Putting rents which do not exist in a consumer inflation measure is a disgrace

Yesterday the Economic Affairs Committee took a look at the Retail Price Index measure of consumer inflation in the UK. An excellent idea except as I have contacted them to point out.

Accordingly I am making contact for two reasons. Attending the event would give your members exposure to a much wider range of expertise on the subject of the RPI than the limited group you have today. Also it will help you with the subject of balance as the four speakers you will be listening too today are all against the RPI with some being very strongly so. This gives a very unbalanced view of the ongoing debate on the subject.

The event I refer too is this evening at the Royal Statistical Society at which I will be one of those who reply to the National Statistician John Pullinger.

I intend to point out that the RPI does indeed have strengths and it relates to my letter to Bank of England Governor Mark Carney from February.

“. I am not sure what is a step up from known error but I can say that ignoring something as important to the UK as that sector when UK  house prices have risen by over 29% in your term as Governor when the targeted CPI has only risen by more like 7% is exactly that.”

This is because it makes an effort to reflect this.

This is because the RPI does include owner occupied housing and does so using house prices and mortgage interest-rates. If we look at house prices we see that admittedly on a convoluted route via the depreciation section they make up some 8.3% of the index.

This compares for example with the Consumer Price Index which completely ignores the whole subject singing “la,la,la” when it comes up. There has been a newer attempt to reflect this issue which I look at below.

Also it means that the influence is much stronger that on the only other inflation measure we have which includes house prices which is CPI (NA). In it they only have a weighting of 6.8%. So the RPI is already ahead in my view and that is before you allow for the 2.4% weighting of mortgage interest-rates.

As you can see the new effort at least acknowledges the issue but comes up with a lower weighting. This is because they decided that they only wanted to measure the rise in house prices and not the land. This is what they mean by Net Acquisitions or NA.

Now with 8.3% ( 10.7%) and 6,8% in your mind look what happens with the new preferred measure CPIH.

Now let me bring in the alternative about which the National Statistician John Pullinger and the ONS are so keen. This is where rather than using house prices and mortgages of which there are many measures we see regularly in the media and elsewhere, they use fantasy rents which are never actually paid. Even worse there are all sorts of problems measuring actual rents which may mean that this is a fantasy squared if that was possible.

But this fantasy finds itself with a weight of 16.8% or at least it was last time I checked as it is very unstable. Has our owner-occupied housing sector just doubled in size?

As you can see whilst you cannot count the (usually fast rising ) value of land it would appear that you can count the ( usually much slower rising) rent on it. That is the road that leads to where we are today where the officially approved CPIH gives a lower measure than the alternatives. Just think for a moment, if there is a sector in the UK with fast rising inflation over time it has been housing. So when you put it in the measure you can tell people it is there but it gives a lower number. Genius! Well if you do not have a conscience it is.

Yet the ordinary man or woman is not fooled and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney must have scowled when he got the results of his latest inflation survey on Friday.

After all when asked ( by the Bank of England) they come up with at 3.1% a number for inflation that is closer to the RPI then the alternatives.

Just because people think a thing does not make it right but it does mean you need a very strong case to change it . Fantasy rents are not that and even worse they come from a weak base as illustrated below.

The whole situation gets even odder when you note that from 2017 to this year the weighting for actual rents went from 5.6% to 6.9%.

Who knew that over the past year there was a tsunami of new renters? More probably but nothing like a 23% rise. This brings me back to the evidence I gave to the UK Statistics Regulator which was about Imputed Rents which relies on essentially the same set of numbers. I explained the basis for this was unstable due to the large revisions in this area which in my opinion left them singing along to Fleetwood Mac.

I’m over my head (over my head)
Oh, but it sure feels nice

Today’s data

Let me start with the number which was much the closest to what people think inflation is according to the Bank of England.

The all items RPI annual rate is 3.3%, down from 3.4% last month. The all items RPI is 280.7, up from 279.7 in April.

So reasonably close to the 3.1% people think it is as opposed to.

The all items CPI annual rate is 2.4%, unchanged from last month. The all items CPI is 105.8, up from 105.4 in April

When we ask why? We see that a major factor is the one I have been addressing above.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 3.9% in the year to April 2018 (down from 4.2% in March 2018). This is its lowest annual rate since March 2017 when it was 3.7%.

In spite of the slow down in house price inflation it remains an upward pull on inflation measures. You will not be surprised to see what is slowing it up.

The lowest annual growth was in London, where prices increased by 1.0% over the year.

Now let me switch to what our official statisticians,regulators and the economics editor of the Financial Times keep telling us is an “improvement” in measuring the above.

The OOH component annual rate is 1.1%, down from 1.2% last month.

Which is essentially driven by this.

Private rental prices paid by tenants in Great Britain rose by 1.0% in the 12 months to May 2018; unchanged from April 2018.

So they take rents ( which they have had all sorts of trouble measuring and maybe underestimating by 1% per annum) and imagine that those who do not pay rent actually do and hey presto!

The all items CPIH annual rate is 2.3%, up from 2.2% in April.

I often criticise the media but in this instance they deserve praise as in general they ignore this woeful effort.

Comment

Today has been a case of me putting forwards my views on the subject of inflation measurement which I hold very strongly. This has been an ongoing issue since 2012 and regular readers will recall my successful battle to save the RPI back then. I take comfort in that because over time I have seen my arguments succeed and more and more join my cause. This is because my arguments have fitted the events. To give a clear example I warned back in 2012 that the measure of rents used was a disaster waiting to happen whereas the official view was that it was fine. Two or three years later it was scrapped and of course we saw that the Imputed Rent numbers had a “discontinuity”. The saddest part of the ongoing shambles is even worse than the same sorry crew being treated as authorities about a subject they are consistently wrong about it is that we could have spent the last 6 years improving the measure as whilst it has strengths it is by no means perfect.

Let me give credit to the Royal Statistical Society as it has allowed alternative views an airing (me) and maybe there is a glimmer from the House of Lords who have speedily replied to me.

Staff to the Committee will be in attendance this evening, and we have emailed the details to the members: the unfortunate short notice and the busy parliamentary schedule currently means it may be unlikely for them to attend. We will report back to them on the event nevertheless.

I hope the event goes well for you.

Returning to today’s we now face the risk that this is a bottom for UK inflation as signalled by the producer price numbers.

The headline rate of inflation for goods leaving the factory gate (output prices) was 2.9% on the year to May 2018, up from 2.5% in April 2018.Prices for materials and fuels (input prices) rose 9.2% on the year to May 2018, up from 5.6% in April 2018.

This has been driven by the rise in the price of oil where Brent Crude Oil is up 56% on a year ago as I type this and the recent decline in the UK Pound £. This will put dark clouds over the Bank of England as the wages numbers were a long way from what it thought and now it may have talked the Pound £ down into an inflation rise. Yet its Chief Economist concentrates on matters like this.

Multiversities ‘hold key to next leap forward’ says ⁦⁩ Chief Economist Andy Haldane ( @jkaonline)

Isn’t that something from one of the Vin Diesel Riddick films?

 

 

 

 

 

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What are the prospects for those who rent their homes?

We often look at what the state of play is regarding UK house prices but I think that it is past time for us to look at those finding themselves singing along with Gwen Guthrie.

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

Rather oddly if you take Gwen literally you may well live in Kensington and Chelsea.

 Kensington and Chelsea was the least affordable English local authority in 2016 with a median monthly rent making up almost 100% of median monthly salary.

Of course data from there begs all sorts of questions as it is heavily influenced by foreign purchases hence the nickname Chelski. Although it does show that if you work there you are extremely unlikely to be able to afford to  rent from a private source there. For a wider perspective here are the numbers which were produced by the Office for National Statistics last November.

 In 2016, median monthly private rent for England was 27% of median gross monthly salary. This means that someone working in England could expect to spend 27% of their monthly salary on private rent. London, the South East, East of England and the South West, all had percentages above this level. Overall, median monthly private rent as a percentage of median monthly salary ranged from 23% in the North East, to 49% in London.

Some local authorities are particularly cheap in relative terms.

The most affordable local authority was Copeland in the North West (12%) followed by Derby in the East Midlands (18%).

Although in the former case you may have to glow in the dark to get it ( and perhaps save on lighting and heating too).

 Higher median monthly salaries in Copeland are likely to be the result of a large number of relatively high-paid, skilled jobs at the Sellafield nuclear power station in this local authority.

What about social housing?

People also rent via this route and to the question how much? We are told this.

Average weekly cost of social renting for England in 2016 was £97.84, an increase of 2% since 2015. This is a smaller increase than in previous years, although the cost of social renting has risen by 40% since 2008. The average cost of social renting in Wales has increased at a similar rate, by 39% since 2008.

Which in affordability terms translates to this.

Average weekly social rent cost as a percentage of 10th percentile weekly salary in England for 2016 was 31.5%, a decrease of 0.7 percentage points since 2015. This means that someone earning at the lowest 10% of earnings could expect to spend 31.5% of their weekly earnings on social rent. In Wales for the year ending March 2017, weekly social rent cost as a percentage of 10th percentile weekly salary was 28.1%, a decrease of 0.4 percentage points since the year ending March 2016.

It is a shame that we do not get figures which are directly comparable. I take the point that those in social housing tend to have lower incomes as that is of course one of the main reasons they are likely to be there, but not always. On the measuring stick we are presented with it has got more expensive.

Social rent has become less affordable for both England and Wales since 2003. The differences between average weekly social rent costs as a percentage of 10th percentile weekly salary for England and for Wales have been within 2.3 and 3.9 percentage points since 2003.

What is happening now?

The latest official data on private rents is shown below.

Private rental prices paid by tenants in Great Britain rose by 1.1% in the 12 months to January 2018; this is down from 1.2% in December 2017.

That reduction in the rate of growth has been in place for a while now since the peak at 2.7% in the autumn and winter of 2015. This should not be a surprise as rents tend to move with wages and in particular real wages although sometimes there can be quite a lag.I will come to London which is both something of a special case and a leading indicator in a bit but if we exclude it then lagged rents and real wages fit reasonably well in recent times.

Thus in the current scenario with real wages having been falling we would expect lower rental values. This of course is a possible explanation for the rush to include rents ( which of course do not exist) as a measure of owner occupied housing inflation  in the CPIH. If you were wondering why it gives a lower answer that is it.

What about London?

The official data tells us that it has a different picture to the rest of the UK.

London private rental prices grew by 0.2% in the 12 months to January 2018, that is, 0.9 percentage points below the Great Britain 12-month growth rate.

So it has been pulling the rate of growth lower and there should be “no surprises” as Radiohead would put it about that if we look at the numbers earlier in this article.

Actually others think that the situation is even more different in London.

Average rental values in prime central London fell 2.1 per cent in the year to February according to Knight Frank – and the letting agency says rents in that area have been dropping now for two full years. ( Letting Agent Today).

Fascinatingly we are told this by Knight Frank.

“As new supply moderates and demand strengthens, we expect to see continued upwards pressure on rental values” claims the agency.”

Continued? Anyway we have of course seen if we are polite what might be called over optimism before. This is me quoting the Financial Times on the 4th of November 2016.

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

Actually it got worse.

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

I was far from convinced.

 We know that lower real incomes are correlated and usually strongly correlated with rents which means that a reduction in the rises and maybe some falls are on the horizon (2019 or so if my logic holds).

Comment

As we survey the situation we see a complex picture but a theme is that things have been getting tougher for many. I wonder how much worse things look for younger renters as for example even if the numbers above are the same some of them have student loans to repay? Another cautionary note can be provided by the official data which is far from complete and some statisticians think may be too low by around 1% per annum due to its flawed nature.

If we look ahead then the general trend is as I pointed out in November 2016 but as this year progresses there will be winds of change. There are ever more surveys suggesting a pick-up in wage growth but even if understandable caution is applied here due to element of deja vu inflation should fall back meaning real wages will stop falling and then should rise. After a lag that should affect rents.

Meanwhile I would like to remind you that the UK statistics establishment uses the rental data it knows is far from complete to measure owner-occupied housing inflation. This morning they have decided that a fantasy number based on troubled data is better than this.

this means that the RPI is heavily influenced by house prices and interest rates,

Not everyone is convinced this is a bad idea.

 

Me on Core Finance

 

 

 

Imputed Rent is doing its job of reducing UK consumer inflation

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

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

The trends

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

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

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

 

What about the impact of inflation?

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

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

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

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

Today’s numbers

The headline number will capture the er headlines.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The housing problem

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

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

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

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

Which leads to this.

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

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

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

Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imputed Rents do their job of slowing rises in UK inflation

Today we find ourselves reviewing the data on the rise in inflation in the UK in 2017. This has been caused by a couple of factors. The first is something of a world-wide trend where the price of crude oil stopped falling and being a disinflationary influence. The second has been the fall in the value of the UK Pound which accelerated following the vote for the UK to leave the European Union just over a year ago. If we look back a year then the current US $1.269 has replaced the US $1.411 back then. So the inflation which was supposedly dead ( if you recall the Deflation hype and paranoia..) came back on the menu.

The UK establishment responds

If you do not want the public to realise that inflation is rising but do not wish to introduce any policies to stop it then the only option available to you is to change the way the numbers are measured. Last Autumn the UK statistical establishment began quite a rush to increase the use of rents in  a new headline UK inflation measure. There is of course a proper use for rents which is for those who do rent, however the extension was for those who own their house and do not actually rent it out. So yes imputed rents were required to fill the gap. Here is the official explanation.

However, it does not include the costs associated with owning a home, known as owner occupier housing costs. ONS decided that the best way to estimate these costs is a method known as ‘rental equivalence’. This estimates the cost of owning a home by calculating how much it would cost to rent an equivalent property. A new index based on CPI but including owner occupier housing costs – CPIH – was launched in 2013.

How has that gone?

This new index had some problems in 2014,

Also there is this.

We have still not yet addressed all of the necessary requirements for CPIH to become a national statistic.

So why the rush? Well last week’s numbers on rents from Homelet will have raised a wry smile for many.

UK rental price inflation fell for the first time in almost eight years in May, new data from HomeLet reveals. The average rent on a new tenancy commencing in May was £901, 0.3% lower than in the same month of 2016. New tenancies on rents in London were 3% lower than this time last year…..May’s decrease in average rental values marks a significant moment for the rented property sector. This is the first time since December 2009 the HomeLet Rental Index has reported a fall in rents on an annualised basis.

So rents were rushed in as part of the “most comprehensive measure” of UK inflation just in time for them to fall! Those who believe that rental inflation is related to wage growth will no doubt be thinking that wage growth and hence likely rental growth is lower these days. This is all rather different to house prices where lower mortgage rates can set off more price rises and inflation. I have met those responsible for this and pointed out that the word “comprehensive” is misleading as they do not actually measure the owner occupied housing market they simply impute from the rental one.

Today’s data

We see this.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 2.9% in May 2017, up from 2.7% in April………The Consumer Prices Index including owner occupiers’ housing costs (CPIH, not a National Statistic) 12-month inflation rate was 2.7% in May 2017, up from 2.6% in April.

So not only is the new measure again below the older one we see that the gap has now widened from 0.1% to 0.2%. As the difference must be the imputed rental section let us take a look.

Private rental prices paid by tenants in Great Britain rose by 1.8% in the 12 months to May 2017; this is unchanged from April 2017.

As you can see whilst the official data does not have the falls indicated by Homelet it is a drag on the overall inflation measure. Sir Humphrey Appleby would have a broad smile on his face right now. Oh and the reason why it is not showing falls is that the numbers are what might be called “smoothed”. The actual monthly  numbers are quite erratic ( which of course would lead to doubts if people saw them) so in fact the numbers are over a period of time and then weighted. The ONS has been unwilling to reveal the length of the period used but it used to be around 18 months. This is of course another reason why this methodology is flawed and a bad idea because rents from a year ago should be in last years indices not this months.

I have argued for a long time ( this debate began in 2012) that house prices should be used as they are of course actually paid rather than being imputed. Also they behave very differently to rents as a pattern and are more timely which is important. So what are they doing?

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 5.6% in the year to April 2017 (up from 4.5% in the year to March 2017).

As you can see house price inflation is currently treble that of rental inflation. Can anybody think why the UK establishment wanted rents rather than house prices used in the consumer inflation measure?

Our past measure

The Retail Price Index used to be used in the UK.

The all items RPI annual rate is 3.7%, up from 3.5% last month.

So the pattern of higher inflation measures being retired continues. Although it does at least serve two roles. The first is for indexation of things people pay such as mobile phone bills as my contract rises by it as of course do student loans. The second is for the indexation of Bank of England pensions where it seems strange that the establishment attack on RPI somehow got forgotten

Looking ahead

Fortunately we see that the main push is beginning to fade.

The annual rate of factory gate price inflation (output prices) remained at 3.6% for the third consecutive month and slowed on the month to 0.1%, from 0.4% in March and April……….The annual rate of inflation for materials and fuels (input prices) fell back to 11.6% in May, continuing its decline from 19.9% in January 2017 following the recent strength of sterling.

There is still momentum to push the annual rate of inflation higher which will not be helped if the post General Election dip in the value of the UK Pound persists. But the main push has now been seen. We should be grateful that the price of crude oil is around US $48 per barrel in Brent Crude terms.

Comment

The latest attempt by the UK establishment to “improve” the UK measurement of consumer inflation is being shown up for what it is, an attempt to manipulate the numbers lower. I guess things we receive will no longer be indexed to CPI they will be switched to CPIH! Also will the Bank of England switch its inflation target? If so it will complete a journey which has lowered the measure from 3.9% ( where what is called RPIX now is) to 2.7% or a 1.2% change when the target was only moved by 0.5%. In these times of lower wage rises, interest-rates and yields then 0.7% per annum matters quite a bit over time.

An answer to this would be to put the asset price which the Bank of England loves to inflate, house prices, in the inflation index. Let me leave you today with the price of a few basic goods if they had risen in line with them.

 

As I am off later to buy a chicken for dinner I am grateful it has not risen at such a rate.