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,

 

 

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 China housing crisis builds up steam

This morning has brought news of something which would bring a chill to the heart of any central banker. It comes from China as we note this from Reuters.

 So far this year, the Shanghai stock index is down 14 percent, the CSI300 has fallen 12.4 percent while China’s H-share index listed in Hong Kong is down 4.8 percent. Shanghai stocks have declined 8.1 percent this month……The Shanghai stock index is below its 50-day moving average and below its 200-day moving average.

Not much sign of any wealth effects there at least not positive ones and there were signs of trouble in another area of asset prices too.

An index tracking major developers on the mainland slumped 4.4 percent following a near 5 percent drop the previous session, as a weakening yuan raised fears of capital outflow that could weigh on asset prices.

Actually they have missed something that Will Ripley of CNN did not.

China’s benchmark Shanghai Composite slid into bear market territory Tues, closing down more than 20% below its January high. Chinese stocks have come under pressure in recent weeks from concerns over the strength of the country’s economic growth & an emerging trade war w/ the US.

Of course the definition of a bear market is somewhat arbitrary and Chine’s stock market does tend to veer from boom to bust. But in  these times of easy monetary policy central bankers place a high emphasis on asset prices. This will be reinforced by the falls in the share price of developers as it reminds of the housing market and debt issues.

The Housing Market

Over the weekend the South China Morning Post offered an eye-catching view from Christopher Balding.

Real estate is the driver of the Chinese economy. By some estimates, it accounts (directly and indirectly) for as much as 30 per cent of gross domestic product.

There is something for Mark Carney to aim at as those of us in the UK have time to mull a familiar issue.

Keeping housing prices buoyant and development robust is thus an overriding imperative for China – one that is distorting policymaking and worsening its other economic imbalances.

At first I was not sure about his definition of a bubble.

Despite reforms in recent years, there’s little question that Chinese real estate is in bubble territory. From June 2015 through the end of last year, the 100 City Price Index, published by SouFun Holdings, rose 31 per cent to nearly US$202 per square foot.

However suddenly it looks very bubbilicious.

That’s 38 per cent higher than the median price per square foot in the United States, where per-capita income is more than 700 per cent higher than in China. Not surprisingly, this has put home ownership out of reach for most Chinese.

More than out of reach you would think as it must be multiples of out of reach. Also countries way beyond China’s borders face the issue below.

 Politically, homeowners have come to expect their property values to rise continually in a one-way bet;

There is a rather familiar response at least for UK readers.

Worried about these prices, and about growing indebtedness among developers, China’s State Council has hatched a plan to encourage rentals.

My first thought is that there is a clear opportunity for Gwen Guthrie to translate her hit into Mandarin.

Bill collector’s at my door
What can you do for me, oh?……

‘Cause ain’t nothin’ goin’ on but the rent
You got to have a J-O-B if you wanna be with me

Or to put it more formally.

Wages in China simply aren’t high enough to keep up with the credit fuelled rise in asset prices, and thus developers can’t earn a reasonable rate of return by renting out units.

In terms of the numbers the circle seems to be something of a rectangle.

 In big cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, yields are hovering around 1.5 per cent (compared to an average of about 3 per cent in the US and 4 per cent in Canada). ……Worse, developers are heavily weighted down with debt, much of it short-term. Many are paying out 7 to 8 per cent bond yields, with debt-to-equity ratios of around 380 per cent.

So the circus requires house price rises of at least 6% per annum to keep the show on the road. But wait there is more and something which to western eyes seems rather extraordinary.

Typically, renters borrow from banks to make an upfront, one-time payment to developers that covers, say, five years.

A rental mortgage is a little mind-boggling. Perhaps though we should have a sweep stake for predict how long it is before we get those in the UK?! Also it is a case of the familiar establishment response to trouble which is to give that poor battered can another kick.

The upfront payment from the bank to the developer provides some short-term cash-flow relief. But otherwise, all it does is delay debt repayments attached to the unit and shrink the loss on unsold inventory.

On a deeper level I wonder how many ( well paid) jobs rely on can kicking and relate to operations which are unviable in profit/loss or balance sheet terms but generate cash for now. How many banks for example or shale oil?

At this stage it all looks rather like the cartoon characters which have to run ever harder just to stand still.

 New starts and land purchases have grown strongly through the first five months of 2018. Investment in residential real estate is up 14 per cent and development loans are up 21 per cent. Far from reducing leverage, banks are jumping back into the speculative bubble: Mortgage growth is now at 20 per cent.

A response

On Sunday, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) said it would cut the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) for what some banks must keep in reserves by 50 basis points (bps), releasing $108 billion in liquidity, partly to spur lending to smaller firms. (Reuters)

The PBOC operates under a model where it adjusts quantity rather than price or interest-rates. It mostly leaves the latter to influence the value of the Yuan although of course interest-rate moves affect the domestic economy as well. In terms of time you could argue the UK moved away from that in 1973 but anyway the Thatcherite changes of 1979 ended it. In essence it is allowing the banks to raise what is called the money supply ( as it is really money demand) and no doubt some and maybe much of it will be heading in the direction of the housing market in spite of the claim that it is for business lending. In that they are very much like us western capitalist imperialists so shall we call it lending to small businesses in the property sector?

Oh and speaking of the Yuan.

The dollar bought 6.5240 yuan at the close of trading in China, meaning the yuan fell 0.4% on the day, reaching its lowest level since Dec. 28, according to Wind Info. The Chinese currency weakened further on Tuesday morning in Asia, hitting 6.5409 against the U.S. dollar. ( Wall Street Journal)

Care is needed though as whilst the Yuan has slipped over the past week it has still done better against the US Dollar in 2018 than the Euro or the UK Pound £

Comment

There is much to consider here. After all there have been scare stories about the Chinese economy before but it has managed to carry on regardless. The catch is that the western economies did this in 2005, 2006 and some of 2007 before it all went wrong. The size of the housing and development sector invokes thoughts of what took place in Spain and Ireland although of course China is much more systemic.

Meanwhile interestingly China seems to have spotted a way of making debt work in its favour. It started well.

Every time Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, turned to his Chinese allies for loans and assistance with an ambitious port project, the answer was yes. ( New York Times)

But only really ended well for China.

Mr. Rajapaksa was voted out of office in 2015, but Sri Lanka’s new government struggled to make payments on the debt he had taken on. Under heavy pressure and after months of negotiations with the Chinese, the government handed over the port and 15,000 acres of land around it for 99 years in December.

Rather like the UK and Hong Kong?

 

 

 

The more we are told UK household debt is not a problem the more worried we should be

We have reached a stage where the UK establishment is paying more and more attention to household debt issues. This reminds me of the explanation of the bureaucratic response to such issues explained by Yes Prime Minister. All we have to do is switch from foreign to economic policy. From imdb.com.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Then we follow the four-stage strategy.

Bernard Woolley: What’s that?

Sir Richard Wharton: Standard Foreign Office response in a time of crisis.

Sir Richard Wharton: In stage one we say nothing is going to happen.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Stage two, we say something may be about to happen, but we should do nothing about it.

Sir Richard Wharton: In stage three, we say that maybe we should do something about it, but there’s nothing we *can* do.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Stage four, we say maybe there was something we could have done, but it’s too late now.

The other part of the strategy or game is to make it appear that you are on the case which these days in monetary or economic policy is summed up by the use of the word vigilant which seems set to become a metaphor for anything but in the way that Forward Guidance has become.

The Financial Conduct Authority

The Director of Supervision at the FCA Jonathan Davidson told us this yesterday,

The consumer credit sector is by far and away our largest sector in terms of number of firms with almost 40,000 firms registered with the FCA. And as a sector you have been growing – according to the Bank of England, consumer credit grew 9.3% over the last year.

Regular readers will of course be aware of this and we have looked at the issues below too.

After all, none of us can forget the context in which we are operating. Total credit lending to individuals is currently very close to its September 2008 peak. The circumstances are different now than 10 years ago, but there are still worrying numbers of householders who may still be in too deep. For example, 1 in 5 mortgages today are interest only mortgages, many of which were made at the height of the credit boom to borrowers with little equity in their homes and not a lot of disposable income. And they won’t mature until about 2032.

Indeed the circumstances are different as for example real wages are lower but I am not entirely sure that is what he means! The reminder about the scale of interest-only mortgages does make me think that an establishment solution for that would be to push house prices higher, oh hang on! If we look around we see that such a policy has worked in the south-east and other areas but would be struggling for example in Northern Ireland. As to affordability I guess Mr, Davdson would point us to this from the Office for National Statistics.

The median equivalised household disposable income in the UK was £27,300 in the financial year ending (FYE) 2017. After taking account of inflation and changes in household structures over time, the median disposable income has increased by £600 (or 2.3%) since FYE 2016 and is £1,600 higher than the pre-economic downturn level observed in FYE 2008.

Of course the aggregate numbers can hide trouble.

The Bank of England’s Financial Stability Report last year noted that consumer credit has grown rapidly and that, relative to incomes, household debt is high. And there are a significant number of households that are in so deep that the slightest sign of rough weather could see them in over their heads.

If we go back to the press conference back then Governor Carney told us this.

So there are pockets of risk, consumer credit is a pocket of risk, it’s been growing quite rapidly.

That made him sound a little like the “pocketses” of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings, Unfortunately this was not followed up as the press corps was only really interested in Brexit but here are the numbers from the report.

The total stock of UK household debt in 2017 Q2 was
£1.6 trillion, comprising mortgage debt (£1.3 trillion),
consumer credit (£0.2 trillion) and student loans (£0.1 trillion). It is equal to 134% of household incomes , high by historical standards but below its 2008 peak of 147%. Excluding student debt, the aggregate household debt to income ratio is 18 percentage points below its 2008 peak.

Fascinating isn’t it that they continue the campaign to exclude student debt from the numbers. Maybe it is because it is growing so fast or maybe like me they feel most of it will never be repaid. But in my view you cannot ignore it because it is having effects and implications right now. Also there is the false implication that just because the numbers are not quite as bad as 2008 we can sing along with Free.

All right now, baby, it’s a-all right now.
All right now, baby, it’s a-all right now

Interest-Only Mortgages

Oh and if these are an issue then  genuinely vigilant regulators might be on the case here.

However, since reaching a low-point in 2016, the interest-only market is starting to show signs of life again as lenders re-enter the market………However more recently, there are signs that lenders are starting to expand interest-only lending again, which rose to £5.4bn in Q3 2017, a 45% increase on the previous year. ( Bank Underground).

Everything is fine

Back in January research from the Bank of England via Bank Underground told us everything is fine.

Insight 1: Credit growth has not been driven by subprime borrowers

Insight 2: People without mortgages have mainly driven credit growth

Insight 3: Consumers remain indebted for longer than product-level data implies

I have to confess I am always somewhere between cautious and dubious about such detailed analysis I have seen it go wrong and more often than not spectacularly wrong so often. After all the “liar loans” pre credit crunch would have officially looked good. Also the authors seem keen to cover all the bases.

But vulnerabilities remain. Consumers remain indebted for longer than previously thought. And renters with squeezed finances may be an increasingly important (and vulnerable) driver of growth in consumer credit.

Motor Finance

Mr.Davidson offered some reassuring words on this subject.

The growth of PCP contracts in the motor finance market is a good example of an innovation that has had a significant impact………

So financing of car ownership has become more affordable, allowing more consumers to have more expensive cars. Indeed, the number of point-of-sale consumer motor finance agreements for new and used cars has nearly doubled from around 1.2m in 2008 to around 2.3m in 2017.

This type of innovation, and business model diversity, paints a really attractive picture of your industry.

Is it a miracle? Well please now re-read the quote using the definition of innovation from my financial lexicon for these times which was taught us by the Irish banks which is claimed triumph followed by disaster. I guess such thoughts will be reinforced by this bit.

It is important to me that we continue this innovation in the sector,

Also although he does not say it I am for some reason reminded of Royal Bank of Scotland by this.

A key observation and concern for us is that there are some business models for which customers who can’t afford to repay the principal are profitable, sometimes very profitable

Comment

There is much to consider here and let me give you a clear theme. Individual speeches are welcome and well done to Mr.Davidson but a succession of them means that the establishment is not  preparing us for moonlight and music and love and romance but rather

There may be trouble ahead……..

There may be teardrops to shed

Whilst they will be mulling this line.

Before the fiddlers have fled,

If we consider the overall position the reverse argument to mine is that collectively the debt is affordable and in theory and up in the clouds with the Ivory Towers it is. But when we return to earth reality is invariably far less convenient as this from Mr,Davidson’s speech suggests.

We are also seeing younger people borrowing a lot more relative to their incomes than my, baby boomer, generation. Why is this? It’s because of:More student borrowing. Our financial lives survey showed that 30% of 25-34 year olds have a Student Loan Company loan. The higher cost of getting onto the housing ladder. Shifting patterns of savings, borrowing and consumption. You don’t need to wait, you can have it now.

 

Among 25-34 year olds, 19% have no savings whatsoever, and a further 30% have less than a £1000 saved to use on a rainy day. Indeed, 36% had been overdrawn in the last 12 months.

At the same time, the number of self-employed people in the UK has risen by more than 1.5m since the turn of the century (a 45% increase), and more than 900 thousand people currently are on zero-hours contracts. The gig economy is growing strongly.

When bubbles blow up or pockets develop holes in them it is invariably something relatively small that is the trigger. The consequences however are usually widespread.

Where next for house prices in Sweden and hence monetary policy?

Today has seen several strands of economic analysis come together so let us stay with yesterday’s topic of housing but move geographically from the UK to Sweden. There is food for thought in the issue that in the UK Sweden is often held up as an example in areas such as education, However there is more food for thought as I note that we are beginning to see denials that “something is going on” in the Swedish housing market as Todd Terry might put it. From the Financial Times.

There is no reason to anticipate a sharp fall in the Swedish housing market despite a housing boom that has seen prices more than double in the past 12 years, according to the chief executive of Stockholm-based Swedbank. The Swedish residential market will slow somewhat, Reuters reported Birgitte Bonnesen saying on a conference call after the bank’s quarterly results on Tuesday, but the chief executive does not see a risk of a sharp fall.

As Swedbank is the largest provider of mortgage credit in Sweden that is pretty close to an official denial that house prices are going to fall and we have learnt what to do with them! Even it had to admit that it does appear that ch-ch-changes are afoot.

Although she acknowledged the Swedish housing market “showed signs of further slowdown” in the latest quarter and the rise in house prices had “dampened”, Ms Bonnesen said the softening — accompanied by a slowdown in the build-up of household debt — was “positive, as it contributes to more sustainable economic development”.

Ah so a bank claiming that lower lending is “positive” so it would have presented its own higher lending in the boom as negative then would it? Of course as you can see below the Financial Times seems to be more concerned about “The Precious” than the effect on the real economy.

Concerns have grown that house prices — which have reached record levels — and mounting household debts somewhat echo the 1990s Swedish banking crisis. If there is a housing market slump and loan losses rise, that could damage the Scandinavian banking sector.

What is going on?

Sweden Statistics tells us that the credit taps seem pretty fully open for housing purposes.

In August, households’ housing loans amounted to SEK 3 035 billion, which is an increase of SEK 17 billion compared with the previous month and SEK 203 billion compared with the corresponding month last year. This means that the annual growth rate of housing loans was 7.2 percent in August, an increase of 0.1 percentage point compared with July.

In addition to the quantity or flow of loans the price or if you prefer mortgage rate is very low.

The average housing loan rate for households for new agreements was 1.58 percent in August, which is unchanged compared with July. The floating interest rate for housing loans was also unchanged compared with the previous month.

Ordinarily lots of cheap money would lead to surging house prices but maybe we have already seen that.

That gives us a longer=term perspective for Stockholm and if we look wider I note that Aviva investors have just tweeted a chart on asset bubbles which has Swedish property price growth at the top just pipping Canada and New Zealand. If you want a wry smile the surge in house prices began as the inflation targeting era began! But with thanks to Finwire and Google Translate this emerged earlier this month.

The prices of condominiums were unchanged in September. This has risen marginally last month. The villa prices, which remained unchanged in August, rose by 1 per cent. This is evidenced by figures produced by Statistics Sweden on behalf of Swedish Mäklarstatistik

Compared to three months ago, prices for both condominiums and villas have risen by 1 per cent. At year-end, price development is +6 percent for condominiums and +9 percent for villas.

So there seems to be something of a fading and maybe a lull if we add in the bit below.

Generally, we have a somewhat cautious market where we see that an increased supply is not matched by
same increase in sales volume……. we also see a gradual increase in the average time it takes between that
The ads are being put out and the property is then being sold.

So there is more supply and a longer time is required to sell neither of which look bullish.

Is Stockholm the canary in the coalmine?

It is hard not to think of London and in my case Nine Elms in particular when you see something like this.

There is not much optimism to be seen there to say the least. Also are such share price falls even legal these days? Perhaps the Riksbank of Sweden should take a trip to Tokyo to see how the Bank of Japan would deal with such a matter. Or they could simply assume that the official data series is more accurate.

Real estate prices for one- or two-dwelling buildings rose by almost 3 percent in the third quarter of 2017 compared with the second quarter. Prices rose by nearly 9 percent on an annual basis in the third quarter, compared with the same period last year.

Comment

There is a lot to consider here so let us bring in the policy of the Swedish central bank the Riksbank.

The Executive Board of the Riksbank has therefore decided to hold the repo rate unchanged at −0.50 per cent and is expecting, as before, not to raise it until the middle of 2018. The purchases of government bonds will continue during the second half of 2017,

As you can see it is full steam ahead for monetary policy with it being very rare amongst major central banks at hinting of continuing very easy policies. We will find out more later this week as its hand may be forced by what the European Central Bank decides and in particular how the Euro exchange rate responds. If the Riksbank had a choice I am sure it would rather be voting on Friday after the ECB rather than tomorrow. Perhaps it can watch the film Bad Timing to fill in the gap.

Also there is something to mull about the state of the real economy summarised here a month ago by the Riksbank itself.

Economic activity in Sweden is strong; GDP grew rapidly in the second quarter and the employment rate is at a historically high level. Inflation has continued to rise and in recent months been higher than expected.

Some would regard that as grounds for a tightening of monetary policy. Of course should it decide to prioritise a weakening housing market with obvious implications for the banks then this would make it easier.

Between 2007 and 2015, cash in circulation decreased by nearly 15 per cent. Cash withdrawals have declined by around a half, both in number of withdrawals and volume of cash withdrawn, over the past ten years…..By far the most common way of paying for goods in shops is by debit or credit card. Around 97 per cent of the population has access to a card…..Sweden is one of the countries in the world where the most card payments are made. The average Swedish citizen made 290 card payments in 2015. The average for the European Union is 104 card payments per year. ( Riksbank in June)

Sweden has economic growth of 4% with an interest-rate of -0.5%

We can end the week with some good news as the economic growth figures produced so far today have pretty much varied between better and outright good. For example I note that the 0.5% growth for France makes its annual rate of 1.8% a smidgen higher than the UK for the first time in a while. Also Spain has continued its series of good numbers with quarterly GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) up by 0.9%. But the standout news has come from the country which I have described as undertaking the most extraordinary economic experiment of these times which is Sweden.

Sweden’s GDP increased by 1.7 percent in the second quarter of 2017, seasonally adjusted and compared with the first quarter of 2017. The GDP increased by 4.0 percent, working-day adjusted and compared with the second quarter of 2016.

Boom! In this case absolutely literally as we see quite a quarterly surge and added to that growth in the previous quarter was revised higher from 0.4% to 0.6%. This means that it grew in the latest quarter by as much as the UK did in the last year and is the highest quarterly number I can think of by such a first world country for quite some time.

If we look into the detail there is much to consider. There was something unusual for these times.

Production of goods rose by 3.0 percent, and service-producing industries grew by 1.7 percent

It also looks as though the demand was domestic as trade was not a major factor.

Both exports and imports grew by 0.7 percent

There was a sign of booming domestic consumption here.

Household consumption increased by 1.1 percent

Also investment went on a surge.

Gross fixed capital formation increased by 3.8 percent.

However there is kind of an uh-oh here as I note this from Nordea.

Residential construction continues to be a very important growth driver (scary!), but also other investments seem to have picked up and more than forecast.

We will look at that more deeply in a moment but first let us note that the numbers below suggest that productivity has picked up.

Employment measured as the total number of hours worked increased by 0.8 percent seasonally adjusted, and the number of persons employed increased by 0.6 percent.

The Riksbank

The latest minutes point out that the monetary policy pedal remains pressed pretty much to the metal.

At the Monetary Policy Meeting on 3 July, the Executive Board of the Riksbank decided to hold the repo rate unchanged at –0.50 per cent. The first rate increase is not expected to be made until the middle of 2018, which is the same assessment as in April. The purchases of government bonds will continue during the second half of 2017, in line with the plan decided in April.

Still they did say they were now less likely to push it even harder.

it is now somewhat less likely than before that the repo rate will be cut further in the near term

Rather amazingly they described the policy as “well-balanced” but I guess you have to think that to be able to vote for it. However today’s data will be welcome in a headline sense but is yet another forecasting failure as they expected 0.7% GDP growth. Now a 1% mistake in one-quarter makes even the Bank of England’s failures at forecasting to be of the rank amateur level.

Let us move on with the image of the Riksbank continually refilling the punch bowl as the party hits its heights as opposed to removing it.

What could go wrong?

Even the Riksbank could not avoid mentioning this.

the risks associated with high and rising household indebtedness were also discussed.

Did anybody mention indebtedness?

In June, the annual growth rate of households’ loans from monetary financial institutions (MFIs) was 7.1 percent, which means that the growth rate increased by 0.2 percentage points compared with May.

So the rough rule of thumb would be to subject economic growth and estimate inflationary pressure at 3% which of course would lead to interest-rates being in a very different place to where they are. Also if you look at the issue of the domestic consumption boom you be rather nervous after reading this.

Households’ loans for consumption had a growth rate of 9.4 percent in June, an increase compared with May, when it was 7.3 percent.

I noted earlier the fears over what is happening in the housing market and loans to it have just passed a particular threshold.

In June, households’ housing loans amounted to SEK 3 005 billion, which means that lending exceeded SEK 3 000 billion for the first time. This is an increase of SEK 27 billion compared with the previous month, and of SEK 198 billion compared with the corresponding month last year. This means that housing loans had an annual growth rate of 7.2 percent in June, an increase of 0.1 percentage point compared with May.

Another bank subsidy?

I have noted before that fears that negative interest-rates would hurt bank profits have been overplayed and as we note mortgage and savings rates we get a hint that margins are pretty good.

The average housing loan interest rate for households for new agreements was 1.57 percent in June…….In June, the average interest rate for new bank deposits by households was 0.07 percent, unchanged from May.

I also note that banks remain unwilling or perhaps more realistically afraid to pass on negative interest-rates to the ordinary depositor.

House prices

Of course this will look very good on the asset side of the balance sheets of the Swedish banks.

Real estate prices for one- or two-dwelling buildings rose by almost 4 percent in the second quarter of 2017 compared with the first quarter. Prices rose by nearly 10 percent on an annual basis in the second quarter, compared with the same period last year.

In terms of amounts or price it means this.

The average price at the national level for one- or two-dwelling buildings in the second quarter 2017 was just over SEK 2.9 million.

If we look back we see the index which was based at 100in 1981 ended 2016 at 711 and we learn a little more by comparing it to the 491 of 2008. There was a small dip in 2012 but in essence the message is up, up and away. For owners of Swedish houses it is time for some Abba.

Money, money, money
Must be funny
In the rich man’s world
Money, money, money
Always sunny
In the rich man’s world
Aha-ahaaa
All the things I could do
If I had a little money
It’s a rich man’s world

Comment

If we go for the upbeat scenario then it is indeed time for a party at the Riksbank as we see Sweden’s economic performance in the credit crunch era.

The problem with being top of the economic pop charts is that it so often ends in tears. The clear and present danger is the expansion of lending to the housing market and the consequent impact on house prices. Also the individual experience is not as good as the headline as the population grew by 1.5% in the year to May to 10.04 million which of course is presumably another factor in higher house prices.

 

 

The Swedish Riksbank is facing the consequences of its own policy

The Riksbank of Sweden meets today and announces its policy decision tomorrow morning. It is facing a period where its policy if out of kilter with pretty much everything. Long gone are the days when its policy members were called “sadomonetarists” by Paul Krugman of the New York Times. These days it is in the van of those expanding monetary policy as you can see from its last policy announcement.

The Executive Board has decided to hold the repo rate unchanged at −0.50 per cent and to extend the purchases of nominal government bonds by SEK 7.5 billion and the purchases of real government bonds by SEK 7.5 billion. At the end of 2017, the purchases will thus amount to a total of SEK 290 billion, excluding reinvestments. Until further notice, maturities and coupon payments will also be reinvested in the government bond portfolio.

It is using negative interest-rates and QE ( Quantitative Easing) which is putting the pedal close to the metal but is also what can be called pro cyclical as it is expanding into an expansion.

Swedish economic activity is good and is expected to strengthen further over the next few years

Actually if you take any notice of Forward Guidance they even upped their efforts.

The first repo-rate increase is now expected to be made in the middle of 2018. The repo rate path also reflects the fact that there is still a greater probability of the rate being cut than of it being raised in the near term.

They justified this on the grounds that they expected inflation to take longer to reach its target. This shows us a facet of central bank behaviour these days. If the economy slows they use it as an excuse to ease policy but if it is doing well they are then prone to switching to the inflation rate if it is below target in an example of cherry-picking.

What do they think now?

The mid-June business survey from the Riksbank could not be much more bullish.

The strong economic situation will continue in the months ahead……Export companies are encountering ever-stronger demand from abroad. Europe stands out in particular.

Oh and as a warning for an issue we will look at in a bit there was this.

Demand has been strong in the construction and property sectors in recent years and the development of housing construction in particular continues to be very strong.

Today’s manufacturing PMI from Swedbank looks strong as well.

Sweden Jun Manufacturing PMI 62.4 Vs. 58.8 In May

The Kronor

The conventional view is that all the monetary easing should have sent it lower but in fact it has not done an enormous amount in recent times. If we look back to June 2014 the KIX effective exchange-rate averaged 106.7 and last month it averaged 114.4. So a bit weaker ( confusingly higher is weaker on this index) but this must have been a disappointment to the Riksbank especially as it has strengthened since late 2016. As we have noted before 2017 has been a year where many exchange-rates seem to have simply ignored any flow effect from ongoing QE programs.

One conclusion is that the backwash of moves in the US Dollar and the Euro swamp most of Sweden’s apparent currency independence. Especially if we note that a fair bit of the monetary easing is simply keeping up with the Euro area Joneses.

Household Debt

It was hardly a surprise after reading the above that the June Financial Stability Report rather majored on this.

Households’ high and rising indebtedness form a serious threat to financial and macroeconomic stability……….Household indebtedness and housing prices are still rising, and indebtedness is also expected to rise in the period ahead. This entails major risks for the Swedish economy.

What will they do?

Further measures need to be introduced to increase the resilience of the household sector and reduce risks.

So they will raise interest-rates? Oh hang on.

Both measures to achieve a better balance between supply and demand on the housing market and tax reforms to reduce the willingness or ability of households to take on debt are required. Further macroprudential policy measures also need to be taken.

It is interesting these days how central bankers so often end up telling central bankers what to do! Also it is notable that the rise of macroprudential policies ignores they fact that such policies were abandoned in the past because they were more trouble than they were worth.

All this came with an ominous kicker.

The vulnerabilities in the Swedish banking system are linked to its size, concentration and interlinkage, as well as the banks’ large percentage of wholesale funding and their substantial exposures to the housing sector.

A decade into the credit crunch we note that the rhetoric of reform and progress so often faces a reality of “vulnerabilities” and these get worse as we peer deeper.

Liquidity risks arise partly as a result of Sweden having a large, cross-border banking sector with significant commitments in foreign currency.

If you take the two quotes together then you have the feeling that the TARDIS of Dr.Who has transported you back to 2006. Still we know that the interest and concentration of the Riksbank will be on this issue now as the “precious” may have troubles. Oh and they have a sense of humour too.

It is essential that the banks insure themselves

In reality the Swedish taxpayer is likely to find they have got the gig and this is very different to the usual Riksbank rhetoric on foreign-exchange intervention although if you think about it the result they want would be rather likely to say the least!

At the same time, it is necessary that the Riksbank has a sufficiently large foreign currency reserve if liquidity requirements should arise in foreign currency that the banks themselves are unable to manage.

At the end of last month and after the Report Sweden Statistics updated us further on the state of play.

In May, households’ housing loans amounted to SEK 2 977 billion. This is an increase of SEK 18 billion compared with the previous month and SEK 195 billion compared with the corresponding month last year. Housing loans thus had an annual growth rate of 7.1 percent in May,

Some ( obviously not central bankers ) might think that low mortgage rates are a major driver of this.

The average interest rate for housing loans for new agreements was 1.57 percent in May.

House Prices

The Real Estate Price Index was up by 2% in the first quarter of 2017 making it some 8% higher than a year before. Last year’s UBS Bubble index told us that Stockholm was leading the way.

The sharpest increase in the UBS Global Real Estate
Bubble Index in Europe over the last four quarters
was measured in Stockholm, followed by Munich,
London and Amsterdam

Comment

The Riksbank has in its own mind invented a new type of monetary theory where you expand policy into a boom. It so far has ignored the dangers of higher household debt and booming house prices. Being a first-time buyer in Stockholm looks as grim as being one in London. As to the announcement I am not expecting much change after Friday’s wages data showed a slowing. These days wage growth is the crucial number as we looked at last week.

Total average hourly wages for manual workers in April 2017 were SEK 165.80 excluding overtime pay and SEK 168.20 including overtime pay. These numbers reflects an increase increase of 1.7 percent and 1.8 percent compared
to April 2016. The average monthly salary for non-manual workers in April 2017 excluding variable supplements was SEK 38 420 while it was SEK 39 390 including variable supplements. These numbers reflects an increase of 1.5
percent and 1.7 percent compared to April 2016.

Bank of England

I see its staff have voted to strike as Mark Carney’s increasingly troubled reign as Governor continues. My advice to the staff is to keep away from the subject of performance related pay.