UK Inflation is back on the rise

Today brings us the full panoply of official UK inflation data. But before we look domestically an international perspective has again emerged overnight. This has come from Governor Kuroda of the Bank of Japan.

JPY BoJ Kuroda: BOJ still wants to achieve 2% inflation target as soon as possible ( @DailyFXTeam )

*DJ BOJ GOV. KURODA: EXPECT PRICES TO GRADUALLY MOVE TOWARD 2% ( @DeltaOne)

In spite of an enormous monetary effort involving negative interest-rates and a bulging balance sheer Abenomics continues to fail to get consumer inflation to its target of 2% per annum. Whereas we in the UK pass it regularly and will today discover we are above 2% on the official measure and 3% on others. Abenomics has driven asset prices higher but not consumer inflation giving us a reminder that whilst there are similarities between Japan and ourselves there are also differences.

The Inflation Outlook

A factor providing some upwards pressure in 2018 has been the price of crude oil. The current price of US $79 for a barrel of Brent Crude replaces the US $56 of a year ago. The Russian energy minister has via Platts updated us on why this has happened.

“According to estimates by experts and companies, oil price will be at around $50/b in the long-term. That means that the current situation, when oil prices have risen to $70-80/b, is linked to the temporary situation on the market and includes a premium to the price linked to various risks associated with the introduction of sanctions and oil supply cuts,” Novak said, as reported by Russia’s Prime news agency.

The higher oil price has fed into the cost of petrol and diesel.

Fuel prices have risen for a 10th successive week. The average cost of a litre of unleaded stands at more than £1.30 at UK forecourts, with diesel exceeding £1.34, Government figures show. Fuel has not been more expensive than current levels since July 2014. Since April, the cost of filling up a typical 55-litre family car that runs on unleaded or diesel has risen by around £6. ( I News)

That trend continued in the latest data so it is now eleven weeks and the annual comparison is shown below.

The price of ULSP is 11.7p/litre higher and the price of ULSD is 14.0p/litre higher than the equivalent week in 2017.

It has also had an effect on domestic heating and lighting costs with this change included in this months numbers.

E.ON has announced that it is increasing its standard variable electricity and gas prices. On 16 August, the unit price of E.ON’s standard variable tariff will increase by an average of 4.8% or £55 for customers taking both fuels, 6.2% or £36 for electricity only customers and 3.3% or £19 for gas only customers

There are others already announced from EDF Energy which will be in the September numbers and British Gas which will be in October.

The UK Pound £

The recent performance has been quite good as shown below.

So far this month, GBP has been the best performing major vs. USD with +3.20% total-returns while JPY has been the worst with -1.66% ( @DailyFXTeam)

Sadly for the August numbers the turn came just about when the survey is made but it should help the September numbers. Looking backwards we were around 2.5% higher a year ago but the differences are now much smaller than the period after the EU Leave vote. I note that the recent Brexit report suggested that raised inflation by 1.7% which is slightly higher than my calculations (1.5%).

Another way of looking at the state of play here is to compare our inflation number with the Euro area one for August which was 2%.

Today’s data

We got confirmation that the rally in the Pound £ came too late for the August data from this.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 2.7% in August 2018, up from 2.5% in July 2018.

Some of that was confirmed by the detail as the number below was influenced by the price of package holidays.

Prices for recreation and culture rose by 3.6% between August 2017 and August 2018, the highest 12-month rate since January 2010.

Also there was this.

Transport continues to make the largest upward contribution to the rate, with prices rising by 6.0% in the year to August 2018, the highest 12-month rate since April 2017. The largest contribution within the transport group continues to come from motor fuels.

What is on the horizon?

There was some better news here which started with this.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 2.9% on the year to August 2018, down from 3.1% in July 2018.

So a weakening of pressure around the corner which was accompanied by a weakening further up the road.

The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels for manufacturing (input prices) slowed to 8.7% on the year to August 2018, down from 10.3% in July 2018.

So much of this is driven by a factor we looked at earlier which is the price of crude oil.

The annual rate was driven by crude oil prices, which fell to 39.4% in August 2018 from 49.6% in July 2018, but maintains 26 months of positive annual inflation.

What about house prices?

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 3.1% in the year to July 2018 (down slightly from 3.2% in June 2018). This is the lowest UK annual rate since August 2013 when it was 3.0%. The annual growth rate has slowed since mid-2016 and has remained under 5%, with the exception of October 2017, throughout 2017 and into 2018.

The second sentence will echo around the corridors of the Bank of England as that is when the Funding for Lending Scheme began to push house prices higher. First-time buyers will be pleased to note that prices may still be increasing but are not doing so at past rates.

How is this reflected in the headline inflation data?

We get plenty of rhetoric from the Office for National Statistics.

The CPIH is the most comprehensive measure of inflation. It extends the CPI to include a measure of the costs associated with owning, maintaining and living in one’s own home, known as owner occupiers’ housing costs (OOH), along with Council Tax.

Sounds good doesn’t it? But really it is a heffalump trap which is a national embarrassment. The catch is that the measure used does not exist and is never paid. What happens is that it is assumed that if you own your own home you pay rent to yourself and it is that “rent” which is used. Why? Well if you take a look at the number you will get a powerful clue.

Private rental prices paid by tenants in Great Britain rose by 0.9% in the 12 months to August 2018, unchanged from the 12 months to July 2018.

As the owner occupied housing sector is around 17% of the CPIH measure you can see why it has consistently been below the other inflation measures. Even worse there are more than a few statisticians who think that via a poor balance between new and old rents the official rents data is too low anyway. That is to some extent backed up by the way the official rents series has weakened when we are told wage growth is rising.

So a series which is under serious question ( rents) is then used to measure inflation for those who by definition do not pay rent.

Comment

The establishment view was that inflation was in modern language, like so over. For example the NIESR published some new analysis last month suggesting it was heading straight back to its target. Yet today reminds us that unlike Japan we are an inflation nation as we are prone to it. To my mind that is one of the reasons why there has been such a campaign against the RPI because it produces numbers like this.

The all items RPI annual rate is 3.5%, up from 3.2% last month

Rather than engaging with people like me who support the RPI we have got rhetoric and propaganda. Just because I support it does not mean I think it is perfect but it is better than the woeful CPIH which the UK establishment has lined up behind.

Another example of establishment’s being economical with the truth has been provided today by Andy Haldane of the Bank of England in Estonia.

The first is so-called “forward guidance” about monetary policy………. By contrast, if you are a company or household considering whether to spend, a general idea
of the direction and destination of interest rates is likely to be sufficient.

The problem though is what he omits from the bit below.

The MPC first used the words “limited and gradual” in 2014 when describing the likely future course of
interest rates rises……….When the MPC did come to raise interest rates, in November 2017 and again in August 2018, it is interesting to see how well these were understood by companies and households.

This view presents matters as being well handled via the omission of the interest-rate cut and QE of August 2016 which punished those who acted on the original forward guidance. But apparently it is all part of this.

Central banks were put on earth to serve the public

 

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Will UK house prices fall by 35% and is that a good thing?

Yesterday the Governor of the Bank of England attended the UK Cabinet meeting to update them on what the Bank thinks about the potential post Brexit economic situation. Typically the main area focused on has been house prices which of course is revealing in itself. Let us take a look at how this has been reflected in the Bank’s house journal otherwise known as the Financial Times.

Mark Carney, Bank of England governor, has delivered a “chilling” warning to Theresa May’s cabinet that a no-deal Brexit could lead to economic chaos, including a property crash that could see house prices fall by a third.

I pointed out on social media that whilst the journalists at the FT might find such a fall in house prices “chilling” first-time buyers would welcome it. Maybe they might start to find a few places to be affordable. So they might well welcome the fact that the FT then remembered that 35% is more than a third!

Among Mr Carney’s most stunning warnings was that house prices would be 35 per cent lower than would otherwise be the case three years after a disruptive no-deal Brexit — which would assume a breakdown in trading relations with the EU.

If you are wondering what would cause this then it was Governor Carney’s version of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

The property crash would be driven by rising unemployment, depressed economic growth, higher inflation and higher interest rates, Mr Carney warned.

This is where the water gets very choppy for Governor Carney. This is because he has played that card before, and two of his horsemen went missing. Let me explain by jumping back to May 2016. From the Guardian.

The Bank warned a vote to leave the EU could:

  • Push the pound lower, “perhaps sharply”.
  • Prompt households and businesses to delay spending.
  • Increase unemployment.
  • Hit economic growth.
  • Stoke inflation.

Missing from that list is the higher mortgage rates that he had suggested earlier in 2016. Three of the points came true to some extent as the Pound £ fell and due to it inflation by my calculations rose by 1.25% to 1.5%. This reduced real wages and hit UK economic growth. But unemployment continued to fall and employment rise. Also the delays in spending did not turn up. Or to be more specific whilst there may have been some investment delays, the UK consumer definitely did go on quite a splurge as retail sales boomed.

Where the Governor also hit trouble was on the recession issue. This was partly due to his habit of playing politics where he associated himself with forecasts suggesting there would be one. The actual Bank of England view was careful to use the word “could” but the HM Treasury one was not.

a vote to leave would represent an immediate and profound shock to our economy. That shock would push our economy into a recession and lead to an increase in unemployment of around 500,000, GDP would be 3.6% smaller, average real wages would be lower, inflation higher, sterling weaker, house prices would be hit and public borrowing would rise
compared with a vote to remain.

Partly due to his own obvious personal views Governor Carney got sucked into this. It did not help that the HM Treasury report was signed off by the former Deputy Governor Sir Charlie Bean which gave it a sort of Bank of England gloss and sheen. The May 2016 Inflation Report press conference had question after question on the recession issue which illustrates the perception at the time. Then this was added to in July and August 2016 when the Bank of England and in particular its Chief Economist Andy Haldane again raised the recession issue by telling us the Bank needed a “Sledgehammer” response and then delivering it. Or half delivering it because by the time we got to the second part being due ( November 2016) it was clear that the chief economist had got it wrong. But that phase seemed to be driven by a Bank of England in panic mode looking at a later section of the HM Treasury report.

In this severe scenario, GDP would be 6% smaller, there would be a deeper recession, and the number of people
made unemployed would rise by around 800,000 compared with a vote to remain. The hit to wages, inflation, house prices and borrowing would be larger. There is a credible risk that this more acute scenario could materialise.

Did the Bank of England Sledgehammer stop a recession?

Over the past 2 years this has come up a lot with journalists and ex Bank of England staff suggesting that it did. If so it would have been the fastest real economy response to monetary action in history. That would be odd at a time the ECB was telling us it thought the reaction function had slowed, But anyway rather than me making the case let me hand you over to Mark Carney himself and ony the emphasis is mine.

Monetary policy operates with a lag – long and
variable lag, as you know – and if there is a sharp adjustment in demand, in activity, from whatever event, it will take some time for stimulus, if it’s provided – if it’s appropriate to be provided – for it to course through the economy and offset, to cushion that fall in demand. ( May 2016 Inflation Report press conference)

Although he did later claim to have “saved” 250,000 jobs showing yet again the appropriateness of the word unreliable in his case.

Interest-Rates

This is another awkward area for the Governor as he is back to predicting higher interest-rates. The last time he did that he cut them! Still maybe he has learnt something as his critique of a future cut is a description of what happened after the August 2016  one.

“If you cut rates you would end up with higher inflation.”

Public Finances

Moving away from the Governor to the Chancellor he appears to be unaware that the deficit figures have improved considerably.

Mr Hammond said the Treasury would be constrained in its ability to tackle the crisis by boosting spending, noting the country was still recovering from the aftermath of the 2008 crash and questioning the effectiveness of a fiscal stimulus in one country.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here. Let us start with house prices which have proved to be rather resilient in 2017/18, and I mean the dictionary definition of resilient not the way central bankers apply it to banks and growth. I thought we would see the beginnings of some falls but whilst there have been some in London the national picture has instead been one of slowing growth. The ideal scenario in my opinion would be for some gentle falls to deflate the bubble.Some argue that it could be done by them being flat for a while but with wage growth seemingly stuck in the 2% to 3% range that would take too long in my opinion.

But house prices are too high and the Bank of England and the government have conspired and operated to put them there. The use of the word “help” in some of the policies has been especially Orwellian as the result of it is invariably to push house prices even higher and thus even more out of reach. So to them a 35% fall seems dreadful and I can imagine the gloom around the cabinet table as it was announced. The Governor would have been gloomy too as the fall would be slightly larger than the rises his policies have helped to engineer as we mull whether that is why 35% in particular was chosen?

So overall a 35% fall in house prices would bring benefits but it would not be a perfect policy. I have had various replies on social media from people who have recently bought and I have friends in that position. I wish them no ill which is why my preference is for the scenario I have outlined. But the housing market cannot be a one way bet forever .

Also let us take some perspective. You see there is little new in the forecast we have discussed today as it has been the Bank of England no-deal Brexit forecast for some time now. So let me finish on a more optimistic note tucked away in the FT article.

However, he boosted Mrs May’s position when he said that if she struck a Brexit deal based on her much-criticised Chequers exit plan presented to Brussels in July, the economy would outperform current forecasts because it would be better than the bank’s assumed outcome.

A reward for his extra seven months? At that point the Prime Minister might have mused how much nicer he might have been if she had given him an extra year.

 

Both money supply growth and house prices look weak in Australia

The morning brought us news from what has been called a land down under. It has also been described as the South China Territories due to the symbiotic relationship between its commodity resources and its largest customer. So let us go straight to the Reserve Bank of Australia or RBA.

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

At a time of low and negative interest-rates that feels high for what is considered a first world country but in fact the RBA is at a record low. The only difference between it and the general pattern was that due to the commodity price boom that followed the initial impact of the credit crunch it raised interest-rates to 4.75%, but then rejoined the trend. That brought us to August 2016 since when it has indulged in what Sir Humphrey Appleby would call masterly inaction.

Mortgage Rates

However central bankers are not always masters of all they survey as there are market factors at play. Here is Your Mortage Dot Com of Australia from yesterday.

The race to raise interest rates is on as two more major lenders announced interest rate hikes of up to 40 basis points across mortgage products.

According to an Australian Financial Review report, Suncorp and Adelaide Bank have raised variable rates of investor and owner-occupied mortgage products to compensate for increasing capital costs.

Adelaide Bank is hiking rates for eight of its products covering principal and interest and interest-only owner-occupied and investor loans.

Starting 07 September, the rate for principal and interest mortgage products will increase by 12 basis points. On the other hand, interest-only mortgage products will bear 35-40 basis points higher interest rates.

 

This follows Westpac who announced this last week.

The bank announced that its variable standard home-loan rate for owner occupiers will increase 14 basis points to 5.38% after “a sustained increase in wholesale funding costs.”

A rate of 5.38% may make Aussie borrowers feel a bit cheated by the phrase zero interest-rate policy or ZIRP. However a fair bit of that is the familiar tendency for standard variable rate mortgages to be expensive or if you prefer a rip-off to catch those unable to remortgage. Your Mortgage suggests that the best mortgage rates are in fact 3.6% to 3.7%.

Returning to the mortgage rate increases I note that they are driven by bank funding costs.

This means the gap between the cash rate and the BBSW (bank bill swap rate) is likely to remain elevated.

That raises a wry smile as when this happened in my home country the Bank of England responded with the Funding for Lending Scheme to bring them down. So should this situation persist we will see if the RBA is a diligent student. Also I note that one of the banks is raising mortgage rates by more for those with interest-only mortgages.

Interest Only Mortgages

Back in February Michele Bullock of the RBA told us this.

Furthermore, the increasing popularity of interest-only loans over recent years meant that by early 2017, 40 per cent of the debt did not require principal repayments . A particularly large share of property investors has chosen interest-only loans because of the tax incentives, although some owner-occupiers have also not been paying down principal.

So Australia ignored the view that non-repayment mortgages were to be consigned to the past and in fact headed in the other direction until recently. Should this lead to trouble then there will be clear economic impacts as we note this.

As investors purchase more new dwellings than owner-occupiers, they might also exacerbate the housing construction cycle, making it prone to periods of oversupply and having a knock on effect to developers.

In central banking terms that “oversupply” of course is code for house price falls which is like kryptonite to them. Indeed the quote below is classic central banker speak.

 For example, since it is not their home, investors might be more inclined to sell investment properties in an environment of falling house prices in order to minimise capital losses. This might exacerbate the fall in prices, impacting the housing wealth of all home owners.

What does the RBA think about the housing market?

Let us break down the references in this morning’s statement.

Conditions in the Sydney and Melbourne housing markets have continued to ease and nationwide measures of rent inflation remain low. Housing credit growth has declined to an annual rate of 5½ per cent. This is largely due to reduced demand by investors as the dynamics of the housing market have changed. Lending standards are also tighter than they were a few years ago, partly reflecting APRA’s earlier supervisory measures to help contain the build-up of risk in household balance sheets. There is competition for borrowers of high credit quality.

Sadly we only have official data for the first quarter of the year but it makes me wonder why Sydney and Melbourne were picked out.

The capital city residential property price indexes fell in Sydney (-1.2%), Melbourne (-0.6%), Perth (-0.9%), Brisbane (-0.6%) and Darwin (-1.1%) and rose in Hobart (+4.3%), Adelaide (+0.5%) and Canberra (+0.9%).

You could pick out Sydney on its own as it saw an annual fall, albeit one of only 0.5%. Perhaps the wealth effects are already on the RBA’s mind.

The total value of residential dwellings in Australia was $6,913,636.6m at the end of the March quarter 2018, falling $22,498.3m over the quarter. ( usual disclaimer about using marginal prices for a total value)

As to housing credit growth if 5 1/2% is low then there has plainly been a bit of a party. One way of measuring this was looked at by Business Insider back in January.

The ABS and RBA now estimate total Household Debt to Disposable Income at 199.7%, up 3% on previous estimates,

The confirmation that there has been something of a party in mortgage lending, with all the familiar consequences, comes from the section explaining the punch bowl has been taken away! Lastly telling us there is competition for higher credit quality mortgages tells us that there is not anymore for lower quality credit.

Comment

If we look for unofficial data, yesterday brought us some house price news from Business Insider.

Australian home prices fell for an eleventh consecutive month in August, led by declines in a majority of capital cities.

According to CoreLogic’s Hedonic Home Value Index, Australia’s median home price fell 0.3%, adding to a 0.6% drop recorded previously in July.

That took the decline over the past three months to 1.1%, leaving the decline over the past year at 2%.

That is not actually a lot especially if we factor in the price rises which shows how sensitive this subject is especially to central bankers. If we look at the median values we perhaps see why the RBA singled out Sydney ( $855,000) and Melbourne ($703,000) or maybe they were influenced by dinner parties with their contacts.

This trend towards weaker premium housing market conditions is largely attributable to larger falls across Sydney and Melbourne’s most expensive quarter of properties where values are down 8.1% and 5.2% over the past twelve months.

Another issue to throw into the equation is the money supply because for four years broad money growth averaged over 6% and was fairly regularly over 7%. That ended last December when it fell to 4.6% and for the last two months it has been 1.9%. So there has been a clear credit crunch down under which of course is related to the housing market changes. This is further reinforced by the narrower measure M1 which has stagnated so far in 2018.

Much more of that and the RBA could either cut interest-rates further or introduce some credit easing of the Funding for Lending Scheme style. Would that mean one more rally for the housing market against the consensus? Well it did in the UK as we move into watch this space territory.

Also this slow down in broad money growth we have been observing is getting ever more wide-spread,

 

 

London house price crashes are not what they used to be

This morning has brought unsettling news for Bank of England Governor Mark Carney on the subject of UK house prices from the Nationwide Building Society.

Prices decline 0.5% month-on-month,
biggest monthly fall since July 2012

That date will resonate because it was back on the 13th of July 2012 that the Bank of England started the Funding for Lending Scheme which was described back in the day as follows.

The FLS is a direct policy response to that threat to the UK economy posed by elevated bank funding costs. Funding costs are a key determinant of the interest rate banks charge on loans. By reducing them, the FLS should lead to more and cheaper credit flowing into the economy than otherwise. ( 2012 Quarterly Bulletin).

We know now how this claim about the FLS worked out!

In the longer term, if tight credit conditions have been holding back productivity growth, then the FLS could increase the supply potential of the economy.

Only yesterday we looked at one of the areas where the FLS was supposed to impact which was on lending to smaller businesses.

The twelve-month growth rate of lending to SMEs was -0.2% in July; this growth rate has been at or below zero for the past four months

It is easy to forget now that the original version did not allow for the fact that lending to smaller businesses requires more bank capital than many other forms of lending. A pretty basic error although frankly even when the rules were modified to try to allow for this the picture was as above. Occasionally we have seen a little flicker of growth but the overall picture has been has seen as many if not more declines. The official view clings to what they call the “counterfactual” which is that otherwise things would have been even worse.

Moving to mortgage lending the word counterfactual was not required as the estimated boost given to bank funding went straight to the mortgage lending bottom line.

Based on these estimates, at the time the FLS was
announced on 14 June 2012 it would have been around
200 basis points cheaper than using other sources of secured wholesale funding, such as RMBS or covered bonds.

The Bank of England did not know the full picture back then but I noted for myself that mortgage rates fell fairly quickly by around 1% and later the Bank itself estimated that the total impact was of the order of 2%. So rather neatly 2% of cheaper funding led to 2% lower mortgage interest-rates or a 100% follow through.Revealingly I do not recall any such numbers for the cost of small business lending.

Mortgage Lending

Back in 2012 the Bank of England was very worried about this as if we look at net lending it had gone from the £9.7 billion of September 2007 to usually less than a billion with some months recording declines.Indeed if we switch to gross lending it had fallen to £10.6 billion in December 2010 so not a lot more than what net lending had been. Gross lending was down from over £30 billion a month at the peak.

If we jump forwards we see that net mortgage lending was rescued as yesterday we noted this.

Households borrowed an extra £3.2 billion secured against their homes in July. Net lending has been relatively stable over the past year or so,

Gross lending picked up too and is now usually circa £22 billion per month.

House Prices

They responded as follows according to the Nationwide. The average house price was £164,389 when FLS started and is now £214,745. We will never know what they would have done otherwise but we do know that for the previous two years they had been drifting gently lower and that the annual rate of fall reached its peak or nadir at 2.6% in July 2012.

What about now?

Let us return to the Nationwide report.

“August saw a slight softening in annual house price growth to 2.0%, from 2.5% in July. Nonetheless, annual house price growth remains within the fairly narrow range of c2-3% which has prevailed over the past 12 months, suggesting little change in the balance between demand and supply in the market.”

Actually this is still higher than that reported by Acadata earlier this month.

On a monthly basis, prices fell again in July, for the fifth month in succession: down 0.2%, leaving the average house price at £302,251. The figure is still up on an annual basis, however, with prices increasing 1.6% and all regions in England and Wales recording modest, but positive growth.

They claim to be comprehensive and if we take the broad sweep we see that house price growth is now below both inflation and wage growth. You may also note the difference between average house prices as reported by the two bodies.Some of the gap will be caused by the fact that the Nationwide is biased via its customer base but it is also true that even so the gap is problematic or if you prefer something of a chasm.

A London House Price Crash?

The Guardian produced this yesterday.

One-in-three chance of London house price crash, says expert poll.International buyers put off by Brexit uncertainty could drive prices down 1.6% next year.

It seems that crashes aren’t what they used to be! Well apart from England’s top order at cricket. But there were some other gems.

“Central London is tanking because the traditional international buyers are staying away – and the quantum of buyers is falling. A disorderly Brexit will exacerbate this trend,” said Tony Williams at property consultancy Building Value.

A 1.6% fall is “tanking” now? At the level of prices recorded it would be a very minor blip compared to the rise.

The average asking price for a home in London was £609,205 in August according to the property website Rightmove, more than double the national average of £301,973.

Also the answer to the question below had to be 10 I think for London and some might wish to go full Spinal Tap and say 11.

When asked to rate the level of London house prices on a scale of one to 10, where one is extremely cheap and 10 is extremely expensive, the median response in the Reuters poll was nine. On a national level, prices were rated seven.

Anyway even such a minor fall seemed to seriously upset Phillip Inman.

The warning that property values in London will fall this year and next will bring a smile to many who believe house prices have run out of control in the last 30 years

Believe? Anyway he does list the potential gains.

A crash would make homes more affordable to those on lower incomes and the young. Profit-hungry housebuilders would see their revenues collapse and the much-reviled estate agency industry would shrink.

But suddenly and I am skipping the political content the above is presented as being bad.

They care little about the after-effects of a house price crash

If a 1.6% fall is going to be so bad I fear for his disposition going forwards. Perhaps his colleagues might check in on him from time to time.

 

Comment

The issues in this area are both complex and simple. If we start with the simple then back in 2012 it appeared to the UK establishment that in spite of the slashing of Bank Rate to 0.5% and the advent of QE the economy was flatlining. Actually the worst fears were wrong but that atmosphere of fear led to a response involving credit easing as described above from the Bank of England ( as well as an easing of government austerity). For the Bank the operations had two benefits one is that there would have been fears over the “precious” which would be alleviated and the economy would be boosted especially if house price gains can be claimed as a boost to wealth rather than inflation.

Now the flow of such policies is over as the next effort the Term Funding Scheme ended in February. That is why I expected house price growth to fade away and perhaps fall this year. The national picture is more complicated as London got a further boost from foreign safe haven buying but if we take a broad sweep prices should have fallen and they were not allowed to.

If we move to the complicated no policy helps everyone sadly and even something which is a gain hurts some. For example let me give you both sides of the London coin. I have a neighbour who rents because in spite of the fact that he and his wife both work their affordability has never caught up with the house price rises so they might finally be able to buy. On the other side of the coin I have friends who have just bought and would face losses but whilst I wish them all the best the truth is that this song has been playing for much too long now.

The only way is up, baby
For you and me, baby
The only way is up
For you and me

 

 

Welcome to the Netherlands house price boom 2018 version

As many of the worlds central bankers enjoy the delights of the Jackson Hole conference it is time for us to look what might be regarded as a measuring stick of their interventions. To do so we travel across the channel and take a look at the housing market in the Netherlands which was described like this on Tuesday.

In July 2018, prices of owner-occupied houses (excluding new constructions) were on average 9.0 percent higher than in the same month last year. The price increase was slightly higher than in the preceding months. House prices were at an all-time high in July 2018, according to the price index of owner-occupied houses, a joint publication by Statistics Netherlands (CBS) and the Land Registry Office (Kadaster).

So we see an acceleration as well as an all-time high in price terms and it is hard not to have a wry smile at this being the nation must famous for Tulips. Anyway for those who have not followed this particular saga it has been far from a story of up,up and away.

House prices reached a record high in August 2008 and subsequently started to decline, reaching a low in June 2013. The trend has been upward since then.

The timing of the change is a familiar one as that coincides pretty much with the turn in the UK. Although the exact policy moves were different his provokes the thought that central bankers were thinking along not only the same lines but at the same time. Of course there were differences as for example the Bank of England introducing the house price friendly Funding for Lending Scheme and Mario Draghi announcing “Whatever it takes ( to save the Euro) in the summer of 2012, followed by a cut in the deposit rate to 0% at the July meeting. As to synchronicity it was raised at the ECB press conference.

And my second question is: China also cut rates today and we had further stimulus from the Bank of England. We were just kind of wondering about, you know, how much coordination was involved. Was there any sort of contact between you and the People’s Bank of China and the Bank of England?

Actually the ECB move was more similar to the Bank of England’s actions than in may have first appeared as it too was subsiding the “precious”

 One is the immediate effect on the pricing of the €1 trillion already allotted in LTROs.

That sort of thing tends to lead to lower mortgage interest-rates so let us move onto the research arm of the Dutch central bank the DNB.

Average mortgage interest rates charged by Dutch banks have been declining for some time. Between January 2012 and May 2018, average rates fell by around two percentage points.

Actually the fall was pretty much complete by the autumn of 2016 and since then Dutch mortgage rates have been ~2.4%. That pattern was repeated in general across the Euro area so we see like in the UK mortgage rates were affected much more by what we would call credit easing ( LTROs etc in the Euro area) than by QE which inverts the emphasis placed on the two by the media. Also slightly surprisingly Dutch mortgage rates are higher than the Euro area average which according to the DNB are topped and tailed like this.

Rates vary widely across the euro area, however, with the lowest average rates currently being charged in Finland (0.87%) and the highest in Ireland (3.11%).

In case you are wondering why we also get an explanation which will set off at least some chuntering amongst Irish readers.

Households in Finland tend to opt for mortgages with a short fixed interest period, in which the rates are linked to Euribor. Irish banks charge relatively high margins when setting mortgage interest rates.

 

Saving the Dutch banks?

You may wonder at the mimicking of Mario Draghi’s words but if we step back in time there were plenty of concerns as house prices fell from 120.9 for the official index in August 2008 to 95 in June 2013. Consider the impact on the asset base of the Dutch banking sector is we add in this from the DNB.

Almost 55% of the aggregate Dutch mortgage debt consists of interest-only and investment-based mortgage loans, which do not involve any contractual repayments during the loan term. They must still be repaid when they expire, however.  ( October 2017).

Actually it was worse back then.

. Since 2013, the aggregate interest-only debt has decreased by over EUR 30 billion, and it currently stands at some
EUR 340 billion………. Between 1995 and 2012, virtually none of the mortgage loans taken out involved any contractual repayments during the loan term.

Also back then it was permitted to have loans of more than 100% of the value of the property so the banks faced lower house prices with an interest-only mortgage book some of which had loans larger than the purchase price. What could go wrong?

Several years ago, the economic
slowdown and the housing market correction were mutually reinforcing.

As to the level of debt well that is high for the Dutch private sector according to the DNB.

 In the third quarter of 2017, household and corporate debt came to 106% and 120% of GDP respectively, which is high from an international perspective.

Comment

The “Whatever it takes” saga is usually represented as a move to bail and indeed bale out places like Greece,Ireland, Portugal and Spain and that was true. But it is not the full story because some northern European countries had previously behaved in what they would call a southern European manner and the Netherlands was on that list. We have seen already how the central bank described the housing markets troubles as being in a downwards spiral with the overall economy so let us see if that is true on the other side of the coin. Now house prices are booming what is going on in the economy?

According to the first estimate conducted by Statistics Netherlands (CBS) based on currently available data, gross domestic product (GDP) expanded by 0.7 percent in Q2 2018 relative to the previous quarter…….According to the first estimate, GDP was 2.9 percent up on the same quarter in 2017.  ( Statistics Netherlands )

How very British one might say. If you were thinking of areas in the economy affected by the housing market well……

Output by construction companies showed the strongest growth in Q2 2018………Investments in residential property, commercial buildings, infrastructure and machinery increased in particular.

Also higher house prices and possible wealth effects?

In Q2, consumers spent well over 2 percent more than in Q2 one year previously. For 17 quarters in a row, consumer spending has shown a year-on-year increase.

So the housing market turned and then consumption rose. Of course correlation does not prove causation and other factors will be at play but should Mario Draghi read such numbers his refreshing glass of Chianti will taste even better.

Is this an economic miracle? The other side of the coin is represented by Dutch first time buyers who will be increasingly squeezed out especially in the major cities. There we see something familiar as international investors snap up property ahead of indigenous buyers just like London and so many other cities have seen. The official story is familiar too as they are told because of lower mortgage rates affordability is fine but of course the capital burden relative to income rises and that matters more in a country where interest-rate only mortgages are still 40% of new borrowing. At least most borrowing seems to be fixed-rate now but more fundamentally as we look at this we see a familiar refrain which is can any meaningful rise in interest-rates be afforded now? On that road we see why Mario Draghi has kicked any such discussion into the lap of his successor.

 

 

 

The UK inflation picture is shifting again

After disappointing news on wage growth yesterday for the Bank of England the day ended with some good news for it on this front. From the Financial Times.

The chief executives of the UK’s biggest listed companies received an 11 per cent raise last year pushing their median pay up to £3.93m, according to a report which found that full-time workers received a 2 per cent rise over the same period. The figures for FTSE 100 bosses include base salary, bonuses and other incentives and have been revealed at a time of growing shareholder activism over big payouts. Shareholders at companies including BT, Royal Mail and WPP have rebelled against chief executive pay at stormy annual investor meetings this year.

So some at least are getting above inflation pay rises Actually you can make the number look even larger if you switch to an average rather than the median as this from the original CIPD report shows.

 If we divide this amount equally among all the CEOs covered by our report, they would each receive a mean annual package worth £5.7 million, 23% higher than the 2016 mean figure of £4.6 million.

Why is this so? Well a lot of it is due to a couple of outliers as this from the FT shows.

The highest-paid chief executive in 2017 was Jeff Fairburn at housebuilder Persimmon who received £47.1m, or 22 times his 2016 pay. Ranking second, Simon Peckham of turnround specialist Melrose Industries banked £42.8m, equal to 43 times his 2016 pay, according to the analysis.

The case of Mr.Fairburn at Persimmon is an especially awkward one for the establishment as he has personally benefited on an enormous scale from the house price friendly policies of the Bank of England and the UK government. As so often we face the irony of the government supposedly being on the case of executive pay which it has helped to drive higher.  Indeed I note this seems to be a wider trend as Persimmon is not alone amongst house builders according to the CIPD report.

Berkeley Group Holding plc’s Rob Perrins, whose total pay package rose from £10.9 million in 2016 to £27.9 million.

Inflation

If we step back for a moment and look at the trends we see that they have shifted in favour of higher inflation. A factor in this has been the US Dollar strength we have seen since the spring which was not helped by the unreliable boyfriend behaviour of Bank of England Governor Mark Carney back in April. So now we face as I type this an exchange rate a bit over US $1.27 meaning we will have to pay more for many commodities and oil.

Moving onto the oil price itself care is needed as whilst we have dropped back from the near US $80 for a barrel of Brent Crude seen at the end of May to US $72 we are up around 42% on a year ago. This time around the OPEC manoeuvering has worked for them but of course not us.

There are various ways these feed into our system and perhaps the clearest is the price of fuel at the pump where a 5 pence rise raises inflation by ~0.1%. We are also experiencing another impact as we see domestic energy costs rise as NPower raised on the 17th of June, SSE on the 11th of July, E.ON will raise them tomorrow and EDF Energy will raise them at the end of the month. These are of course not only the result of higher worldwide energy prices but also a form of administered inflation via changes in energy policy for which we foot the bill. People will have different views on types of green energy which are expensive but much fewer will support the expensive white elephant which is the smart meter roll out and further ahead is the Hinkley Point nuclear plant.

Today’s data

There was a small pick-up.

The all items CPI annual rate is 2.5%, up from 2.4% in June

Some of it was from the source described above.

Transport, with passenger transport fares seeing larger price rises between June and July 2018
compared with the same period a year ago. Motor fuels also made an upward contribution,

Another was from the area of computer games where we seem to have found another area that the statisticians are struggling with.

these are heavily dependent on the composition of bestseller charts, often resulting
in large overall price changes from month to month;

Let us hope that this clams down as we have plenty to deal with as it is! As to downwards influences we should say thank you ladies as we mull whether this is being driven by the problems in the bricks and mortar part of the retail sector.

Clothing and footwear, with prices falling by 3.7% between June and July 2018, compared with a smaller fall of 2.9% between the same two months a year ago. The effect came mainly from women’s clothing and footwear.

If we look further down the inflation food chain we see a hint of what seems set to come from the lower Pound £.

Prices for materials and fuels (input prices) rose 10.9% on the year to July 2018, up from 10.3% in June 2018.

In essence it was driven by this.

 The annual rate was driven by crude oil prices, which increased to 51.9% on the year in July 2018, up from 50.2% in June 2018.

However in a quirk of the data this did not feed into output producer price inflation which dipped from 3.3% to 3.1%. Whilst welcome I suspect that this is a quirk and it will be under upwards pressure in the months ahead if we see the Pound £ remain where it is and oil ditto.

House Prices

Here we saw what might be summarised as a continuation of the trend we have seen.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 3.0% in the year to June 2018 (down from 3.5% in May 2018). This is its lowest annual rate since August 2013 when it was also 3.0%. The annual growth rate has slowed since mid-2016.

However there is a catch because even at this new lower level it is still considerably above what we are officially told is inflation in this area.

Private rental prices paid by tenants in Great Britain rose by 0.9% in the 12 months to July 2018, down from 1.0% in the 12 months to June 2018.

This is what feeds into what is the inflation measure that the Office for National Statistics has been pushing hard for the last 18 months or so. But there also is the nub of its problem. Actually they have problems measuring rents in the first place which affects the process of measuring inflation for those who do rent but then fantasising that someone who owns a property rents it to themselves has led to quite a mess.

Comment

As we look forwards we see the prospect of inflation nudging higher again. However there are two grounds for optimism. One is short-term in that the next two monthly increases for comparison are rises of 0.6 and then 0.3 in the underlying index for CPI .The other is that I do not think that the all the prices which rose back in late 2016 early 2017 went back down again so we may see a lesser impact this time around.

Meanwhile the issue around the RPI has arisen again. Some of it has been driven by Chris Grayling suggesting the use of CPI for rail fares. Ed Conway of Sky News has been joining in the campaign against the RPI this morning on Twitter.

Don’t let anyone tell you RPI is better/different because it includes housing. First, these days CPI does include a housing element.

To the first bit I will and to the second I am waiting for a reply to my point that CPI excludes owner-occupied housing. As it happens RPI moved downwards this month which will be welcomed by rail travellers as it is the number used to set many of the annual increases.

The all items RPI annual rate is 3.2%, down from 3.4% last month.

 

 

The Bank of England is now re-writing history about UK house prices

Yesterday saw the latest in a series of interviews on the Iain Dale show on LBC Radio by Ian McCafferty of the Bank of England. Actually it was the last by Ian as he is about to depart the Bank of England. Before I start I should point out that we were colleagues back in my time at Baring Securities which feels like a lifetime ago mostly because it is! His main claim to fame was declaring that the German Bundesbank would not do something at a meeting and then the door was opened by someone keen to tell the room some news which I am sure you have already guessed.

Moving forwards in time to yesterday Ian had more than a little trouble with the concept of full employment as he assured listeners that the UK was at full employment at the moment. This was really rather breathtaking as it showed a lack of understanding on two major levels. Firstly if we just stay with the unemployment rate those who read my update yesterday will be aware that Japan has seen an unemployment rate some 2% lower or nearly half ours. An odd thing to miss as our shared history involved specialising in Japanese economics and finance. Also it was a statement that on the face of it made no nod at all to the concept of underemployment where people have some work but not as much as they would like. So in his world both Japan and underemployment seemed not to exist.

Presumably Mr.McCafferty was trying to bolster the case for last week’s interest-rate rise in the UK which of course needs all the bolstering it can get but he ended up being challenged by the host Iain Dale. The response was a shift to claiming we are around the natural or equilibrium rate of unemployment but of course this led to another problem. On this road he ended up pointing out that the Bank of England has had more than a few of these but he did at least avoid a full confession that they started the game by signalling that a 7% unemployment rate was significant but now tell us that the equilibrium rate is 4.25%. Thus the reality is that they have chased the actual unemployment rate like a dog chases it tail although to be fair to dogs they usually tire of the game once the fun stops. Whereas should we live up to the song “Turning Japanese” the Bank of England will have chased the “equilibrium rate of unemployment” from if we are generous 6.5% to 2.5%.

House Prices

As you can imagine this subject came up and it was interesting to hear an explanation of UK house price rises omitting the role of the Bank of England. You might have thought that having gone to the effort of producing the bank subsidy called the Funding for Lending Scheme in the summer of 2012 and then produced research saying it had reduced mortgage rates by up to 2% that you might think it was a factor. This would be reinforced by the fact that it was in 2013 that house prices in the UK began to turn and head higher. There is also the Term Funding Scheme which began in August 2016 which amounted to some £127 billion of cheap liquidity ( 0.25% back then) for the banks which even the casual observer might think was associated with the record low mortgage interest-rates which were then seen.

This seems to be a new phase where the Bank of England sings along with Shaggy “It wasn’t me.” The absent-minded professor Ben Broadbent was on the case on the 23rd of July.

But it should be borne in mind when reading – as one often does – that QE has done little except boosted
prices of assets like shares and houses, or even led to a “boom” or “bubble” in those markets.

The research quoted was from colleagues of his who have voted for this QE and I am sure many of you would love to be judge and jury on your own actions! Later he tells us this about UK house prices.

But the latest figure is barely any higher than it was in the middle of the last decade.

So it is the same as the level that contributed to the crash? Not quite so good and whilst it may not be that much of an issue when your salary plus pension benefits total £356,000 many will note that real wages are 6% below their peak according to the official data.So house prices compared to wages are rather different.

Also there is this issue.

Broadly speaking I don’t think any of these things is true. It’s not new; it’s not exactly printing money; equity
and house prices are in real terms still comfortably below their pre-crisis levels; inequality hasn’t risen – nor,
according to the most detailed analysis available, did easier monetary policy have any net impact on it.

I guess he has never seen that bit in the film The Matrix where the Frenchman describes the role of cause and effect. Also on the subject of inequality I note that FT Alphaville has pointed out this.

In London and the South-East of England, this shift has been profound – real prices are nearly 30 per cent higher in London, and 10 per cent higher in the South-East and East.

Some house owners are indeed more equal than others it would appear. But this brings us back to Ian McCafferty who assured us on LBC that the ratio of house prices in London to the rest of the country “is now re-establishing itself at close to its more normal long-term level” . Is 30% higher the new “close to”?

Inevitably the issue of Brexit came up and sadly our intrepid policymaker seemed to struggle with both numbers and words in this regard. Here is the Reuters view on this.

“We are getting stories on (how) the numbers of French and German and other European bankers that are coming to London have fallen quite sharply over the last couple of years,” McCafferty said in a question-and-answer session on LBC radio.

You might think that he would know the numbers via contacting the banks rather than listening to “stories”. Also he had opened by saying there had been an “exodus” of such bankers which of course evokes the thought “movement of jah people” a la Bob Marley. The response from the host was that the number of bankers in the City had risen which then got the reply that the inflow had slowed which again is somewhat different to the initial claim. As this is an issue that is both polarised and political an independent ( his words not mine) should be ultra careful in this area rather than giving us vague rhetoric which falls apart at any challenge.

Oh and before we move on from housing there was this bit.

a number of those who are renting particularly those who work in the City.

Was he thinking of Governor Carney who of course got a £250,000 annual rent allowance?

Comment

There is much that is familiar here as we note that the Bank of England is looking to re-write history in its favour. There are two initial problems with this and the first is the moral hazard in you and your colleagues judging your own actions. On this road Napoleon could have written a counterfactual account of how his retreat from Moscow was a masterly example of the genre. Also there are clear contradictions in the story of which two are clear. The rise in asset prices seems able to boost the economy on the one hand but to have had no impact on inequality on the other. London house prices can have soared and become completely unaffordable in central London to all but the wealthiest and yet are close to normal long-term trends.

Only last week we were guided towards three interest-rate rises but now there seems only to be two.

Britain is “now at full employment” and so can expect “a couple more small interest rate rises” in the next two to three years to stop the economy from overheating, according to Bank of England policymaker Ian McCafferty. ( Daily Telegraph which failed to spot the full employment issue)

Maybe it is because they are only raising them so they can later cut them.

Higher interest rates will also give the Bank room to cut them once more if the economy hits a troubled spell in the years ahead.