Imputed Rent is doing its job of reducing UK consumer inflation

Today is inflation day in the UK where we receive numbers for consumer, producer and house price inflation. As there were quite a few new readers yesterday let me open today in that spirit and explain the rotten heart of the UK inflation infrastructure. It comes via the issue of the housing sector and in particular people who own their own house or flat. What this involves is paying a large sum if you are lucky enough to be able to do so or taking a mortgage and paying it off in monthly instalments over years and indeed decades or some combination of the two. This presents us with two actual numbers which can be used in the inflation process which is house prices and mortgage payments.

Instead the UK authorities have chosen to make up their own number based on what are called imputed rents. They choose to assume that someone who lives in their own property rents it out ( of course they do not) and put that rental number in the inflation figures for the index which is called CPIH. There is an obvious issue in this which is the making up of the number when you have real ones to use! Even worse they have had a lot of trouble with the rental series based on those who do rent and in fact scrapped their first effort as it went so badly. So their number series has proven unreliable but they have ploughed on anyway and if you take the case to the National Statistician I am sorry to have to tell you that the response is much more like propaganda that reasoned argument. Why do they do it? Well I doubt it is a coincidence that it leads to a lower inflation number.

The trends

We know that there was some building producer price pressure last month although September itself saw some amelioration of that as the UK Pound £ had a better month against the US Dollar ( the currency in which most commodities are priced). So it will depend on which day they did the survey. But the price of crude oil was rising and has continued to do so since September ended with Brent crude oil above US $58 per barrel as I type this so that there is some inflationary pressure again from this source.

The producer price data today indicated a sort of steady as she goes position with a hint of a dip.

The headline rate of inflation for goods leaving the factory gate (output prices) rose 3.3% on the year to September 2017, from 3.4% in August 2017…….Prices for materials and fuels (input prices) rose 8.4% on the year to September 2017, which is unchanged from August 2017.

 

What about the impact of inflation?

This sadly tends to hit the poorest the hardest as this from the BBC indicates.

Benefit freezes combined with the predicted rise in inflation could set some low-income households back £300 next year, a think tank has warned.

September’s inflation data will be released on Tuesday, and some analysts predict the Consumer Price Index (CPI) will be 2.9%……….The Resolution Foundation’s analysis found that a single unemployed person would be £115 worse off, a single parent in work with one child would be £225 worse off, and a single earner couple with two children would be £305 worse off.

You may note that the analysis concentrates on our previous inflation measure and not the new CPIH version in yet another embarrassment for the Office for National Statistics.

Today’s numbers

The headline number will capture the er headlines.

The all items CPI annual rate is 3.0%, up from 2.9% in August.

Actually it was a very marginal shift as if we look into the detail the rate was in fact 2.9593%. Also I did point out above that the CPI was what everyone still concentrates on as this from the Financial Times whose economics editor Chris Giles was one of those who argued strongly for the CPIH inflation measure shows.

How times change! Back in the day he and I were taking opposite sides at the Royal Statistical Society and it is nice to see the implied view that he now agrees with me. This leaves the Office for National Statistics somewhat short of friends for its propaganda on the subject of CPIH.

The Consumer Prices Index including owner occupiers’ housing costs (CPIH) is the most comprehensive measure of inflation.

The CPIH number gets so few mentions our statistics authority sends out its staff to get the numbers up.

You might think that after the problems with the UK trade figures I highlighted yesterday the staff there might be too busy to be on social media plugging the new inflation measure but apparently not. James has contacted me to say he is working in the prices division at the moment which gives a partial answer although if he is tweeting official information he might want to use a more accurate title.

The housing problem

Let me explain with the relevant numbers why this is an issue. Firstly let me bring the house price numbers up to date.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 5.0% in the year to August 2017 (up from 4.5% in July 2017). The annual growth rate has slowed since mid-2016 but has remained broadly under 5% during 2017.

Now let us look at the data on which the Imputed Rental numbers for owner-occupied housing is based.

Private rental prices paid by tenants in Great Britain rose by 1.6% in the 12 months to September 2017; this is unchanged from August 2017.

Which leads to this.

The OOH component annual rate is 1.9%, unchanged from last month.

So the machinations of the UK statisticians do the following. Firstly they are using a method which reduces the annual rate of inflation from 3% to 2.8% if we use their favoured CPI series. Even worse a previous change meant that the Retail Price Index was abandoned and it is at 3.9%. Those buying a house may reasonably wonder how annual price inflation which has been circa 5% ends up reducing the inflation rate!

If you wish to follow the timing of this there was a rush late last year from the Office for National Statistics to bring CPIH ignoring some of its own guidelines as it was “not a national statistic” at that point. I did tell the National Statistician John Pullinger that doing this at a time inflation was higher but rental inflation was likely to fall ( based on wages growth) was playing with fire as regards both his personal and the body’s overall credibility in my opinion.

Comment

So we have headlines of 3% consumer inflation in the UK in spite of the official machinations to keep it below by changing the measure. The latter may strengthen in influence if London continues its pattern of being a leading indicator in this regard.

London private rental prices grew by 0.9% in the 12 months to August 2017, which is 0.7 percentage points below the Great Britain 12-month growth rate.

Those of you who pointed out that owner occupied housing would only go into UK inflation when it lowered the numbers have been proven correct so well-played.

An impact of all of this is to widen the intergenerational issue as the basic state pension will rise next year by 3% which is higher than the wage growth we have seen. Of course Bank of England pensioners will do even better as theirs are linked to the higher Retail Price Index. If we stay with the Bank of England Governor Mark Carney does not have to get out his fountain pen and headed notepaper as the remit was eased and he only has to write if it exceeds 3% on the CPI measure.

Moving onto the detail we see that there has been a strong impact from the rising price of butter we have previously looked at as the oils and fats section has risen by 14.9% on a year ago. Will we now get Imputed Butter prices?

Meanwhile our old inflation target of RPIX is at 4.1% which poses a question for the “improved” measures.

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The outlook for UK house prices is turning lower

Today brings together two strands of my life. At the end of this week one of my friends is off to work in the Far East like I did back in the day. This reminds me of my time in Tokyo in the 1990s where Fortune magazine was reporting this at the beginning of the decade.

The Japanese, famous for saving, are now loading their future generations with debt. Nippon Mortgage and Japan Housing Loan, two big home lenders, are offering 99- and 100-year multigeneration loans with interest rates from 8.9% to 9.9%.

Back then property prices were so steep that these came into fashion and to set the scene the Imperial Palace and gardens ( which are delightful) were rumoured to be worth more than California. Younger readers may have a wry smile at the interest-rates which these days they only see if student loans are involved I guess. But this feature of “Discovering Japan” or its past as Graham Parker and the Rumour would put it comes back into mind as I read this earlier. From the BBC.

The average mortgage term is lengthening from the traditional 25 years, according to figures from broker L&C Mortgages. Its figures show the proportion of new buyers taking out 31 to 35-year mortgages has doubled in 10 years.

We have noted this trend before which of course is a consequence of ever higher house prices which is another similarity with Japan before the bust there. Although there is an effort to deflect us from that.

Lenders have been offering longer mortgage terms, of up to 40 years, to reflect longer working lives and life expectancy.

Let us look into the detail.

The average term for a mortgage taken by a first-time buyer has risen slowly but steadily to more than 27 years, according to the L&C figures drawn from its customer data.
More detailed data shows that in 2007, there were 59% of first-time buyers who had mortgage terms of 21 to 25 years. That proportion dropped to 39% this year.
In contrast, mortgage terms of 31 to 35 years have been chosen by 22% of first-time buyers this year, compared with 11% in 2007.

Should the latest version of “Help To Buy” push house prices even higher then we may well see mortgage terms continue to lengthen. This issue will be made worse by the growing burden of expensive student debt and the struggles and travails of real wages.

If you extend a mortgage term the monthly payment will likely reduce but the capital sum which needs to be repaid rises.

The total cost of a £150,000 mortgage with an interest rate of 2.5% would be more than £23,000 higher by choosing a 35-year mortgage term rather than a 25-year term.
The gain for the borrower would be monthly repayments of £536, rather than £673.

House Prices

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors or RICS has reported this morning.

Prices also held steady in September at the national level, with 6% more respondents seeing a rise in prices demonstrating a marginal increase. Looking across the regions, London remains firmly negative, while the price balance in the South East also remains negative (but to a lesser extent than London) for a fourth consecutive month.

“firmly negative” is interesting isn’t it as London is usually a leading indicator for the rest of the country? Although care is needed as the RICS uses offered prices rather than actual sales prices. Looking ahead it seems to be signalling a bit more widespread weakness in prices.

new buyer enquiries declined during September, as a net balance of -20% more respondents noted a fall in demand (as opposed to an increase). Not only does this extend a sequence of negative readings into a sixth month, it also represents the weakest figure since July 2016,

It is noticeable that there are clear regional influences as some of the weaker areas are seeing house price rises now, although of course that may just mean that it takes a while for a new trend to reach them.

That said, Northern Ireland and Scotland are now the only two areas in which contributors are confident that prices will rise meaningfully over the near term.

The Bank of England

This morning has seen a signal of a possible shift in Bank of England policy. If we look at its credit conditions survey we see that unsecured lending was supposedly being restricted.

Lenders reported that the availability of unsecured credit to households decreased in Q3 and expected a significant decrease in Q4 (Chart 2). Credit scoring criteria for granting both credit card and other unsecured loans were reported to have tightened again in Q3, while the proportion of unsecured credit applications being approved fell significantly.

As demand was the same there is a squeeze coming here and this could maybe filter into the housing market as at a time of stretched valuations people sometimes borrow where they can. Care is needed here though as the figures to August showed continued strong growth in unsecured credit making me wonder if the banks are telling the Bank of England what they think it wants to hear.

Also we were told this about mortgages.

Overall spreads on secured lending to households — relative to Bank Rate or the appropriate swap rate — were reported to have narrowed significantly in Q3 and were expected to do so again in Q4.

However on the 6th of this month the BBC pointed out that we are now seeing some ch-ch-changes.

The cost of taking out a fixed-rate mortgage has started to rise, even though the Bank of England has kept base rates at a record low.

Barclays and NatWest have become the latest lenders to increase the cost of some of their fixed-rate products.

At least nine other banks or building societies have also raised their rates in the past few weeks.

Business lending

This is an important issue and worth a diversion. The official view of the Bank of England is that its Funding for Lending Scheme and Term Funding Scheme prioritise lending to smaller businesses and yet it finds itself reporting this.

Spreads on lending to businesses of all sizes widened in Q3 (Chart 5). They were expected to widen further on lending to small and large businesses in Q4.

This no doubt is a factor in this development.

Lenders reported a fall in demand for corporate lending for businesses of all sizes — and small businesses in particular (Chart 3). Demand from all businesses was expected to be unchanged in Q4.

The Bank of England will no doubt call this “counterfactual” ( whatever the level it would otherwise have been worse) whereas the 4 year record looks woeful to me if we compare it to say mortgages or even more so with unsecured lending.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here especially if we do see something of a squeeze on unsecured lending as 2017 closes. That would be quite a contrast to the ~10% annual growth rate we have been seeing and would be likely to wash into the housing market as well. Some will perhaps borrow extra on their mortgages if they can whilst others may now be no longer able to use unsecured lending to aid house purchases. These things often turn up in places you do not expect or if you prefer we will see disintermediation. It is hard not to wonder about the car loans situation especially as it is mostly outside the conventional banking system.

So we see an example of utter failure at the Bank of England as it expanded policy and weakened the Pound £ as the economy was doing okay but is now looking for a contraction when it is weaker. We will need to watch house prices closely as we move into 2018.

Meanwhile people often ask me about how much buy-to-let lending goes vis businesses so this from Mortgages for Business earlier made me think.

Last quarter nearly four out of every five pounds lent for buy to let purchases via Mortgages for Business was lent to a limited company. With strong limited company purchase application levels throughout Q2, and the softer affordability testing that is commonly applied to limited companies leading to higher-than -average loan amounts, it is no surprise to see them take such a large slice of buy to let purchase completions in Q3.

Now this is something of a specialist area so the percentages will be tilted that way but with”softer affordability testing” and “higher than average loan amounts” what could go wrong?

 

 

 

“Help” for UK house prices makes the property ladder look more like a snake

As one recovers from an opium trip ( just for clarity 30mg of morphine from the anaesthetist at my knee operation) care is needed with the news as perception and reality may well diverge. After all things may not be what they seem to you. However as I recover I note that one of the theme’s of my economic analysis is continuing in play. That is that the UK establishment will do pretty much anything to keep house prices rising and to banish any thoughts of falls. This was confirmed yet again by Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday. From the BBC.

The government will find an extra £10bn for the Help to Buy scheme to let another 135,000 people get on the property ladder, Theresa May has said.

There is only a little detail at this point but even this makes me wonder if we will see snakes as well as ladders.

The extra cash will help buyers get a mortgage with a deposit of as little as 5% to buy newly built homes.

It was not so long ago that the UK establishment queued up to tell us that small deposits and/or low equity were one of the features which led to the credit crunch whereas now they are official government policy! The half-life of establishment memory appears to be rather short. Also it is trapping itself ever more into higher house prices as can you imagine the storm if the “Help” leads (young) people into negative equity?

A trigger?

Perhaps this from the Financial Times on Friday firmed up the government plans.

London house prices fall for the first time since 2009 Nationwide says prices declined 0.6% year-on-year in third quarter.

We have been noting declines in London for a while and the fear for the establishment was that it would prove to be a leading indicator one more time. There is a possible additional factor which is that when people have spoken about a “Westminster Bubble” there has been more than one meaning.

House prices are too high

The same FT article gives us evidence of this.

 

Since the financial crisis, house prices have grown faster than earnings across the country, but the gap between the two measures has been particularly large in London and the south-east. The ratio of the average house price to average earnings for people living in the capital rose from 7.8 in 2009 to 12.9 last year. While national house price growth has moderated during the past year, the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that average house price growth — 5.1 per cent over the year to July — has continued to outstrip earnings growth, which was 2.1 per cent over the same period.

We have seen house prices rise nationally but real wages have fallen. There are some pockets where house prices have recovered little but the general position is that house prices are too high. This is the cause of policies like Help To Buy and the Funding for (Mortgage) Lending Scheme of the Bank of England but of course by driving prices even higher they create a future problem. Even worse the rises are recorded essentially as economic growth when the truth is that for many they are inflation.

On that subject we received some updates on Friday as the “Blue Book” was published. Firstly the past was a little better than we thought.

GDP is now 9.3% above the pre-downturn peak instead of 9.0% above as previously published.

However the latter part of 2016 was revised down and the first quarter of 2017 up ( to 0.3% GDP growth) with the net effect over the past year being -0.2%. I warn regularly about the dangers of relying on 0.1% movements in GDP.

Oh and it appears that news was so grim in 2012 we were all on drugs to cope. From the trade figures update.

The largest positive revision occurs in 2012 with the inclusion of tuition fees having the greatest impact, followed by the inclusion of drugs data into the estimates of illegal activities.

Personally I would have thought giving students other bills to pay would reduce the illegal drugs data maybe this is yet another way that millennials are different.

The Bank of England

Sadly I missed the celebrations of twenty years of independence at the Bank of England last week. If I had been able to indulge in the excellence of its wine cellar then as it combined with the morphine I might for a brief period have actually believed it was independent. The “unreliable boyfriend” has given us two clear periods of Forward Guidance ( 2014 and 16) where he promised an interest-rate rise which eventually involved an interest-rate cut. Now he is at it again or at least he was on BBC Radio 4 on Friday..

If the economy continues on the track that it’s been on… we can expect interest rates would increase somewhat.

Governor Carney wants us to believe he really means it and maybe he thinks he does but it was hard not to raise a wry smile as only a few hours later UK annual economic growth was revised down from 1.7% to 1.5%.

The winners

If you look at the share price data this morning then the leaders are as I type this Barratt Developments and Persimmon both up 3.9% and out of the top ten we see six from the construction industry. The construction industry has been a winner in terms of its executives and share prices but as we note from the official figures there has not been much of a supply response. This was interesting from the FT.

One executive claimed recently that the scheme had allowed him to raise selling prices by 10 per cent, which would almost double the profit margin for most builders.

Oh and there is the issue of economic growth where we see this.

The methodological change to actual rental is showing stronger growth into 2015 than the old methodologies and data sources.

Would you like to take a stab in the dark about what this does to the Imputed Rental figures?

Comment

It would appear that we are in one of those zombie apocalypse movies where the zombies cannot be killed. Oddly the Bank of England is claiming to be heading in the opposite direction although of course it has already collapsed like a deck chair twice after giving us such Forward Guidance. But the principle remains that the UK establishment is “caught in a trap” as Elvis Presley put it. To “Help” those suffering from high house prices it pushes prices higher meaning ever more need “Help”. Whilst it is one of my favourite songs I do not think John Lennon meant this for the housing market.

Help! I need somebody
Help! Not just anybody
Help! You know I need someone
Help!

As soon as the “Help” stops then the property ladder seems set to metamorphose into a snake.

 

 

 

What is happening in the UK housing market?

There are always a multitude of factors to consider here but one has changed if the “unreliable boyfriend” can finally go steady. That is the Open Mouth Operations from various members of the Bank of England about a Bank Rate ( official interest-rate) increase in November presumably to 0.5%. This would be the first time since the summer of 2013 and the introduction of the Funding for Lending Scheme that there has been upwards pressure on mortgage rates. Indeed the FLS was designed to drive them lower ( albeit being under the smokescreen of improving small business lending) and if we throw in the more recent Term Funding Scheme the band has continued to play to the same beat. From Bank of England data for July.

Effective rates on new individual mortgages has decreased by 10bps from 2.05% to 1.95%, this is the first time the series has fallen below 2%;

The current table only takes us back to August 2015 but it does confirm the theme as back then the rate was 2.57%. Noticeable in the data is the way that fixed-rate mortgages (1.99%) have become closer to variable-rate ones (1.73%) and if we look at the combination it looks as though fixed-rate mortgages have got more popular. That seems sensible to me especially if you are looking beyond the term of office of the “unreliable boyfriend.” From the Resolution Foundation.

The vast majority (88%) of new loans are taken with fixed interest rates, meaning 57% of the stock of loans are now fixed.

Has Forward Guidance had an impact?

That depends where you look but so far the Yorkshire Building Society at least seems rather unimpressed.

0.89% variable (BoE Base rate + -3.85%) variable (YBS Standard Variable Rate -3.85%) fixed until 30/11/2019

There is a large fee ( £1495) and a requirement for 35% of equity but even so this is the lowest mortgage-rate they have even offered. You can get a fixed rate mortgage for the same term for 0.99% with the same fee if you have 40% of equity.

So we see that so far there has not been much of an impact on the Yorkshire Building Society! Perhaps they had a tranche of funding which has not yet run out, or perhaps it has been so long since interest-rates last rose that they have forgotten what happens next? If we move to market interest-rates Governor Carney will be pleased to see that they have taken more notice of him as the 2 year Gilt yield was as low as 0.15% on the 7th of this month and is now 0.45%. The 5 year Gilt yield rose from 0.39% on the 7th to 0.77% now.

Thus there should be upwards pressure on future mortgage rates albeit of course that funding is still available to banks from the Term Funding Scheme at 0.25%. But don’t take my word for it as here are the Bank of England Agents.

competition remained intense, driven by new market entrants and low funding costs

What about valuations?

There have been a lot of anecdotal mentions of surveyors lowering valuations ( which is a forward indicator of lower prices ahead) but this from the Bank of England Agents is the first official note of this.

There were more reports of transactions falling through due to surveyors down-valuing properties, reflecting concerns about falling prices.

This could also be considered a sign of expected trouble as they discuss mortgages.

However, this competition was mainly concentrated on customers with the cleanest credit history.

Affordability and Quality

This issue has also been in the news with the Resolution Foundation telling us this.

While the average family spent just 6 per cent of their income on housing costs in the early 1960s, this has trebled to 18 per cent. Housing costs have taken up a growing proportion of disposable income from each generation to the next. This is true of private and social renters, but mortgage interest costs have come down for recent generations. However, the proportion of income being spent on capital repayments has risen relentlessly from generation to generation thanks to house price growth.

As someone who can recall his maternal grandparents having an outside toilet and paternal grandmother not having central heating I agree with them that quality improved but is it still doing so?

millennial-headed households are more likely than previous generations to live in overcrowded conditions, and when we look at the distribution of square meterage we see today’s under-45s have been net losers in the space stakes

I doubt many are as overcrowded as the one described by getwestlondon below.

A dawn raid on a three-bedroom property in Brentt found 35 men living inside……..The house was packed wall-to-wall with mattresses, which the men living there, all of eastern European origin, had piled into every room except the bathrooms.

But their mere mention of overcrowded raises public health issues surely? As ever the issue is complex as millennials are likely to be thinking also of issues such as Wi-Fi connectivity and so on. Still I guess the era of smartphones and tablets may make this development more palatable albeit at a price.

More recent generations have also had longer commutes on average than previous cohorts, despite spending more on housing.

Recent Data

The news from LSL Acadata this week was as follows.

House price growth fell marginally in August (0.2%), which left the average England and Wales house price at £297,398. This is still 2.1% higher than this time last year, when the average price was £5,982 lower. In terms of transactions, there were an estimated 80,500 sales completed – an increase of 5% compared to July’s total, and up 6% on a seasonally adjusted basis.

Interesting how they describe a monthly fall isn’t it? The leader of that particular pack is below.

House prices in London fell by an average of 1.4% in July, leaving the average price in the capital at £591,459. Over the year, though, prices are still up by £4,134 or 0.7% compared to July 2016. In July, 21 of the 33 London boroughs saw price falls.

An interesting development

Bloomberg has reported this today.

More home buyers are resorting to mortgages to purchase London’s most expensive houses and apartments as rising prices drag them into higher tax brackets.

Seventy-four percent of homes costing 1 million pounds ($1.3 million) or more in the U.K. capital were bought with a mortgage in the three months through July, up from 65 percent a year earlier, according to Hamptons International. The figure was as low as 31 percent during the depths of the financial crisis in 2009.

Perhaps they too think that over time it will be good to lock in what are historically low interest-rates although that comes with the assumption that they are taking a fixed-rate mortgage.

Comment

As we look at 2017 so far we see that  rental inflation has both fallen and according to most measures so has house price inflation although the official measure bounced in the spring . We have seen some monthly falls especially in London but so far the various indices continue to report positive inflation for house prices on an annual basis. Putting it another way it has been higher priced houses which have been hit the most ( which is why the official data has higher inflation). In general this has worked out mostly as I expected although I did think we might see negative inflation in house prices. Perhaps if Governor Carney for once backs his words with action we will see that as the year progresses. The increasing evidence of “down valuations” does imply that.

If we look at the overall situation we find ourselves arriving at one of the themes of my work as I am not one of those who would see some house price falls as bad. The rises have shifted wealth towards existing home owners and away from first-time buyers on a large-scale and this represents a factor in my critiques of central bank actions. Yes first time buyers see cheaper current mortgage costs but we do not know what they will be for the full term and they are paying with real wages which have fallen. On the other side of the coin existing home owners especially in London have been given something of a windfall if they sell.

The issue of house prices in both Australia and China

Earlier today there was this announcement from Australia or if you prefer the south china territories.

Residential property prices rose 1.9 per cent in the June quarter 2017, according to figures released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)……..Through the year growth in residential property prices reached 10.2 per cent in the June quarter 2017. Sydney and Melbourne recorded the largest through the year growth of all capital cities, both rising 13.8 per cent followed by Hobart, which rose 12.4 per cent.

So we see something which is a familiar pattern as we see a country with a double-digit rate of inflation in this area albeit only just. Also adding to the deja vu is that the capital city seems to be leader of the pack.

However there is quite a bit of variation to be seen on the undercard so to speak.

“Residential property prices, while continuing to rise in Melbourne and Sydney this quarter, have begun to moderate. Annual price movements ranged from -4.9 per cent in Darwin to +13.8 per cent in Sydney and Melbourne. These results highlight the diverse housing market and economic conditions in Australia’s capital cities,” Chief Economist for the ABS, Bruce Hockman said.

The statistics agency seems to be implying it is a sort of race if the tweet below is any guide.

“Sydney and Melbourne drive property price rise of 1.9%” – how did your state perform?

Wealth

There was something added to the official house price release that will lead to smiles and maybe cheers at the Reserve Bank of Australia.

The total value of Australia’s 9.9 million residential dwellings increased $145.9 billion to $6.7 trillion. The mean price of dwellings in Australia rose by $12,100 over the quarter to $679,100.

Central bankers will cheer the idea that wealth has increased in response to the house price rises but there are plenty of issues with this. Firstly you are using the prices of relatively few houses and flats to give a value for the whole housing stock. Has anybody made an offer for every dwelling in Australia? I write that partly in jest but the principle of the valuation idea being a fantasy is sound. Marginal prices ( the last sale) do not give an average value. Also the implication given that wealth has increased ignores first-time buyers and those wishing or needing to move to a larger dwelling as they face inflation rather than have wealth gains.

This sort of thinking has also infested the overall wealth figures for Australia and the emphasis is mine.

The average net worth for all Australian households in 2015–16 was $929,400, up from $835,300 in 2013–14 and $722,200 in 2005-06. Rising property values are the main contributor to this increase. Total average property values have increased to $626,700 in 2015–16 from $548,500 in 2013–14 and $433,500 in 2005-06.

If we look at impacts on different groups we see it driving inequality. One way of looking at this is to use a Gini coefficient which in adjusted terms for disposable income is 0.323 and for wealth is 0.605 . Another way is to just simply look at the ch-ch-changes over time.

One factor driving the increase in net wealth of high income households is the value of owner-occupied and other property. For high wealth households, average total property value increased by $878,000 between 2003-04 and 2015-16 from $829,200 to $1.7 million. For middle wealth households average property values increased by $211,200 (from $258,000 to $469,200). Low wealth households that owned property had much lower growth of $5,600 to $28,500 over the twelve years.

As you can see the “wealth effects” are rather concentrated as I note that the percentage increase is larger for the wealthier as well of course as the absolute amount. Those at the lower end of the scale gain very little if anything. What group do we think central bankers and their friends are likely to be in?

Debt

This has been rising too.

Average household debt has almost doubled since 2003-04 according to the latest figures from the Survey of Income and Housing, released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

ABS Chief Economist Bruce Hockman said average household debt had risen to $169,000 in 2015-16, an increase of $75,000 on the 2003-04 average of $94,000.

The ABS analysis tells us this.

Growth in debt has outpaced income and asset growth since 2003-04. Rising property values, low interest rates and a growing appetite for larger debts have all contributed to increased over-indebtedness. The proportion of over-indebted households has climbed to 29 per cent of all households with debt in 2015-16, up from 21 per cent in 2003-04.

They define over-indebtedness as having debts of more than 3 years income or more than 75% of their assets. That must include rather a lot of first-time buyers.

Younger property owners in particular have taken on greater debt.

Also the statistic below makes me think that some are either punting the property market or had no choice but to take out a large loan.

“Nearly half of our most wealthy households (47 per cent) who have a property debt are over-indebted, holding an average property debt of $924,000. This makes them particularly susceptible if market conditions or household economic circumstances change,” explained Mr Hockman.

So something of an illusion of wealth combined with the hard reality of debt.

Ever more familiar

Such situations invariably involve “Help” for first-time buyers and here it is Aussie style.

In Australia every State government provides first home buyer with incentives such as the First Home Owners Grant (FHOG) ( FHBA)

In New South Wales you get 10,000 Aussie Dollars plus since July purchases up to 650,000 Aussie Dollars are free of state stamp duty.

China

If we head north to China we see a logical response to ever higher house prices.

Local governments are directly buying up large quantities of houses developers haven’t been able to sell and filling them with citizens relocated from what they call “slums”—old, sometimes dilapidated neighborhoods. ( Wall Street Journal).

We have discussed on here more than a few times that the end game could easily be a socialisation of losses in the property market which of course would be yet another subsidy for the banks.

The scale of the program is large, accounting for 18% of floor space sold in 2016, according to Rosealea Yao, senior analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics, and is being partly funded by state policy banks like China Development Bank. ( WSJ)

Will they turn out to be like the Bank of Japan in equity markets and be a sort of Beijing Whale? Each time the market dips the Bank of Japan provides a put option although of course there are not that many Exchange Traded Funds for it to buy these days because it has bought so many already.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here so let me open with a breakdown of changes in the situation in Australia over the last decade or so.

This growth in household debt was larger than the growth in income and assets over the same period. The mean household debt has increased by 83% in real terms since 2003-04. By comparison, the mean asset value increased by 49% and gross income by 38%.

Lower interest-rates have oiled the difference between the growth of debt and income. But as we move on so has the rise in perceived wealth. The reason I call it perceived wealth is that those who sell genuinely gain when they do so but for the rest it is simply a paper profit based on a relatively small number of transactions.

If we move to the detail we see that if there is to be Taylor Swift style “trouble,trouble, trouble” it does not have to be in the whole market. What I mean by that is that lower wealth groups have gained very little if anything from the asset price rises so any debt issues there are a problem. Also those at the upper end may be more vulnerable than one might initially assume.

High income households were also more likely to be over-indebted. One quarter of the households in the top income quintile were over-indebted compared to one-in-six (16%) low income households (in the bottom 20%).

Should one day they head down the road that China is currently on then the chart below may suggest that those who have rented may be none too pleased.

Never Tear Us Apart ( INXS )

I was standing
You were there
Two worlds collided
And they could never ever tear us apart

What are the prospects for the UK house prices and rents?

One of the features of economics and economics life is that no matter how unlikely something is if it suits vested interests it will keep being reinvented. On that topic let us see what the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors or RICS has reported this morning.

Nationally, 61% felt landlords would exit the market over the coming year, while only 12% felt there would be a greater number of entrants. Moreover, for the next three years, 52% felt there would be a net reduction in landlords, with only 17% suggesting a rise.

Those of us who feel that the UK economy has been tilted too much towards the buy to let sector will be pleased at that but not the RICS which gives a warning.

Given the likely resulting supply and demand mismatch in this area, respondents predict that over the next five years rental growth will outpace that of house prices, averaging 3%, per annum (against 2% for house price inflation).

As to the deja vu element well let me take you back to November 4th last year.

Rents in Britain will rise steeply during the next five years as a government campaign against buy-to-let investing constrains supply, estate agencies have forecast.

Okay how much?

London tenants face a 25 per cent increase to their rents during the next five years, said Savills, the listed estate agency group. Renters elsewhere in the country will not fare much better, it said, with a predicted 19 per cent rise.

Whilst we are looking back to then there was also this.

JLL, another estate agency group, predicted a 17.6 per cent increase across the UK by 2021, with London rents rising 19.9 per cent, far outstripping predicted rates of inflation.

What has happened since last November?

If we look back I was very dubious about this and pointed out a clear problem.

If you look at the pattern of rental growth it follows the improvement in the UK economy with a lag ( of over a year which is another reason why it is a bad inflation measure) which means that it looks to be driven by improving incomes and probably real incomes rather than the underlying economy. Thus if you expect real income growth to fade (pretty much nailed on with likely inflation) or fall which seems likely then you have a lot of explaining to do if you think rents will rise.

In essence there is a strong correlation between income growth and real income growth and rental growth in my opinion. We now know that so far this has worked because back in November I pointed out that the official measure of rental inflation was running at 2.3% and yesterday we were updated on it.

Private rental prices paid by tenants in Great Britain rose by 1.6% in the 12 months to August 2017; this is down from 1.8% in July 2017.

Shall we check in on London?

The growth rate for London (1.2%) in the 12 months to August 2017 is 0.4 percentage points below that of Great Britain.

So we see that my methodology has worked much better than those in the industry as the phrase “vested interest” comes to mind. If you are struggle to predict capital profits ( house price rises) for your customers then promising some increased income (rents) works nicely especially at a time of such low interest-rates and yields elsewhere. The problem with this was highlighted by Supertramp some years ago.

Dreamer, you know you are a dreamer

If you look at the chart then it looks like the only way is down which looks awkward for the vested interests squad. Care is needed as it is a diverse market with rents in Wales rising albeit from a low-level and a variety of levels as shown below.

the largest annual rental price increases were in the East Midlands (2.8%),…….The lowest annual rental price increases were in the North East (0.4%),

But until we see a rise in real incomes then there seems to be little or no case for a recovery overall. At this point the UK establishment will be getting out the champagne as they will feel they put rents into the “most comprehensive” inflation measure CPIH at exactly the right time.

What about house prices?

As today is a policy announcement day for the Bank of England let us look at what house prices have done during the term of the present Governor Mark Carney. When he arrived in July 2013 the average house price in the UK was £174,592 whereas as of July this year it was £226,185 according to the Office for National Statistics. This replaced a three-year period of stagnation where prices had first fallen a bit and the recovered. So he has been the house owner and buy to let investors friend.

Some of the policy changes to achieve this preceded him as it was under the tenure of the now Baron King of Lothbury that the Funding for ( Mortgage) Lending Scheme was introduced. But Governor Carney could have changed course as he did in other areas. However he did not and I noted back then a fall in mortgage rates of around 1% quite quickly and the Bank of England later calculated a total impact on mortgage rates of up to 2%.

There are of course differences across the country as I looked at on Tuesday where the surges in London have been accompanied by much weaker recoveries all in other areas of which the extreme case is Northern Ireland  But the overall move has been higher and not matched by the lending to small businesses which the policy effort was badged as being for.

So if we now look ahead we see wage growth but real wage declines. We see that there has been an extraordinary effort to reduce mortgage rates from the Bank of England. There was also the Help To Buy programme of the government. All of these factors point to stagnation looking ahead and if anything the surprise has been that the various indices have not fallen further. Should London continue to be a leading indicator then perhaps more patience is needed.

The London* price gauge remains stuck firmly in negative territory, posting the weakest reading since 2008. Furthermore, the price indicator has turned a little softer in the South East of England,  ( RICS)

Comment

There are unknown factors here as for example we could see another wave of foreign purchases in London. The Bank of England could ease policy again however the power of Bank Rate cuts and indeed QE has weakened considerably in this regard. This is because if you look at countries like Sweden and Switzerland then with individual exceptions the bulk of mortgage rates hit a bottom higher than you might imply from the official negative interest-rates. This is in my opinion because banks remain unwilling to pass negative interest-rates onto the retail depositor as they fear what might happen next. So if the Bank of England wants to do more its action would have to be direct I think.

The other road that the Bank of England has been hinting at via its house journal the Financial Times is Forward Guidance about an interest-rate rise. Perhaps we will see more of this today and this is unlikely to support house prices as it would be the doppelganger of the last four years or so, especially of the “Sledgehammer QE” of August 2016. This means that today’s policy move could yet be putting Jane Austen on the new ten pound note. Perhaps the PR spinning around this will manage to put a smoke screen around the fact that there seems to have been a “woman overboard” problem at the higher echelons of the Bank.

 

 

The diversity of modern employment has left the official data behind

Today has opened with the subject of wages and pay in the news ahead of the official data on the subject. The particular issue is described by the Financial Times below.

 

It was Mr Hammond’s predecessor, George Osborne, who first imposed pay restraint on the public sector back in 2011-12, as part of the then coalition government’s efforts to balance the state’s books after the financial crisis. He initially announced a salary freeze, and later a 1 per cent cap on pay rises.

This slipped out of the news when inflation was low but has returned as it has risen and another factor is that a minority government is much less likely to enforce such a policy than a majority one. The actual changes announced so far are below.

 

The government announced on Tuesday that prison officers will be given a 1.7 per cent pay increase, while the police will receive a one-off 1 per cent bonus on top of their 1 per cent rise. The settlement for the prison service is in line with an independent pay review body’s recommendations. The deal for the police is somewhat less generous than the 2 per cent recommended by another pay review body.

So far the changes seem to be fiddling at the edges but those who have read or watched the Dambusters story will know that a small crack can turn into a flood of water. It seems unlikely that teachers and nurses for example will not get such deals although I also note that the new regime remains below inflation.

As to the debate over wages in the public and private sectors the Institute for Fiscal Studies offered some perspective in May.

 

Public sector pay rose compared to private sector pay during and after the 2008 recession, as private sector earnings fell sharply in real terms. Public pay restraint since 2011 has led to the difference between public and private sector pay returning to its pre-crisis level.

Of course not everyone has suffered as salaries for Members of Parliament have risen from £65,768 in April 2010 when an “independent” body was appointed to £76,011thia April.

House Prices

One of the features of using a national average is that some do better and some do worse. On that vein there is this from the Yorkshire Building Society.

However, homes in 54% of local authority areas – including Edinburgh, Birmingham, Peterborough, Leeds and Harrogate – are more affordable now than they were before the financial crash due to wages increasing at a higher rate than property values over this period.

This leads to this conclusion.

At a national level, since September 2007 affordability has improved by 0.6% in Britain overall, by 18.9% in Scotland, 17.2% in Wales but has worsened by 3.3% in England.

My challenge to their calculations come from the fact that they use earnings which have of course risen as opposed to real earnings which have fallen in the credit crunch era. But it is a reminder that in some places house prices have fallen. For example if the “Burnley Lara” Jimmy Anderson was to buy a place back home with the earnings created by over 500 test wickets he would see an average house price of £77,629 as opposed to £94,174 back in 2007.

Oh and as you click on their site they announce their lowest mortgage rate of all time which is 0.89% variable for two years. I also note that it is only variable down to 0% as perhaps they too fear what the Bank of England might do in the future.

Also this morning’s data release reminds us that official UK earnings data ignores the increasing numbers of self-employed.

self-employed people increased by 88,000 to 4.85 million (15.1% of all people in work)

The UK employment miracle

It is easy to forget that the numbers below would have been seen by economists as some sort of economic miracle pre credit crunch.

For May to July 2017, 75.3% of people aged from 16 to 64 were in work, the highest employment rate since comparable records began in 1971…..For May to July 2017, there were 32.14 million people in work, 181,000 more than for February to April 2017 and 379,000 more than for a year earlier.

Some of this is likely due to changes in the state pension age for women but there is also a rise apart from that.  The overall picture is completed by the unemployment numbers.

The unemployment rate (the proportion of those in work plus those unemployed, that were unemployed) was 4.3%, down from 4.9% for a year earlier and the lowest since 1975…….There were 1.46 million unemployed people (people not in work but seeking and available to work), 75,000 fewer than for February to April 2017 and 175,000 fewer than for a year earlier.

The good news does leave us with several conundrums however. For example if the situation is so good ( employment rising when it is already high) why is economic activity growth weak? Or to put it another way why do we have low and sometimes no productivity growth? Last time around when we had a dichotomy between the quantity labour data and GDP it was the labour market which was the leading indicator but of course we do not know that looking ahead from now.

Average Earnings

These continued recent trends.

Between May to July 2016 and May to July 2017, in nominal terms, both regular pay and total pay increased by 2.1%, the same as the growth rates between April to June 2016 and April to June 2017.

There was a cautionary note in that if we look at the data for July alone there was a fall in bonus payments particularly to the finance sector so there is a possible slow down in pay on the way. However those numbers are erratic as we saw the same in April and then a bounce back.

Moving onto real wages we get something of a confirmation of my critique of the Yorkshire Building Society analysis above.

average total pay (including bonuses) for employees in Great Britain was £487 per week before tax and other deductions from pay, £35 lower than the pre-downturn peak of £522 per week recorded for February 2008 (2015 prices).

If we look at the annual rate of fall it is around 0.4% if you use the official inflation data which has switched to CPIH but around 1% higher if you use the Retail Prices Index.

Comment

This month has brought us a reminder that the credit crunch has affected people in many different ways. There was something of an economic aphorism that recessions were 80/20 in that for 80% not much changed but for 20% it did but these days more are affected. For example there are increasing numbers of self-employed about whose wages we know little. No doubt some are doing well but I fear for others. If we move to house prices some are seeing what are increasingly unaffordable values whilst others have seen price falls.

National statistics have been caused difficulties by this as for example depending on the survey used the base level is 10 employees or 20 depending on the survey. This was less of a problem when the economy moved in a more aggregate fashion but now assuming that is a mistake in my view. It also misses out ever more people.

I know the tweet below is from the United States but it covers a few of my themes including if you look closely an improvement apparently related to a methodology change.

Oh and the increases in 2015/16 came mostly as a result of the lower inflation central bankers tell us are bad for us.