Japan adds sharply falling imports to its continuing real wages problem

Today gives an opportunity to head east and look at what is sometimes considered to be the engine room of the world economy looking forwards. We can do so via an old friend which is Nihon the land of the rising sun. It is facing a situation where central banks in Malaysia, New Zealand and the Philippines have cut interest-rates this month. The latter cut was a reminder of different perspectives as we note this from The Business Times.

Gross domestic product (GDP) expanded 5.6 per cent in the first three months of the year, dragged by a slowdown in government spending, farm output, exports and the country’s budget deadlock. The pace was slower than the previous quarter’s 6.3 per cent and also the 6.1 per cent forecast in a Reuters poll…….On a seasonally adjusted basis, the economy grew 1.0 per cent in the January-March period from the previous quarter, far slower than the upwardly revised 1.8 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2018.

Of course Japan would get out it’s party hats and best sake for anything like that rate of growth but for it today’s story started well with this. From Reuters.

Japan’s economic growth unexpectedly accelerated in January- March, driven by net contributions from exports and defying forecasts for a contraction in the world’s third-largest economy.

At this point things look really rather good as in a time of trade wars growth from net exports is especially welcome. Before I get to that we may note that the forecasts were wrong by quite a wide margin but as we have a wry smile I would just like to add that initial GDP data in Japan is particularly unreliable. I know that goes against the national stereotype but it is an ongoing problem. The Bank of Japan thinks that the numbers have been consistently too low but the catch is that it is hardly an impartial observer after all its extraordinary monetary policies. For the moment,however we have been told this.

Japan’s economy grew at an annualized 2.1% in the first quarter, gross domestic product (GDP) data showed on Monday, beating market expectations for a 0.2% contraction. It followed a revised 1.6% expansion in October-December.

The Rub

The problem with growth from net exports as Greece discovered is that it can be a sign of contraction as it is here. Fortunately someone at Reuters seems to have learnt from my style of analysis.

The headline GDP expansion was caused largely by a 4.6% slump in imports, the biggest drop in a decade and more than a 2.4% fall in exports.

As imports fell more than exports, net exports – or shipments minus imports – added 0.4 percentage point to GDP growth, the data showed.

If we look further into the detail we see that this quarter exports knocked some 0.5% off GDP with their fall, although not everyone seems to think that if this from @fastFT is any guide.

 the world’s third-largest economy was boosted by better-than-expected exports.

Let us be kind and assume they though they would be even worse.

Returning to the main point we are now left wondering why imports were so weak. We get a partial answer from this.

Private consumption slid 0.1% and capital expenditure dropped 0.3%, casting doubt on policymakers’ view that solid domestic demand will offset the pain from slowing exports.

Lower consumption will have been a factor although I am much less sure about investment because public investment rose by 1.5% and total investment added 0.1% to the GDP growth figure. So as Japan needs basic materials and is a large energy importer we face the likelihood that industry is nervous about the prospects for late spring and summer and has adjusted accordingly. This from Nippon.com will not help.

The slump in China, which is the center of production and consumption in Asia, has spread to other countries in the region. Trade statistics for March 2019 show that exports to Asian countries (including China) fell by 5.5% compared to the same month the previous year, marking the fifth straight monthly decline since November 2018.

 

If you want a scare story the Japanese way of annualising numbers creates one because on this basis exports fell by 9.4% and imports by 17.9%.

Industrial Production

There was some better news on this from earlier as the preliminary report of a monthly fall of 0.9% in March was revised up to a 0.6% fall. But even so this meant that production was 4.3% lower than a year before. Thus we see why imports have dropped as the official views has gone from “Industrial Production is pausing.” to “Industrial Production is in a weak tone recently.”

The index is at 102.2 where 2015 = 100 but as recently as last October it was 105.6.

Wages

Low wage growth and at times declining real wages has been a theme of the “lost decade” era in Japan and January produced bad news for confidence in this area for both the numbers and the official data series. From the Nikkei Asian Review in late January.

A data scandal at Japan’s labor ministry has created further headaches for the Abe government in its protracted attempts to spur inflation.

The ministry’s Monthly Labor Survey overstated nominal pay increases in the first eleven months of 2018. Corrected monthly results released on Wednesday saw year-on-year wage growth drop by between 0.1 and 0.7 percentage point. Officials revised data for every month.

The new series has seen real wage growth accelerate downwards in 2019 so far starting with an annual fall of 0.7% in January then 1% in February followed by 2.5% in March. If we switch to wage growth on its own we see that the real estate sector was ht hardest in March with an annual fall of 5.9% followed by the finance and insurance sector where it fell by 4.6%.

The highest paid sector ( 446,255 Yen) in March was the utility one (electricity, heat and water).

This weaker set of data also has worries for those on us following at least partly on the same road as Japan as The Vapors once again remind us.

I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so
Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so
I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so
Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so

Comment

So far I have avoided financial aspects and only briefly referred to the Bank of Japan. It of course has been pursuing the policy of Abenomics for some time now but some of the arrows have misfired. Actually the case of currency depreciation may boomerang in some areas as we see a falling Chinese Yuan. Indeed the Japanese Yen has been rallying against the UK Pound £ which has been pushed back to the 140 level. Signs of economic weakness and trouble give us a stronger Yen as markets adjust in case the Japanese decide to take some of their large foreign investments home.

It is unclear how the Bank of Japan can help much with the current series of problems. For example its role of being the Tokyo Whale and buying Japanese equities on down days for the market is unlikely to do much about the real wages problem or the aging and shrinking population. Although the rhetoric of “powerful monetary easing” continues.

In addition, the Bank decided to consider the introduction of a facility for lending exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that it holds to market participants.  ( Governor Kuroda)

In reality that seems to be forced because it is on its way to buying them all!

While I will not explain these measures in detail today, they all will provide support for continuing with powerful monetary easing through the Bank’s smooth fund-provisioning and securing of market functioning.

Also if fiddling at the margins like this worked Japan would have escaped its lost decade years and years ago.

 

 

 

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China may have landed on the moon but its economy is slowing

This morning has brought more news on the economic theme of late 2018 and early 2019 which is of a slowing. As ever at the beginning of the week it comes from the Far East as eyes turn to China. From the South China Morning Post.

Total exports fell to US$221.25 billion in December, down 1.4 per cent from November, and 4.4 per cent from the same month in 2017, according to data from China’s General Administration of Customs.

This is at least party driven by the ongoing trade war.

The December figures give the first indication of the full impact of the US-China trade war.

Exports in previous months were supported by “front loading” of orders by Chinese producers to beat the planned rise in US tariffs to 25 per cent, scheduled to go into effect on January 1 before Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump agreed to a 90-day tariff ceasefire in their meeting on December 1.

So we move on noting that external demand for the Chinese economy is showing a sign of weakening and as usual the experts were whistling in the wind.

The December drop – the biggest since December 2016, when China grew at its slowest pace since 1990 – was unexpected, with analysts forecasting a 2 per cent rise, according to a Bloomberg survey.

However in my opinion there was something even more significant which was this.

Total imports fell to US$164.19 billion, a fall of 10 per cent from last month and down 7.6 per cent a year earlier.

This is because falls in import volumes are usually a sign of a weakening economy as lower consumption leads to lower import demand.  But to see this fully we need to remind ourselves that the Chinese consume in Yuan and that in it the numbers were down 9.7% on a monthly basis but 3.1% on an annual basis with the difference reflecting a fall in the Yuan. This is quite a change as the numbers for 2018 as a whole showed imports to be 12.9% higher. There is of course an irony in this as we note that imports are a subtraction from GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) numbers so this change will boost it as highlighted below.

Those trade flows still resulted in a trade surplus of $57bn in December, the highest in three years. ( Financial Times)

Although of course contrary to the way the media has reported all this it will be reported in the Chinese GDP data in Yuan as 395 billion.

If we switch to the Financial Times I suspect Donald Trump will be focusing on this bit.

China’s annual trade surplus with the US rose to $323bn for 2018, a jump of more than 17 per cent to the highest level on record, according to Reuters data reaching back to 2006.

Meanwhile there was plenty of food for thought for those in the South China Territories ( Australia) from this bit.

Data also showed that China’s imports of iron ore fell for the first time since 2010, a development that will have impacted commodity exporters.

Xinhua News

It is always interesting to see how things are being reported in China itself so here we go.

 China’s foreign trade rose 9.7 percent year on year to a historic high of 30.51 trillion yuan (about 4.5 trillion U.S. dollars) in 2018, the General Administration of Customs (GAC) said Monday……..Exports rose 7.1 percent year on year to 16.42 trillion yuan last year, while imports grew 12.9 percent to 14.09 trillion yuan, resulting in a trade surplus of 2.33 trillion yuan, which narrowed by 18.3 percent.

No mention of any declines but there was space and indeed time to mention something else favourable to China.

Trade with countries along the Belt and Road registered faster-than-average growth, with the trade volume standing at 8.37 trillion yuan, up 13.3 percent year on year.

If we stay with Chinese reporting then we can take a look at the value of the Yuan as well.

The central parity rate of the Chinese currency renminbi, or the yuan, strengthened 349 basis points to 6.7560 against the U.S. dollar Monday, according to the China Foreign Exchange Trade System.

The new rate was the strongest since July 19, 2018, according to data from the system.

Since the beginning of this year, the yuan’s central parity rate has strengthened more than 1.5 percent against the dollar.

Presumably driven by the stronger trade figures… ( sorry couldn’t resist it). But the Bank of China New York branch plays along with the official drumbeat.

China’s economy has been undergoing structural reform with the introduction of various macro-economic policies. The bank believed that the yuan’s strong buying momentum showed world financial markets have restored confidence in the Chinese currency.

“With the deepening of China’s reform and opening-up, steady expansion of the domestic financial market, and the higher status of CNY in the international monetary system, it is expected that investors’ willingness to hold CNY will increase further,” said the bank’s foreign exchange desk.

I must say they do have rather eloquent foreign exchange traders as most of the ones I have met communicate mostly in words with only four letters in them.

Indeed things are even going rather well in space.

To better understand the lunar environment and prepare for a human return to the moon, the Chang’e-4 probe, which has just made the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the moon, carries payloads jointly developed by Chinese, German and Swedish scientists to conduct research.

This of course contrasts with the efforts of the evil capitalist Imperialists.

U.S. space technology firm SpaceX, led by Elon Musk, will lay off about 10 percent of its more than 6,000 employees, according to media reports.

Also there is something which reminds us of the Belt and Road plan.

Passengers waiting to board a train from Nigeria’s capital Abuja on Saturday were wowed when they were informed that the train service had been safely operating for 900 days.

A male voice announced from a public address system that the train service had been in commercial operation for 900 days and without any major accident recorded since its inception.

This Chinese built railway is apparently a modern wonder.

Many looked in amazement, expressing satisfaction at the safe operation of the Abuja-Kaduna train service, the first standard gauge railway in Nigeria and West Africa…..Many looked in amazement, expressing satisfaction at the safe operation of the Abuja-Kaduna train service, the first standard gauge railway in Nigeria and West Africa.

One should not be too churlish as there are plenty of issues both security and otherwise in Nigeria but “many looked in amazement” is the sort of thing written about the first journey’s of George Stephenson and his Rocket back in the day.

Football

Another example of a combination of economics combining with foreign policy is the way Chinese football clubs have been offering very high wages to marquee players. West Ham fans will currently be fearing that Marko Anautovic will leave especially if the rumours of a new £45 million bid plus £300,000 a wage wages are true. But it is hard not to raise a wry smile at this perspective from Barney Ronay of the Guardian.

Marco Arnautović latest: am hearing he will move to a club whose wealth is built on a state-subsidised stadium, owned by “colourful” businessmen and with a manager brought in from Hebei China Fortune… Hang on. No sorry, that’s his current club. My mistake

Comment

It is always difficult to measure an economic slow down because of the way that vested interests and the establishment move to delay and block such efforts. This is how they invariably end up being presented as a surprise. China is of course particularly opaque with much of its data leading people to use alternative measures such as electricity consumption before it too got gamed and manipulated. But we are getting more and more signs of a slowing trend. If we look for other signs then we maybe saw one from Europe earlier as well.

In November 2018 compared with October 2018, seasonally adjusted industrial production fell by 1.7% in the euro
area (EA19) and by 1.3% in the EU28, according to estimates from Eurostat,

Which no doubt reflects this from Reuters.

China car sales fell 13 percent in December, the sixth straight month of declines, bringing annual sales to 28.1 million, down 2.8 percent from a year earlier, China’s Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) said.

This was against a 3-percent annual growth forecast set at the start of 2018 and is the first time China’s auto market has contracted since the 1990s.

Beneath all this though the move into Africa via the Belt and Road policy continues as seemingly does the football combination of economics and diplomacy. They also seem to have been listening to Pink Floyd.

And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear
You shout and no one seems to hear.
And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.

 

 

Greece GDP growth is accompanied by weakening trade and falling investment

Let us take the opportunity to be able to look at some better news from Greece which came from its statistics office yesterday.

The available seasonally adjusted data indicate that in the 3
rd quarter of 2018 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in volume terms increased by 1.0% in comparison with the 2
nd quarter of 2018, while in comparison with the 3 rd quarter of 2017, it increased by 2.2%.

So Greece has achieved the economic growth level promised for 2012 in the original “shock and awe” plan of the spring of 2010. Or to be more specific regained it as the 1.3% growth of the second quarter of 2017 saw the annual growth rate rise to 2.5% at the opening of this year before falling to 1.7%. So far in 2018 Greece has bucked the Euro trend but in a good way as quarterly economic growth has gone 0.5%,0.4% and now 1%.

If we continue with the upbeat view there was this on Monday from the Markit PMI business survey of the manufacturing sector.

Greek manufacturing firms signalled renewed growth
momentum in November, with the PMI rising to a six month high. The solid overall improvement in operating
conditions was driven by stronger expansions in output and
new orders. That said, foreign demand was not as robust,
with new export order growth easing to a 14-month low.
Manufacturers increased their staffing numbers further
in November, buoyed by stronger production growth and
domestic client demand.

So starting from a basic level there is growth and it is better than the average for the Euro area with a reading of 54 compared to 51.8. Also there is hopeful news for an especially troubled area.

In line with stronger client demand, manufacturing firms
expanded their workforce numbers at the fastest pace for
three months. Moreover, the rate of job creation was one of
the quickest since data collection began in 1999

Concerns

If we move to the detail of the national accounts we see that even this level of growth comes with concerns.

Exports of goods and services increased by 2.8% in comparison with the 2nd quarter of 2018. Exports of goods increased by 1.0% while exports of services increased by 3.8%.

This looks good at this point for what was called the “internal devaluation” method where the Greek economy would become more price competitive via lower real wages. But it got swamped by this.

Imports of goods and services increased by 7.5% in comparison with the 2nd quarter of 2018. Imports of goods increased by 8.3% while imports of services increased by 2.2%.

If we look deeper we see that the picture over the past year is the same. We start with a story of increasing export growth looking good but it then gets swamped by import growth.

Exports of goods and services increased by 7.6% in comparison with the 3rd quarter of 2017. Exports of goods increased by 7.9%, and exports of services increased by 8.0%…… Imports of goods and services increased by 15.0% in comparison with the 3 rd quarter of 2017. Imports of goods increased by 15.0%, and imports of services increased by 16.0%.

This is problematic on two counts and the first one is the simple fact that a fair bit of the Greek problem was a trade issue and now I fear that for all the rhetoric the same problem is back. Perhaps that is why we are hearing calls for reform again. Are those the same reforms we have been told have been happening. Also I note a lot of places saying Greek economic growth has been driven by exports which is misleading. This is because it is the trade figures which go in and they are a drag on GDP due to higher import growth. We can say that Greece has been both a good Euro area and world member as trade growth has been strong over the past year but it has weakened itself in so doing.

Investment

An economy that is turning around and striding forwards should have investment growth yet we see this.

Gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) decreased by 14.5% in comparison with the 2nd quarter of 2018.

Ouch! Time for the annual comparison.

Gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) decreased by 23.2% in comparison with the 3rd quarter of 2017.

Whilst those numbers are recessionary as a stand-alone they would be signals of a potential depression but for the fact Greece is still stuck in the middle of the current one. For comparison Bank of England Governor Mark Carney asserted that UK investment is 16% lower than it would have otherwise have been after the EU Leave vote so Greece is much worse than even that.

There are issues here around the level of public investment and the squeeze applied to it to hit the fiscal surplus targets. If this from National Bank of Greece in September is to turn out to be correct then it had better get a move on.

A back-loading of the public investment programme, along with positive confidence effects, should provide an additional boost to GDP growth in the H2:2018,

What did grow then?

Rather oddly the other sectoral breakdown we are provided with shows another fall.

Total final consumption expenditure decreased by 0.2% in comparison with the 2nd quarter of 2018.

But the gang banger in all of this is the inventories category which grew by 1321 million Euros or if you prefer accounts for 2.4% quarterly GDP growth on its own. This is not exactly auspicious looking forwards as you can imagine unless there is about to be a surge in demand. The only caveat is that we do not get a chain-linked seasonally adjusted number.

Comment

As you can see there is plenty of food for thought in the latest GDP numbers for Greece.On the surface they look good but the detail is weaker and in some cases looks simply dreadful. That is before we get to the impact of the wider Euro area slow down. The problem with all of this is that of we look back rather than the 2.1% economic growth promised for 2012 Greece saw economic growth plunge into minus territory peaking twice at an annual rate of 10.2%. Or the previous GDP peak of 60.4 billlion Euros of the spring of 2009 has been replaced by 48 billion in the autumn of 2018.

Meanwhile after the claimed triumphs and reform and of course extra cash the banks look woeful. So of course out comes the magic wand. From the Bank of Greece.

The proposed scheme envisages the transfer
of a significant part of non-performing exposures
(NPEs) along with part of the deferred
tax credits (DTCs), which are booked on bank
balance sheets, to a Special Purpose Vehicle
(SPV). value (net of loan loss provisions). The
amount of the deferred tax asset to be transferred
will match additional loss, so that the
valuations of these loans will approach market
prices. Subsequently, legislation will be
introduced enabling to transform the transferred
deferred tax credit into an irrevocable
claim of the SPV on the Greek State with a
predetermined repayment schedule (according
to the maturity of the transaction).

More socialisation of losses?