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 )

 

Good news for the UK economy on the wages and broad money front less so on consumer credit

Today I feel sorry for whoever has to explain this at the Bank of England morning meeting.

“Annual house price growth remained below 1% for the 11th
month in a row in October, at 0.4%. Average prices rose by
around £800 over the last 12 months, a significant slowing
compared with recent years – for example, in the same
period to October 2016, prices increased by £9,100.”

That was from the Nationwide Building Society which has brought news to spoil a central banker’s breakfast. After all they have done their best.

“Moreover, mortgage rates remain close to all-time lows –
more than 95% of borrowers have opted for fixed rate deals
in recent quarters, around half of which have opted to fix for five years.”

The irony here is that they have made their own Bank Rate changes pretty impotent. I recall in the early days of this decade noting that nearly all mortgages in Portugal were fixed-rate ones and thinking we were different. Well not any more!

But unlike Governor Carney I consider this to be a good news story because of this bit.

the unemployment rate remains close to 40 year lows and real earnings growth (i.e. after taking account of inflation) is close to levels prevailing before the financial crisis.

So houses are becoming more affordable in general terms and the Nationwide is beginning to pick this up as its earnings to house price ratio has fallen from 5.2 to 5. Although the falls are concentrated in London ( from 10 to 8.9) and the outer London area ( 7.2 to 6.7). Both Northern Ireland ( now 4) and the West Midlands ( now 4.7) have seen small rises.

UK Wages

We can look at the wages position in more detail because this morning has brought the results of the annual ASHE survey.

Median weekly earnings for full-time employees reached £585 in April 2019, an increase of 2.9% since April 2018….In real terms (after adjusting for inflation), median full-time employee earnings increased by 0.9% in the year to April 2019.

So we see something of a turning in the situation for the better although sadly the situation for real wages is not that good, as it relies on the Imputed Rent driven CPIH measure of inflation. So maybe we had 0.5% growth in real wages.

Even using the fantasy driven inflation measure we are still worse off than we once were.

Median weekly earnings in real terms are still 2.9% lower (£18 lower) than the peak in 2008 of £603 in 2019 prices.

These numbers conceal wide regional variations as highlighted here.

In April 2019, the City of London had the highest gross weekly earnings for full-time employees (£1,052) and Newark and Sherwood had the lowest (£431).

Also the way to get a pay rise was to change jobs.

In 2019, the difference in growth in earnings for full-time employees who changed jobs since April 2018 (8.0%) compared with those who stayed in the same job (1.6%) was high, suggesting stronger upward pressure on wages compared with other years.

Tucked away in the detail was some good news for part-time workers.

Median weekly earnings for part-time jobs increased at a greater rate. In 2019, earnings increased by 5.2% in nominal terms, which translates to a 3.1% increase in real terms. The median weekly earnings for part-time employee jobs of £197 is 6.5% higher than in 2008 in real terms.

It seems that the changes in the national minimum wage have had a positive impact here.

Meanwhile far from everyone has seen a rise.

The proportion of employees experiencing a pay freeze or a decrease in earnings (in real terms) in 2019 (35.7%) is lower than in 2018 (43.3%) and in 2011 (relative to 2010) when it was 60.5%.

Mortgages

From the Bank of England today.

Mortgage market indicators point to continued stability in the market. Net mortgage borrowing by households was little changed at £3.8 billion in September. The stability in the monthly flows has left the annual growth rate unchanged at 3.2%. Growth rates have now remained close to this figure for the past three years. Mortgage approvals for house purchase (an indicator for future lending) were also broadly unchanged in September, at 66,000, and remained within the narrow range seen over the past three years.

As you can see this was a case of what Talking Heads would call.

Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was

Although there is a nuance in that the longer-term objective of the Bank of England is still in play. The true purpose of the Funding for Lending Scheme of the summer of 2012 was to get net mortgage credit consistently positive. That was achieved as there have been no monthly declines since ( unlike in 2010 and 2011) and over time the amount has risen. Nothing like the £9 billion pluses of 2007 but much higher than post credit crunch.

Consumer Credit

The credit impulse provided by the Funding for Lending Scheme was always likely to leak into here.

The annual growth rate of consumer credit was 6.0% in September. This growth rate has now been falling steadily for nearly three years. Revisions to the data this month, however, mean that the annual growth rate has been revised up slightly over the past two and a half years.

Let me give you an example of how the rate of consumer credit growth has been falling from last month’s update.

The annual growth rate of consumer credit continued to slow in August, falling to 5.4%.

The “revised up slightly” means it is now being reported as 6.1%. This is really poor as we can all make mistakes but this is a big deal and needs a full explanation as something has gone wrong enough on a scale to change the narrative.

Assuming this number is correct here is the detail for September itself.

The extra amount borrowed by consumers in order to buy goods and services fell slightly to £0.8 billion in September, and for the second month in a row was below £1.1 billion, the average since July 2018.

Broad Money

There was some good news in this release for the UK economy.

Total money holdings in September rose by £10.9 billion, broadly flat on the month, and remaining above the average of the past 6 months.

The amount of money held by households rose by £5.5 billion in September, primarily driven by increased holdings of interest bearing sight deposits. NIOFC’s money holdings rose by £4.3 billion, while the amount held by PNFCs rose by £1.0 billion.

I am a little unclear how a rise of just under £11 billion is “broadly flat”! But anyway this continues the improvement in the annual growth rate to 3.9% as opposed to the 1.8% of both January and May. Individual months can be erratic but we seem to have turned higher as a trend.

Comment

There have been several bits of good news for the UK economy today. The first is the confirmation of the improvement in the trajectory for real wages and some rather good growth for those working part-time. This feeds into the next bit which is the way that houses and flats are slowly becoming more affordable albeit that much of the progress has been in London and its environs. Looking ahead we see that the improvement in broad money growth is hopeful for the early part of 2021.

The higher trajectory for consumer credit growth is mixed,however. Whilst it will have provided a boost it is back to the age old UK economic problem of borrowing on credit and then wondering about the trade gap. It is especially poor that the Bank of England has been unable to count the numbers correctly. Also it is time for my regular reminder that the credit easing policies were supposed to boost lending to smaller businesses. How is that going?

while the growth rate of borrowing by SMEs rose slightly to 1.0%.

Woeful and a clear misrepresentation of what they were really up to.

NB

I later discovered that the Bank of England revised Consumer Credit higher by some £6.1 billion in August meaning that as of the end of September it was £225.1 billion.

 

 

 

Where next for UK house prices?

Today has brought a flurry of information on the state of play in the UK housing market as we wait to see how the slow sown in house price growth is developing. We start by noting that according to the official series things may have changed a little.

Average house prices in the UK increased by 1.3% in the year to August 2019, up from 0.8% in July 2019 (Figure 1) but remain below the increases seen this time last year. Over the past three years, there has been a general slowdown in UK house price growth, driven mainly by a slowdown in the south and east of England.

As someone who welcomes the fact that UK wage growth is now well above house price growth it is a shame that house price growth picked up. But we do at least have wages growth around 2% higher than house prices. That will take quite some time to fix the imbalances bit at least they are not still growing.Indeed the place where things are worst on the affordability front is improving faster than that.

he lowest annual growth was in London, where prices fell by 1.4% over the year to August 2019, followed by the South East where prices fell by 0.6% over the year.

This weekend has seen a swing in both directions from the Financial Times. First there is a switch to Paris.

Why London’s bankers cannot resist Paris property

Then er perhaps not.

David Livingstone, the new head of Citigroup in Europe, said the City of London will remain the region’s top financial centre regardless of the outcome of Brexit.

For balance here is the other side of the coin.

House price growth in Wales increased by 4.5% in the year to August 2019, up from 3.8% in July 2019, with the average house price at £168,000.

Rightmove

They have joined the fray this morning via Reuters.

Asking prices for British houses put on sale in October showed the smallest seasonal increase since the financial crisis, as all but the most determined sellers waited for greater certainty over Brexit, industry figures showed on Monday.

Rightmove said that the average asking price for homes sold via its website was 0.6% higher in October than in September, well below the average 1.6% rise seen for the time of year and the smallest increase since October 2008.

Reuters seemed a little less keen on this bit.

Average asking prices in October were 0.2% lower than in October 2018, compared with an annual rise of 0.2% in September.

Views differ on the 2016 referendum but personally I welcome this consequence.

Britain’s housing market has slowed since June 2016’s referendum on leaving the European Union, and official data last week – based on completed sales – showed annual house price growth of 1.3% in the year to August, up from a near seven-year low of 0.8% in July.

LSL Acadata

LSL operate rather a different system to the asking price driven Rightmove and in fact Rightmove’s methodology seems to have taken a further downgrade according to Henry Pryor.

“..average asking price for UK homes sold..” I think it’s for homes listed, it includes the 50% of homes that don’t sell.

LSL however use this.

The LSL/Acadata house price index provides the “average of all prices paid for houses”, including those made
with cash.

As to the detail there is this.

Although average house prices in England and Wales climbed by a marginal £113 in the month of September, this was not a sufficiently large increase to avert a further decline in prices over the last twelve months, with the average annual price over this period falling by some -£1,100, or -0.4%. This was the eighth month in this calendar year in which the annual rate of growth has been negative.

In terms of a trend their accompanying chart shows that UK house price growth was of the order of 9% as 2016 began and has been heading lower ever since. So it was heading lower before the Brexit vote partly because if I recall correctly some tax changes for landlords which inflated things then deflated them.

As to the situation regarding real movements I am afraid that LSL then dig a hole for themselves. You can ( and I often do..) argue that the imputed rent driven CPIH is a woeful measure anyway but surely one should use wage growth here.

if we exclude London and the South East from our national statistics, price growth in England & Wales has remained positive over the last twelve months, albeit at a diminishing rate, such that by the end of September the rate of growth was a flat 0.0%……..It is currently only Wales where house price growth is ahead of CPIH. So we have marginal nominal gains alongside real terms falls, although of course the picture varies by type and area.

They have a go are torturing the numbers in a way that makes me wonder if they want a career at the Bank of England but they end up with all areas seeing real wage gains. Even Wales has some real wage growth relative to house prices.

London

As a Londoner I have to confess I am intrigued by the intra-London swings although the explanation below is a worrying one for the methodology used by LSL.

Unsurprisingly, it is East London where the largest rise in average prices in August for both the month itself and the
previous twelve months has been recorded, with Hackney up by 5.1% and 13.4% respectively. The reason for this gain
in prices is the launch of a new-build apartment block, known as the Atlas Building, comprising some 302 flats at 145 City Road, Hackney, close to Old Street Station. 67 of these apartments have been recorded by the Land Registry as having been sold in June and July to date, with prices ranging from £500k to £1.7 million. Given that this project
involves 302 new-build flats, we can anticipate that Hackney will continue to be at the top of the price-growth tables for several more months to come.

I would have hoped to have some quality measure or at least some form of allowing for the fact the new build sales are different to sales of existing houses or flats. Those selling an existing property in Hackney seem set to get a shock if they base their calculations on the LSL series.

Meanwhile on the other side of the coin.

At the other end of the scale, the borough with the largest fall in average values over the last twelve months is the
City of London, at -28.6%, but because few transactions take place there, its price movements are always quite
volatile, especially when expressed in percentage terms.

Also whilst we are looking at methodology we see that the average price overall has just dipped below £300k as opposed to the £235k of the official series.

Comment

It is easy to forget that there is much in the UK economy that is still house price growth friendly. For example mortgage rates remain very low driven by a 0.75% Bank Rate and a 0.53% five-year UK Gilt yield helping to keep fixed-rate mortgages at a low level. It seems the TSB wanted to join the party as of Friday.

TSB has made a series of changes to its mortgage range, featuring cuts of up to 1.30 per cent.

The biggest cuts can be found in the lender’s remortgage 10-year fix suite, with the 85 – 90 per cent LTV rate being chopped from 4.29 per cent to 2.99 per cent. This also asks for no fees and comes with free legals. ( Mortgage Strategy )

To this we can add the positive situation regarding real wages we noted above.

Foreign buyers may have been dipping into the market to take advantage of the lower value of the UK Pound. However things have changed there recently as 141 Yen and 1.28 versus the Swiss Franc replace the levels I noted on the 27th of August.

For example as markets opened yesterday the Yen went to higher levels than the “flash rally” ones I noted on the 3rd of January and at 130 Yen London property looks a fair bit cheaper. You could say the same about 1.20 versus the Swiss Franc.

Help To Buy shared ownership is still in play and has helped one of my friends and conveyancing delays permitting is about to help another.

The problem for house price bulls is that the measures above ( with the exception of real wage growth) were what was required to get UK house prices up to these levels, not to drive them higher. Real wage growth will take another year or two to have a significant impact. So unless we see a new move by the Bank of England or the UK government we seem set for real falls in house prices ( versus wages) and maybe nominal ones too.

Podcast

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good News on UK inflation but not on house prices or for those predicting Cauliflower inflation

This morning has opened with some bad news for the Office for National Statistics and the UK Statistics Authority. They have placed what little credibility they have left on what is called the Rental Equivalence method where you use fantasy imputed rents as a way of measuring owner-occupied inflation. Apart from the obvious theoretical flaws there have been all sorts of issues with actually measuring rents in the first place which led to one of the worst things you can have in statistics which is a “discontinuity” leading to a new method being required. It tells us that rental inflation is of the order of 1% per annum. So let me hand you over to a new report from Zoopla released today.

Average rents increased by 2% to stand at £876 in the 12 months to the end of September……..But despite the overall improvement in affordability, the rate at which rents are rising has accelerated from 1.3% a year earlier to reach a three-year high of 2%, although it still remains below the 10-year average of annual growth of 2.3%

Regular readers will be aware that I have posted research from the Royal Statistical Society website which argued that the official measure of rental inflation is around 1% per annum too low. The reason for this is an incorrect balance between new and old rents. Zoopla with their measure suggests that a rise in rental inflation has been missed by the official data. There is a logic to this for those of us who think that rents are influenced by wages growth as we have seen a rise in wages growth over this period.

Affordability

Whilst the official measure of rental inflation is in yet more disarray we should tale time to welcome this.

Our director of research and insights, Richard Donnell, said: “Renting is more affordable today than the 10-year average. This follows weak rental growth over the last three years, and an acceleration in the growth of average earnings.”………..As a result, the typical renter now spends 31.8% of their earnings on rent, down from a peak of 33.3% in 2016, according to our inaugural Rental Market Report, which records trends in the often-neglected private rented sector.

Propaganda

In a rather ironic twist the establishment has been trying to bolster its case. Here is Mike Hardie of the ONS in Prospect Magazine from earlier this month.

A recent House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee inquiry highlighted that the strategy was not working, with RPI use remaining widespread. In March, David Norgrove, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, wrote to the then chancellor of the exchequer requesting his consent to bring the methods of RPI into line with CPIH.

Meanwhile back in reality here is the actual point the EAC made.

We disagree with the UK Statistics Authority that RPI does not have the potential to become a good measure of inflation.

The truth is that out official statisticians have deliberately not updated the RPI and then blamed it. Next from the EAC came something that was incredibly damning for the official approach.

We are not convinced by the use of rental equivalence in CPIH to impute owner-occupier housing costs.

Returning to the official view in Prospect Magazine there seems to have been an outbreak of amnesia on this subject.

Our headline consumer prices measures, which include the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) and CPI plus owner occupiers’ housing costs (CPIH), for the most part reflect the change in price of acquiring goods and services—in other words, we record the advertised price for an apple or a new car.

Also that explanation is exactly what they do not do with owner occupied housing costs! In a further twist you may note that even their example backfires. Because of the proliferation of rental and leasing deals in the car market it is one area where you probably should now use a rental model and even a small imputed bit.

Regular readers will know I have been a fan of the new Household Cost Indices suggested by John Astin and Jill Leyland. However I note from the Prospect Magazine article that the development process that is taking ages is neutering them.

we also capture mortgage interest costs, which are excluded from other measures of inflation, such as CPI and CPIH.

No mention of house prices which were in the original prospectus and were one of the strengths of the measure? Also take a guess as to which inflation measure right now does have mortgage costs? It is the officially villified RPI.

I am afraid this could not be much more transparent. I have contacted both Prospect Magazine and its editor on Twitter to request a right of reply but so far nether have responded.

Today’s Data

There was some good news as inflation did not rise.

The all items CPI annual rate is 1.7%, unchanged from last month.

As it happens the CPIH measure comes to the same answer in spite of 17% representing a lot lower number that does not exist in CPI.

The OOH component annual rate is 1.1%, unchanged from last month…..Private rental prices paid by tenants in the UK rose by 1.3% in the 12 months to September 2019, unchanged since May 2019.

I will leave explaining that to the official number-crunchers but we have returned to my original point that as well as the theoretical problems in using fantasy imputed rents they do not seem able to measure rents properly. If they had the data they could delve into it but in another error they do not.

An especially welcome development was this.

The all items RPI annual rate is 2.4%, down from 2.6% last month.

Especially as on the month prices actually fell.

The all items RPI is 291.0, down from 291.7 in August.

It might be best to keep that quiet or the deflationistas will be back spinning along with Kylie.

I’m spinning around
Move outta my way
I know you’re feeling me
‘Cause you like it like this
I’m breaking it down
I’m not the same
I know you’re feeling me
‘Cause you like it like this

The Trend Is Your Friend

If we look at the producer price output data the future is bright.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 1.2% on the year to September 2019, down from 1.7% in August 2019.

Even better news comes further up the chain.

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.

Here is the main factor at play.

Crude oil provided the largest downward contribution to the annual rate of input inflation.

Comment

If we start with today’s figures we have received some welcome news as inflation was expected to rise. Indeed those who follow the RPI have just seen a fall which changes the real wages picture positively although of course we await the wages data for September. Should the UK Pound £ remain in a stronger phase ( it is over US $1.27 as I type this) then it and the lower oil price we looked at above will give UK inflation a welcome downwards push. Mind you as we observe those factors it is hard to avoid wondering how the economists surveyed thought inflation would be higher!

As we step back we are reminded of the utter shambles created by the use of rental equivalence and today it has come from an unusual source. If we look into the detail of the RPI we see this.

Mortgage interest payments, where average charges rose this year but fell a year ago; and  House depreciation, with the smoothed house price index used to calculate this
component rising this year by more than a year ago.

As it happens not much difference to the rental measure but to get imputed rents into CPIH at a weight of 17% other things had to be reduced and RPI fell because it does not have this effect amongst other things.

Other differences including weights, which decreased the RPI 12-month rate relative to the CPIH 12-month rate by 0.28 percentage points between August and September 2019. The effect came mainly from air fares; sea fares; second-hand cars; games, toys and hobbies and equipment for sport and open-air recreation; food and non-alcoholic
beverages; and fuels and lubricants. This was partially offset by a widening effect from furniture and furnishings, carpets and household textiles.

You see another flaw in the CPI style methodology is that via the way better off people spend more it represents people about two-thirds of the way up the income stream as opposed to the median.

Cauliflower

Remember when the lack of UK Cauliflowers was going to make us have to pay much more for ropey ones? Below is the one I bought for 59 pence last week.

 

 

Why inflation is bad for so many people

Today I wish to address what is one of the major economic swizzles of our time. That is the drip drip feed by the establishment and a largely supine media that inflation is good for us, and in particular an inflation rate of 2% per annum is a type of nirvana. This ignores the fact that that particular number was chosen by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand because it “seemed right” back in the day. There was no analysis of the benefits and costs.

On the other side of the coin there has been a major campaign against low or no inflation claiming it is the road to deflation which is presented as a bogey(wo)man. There are several major problems with this. The first is that many periods of human economic advancement are exhibited this such as the Industrial Revolution in the UK. Or more recently the enormous advances in technology, computing and the link in more modern times. On the other side of the coin we see inflation involved in economies suffering deflation. For example Greece saw consumer inflation rising at an annual rate of over 5% in the early stages of its economic depression. That was partly due to the rise in consumer taxes or VAT but the ordinary Greek will simply feel it as paying more. Right now we see extraordinary economic dislocation in Argentina where a monthly inflation rate of 4% in August comes with this from Reuters.

The country’s economy shrank 2.5% last year and 5.8% in the first quarter of 2019. The government expects a 2.6% contraction this year.

Argentina’s unemployment rate also rose to 10.6% in the second quarter from 9.6% in the same period last year, the official INDEC statistics agency said on Thursday.

The Euro Area

The situation here is highlighted by this release from the German statistics office this morning.

Harmonised index of consumer prices, September 2019
+0.9% on the same month a year earlier (provisional result confirmed)
-0.1% on the previous month (provisional result confirmed)

This is around half of the European Central Bank or ECB inflation target so let us switch to its view on the subject.

Today’s decisions were taken in response to the continued shortfall of inflation with respect to our aim. In fact, incoming information since the last Governing Council meeting indicates a more protracted weakness of the euro area economy, the persistence of prominent downside risks and muted inflationary pressures. This is reflected in the new staff projections, which show a further downgrade of the inflation outlook.

That is from the introductory statement to the September press conference. As you can see it is a type of central banking standard. But later Mario Draghi went further and to the more intelligent listener gave the game away.

The reference to levels sufficiently close to but below 2% signals that we want to see projected inflation to significantly increase from the current realised and projected inflation figures which are well below the levels that we consider to be in line with our aim.

My contention is that this objective makes the ordinary worker and consumer worse off.

Real Wages

The behaviour of real wages has changed a lot in the credit crunch era. If we look at my home country the UK we see that nominal wage growth has only recently pushed above an annual rate of 4%. But if we look at the Ivory Tower style projections of the OBR it should have pushed above 5% years ago based on Phillips Curve style analysis like this from their report on the 2010 Budget.

Wages and salaries growth rises gradually throughout the forecast, reaching 5½ percent in 2014…………Thereafter, the more rapid increase in employment is sufficient to lower unemployment, so that the ILO unemployment rate falls to
6 per cent in 2015.

As you can see wages growth was supposed to be far higher than now when unemployment was far higher. If they knew the number below was associated with a UK unemployment rate of below 4% their computers would have had a moment like HAL-9000 in the film 2001 A Space Odyssey.

The equivalent figures for total pay in real terms are £502 per week in July 2019 and £525 in February 2008, a 4.3% difference.

Real pay still has some distance to go to reach the previous peak even using a measure of inflation ( CPIH) that is systematically too low via its use of Imputed Rents to measure owner-occupied housing inflation.

It is the change here which means that old fashioned theories about inflation rates are now broken but the Ivory Tower establishment has turned a Nelsonian style blind eye to it. Let me illustrate by returning to the ECB press conference.

While labour cost pressures strengthened and broadened amid high levels of capacity utilisation and tightening labour markets, their pass-through to inflation is taking longer than previously anticipated. Over the medium term underlying inflation is expected to increase, supported by our monetary policy measures, the ongoing economic expansion and robust wage growth.

This is the old assumption that higher inflation means higher wage growth and comes with an implicit assumption that there will be real wage growth. But we have learnt in the credit crunch era that not only are things more complex than that at times things move in the opposite direction. There is no former rejection of Phillips Curve style thinking than the credit crunch history of my country the UK. Indeed this from the Czech National Bank last year is pretty damning of the whole concept.

Wage dynamics in the euro area remain subdued even ten years after the financial crisis. Nominal wage growth1 has seldom exceeded 2% since 2013 (see Chart 1). Wages have not accelerated significantly even since 2014, when the euro area began to enjoy rising economic growth and falling unemployment. Following tentative signs of increasing wage growth in the first half of 2017, wages slowed in the second half of the year.

Comment

It is the breakdown of the relationship between wages and inflation that mean that the 2% inflation target is now bad for us. The central bankers pursue it because one part of the theory works in that gentle consumer inflation helps with the burden of debt. The catch is that as we switch to the ordinary worker and consumer they are not seeing the wage increases that would come with that in the Ivory Tower theory. In the UK it used to be assumed that real wage growth would be towards 2% per annum whereas in net terms the credit crunch era has shown a contraction.

If we look at the United States then last week’s unemployment report gave us another signal as we saw these two factors combine.

The unemployment rate declined to 3.5 percent in September, and total nonfarm
payroll employment rose by 136,000, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported
today………In September, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls,
at $28.09, were little changed (-1 cent), after rising by 11 cents in August. Over the
past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 2.9 percent.

It is only one example but an extraordinary unemployment performance saw wage growth fall. There have been hundreds of these butt any individual example the other way is presented as a triumph for the Phillips Curve. Yet the US performance has been better than elsewhere.

Oh did I say the US has done better, Here is the Pew Research Center from last year.

After adjusting for inflation, however, today’s average hourly wage has just about the same purchasing power it did in 1978, following a long slide in the 1980s and early 1990s and bumpy, inconsistent growth since then. In fact, in real terms average hourly earnings peaked more than 45 years ago: The $4.03-an-hour rate recorded in January 1973 had the same purchasing power that $23.68 would today.

All of this is added to by the way that rises in the cost of housing are kept out of the consumer inflation numbers so they can be presented as beneficial wealth effects instead.

Australia cuts interest-rates for the third time in five months

This morning has brought news that we were expecting so let me hand you over to the Reserve Bank of Australia or RBA.

At its meeting today, the Board decided to lower the cash rate by 25 basis points to 0.75 per cent.

This means that the RBA has cut three times since the fifth of June. Thus those who travel in a land down under are seeing a central bank in panic mode as it has halved the official interest-rate in this period. It means that they have joined the central bankers headbangers club who rush to slash interest-rates blindly ignoring the fact that those who have already done so are singing along with Coldplay.

Oh no I see
A spider web it’s tangled up with me
And I lost my head
And thought of all the stupid things I said
Oh no what’s this
A spider web and I’m caught in the middle
So I turned to run
The thought of all the stupid things I’ve done.

If we look at the statement we get a reminder of our South China Territories theme.

The US–China trade and technology disputes are affecting international trade flows and investment as businesses scale back spending plans because of the increased uncertainty. At the same time, in most advanced economies, unemployment rates are low and wages growth has picked up, although inflation remains low. In China, the authorities have taken further steps to support the economy, while continuing to address risks in the financial system.

We can cut to the nub of this by looking at what the RBA also released this morning.

Preliminary estimates for September indicate that the index decreased by 2.7 per cent (on a monthly average basis) in SDR terms, after decreasing by 4.6 per cent in August (revised). The non-rural and rural subindices decreased in the month, while the base metals subindex increased. In Australian dollar terms, the index decreased by 3.5 per cent in September.

So the benefit from Australia’s enormous commodity resources has faded although it is still just above the level last year.

Over the past year, the index has increased by 1.8 per cent in SDR terms, led by higher iron ore, gold and beef & veal prices. The index has increased by 5.2 per cent in Australian dollar terms.

Aussie Dollar

The index above makes me think of this and here is a view from DailyFX.

Australian Dollar price action has remained subdued throughout most of 2019 with spot AUDUSD trading slightly above multi-year lows.

As I type this an Aussie Dollar buys 0.67 of a US Dollar which is down by 6.6% over the past year. The trade-weighted index has been in decline also having been 65.1 at the opening of 2018 as opposed to the 58.9 of this morning’s calculation.

So along with the interest-rate cuts we have seen a mild currency depreciation or devaluation. But so far President Trump has not turned his attention to Australia.

Also if we stay with DailyFX I find the statement below simply extraordinary.

 if the central bank continues to favor a firm monetary policy stance since announcing back-to-back rate cuts.

A firm monetary stance?

Back to the RBA Statement

Apparently in case you have not spotted it everybody else is doing it.

Interest rates are very low around the world and further monetary easing is widely expected, as central banks respond to the persistent downside risks to the global economy and subdued inflation.

As central bankers are pack animals ( the idea of going solo wakes them up in a cold sweat) this is very important to them.

Then we got a bit of a “hang on a bit moment” with this.

The Australian economy expanded by 1.4 per cent over the year to the June quarter, which was a weaker-than-expected outcome. A gentle turning point, however, appears to have been reached with economic growth a little higher over the first half of this year than over the second half of 2018.

Now if you believe that things are turning for the better an obvious problem is created. Having cut interest-rates twice in short order why not wait for more of the effect before acting again as the full impact is not reached for 18/24 months and we have barely made four?

Mind you if you look at the opening of the statement and the index of commodity prices you may well be wondering how that fits with this?

a brighter outlook for the resources sector should all support growth.

Indeed the next bit questions why you need three interest-rate cuts in short order as well.

Employment has continued to grow strongly and labour force participation is at a record high.

With that situation this is hardly a surprise as it is only to be expected.

Forward-looking indicators of labour demand indicate that employment growth is likely to slow from its recent fast rate.

The higher participation rate makes this hard to read and analyse.

Taken together, recent outcomes suggest that the Australian economy can sustain lower rates of unemployment and underemployment.

Moving to inflation the RBA seems quite happy.

Inflation pressures remain subdued and this is likely to be the case for some time yet. In both headline and underlying terms, inflation is expected to be a little under 2 per cent over 2020 and a little above 2 per cent over 2021.

It does not seem to bother them much that if wage growth remains weak trying to boost inflation is a bad idea. Also if they look at China there is an issue brewing especially as the Swine Fever outbreak seems to be continuing to spread.

Pork prices have surged more than 70% this year in China due to swine fever, and “people are panicking.”

( Bloomberg)

House Prices

These are always in there and we start with an upbeat message.

There are further signs of a turnaround in established housing markets, especially in Sydney and Melbourne.

Yet the foundations quickly crumble.

In contrast, new dwelling activity has weakened and growth in housing credit remains low. Demand for credit by investors is subdued and credit conditions, especially for small and medium-sized businesses, remain tight.

Comment

A complete capitulation by the RBA is in progress.

It is reasonable to expect that an extended period of low interest rates will be required in Australia to reach full employment and achieve the inflation target. The Board will continue to monitor developments, including in the labour market, and is prepared to ease monetary policy further if needed to support sustainable growth in the economy, full employment and the achievement of the inflation target over time.

They like their other central banking colleagues around the word fear for the consequences so they are getting their retaliation in early.

The Board also took account of the forces leading to the trend to lower interest rates globally and the effects this trend is having on the Australian economy and inflation outcomes.

This is referring to the use of what is called r* or the “natural” rate of interest which of course is anything but. You see in this Ivory Tower fantasy it is r* which is cutting interest-rates and not their votes for cuts. In fact it is nothing at all to do with them really unless by some fluke it works in which case the credit is 100% theirs.

Sweet fantasy (sweet sweet)
In my fantasy
Sweet fantasy
Sweet, sweet fantasy ( Mariah Carey )