categories of spending to afford their housing costs.”

I am not sure that goes with the previous research. Also if the stereotype has any validity times for millennials in the US are grim or should that be toast?

The price for Hass avocados from Michoacán, Mexico’s main avocado producing region, increased 34 percent on Tuesday amid President Trump’s calls to shut down the U.S.-Mexico border ( The Hill).

Let me end with a reminder from CoreLogic that averages do not tell us the full story.

Annual change by state ranged from a 10.2 percent high in Idaho to a -1.7 percent low in North Dakota

 

 

 

 

Australia faces both falling house prices and a falling money supply

This morning has brought us up to date with news from what the Men at Work described as.

Living in a land down under
Where women glow and men plunder
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?

That is of course what was called Australis and then Australia and these days in economic terms can be considered to be the South China Territories. The monetary policy statement from the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA)  reinforces the latter point as you can see.

The outlook for the global economy remains reasonable, although growth has slowed and downside risks have increased. Growth in international trade has declined and investment intentions have softened in a number of countries. In China, the authorities have taken steps to ease financing conditions, partly in response to slower growth in the economy.

One needs to read between the lines of such rhetoric as for a central banker “remains reasonable” is a little downbeat in reality as we note the following use of “declined” “softened” and “slower”.But he was providing a background to this.

At its meeting today, the Board decided to leave the cash rate unchanged at 1.50 per cent.

In essence the heat is on for another interest-rate cut and if you are wondering why? There is this.

GDP rose by just 0.2 per cent in the December quarter to be 2.3 per cent higher over 2018. Growth in household consumption is being affected by the protracted period of weakness in real household disposable income and the adjustment in housing markets. The drought in parts of the country has also affected farm output.

I will come to the central bankers fear of negative wealth effects from what they call an “adjustment in housing markets” in a moment as we note they cannot bring themselves to mention lower house prices. The pattern of GDP growth looks really rather poor as we see that the trend goes 1.1%,0.8% and then 0.3% and now 0.2%. So we see a familiar pattern of much weaker growth in the second half in 2018 which if we see again in the first half of this year will see the annual rate of growth halve. Actually it may be worse than that as the only factor driving growth according to Australia Statistics was this.

Government final consumption expenditure increased 1.8% during the quarter contributing 0.3 percentage points to GDP growth.

So without it the economy would have shrunk and Australia might be on course for something it has escaped for quite a while which is a recession. Also according to the Australia Treasury Budget from earlier it is planning a dose of austerity.

The total turnaround in the budget balance between 2013-14 and 2019-20 is projected to be $55.5 billion, or 3.4 per cent of GDP.

The Government’s plan for a stronger economy ensures it can guarantee essential services while returning the budget to surplus.

This budget year will see a surplus of $7.1 billion, equal to 0.4 per cent of GDP.

Budget surpluses will build in size in the medium term and are expected to exceed 1 per cent of GDP from 2026-27.

So as you can see it seems unlikely that government spending will continue to boost the economy. Also as they are assume growth of 2.25% then those numbers as so often seem rooted in fantasy rather than reality. Next if we switch back to the RBA the austerity plan comes at this time.

 In Australia, long-term bond yields have fallen to historically low levels.

In fact they fell to an all time low for the benchmark ten-year at 1.72% recently and is spite of a bounce back are still at a very low 1.82%. So yet again we are observing a situation where countries borrow heavily when it is expensive and try in this instance not to borrow at all when it is cheap. I know it is more complicated than that but we also have this into an economic slow down.

The Government is focused on reducing net debt as a share of the economy, which is expected to peak in 2018-19 at 19.2 per cent of GDP.

The Government is on track to eliminate net debt by 2029-30.

So it may look to be Keynesian but reality seems set to intervene especially on the economic growth forecasts.

House Prices

Again we see that the Governor of the RBA cannot bring himself to say, falling house prices. It is apparently just too painful.

The adjustment in established housing markets is continuing, after the earlier large run-up in prices in some cities. Conditions remain soft and rent inflation remains low.

Even worse it has implications for “the precious”.

 At the same time, the demand for credit by investors in the housing market has slowed noticeably as the dynamics of the housing market have changed. Growth in credit extended to owner-occupiers has eased.

Indeed a central banker would have his/her head in their hands as they see the negative wealth effects in the latest quarterly national accounts.

Real holding losses on land and dwellings were $170.8b. This marks a fourth consecutive quarter of losses and reflects the falling residential property prices over the past year. ……The real holding losses have translated into the first fall in household assets (-1.5%) since the September quarter 2011. Household liabilities increased 1.0%.

Some of the latter was falling equity prices which have since recovered but house prices have not. Here is ABC News on the first quarter of 2019.

On a national basis, the average house price fell 2.4 per cent to $540,676, and apartment prices dropped 2.2 per cent to $484,552 during that period.

CoreLogic observed that markets which experienced their peaks earlier had experienced sharper downturns.

Darwin and Perth property prices skyrocketed during the mining boom, but peaked in 2014. Since then dwelling values in both capitals have fallen by 27.5 per cent and 18.1 per cent respectively.

So it seems likely that the value of the housing stock fell again. If we move to the official series we see that in the rather unlikely instance you could sell all of Australia’s houses and flats in on e go then from the end of 2015 to early 2018 the value rose by one trillion Aussie Dollars from a bit below 6 trillion to a bit below 7. Now in a development to pack ice round a central bankers heart it has fallen to 6.7 trillion officially and if we factor in other measures is now 6.6 trillion Aussie Dollars and to quote Alicia Keys.

Oh, baby
I, I, I, I’m fallin’
I, I, I, I’m fallin’
Fallin’

Comment

Australia escaped the worst of the credit crunch via its enormous natural resource base. According to the RBA index of commodity prices that has not ended.

Preliminary estimates for March indicate that the index decreased by 0.9 per cent (on a monthly average basis) in SDR terms, after increasing by 5.3 per cent in February (revised)…….Over the past year, the index has increased by 11.0 per cent in SDR terms, led by higher iron ore, LNG and alumina prices. The index has increased by 16.6 per cent in Australian dollar terms.

But now we see that the domestic economy has weakened whilst the boost from above has faded. If we look ahead and use the narrow money measures that have proved to be such a good indicator elsewhere we see that the narrow money measure M1 actually fell in the period December to February. If we switch to the seasonally adjusted series we see that growth faded and went such that the recent peak last August of Aussie $ 357.1 billion was replaced by Aussie $356.1 billion in February so we are seeing actual falls on both nominal and real terms. Thus the outlook for the domestic economy remains weak and could get weaker.

 

 

Are UK house prices finally falling? It is very good news if so

One of the reasons that inflation measurement matters was highlighted yesterday mostly unwittingly I think, If we look at the subject of real wages in the UK we were told this.

Including bonuses, average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain were estimated to have increased by 3.4%, before adjusting for inflation, and by 1.5%, after adjusting for inflation, compared with a year earlier.

Whereas Andrew Baldwin kindly crunched the numbers using other inflation measures for us.

Using any other deflator one gets lower real wage growth: 1.3% with the CPI, 1.2% with the RPIJ, 0.6% with the RPI

So we have growth but there is a lot of debate about how much? As it happens CPI and RPIJ have moved more in line with the official CPIH measure but we have seen spells where it has been much wider. This issue does change how you see the credit crunch which I can illustrate with a tweet from former Bank of England policymaker Danny Blanchflower.

and still real wage growth 5% below feb 2008 levels….

That is from the official data series which has been switched to CPIH which makes real wage growth look better than it really is. Intriguingly as I pointed out the way the influence of Imputed Rents the former Bank of England policymaker replied with this.

Ok but doesn’t the harmonized E.U. measure do what you want?

To which I replied.

Nope as the inflation measure you used to target ignores owner occupied housing entirely. They are usually just around the corner from putting it in…..

Perhaps he had forgotten. But it does reveal how this importance of this matter gets overlooked. Also Danny was keen to emphasise the role of hedonics which reminded me of this report from the annual review of US consumer inflation.

From February 2018 to February 2019, the price of lettuce increased 14.5 percent while television prices decreased 16.8 percent. This compared to an increase of 1.5 percent for all consumer items over that period.

Anybody else reminded of this famous phrase.?

I cannot eat an I-Pad

 

Inflation Trends

If we look back a year the UK trade weighted index for the Pound £ is little changed however that hides a fall followed by a rally. Thus from the low of mid-December at 76 it has risen to 79.5 putting a brake on the economy equivalent to more than a 0.75% Bank Rate rise. Makes you think doesn’t it about all the hand wringing from the Bank of England over any 0.25% rise. However if we switch to the US Dollar whilst we have been rallying over a similar time frame we are nearly 9 cents lower than the US $1.41 of this time last year.

We find also that the oil price is not far from where it was a year ago with the current US $ 66/67 for Brent Crude being a couple of dollars lower than a year ago. However we did see a fall followed by a rise from just over fifty dollars on Christmas Eve so there will be some upwards pressure as this is reflected first in producer and next in consumer prices.

Today’s Data

Let me change my usual pattern and start with something I have been hoping for and doing so for a while.

Average house prices in the UK increased by 1.7% in the year to January 2019, down from 2.2% in December 2018 . This is the lowest annual rate since June 2013 when it was 1.5%. Over the past two and a half years, there has been a slowdown in UK house price growth, driven mainly by a slowdown in the south and east of England.

Maybe it’s because I’m Londoner that I especially welcome this bit.

The lowest annual growth was in London, where prices fell by 1.6% over the year to January 2019, down from a decrease of 0.7% in December 2018. This was followed by the East of England where prices fell 0.2% over the year.

I have some friends trying to buy at the moment and wish then well. It is symbolic of the times that a couple who both have professional jobs can only afford a shared appreciation property ( for readers from abroad they only “own” say 2/3rds). Switching back to the national numbers we see that with wage growth in January at 3.7% then over the past year there has been real wage growth of 2% in this area. This is a welcome move after many years of losses.

Also the more up to date numbers from LSL Acadata hint at more good news to come.

Prices edged up for the third consecutive month in February, rising 0.5% to take the average value of a home in England and Wales to £302,435. A spike in prices early last year, however, means prices are down 0.5% compared to this time last year.

 

Producer Prices

These numbers are beginning to pick-up the higher oil price.

The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process increased to 3.7% on the year to February 2019, up from 2.6% in January 2019…..Crude oil provided the largest upward contribution to the change in the annual rate of input inflation.

Over the next month or too this will also give the output number a push albeit a smaller one.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 2.2% on the year to February 2019, up from 2.1% in January 2019.

 

Consumer Inflation

This was a mixed month for our measures as shown below.

The all items CPI annual rate is 1.9%, up from 1.8% in January…….The all items RPI annual rate is 2.5%, unchanged from last month……The all items CPIH annual rate is 1.8%, unchanged from last month.

The drivers were an upwards pull from apparel and transport offset by rises in recreation and culture mostly computer games and food and drink. Intriguingly one of the falls came from an area which has proved very difficult to measure.

The effect came from a
range of products but most noticeably from footwear, particularly women’s footwear.

Have any readers noticed this?

As to why CPIH continues to be the lowest measure it is because of the impact of Imputed Rents via the use of Rental Equivalence.

The OOH component annual rate is 1.1%, unchanged from last month.

This is very different to the United States where the official inflation measure shows that it is such matters ( they call it OER) which has pulled the inflation numbers higher.

Comment

It is genuinely pleasing to be able to report that real wages are outpacing house prices by a decent amount and even more so that this may increase, if we move from slower house price inflation to actual falls. I have been hoping for a long time that first-time buyers might get some actual help from this route rather than being helped to borrow ever more.

Of course this will not be welcome in Threadneedle Street where at the emergency COBRA meeting Bank of England Governor Mark Carney will be ruing the negative wealth effects and chewing his fingernails. I would not want to be the underling bringing him these numbers. But returning to happier news we may for once be seeing the beginning of an actual positive rebalancing of the UK economy as real wages make house prices ( a little) more affordable.

 

 

 

 

 

UK house prices rose by 5.9% in February according to the Halifax

This morning has brought news that is like a ray of sunshine to Bank of England Governor Mark Carney. Indeed I am told he keeps checking if the sun has gone over the yardarm. From Reuters.

British house prices jumped in February, rising by 5.9 percent from January, mortgage lender Nationwide said on Thursday.

In annual terms, prices were up by 2.8 percent in the three months to February, the lender said.

A Reuters poll of economists had pointed to a 0.1 percent increase on the month and a 1.0 percent annual rise in prices.

Halifax’s index has tended to be more volatile than other measures of house prices of late.

Actually if you crunch the numbers UK house prices were 5.3% higher in February than in February 2018. So any junior at the Bank of England spotting this and telling the Governor will go straight on the fact-track promotion scheme. In case you are wondering why there is a difference between that and the number reported it is because the Halifax uses quarterly and not monthly numbers for annual growth.

In the latest quarter (December – February) house prices were 1.8% higher than in the preceding three months (September – November).

As we break the numbers down we see that there is a clear issue with monthly volatility with the last four months showing growth of -1.2%,2.5%,-3% and now 5.9%.So the series has increasingly placed itself in question.

Maybe they have been looking at Fulham which for some reason has seen quite a pick up in activity recently although care is needed as it saw drops this time last year.I also note that some of you have been pointing out a bit of a boom in the Midlands. Perhaps the Halifax only went to these two areas in February but however you try to spin it this months number reduces the credibility of the series.

Actually it also has rather caught out Silvana Tenreyro of the Bank of England who has not been keeping up with current events.

And official UK house price growth has also fallen, from an annual rate of 8% in mid-2016 to below
3% in the latest data. The growth rate of the Nationwide house price index, a timelier indicator, has fallen
further still.

Tenreyro

She sort of backs the Bank of England party line as she says “I agree with Mark” with little apparent enthusiasm.

So while I still envisage that in the event of a smooth Brexit we will need a small amount of tightening over
the next three years, before voting for any rate rises I would want to be confident that demand was growing
faster than supply.

She also repeats the Bank of England standard that whilst they are giving us Forward Guidance of higher interest-rates in fact interest-rates may go up or down.

As the MPC has long emphasised, the monetary policy response to such a scenario will depend on the
balance of these effects on supply, demand and the exchange rate. In my judgement, a situation where the
negative demand effects outweigh those other effects is more likely, which would necessitate a loosening in
policy. But it is easy to envisage other plausible scenarios requiring the opposite response.

Although as no doubt many of you have already spotted she seems to have “a loosening in policy” in mind. Also she does seem rather obsessed with one subject.

And however Brexit affects the economy, my monetary
policy decisions will continue to be framed by the MPC’s remit.

As to the more technical details after more than a few assumptions she thinks she has detected a rise in productivity growth.

More sophisticated statistical filtering
methods tell a similar story to these simple averages, with the trend of four-quarter productivity growth
picking up gradually from 0.1% in 2012 to 0.7% in 2018 when using the backcast data.

I would just warn that the accuracy of the numbers here may not be enough to support such filtering. Also her view that these numbers tend to be revised higher is not having a good morning as Eurostat has just revised Euro area GDP growth for the autumn of this year down from 0.2% to 0.1%

Saunders

Michael has discovered something which I first reported on here nearly ten-years ago.

Since late 2017, the MPC has increased the policy rate by 50bp, in two 25bp steps. Consistent with MPC
guidance, the rise in the policy rate has been gradual and limited……………However, pass-through to retail interest rates – both deposit rates and lending rates – has been unusually small. Many household interest rates have barely changed.

Actually it is the reason why QE was introduced because policymakers thought that the large cuts in Bank Rate would do the trick but found that some interest-rates did move but others did not. Actually some rose as I recall credit card interest-rates rising from circa 17% to more like 19%. So it is nice to see Michael catching up with reality. Some of you may already be experiencing a version of this which is far from unexpected here.

It is a similar story for rates on new household time deposits: a rise of 15bp so far (roughly 30% of
the rise in Bank Rate), versus average pass-through of just above 100% in prior MPC hiking cycles.

It seems that those looking for deposits and savings have little or no faith in the Forward Guidance of the Bank of England. Also it pumped them full of liquidity with the latest version of that being the Term Funding Scheme and if we add up such schemes they are still providing some £137 billion of liquidity. Or to put it another way that means that banks and building societies have much less need to compete for deposits. It also directly leads into this.

The average rate on new mortgages (covering both fixed and variable rate loans) is up by only 10-15bp, roughly 30% of the rise in the appropriate mix of Bank Rate and swap rates.

Brighter members at the Bank of England will consider that to be quite a triumph.

Frankly the section on higher interest-rates just seems like hot air.

In that scenario, further UK monetary tightening – limited and gradual – probably will be needed over time.

Okay but not now ( unlike when they wanted to cut which was immediate)

However, the possibility that monetary tightening might be needed in the future does not necessarily mean
we need to tighten now

You may have noted how quickly the rises went from probable to possible and we quickly see they may vanish in a puff of smoke.

And as we have said before, the monetary
policy response to Brexit, whatever form it takes, will not be automatic and could be in either direction.

Comment

The farce that is Forward Guidance is a saga that no-one seems able to stop. Supposedly individuals and businesses are being helped in their planning by being informed of what the Bank of England intends to do with interest-rates. The most obvious problem is that when there was a response from the ordinary person via a higher uptake in fixed-rate mortgages the Bank of England then cut interest-rates in a sharp about turn. I never really imagined many would follow this outside of financial markets but that must have cut the number even further.

As to house prices we are reminded of the flawed nature of many of the indices which measure them by today’s extraordinary number from the Halifax.

The Investing Channel