As UK house price growth fades so has the economy

Today has opened with news that is in tune with my expectations for 2017. This is my view that house price growth will slow and that it may also go negative. Such an event would make a change in the UK’s inflation dynamics as that would mean that official consumer inflation would exceed asset or house price inflation and of course would send a chill down the spine of the Bank of England. Here is the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

The headline price growth gauge slipped from +7% to +1% (suggesting prices were unchanged over the period), representing the softest reading since early 2013.

The date will echo around the walls of the Bank of England as its house price push or Funding for Lending Scheme began in the summer of 2013. Also the immediate prospects look none too bright.

Looking ahead, near term price expectations continue to signal a flat trend over the coming three months at the headline level……..Going forward, respondents are not anticipating activity in the sales market to gain impetus at this point in time, with both three and twelve month expectations series virtually flat.

Actually flat lining on a national scale conceals that there are quite a few regional changes going on.

house prices remain quite firmly on an upward trend in some areas, led by Northern Ireland, the West Midlands and the South West. By way of contrast, prices continue to fall in London…….. the price balance for the South East of England fell further into negative territory, posting the weakest reading for this part of the country since 2011.

We see that price falls are spreading out from our leading indicator of London and wait to see how they ripple out. Northern Ireland is no doubt being influenced by the house price rises south of the border. A cautionary note is that this survey tends to be weighted towards higher house prices and hence London.

The Real Economy

Let us open with the good news which has come from this morning’s production figures.

In June 2017, total production was estimated to have increased by 0.5% compared with May 2017, due mainly to a rise of 4.1% in mining and quarrying as a result of higher oil and gas production.

It is hard not to have a wry smile at the fact that something that was supposed to be fading away has boosted the numbers! Of the 0.52% increase some 0.51% was due to it and as well as the impact of a lighter maintenance cycle there was some hopeful news.

In addition, use of the re-developed Schiehallion oil field and use of the new Kraken oil field are contributing to the increase in oil production. Both are expected to increase UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) production over the longer-term.

If we move to manufacturing then the position was flat as a pancake.

Manufacturing monthly growth was flat in June 2017.

However this concealed quite a shift in the detail as we already knew that there has been a slow down in car and vehicle production.

Transport equipment provided the largest downward contribution, falling by 3.6% due mainly to a 6.7% fall in the manufacture of motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers.

This was mostly offset by increases in the chemical products and pharmaceutical sectors with some seeing quite a boom.

Chemical products provided the largest upward pressure, rising by 6.9% due mainly to an increase of 31.2% within industrial gases, inorganics and fertilisers.

If step back we see that over the past year there has been some growth but frankly not much.

Total production output for June 2017 compared with June 2016 increased by 0.3%, with manufacturing providing the largest upward contribution, increasing by 0.6%

There is an irony here as a good thing suddenly gets presented as a bad one and of course as ever the weather gets some blame.

energy supply partially offset the increase in total production, decreasing by 4.6% due largely to warmer temperatures.

If we look at other data sources we can say this does not really fit with the Markit PMI business surveys which have shown more manufacturing growth. It may be that they have been sent offside by the fact that the slowing has mostly been in one sector ( vehicles). If the CBI is any guide then the main summer months should be stronger.

Manufacturing firms reported that both their total and export order books had strengthened to multi-decade highs in June, according to the CBI’s latest Industrial Trends Survey.

The overall perspective is that the picture of something of a lost decade has been in play.

Since then, both production and manufacturing output have risen but remain well below their level reached in the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (January to March) 2008, by 7.8% and 4.4% respectively in the 3 months to June 2017.

Trade

One of the apparent certainties of life is that the UK will post an overall trade deficit and the beat remains the same.

Between Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2017 and Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2017, the total trade deficit (goods and services) widened by £0.1 billion to £8.9 billion as increases in imports were closely matched by increases in exports.

So essentially the same as there is no way those numbers are accurate to £100 million. Even the UK establishment implicitly accept this.

The UK Statistics Authority suspended the National Statistics designation of UK trade on 14 November 2014.

If the problems were minor this would not be ongoing more than 2 years later would it? But if we go with what we have we see that as we stand the lower level for the UK Pound post the EU Leave vote has not made any significant impact.

In comparison with Quarter 1 and Quarter 2 of 2016, the total trade deficit over Quarter 1 and 2 of 2017 has been relatively stable.

This gets more fascinating when we note that prices and indeed inflation have certainly been on the move.

Sterling was 8.7% lower than a year ago, with UK goods export and import prices rising by 8.2% and 7.8% respectively over the period Quarter 2 2016 to Quarter 2 2017.

Construction

This is sadly yet another area where the numbers are “not a National Statistic” and I have written before that I lack confidence in them but for what it is worth they were disappointing.

Construction output fell both month-on-month and 3 month on 3 month, by 0.1% and 1.3% respectively.

This differs from the Markit PMI business survey which has shown growth.

Comment

We are finding that the summer of 2017 is rather a thin period for the UK economy. I do not mean the weaker trajectory for house prices because I feel that it is much more an example of inflation rather than the official view that it is economic growth. Yes existing owners do gain ( but mostly only if they sell) but first time buyers and those “trading up” lose.

Meanwhile our production sector is not far off static. So far the hoped for gains from a lower exchange rate have not arrived as we mull again J-Curve economics. Looking forwards there is some hope from the CBI survey for manufacturing in particular and maybe one day we can get it back to previous peaks. But we find ourselves yet again looking to a sector which appears to be on an inexorable march in terms of importance for the services sector dominates everything now and for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile there is plainly trouble at the UK Office for National Statistics as the rhetoric of data campuses meets a reality of two of today’s main data sets considered to be sub standard.

Me on Core Finance TV

http://www.corelondon.tv/bank-england-mpc-confusion/

http://www.corelondon.tv/bitcoin-will-5000-next-level/

http://www.corelondon.tv/ecb-hardcore-operators-inflation-targets/

 

 

 

 

 

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The UK sees falling house prices and production data

Today is one of the data days for the UK economy so let us get straight to one of the priorities of the Bank of England. From the Halifax.

House prices have flattened over the past three months. Overall, prices in the three months to June were marginally lower than in the preceding three months. The annual rate of growth has fallen, to 2.6%; the lowest rate since May 2013.

The timing is significant as the Funding for (Mortgage) Lending Scheme of the Bank of England began in the summer of 2013. This kicked off the rises in UK house prices we have seen. However Governor Carney’s morning espresso will have a taste analogous to corked wine as he notes these numbers and looks at the £75.5 billion of cheap funding he has given the banks since last August via the Term Funding Scheme. Can’t a central banker even bribe the banks to do things anymore?

There was in the report some grist to my mill if you recall that I warned that house prices looked like they would slip slide away in 2017.

House prices fell by 1.0% between May and June. This was the first monthly decline since January (1.1%)……House prices in the last three months (April-June) were 0.1% lower than in the previous three months (January March). This was the third successive quarterly fall; the first time this has happened since November 2012.

As you can see we are now looking back nearly five years to a different time when we had just emerged from worrying about a possible “triple dip” in the UK economy. However if we look for perspective the overall picture is as shown below.

Nationally, house prices in June 2017 were 9% above their August 2007 peak. The average house price of £218,390 is £63,727 (41%) higher than its low point of £154,663 in April 2009.

Of course this hides a large amount of regional variations as some places have struggled whilst London has soared. Also tucked away there was something rather unexpected unless the bank of mum and dad is at play.

The number of first-time buyers (FTBs) reached an estimated 162,704 in the first half of 2017, only 15% below the peak in 2006 (190,900), according to the latest Halifax First Time Buyer Review. The number of new buyers is up from 154,200 in the same period in 2016 and more than double the market low in the first half of 2009 (72,700).

The Real Economy

This morning has not been a good day for the underlying UK economy as we note the production figures.

In the 3 months to May 2017 compared with the 3 months to February 2017, the Index of Production was estimated to have decreased by 1.2%, due mainly to falls of 1.1% in manufacturing and 3.5% in energy supply.

As we have a wry smile one more time about the ( good in this instance) poor old weather taking the blame we see some poor figures. If we look at the month in isolation we continue to be disappointed.

In May 2017, total production was estimated to have decreased by 0.1% compared with April 2017, due to falls of 0.2% in manufacturing and 0.8% in energy supply; transport equipment provided the largest contribution to the manufacturing decrease, followed by food products, beverages and tobacco.

The bit that stands out there is the reference to transport equipment as that is consistent with other data showing a slowing in this area. Whilst engine production was up car production was down. Also these numbers fit very badly with the Markit PMI reading of 56.3 for May which indicated a good rate of growth as opposed to the fall reported by the official data.

Looking deeper I see that the wild and erratic ride of the pharmaceutical sector continues.

The decrease in manufacturing is due mainly to the highly volatile pharmaceutical industry, which fell by 7.8%, following a decrease of 12.0% in the 3 months to April 2017.

It rose by 1.1% in May and if we look at its pattern it should do better and help out in July so fingers crossed.

Trade

Here the news was much more normal although in this area that means bad.

Between April and May 2017, the total trade (goods and services) deficit widened to £3.1 billion, reflecting an increase in imports on the month (2.7%). The main contributor to this was an increase in imports of trade in goods….. There was a larger increase in goods imported from non-EU countries, mainly due to increases in mechanical machinery, followed by material manufactures (non-ferrous metals and silver) and oil.

If we look for some more perspective the same general pattern is to be seen.

Between the 3 months to February 2017 and the 3 months to May 2017, the total UK trade (goods and services) deficit widened from £6.9 billion to £8.9 billion.

A driver of this again appears to be a weaker phase for the UK automotive industry.

driven predominantly by increased imports of goods from non-EU countries; transport equipment (cars, aircraft and ships), oil and electrical machinery were the main contributors to this increase.

These numbers are of course just more in a decades long series of deficits. Also I note that the figures have yet to regain “national statistics” status so they are more unreliable than usual.

Some better news came on the inflation front as we had another data set which indicated that the inflationary pressure is easing.

Between April 2017 and May 2017, goods export and import prices decreased by 1% and 0.8% respectively……. the sterling price of crude oil decreasing by 6.2% in the 3 months to May 2017

Construction

The same beat was hammered out by these numbers today.

Construction output fell in May 2017 by 1.2%, in both the month-on-month and 3 month on 3 month time series…….The 3 month on 3 month decrease represents the largest 3 month on 3 month fall in output since September 2012, driven by falls in both repair and maintenance, and all new work.

This was particularly unexpected because for a start the warm weather which took some of the blame for the industrial production fall is usually a boost to construction. Also all the talk of higher infrastructure spending seems to have met a somewhat different reality.

most notably from infrastructure, which fell 4.0% following strong growth in April 2017.

Oh and yet again we have rather a mis-match with the business survey from Markit.

Comment

There were two bits of good economic news today. These were that the inflationary burst looks like it is fading and that house prices have stopped rising and may be falling. Of course the Bank of England will no doubt consider this as bad news. On the other side of the coin we are now in the phase where post the EU Leave vote the economic water was always likely to be colder and more choppy. We are in a phase where production and manufacturing are struggling with little sign that trade is providing much of a boost. Care is needed with the numbers as ever ( especially construction and trade) but our economy is now only grinding ahead and won’t be helped by this news from yesterday and the emphasis is mine.

Despite improvements in both GDP per head and NNDI per head, real household disposable income (RHDI) per head declined by 2.0% in Quarter 1 2017 compared with the same quarter a year ago

Please spare a thought for Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane at this difficult time. For newer readers this “sage” pushed for a “Sledgehammer” expansion of policy when the economy was doing okay and has now switched to talking about rate rises as it slows fulfilling the policy making nightmare of being pro cyclical.

Some Friday Humour

I bring you this from the Wall Street Journal last night.

Japan shows Europe how to dial back stimulus without spooking investors

Only a few hours later Business Insider was reporting this.

the Bank of Japan (BoJ) went all-in earlier today, pledging to buy an unlimited amount of 10-year bonds at a yield

Up is the new down yet again.

British and Irish Lions

I hope that our Kiwi contingent will not be too offended if I wish the Lions all the best for their historic opportunity tomorrow. Victories in New Zealand are rarer than Hen’s teeth can they manage 2 in a row? Here’s wishing and hoping…….

 

Of China, Bitcoin, football and innovative finance

This week was one when those who consider themselves to be the world’s elite wanted us to concentrate on events at the World Economic Forum in Davos. However this has gone rather wrong for them as the main news items this week turned out to be the Brexit speech given by Prime Minister May in the UK and of course the inauguration of Donald Trump as the new US President later today. These matters were referred to in Davos as George Soros explained how his profit and loss account would have been so much better except for those pesky voters in the UK and US. Bow down mortals, was the message there. The “open society” he proclaims seems to mean being open to agreeing with him.

China

We have found ourselves looking East quite a few times in 2017 and this morning we saw another instance of a thought-provoking action. From Ioan Smith.

| has cut RRR 1% at Big 5 banks HAS CUT RRR BY 1% temporarily to ease “seasonal liquidity pressure” – source

So the People’s Bank of China has eased pressure in the monetary system by reducing the amount of reserves the big banks need to hold. Reuters has given us more detail on this.

The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) has cut the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) for the banks by one percentage point, taking the ratio down to 16 percent.It will restore their RRR to the normal level at an appropriate time after the holiday, according to sources……….The five biggest lenders are Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd (ICBC), China Construction Bank Corp (CCB), Bank of China, Bank of Communications Co (BoCom) and Agricultural Bank of China.

 

This adds to other moves on the monetary system as I explained on the 5th of this month.

China’s efforts to choke capital outflows are beginning to pay off, with the offshore yuan surging the most on record as traders scrambled for a currency that’s becoming increasingly scarce outside the nation’s borders.

We have seen signs of this in two areas since. The first was the collapse in the price of Bitcoin as China applied capital controls. There has been more news about this in the last 24 hours. From the Wall Street Journal.

Chinese banking regulators said two bitcoin exchanges in Beijing improperly engaged in margin financing and failed to impose controls to prevent money laundering, a development that could hurt trading of the virtual currency in its biggest market.

The action by China’s central bank signals heightened government scrutiny of bitcoin trading on the mainland, which has been allowed to expand largely unfettered since 2013.

This chart of Bitcoin volumes is quite something.

As ever there is debate about the exact numbers but I think we get the idea.

Also we have seen it in the world of football where after two extraordinary trades where £60 million was supposedly paid for Oscar and Carlos Tevez is being paid around £1 per second. Yet suddenly limits on foreign players suddenly were tightened and as a Chelsea fan I was very grateful for that! Plenty of food for thought there for Roman Abramovich as in essence football was how he got plenty of money outside Russia.

GDP

This morning the Financial Times tells us this.

China’s gross domestic product, the world’s second-largest in nominal terms but already the largest at purchasing power parity, grew 6.7 per cent for the full year and at an annual rate of 6.8 per cent in the fourth quarter in real terms, down from 6.9 per cent in 2015. It was the slowest full-year growth figure since 1990 but comfortably within the government’s target range of 6.5-7 per cent. The fourth-quarter performance topped economists’ expectations of 6.7 per cent, according to a Reuters poll.

It is extraordinary how quickly they come up with their GDP numbers, it is almost as if they make them up. This of course is a counterpoint to headlines of the number being a “beat”. I also note that China seems to have learned something from the western capitalist imperialists.

But housing was a bright spot. Property sales grew 22.5 per cent in floor-area terms, the fastest pace in seven-years, while prices in major cities soared, prompting warnings of a bubble. Analysts expect the housing market to slow in 2016, as the government moves to cap runaway house prices that are a source of popular anger.

That is an issue that has caused plenty of trouble in western countries. Also I see one economist has had a bad day.

“The excess money supply in 2016 created problems with bubbles. Going forward, more deleveraging will be necessary. Monetary policy can’t be loosened further,” said Zhang Yiping, economist at China Merchants Securities in Beijing.

Industrial Production and Retail Sales

The first was extraordinary and yet also represents a slow down. From Investing.com.

In a report, National Bureau of Statistics of China said that Chinese Industrial Production fell to 6.0%, from 6.2% in the preceding month.

Many countries would give their right arm for industrial production growth like that but for China the noticeable fact is that it is now less than GDP growth. Meanwhile the economy seems to have shifted towards consumption

In a report, National Bureau of Statistics of China said that Chinese Retail Sales rose to an annual rate of 10.9%, from 10.8% in the preceding month.

The rest of the world would quite like China to make such a switch as it would reduce its trade surplus but can it manage it?

Financial Innovation

We have come to be very nervous of the word innovation after its use by Irish financiers. But take a look at this from the South China Morning Post last week.

Step one: Pledge a mainland asset with a mainland bank for a standby letter of credit (SBLC) which is a promise by the bank to pay. Use the SBLC to get a HK$8.8 billion loan in Hong Kong.

Since it’s a deal to pay off a piece of land publicly auctioned by the Hong Kong government, approval from the mainland regulators will be easy.

Step two: Pledge the Kai Tak land with the banks in Hong Kong. Many may find the bid – 70 per cent above market estimate – rather risky. Yet, it won’t be too difficult to find banks to provide a HK$3 billion loan which is only 40 per cent of the land cost.

Step three: Pledge the HK$3 billion cash with a bank in Hong Kong for a SBLC.

Step four: Use the second SBLC as security at a mainland financial institution to purchase debentures and bonds with annual returns of over 6 per cent or above.

Step five: Pledge the HK$3 billion worth of debentures with mainland banks for another SBLC. Given a routine discount of 30 per cent for financial products, the bank will issue a promise to pay HK$2 billion.

Step six: Use the third SBLC as collateral and get a HK$2 billion loan in Hong Kong. Repeat step three to five and so on so forth.

These steps may sound a bit complicated. But in many cases, these steps are all done among the mainland and Hong Kong branches of the same bank, though occasionally several banks are involved to dodge regulatory hurdles.

By the end of it you can “have” up to 25 billion Hong Kong Dollars of which 14 billion have left China.

Comment

As you can see there is much to mull about China as for example we have a wry smile at this week’s claim at Davos that it is all for free trade. On the surface we are told that everything is fine yet beneath it there is ever more debt and a rush to send money abroad. Later this year the Yuan is likely to fall again and the whole cycle will begin again.

Later we will find out a little of what President Trump plans so it could be quite a day. We already seem to have moved from fiscal stimulus to cuts as we await some concrete policies.

 

Does industrial disease matter in a modern economy?

Today sees some important data for the UK but before that we get some numbers which will be the priority of the Bank of England. This matters as several members of the Monetary Policy Committee will be speaking to Parliament this afternoon. They will already be unsettled by the recent positive data and also the rally in the UK Pound to above US $1.34 and may be shaken by this from the Halifax.

House prices declined by 0.2% between July and August.

They may fear that another 17.8% fall is on the immediate horizon to fulfil the pre Brexit referendum forecast of former Chancellor George Osborne and thereby conclude that a sledgehammer squared is now required. if so they may ignore this.

This modest decrease was the smallest of the four monthly falls so far this year. The quarter on quarter change is a more reliable indicator of the underlying trend.

Okay and the quarterly picture is.

House prices in the three months to August were 0.7% higher than in the previous three months (March-May)

So still some growth here albeit slower than before which is no great surprise as we saw buy to let activity pushed earlier in the year because of the April Stamp Duty changes. Indeed the annual picture shows house price rising at around treble the rate of wage growth.

Prices in the three months to August were 6.9% higher than in the same three months a year earlier. This was down from 8.4% in July, continuing the downward trend since March when the annual rate reached 10.0%. August’s 6.9% is the lowest yearly growth rate since October 2013 (6.9%).

So if we stop and take stock we see that the main player so far this year for house price growth was in fact the Stamp Duty change. Also we see that house prices have in this latest house price boom moved from around 4.5 times earning to more like 5.5 times in response to the Bank of England Funding for Lending Scheme according to the Halifax. Meanwhile if we use the monthly average earnings series we see that it has the average wage at £26,000 meaning that the standardised average price of £213,930 is some 8.2 times it.

Manufacturing

Today’s numbers which represent output in July are in the phase where the Markit business survey told us that the leave referendum result had a bad effect.

the 41-month low of 48.3 posted in July following the EU referendum.

It will be interesting to see how this is reflected in the official figures as they do not always coincide by any means. However I wish to look at a more fundamental level as I think that manufacturing is important and therefore disagree with the thoughts of John Kay of the Financial Times.

Manufacturing fetishism – the idea that manufacturing is the central economic activity and everything else is somehow subordinate – is deeply ingrained in human thinking……….From these primitive times, we have inherited the notion of a hierarchy of needs in which food and shelter rank ahead of chartered accountancy and cosmetic surgery.  Along with the hierarchy of household needs comes a perception of a hierarchy of importance for productive activities – agriculture, primary resources and basic manufacturing rank ahead of hairdressing and television programming.

With respect to chartered accountants and cosmetic surgeons I do think that food and shelter are more important than them. John has plainly missed a career as a central banker when he would be vulnerable to his own ” I cannot eat an I-Pad” moment.

These days if we look at the financial sector the statement below changes in tone and emphasis.

As economies passed beyond the basic and all-consuming requests for food, fuel and shelter, rewards became divorced from the place activities enjoyed in the hierarchy of needs.

Many would regard that as a problem as is the issue he champions below.

Those who are lucky enough to have possess these rare talents or occupy positions of authority have often felt embarrassed by earning more than those who work to satisfy more basic elements in the hierarchy of needs.

If you find someone like that please let me know as they are a rare beast indeed! Today’s news on the Southern Health scandal reminds us that those who occupy positions of authority seem to have missed the embarrassment gene.

Where John is on better ground is that “industrial strategies” by different governments often try to occupy the same piece of ground which is why there is so much overproduction of steel. Food for thought as the UK apparently heads for its own industrial strategy.

The Credit Crunch

Even before the credit crunch the UK was seeing a decline in both production and manufacturing.

In 1997, the share of nominal GVA accounted for by production in the UK was 21.7%, around the middle of the range relative to the other economies. By 2014, the UK had become relatively less reliant on production, as its share fell to 14.2% of nominal GVA………..The same trend was observed in manufacturing, where the share of nominal GVA fell from 17.1% in 1997 to 10.2% in 2014.

The credit crunch made this worse.

In the 3 months to July 2016, production and manufacturing were 7.6% and 5.2% respectively below their level reached in the pre-downturn GDP peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008.

Today’s numbers

These were good in the circumstances for production.

0.1% increase in total production in July, driven by growth in mining & quarrying (+4.7%)…..In July 2016, total production output was estimated to have increased by 2.1% compared with July 2015.

However the Markit business survey has had something of a victory with the manufacturing numbers.

0.9% fall in manufacturing in July…..Manufacturing was estimated to have increased by 0.8% over the same period ( a year)

The fall was driven by a sector which has been erratic so far in 2016 as regular readers will recall.

with the largest contribution (to the fall) from pharmaceuticals

Output in that sector fell by 5.6% on the month and continues a pattern which is almost impossible to discern. On a more positive side was the motor industry.

The largest contribution within this sub-sector came from the manufacture of motor vehicles, trailers & semi-trailers, which increased by 9.0% and contributed 0.5 percentage points to total production. This was the fifth consecutive increase on a year ago.

Comment

We find that one more time the media pack are clustered around something of minor importance and missing a much larger issue. What I mean is the impact of the leave vote on manufacturing when in fact if the Markit business survey continues to be on form then it did not change things much if at all. Going forwards we will see a more complex picture as the initial price competitiveness ch-ch-changes meet higher costs.

In July 2016 the manufacturing industry experienced inflation in terms of the prices manufacturers pay for materials and fuels used in the production process (input prices) and the prices they charge for the goods they produce (output prices).

Meanwhile the whole manufacturing and production issue is a long-term one of decline. Some of it we cannot help unless we wish to drive wages to well below the UK minimum wage. Therefore we need a strategy for higher value products in my opinion and one bit is easy and the other is hard. With the current level of cheap borrowing costs for the government we are in a really bad state if we cannot find projects to encourage. But the truth is that longer-term growth relies much more on issues like education and creating a positive environment for innovation and invention than the fantasies and fads of politicians.

Meanwhile it was hard not to have a wry smile at this released with Germanic efficiency earlier today. Imagine if we had released this.

In July 2016,production in industry was down by 1.5% from the previous month on a price, seasonally and working day adjusted basis according to provisional data of the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis)…….. Within industry, the production of capital goods decreased by 3.6% and the production of consumer goods by 2.6%.

If only German had a word to cover this……Still we can provide some musical accompaniment.

The work force is disgusted downs tools and walks
Innocence is injured experience just talks
Everyone seeks damages and everyone agrees
That these are ‘classic symptoms of a monetary squeeze’
On ITV and BBC they talk about the curse
Philosophy is useless theology is worse
History boils over there’s an economics freeze
Sociologists invent words that mean ‘Industrial Disease’

 

 

The economy of Italy remains “a girlfriend in a coma”

A long running theme of this blog has been the way that the economy of Italy has struggled in the good times and then shrunk in the bad times. Back on the 12th of February I pointed out this from Nick Kounis of ABN Amro which reflected on the state of play in the Italian economy.

The ‘good’ news is that this is above ‘s trend growth rate of zero.

Well that was true then but sadly there has been a return to trend according to the official data released by Istat this morning.

In the second quarter of 2016 the seasonally and calendar adjusted, chained volume measure of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) resulted unchanged with respect to the first quarter of 2016 and increased by 0.7 per cent in comparison with the second quarter of 2015.

So we note that Italy has returned to what some consider to be its trend growth rate of 0% with a little soupcon of solace coming from the fact that at least it has edged forwards on an annual basis. However it has not turned out to be what some of the Twittersphere and media were at the turn of the year calling the “Renzi Recovery” and was below forecasts of a 0.2% expansion.

As this is the preliminary estimate we do not get a lot of detail but via Google Translate we can glean this.

The quarterly change is the synthesis of an increase in value added in the agriculture and service sectors and a decline in the industry. On the demand side, there is a slight negative contribution of domestic component (gross inventories), offset by a positive contribution from net foreign component.

So if there was some growth we could call it export-led but we instead find ourselves noting that yet again domestic demand has been weak in Italy.

Industrial Production

This does get a mention so let us take a look.

In June 2016 the seasonally adjusted industrial production index decreased by 0.4% compared with the previous month. The percentage change of the average of the last three months with respect to the previous three months was -0.4.

So a gentle decline which is reinforced by the annual comparison.

The calendar adjusted industrial production index decreased by 1.0% compared with June 2015

There is a recessionary flavour to those numbers and if anything that changes to a depressionary feel as we note that the underlying index is at 91.8 if seasonally adjusted and 95.9 if calendar adjusted. The depressionary feel increases if we look back to the 2005 numbers because if my maths is correct the comparison is 83.7 to then. Care is needed on exact precision as elements will have changed and the monthly series can be erratic but we get the general idea.

Of course Italy is far from alone in seeing lower production over such a timescale but it has failed to find growth elsewhere. Bloomberg points out this.

Second-quarter industrial output fell most in almost two years

GDP Trends

As I have discussed above Italy has alternated between stagnation and contraction in the credit crunch era. Thus I think you can guess which is the GDP of Italy in the chart below produced by @fwred.

Actually it Fred is wrong as whilst that chart is indeed worrying for Italy it is not the most worrying one as there are other contenders which push past it. I discussed this issue on the second of June.

I have taken a look at the annual numbers and in the year it adopted the Euro (1999) Italy had a GDP per capita of 26,353 Euro’s and in 2015 it was 25,479 Euro’s or 3.3% lower (2010 prices).

We know that the Italian population is expected to rise and if there is more of this reported by the Financial Times then it may rise even more quickly.

Milan’s mayor has warned that the city may have to set up tents to house migrants, as a record number of arrivals turn up in Italy’s second-largest city after being rejected at the French and Swiss borders.

If GDP growth struggles or stagnates then the issue per person or per capita will continue to deteriorate even further below the level at which Italy joined the Euro.

Unemployment

This is an indicator which has been affected by the economic growth problems Italy has seen.

unemployment rate was 11.6%, +0.1 percentage points over the previous month……Unemployed were 2.983 million, +0.9% over the previous month.

As June sees a rise in work for tourism it is not normally a month you would associate with rising unemployment. Also whilst it did improve it is hard not to feel a chill run down ones spine as you read the size of the youth unemployment problem.

Youth unemployment rate (aged 15-24) was 36.5%, -0.3 percentage points over May

The banks of Italy

These have considerable problems as described here by the Governor of the Bank of Italy.

The figure of €360 billion refers to the whole category of “non-performing loans” (NPLs), while “bad loans,” the so-called “sofferenze,” are much lower. Of the €360 billion of gross NPLs outstanding at the end of 2015, bad loans accounted for €210 billion; while the remaining €150 billion loans were classified, alternatively, as “unlikely to be repaid,” past-due, restructured or “in breach of overdraft ceilings.”

If you read the interview with Politico he is trying to tell you that a loan “unlikely to be repaid” is not a bad loan! But the theme here is the way that the banks and the economy are intertwined as the banks are in no shape to provide credit for businesses in the current economic environment and of course the ongoing economic environment weakens the banks. Rinse and repeat. This week has provided more news on this front Italy’s banks. from 24 Ore

Veneto Banca turned a page on its troubled past yesterday when a new controlling shareholder named new management, after a failed €1 billion capital increase was entirely subscribed by the Atlante fund …..Atlante on Monday named Beniamino Anselmi as the bank’s fourth chairman in a year,

Ah fourth chairman in a year! However let us move on from the details of the banking crisis to the impact on the wider economy.

But it will take months, maybe years, to assess the impact caused by the near-collapse of Veneto Banca and the wealthy industrial region’s other cooperative bank, Popolare di Vicenza, on the local economy renowned for its dynamic small- and medium-sized companies.

Veneto Banca’s relationship with its territory has always been extremely close: it’s the bank that supports the local economy……Naturally, the growth of Venetian economy cannot be ascribed to this mechanism alone; nonetheless, it’s been a major component over the past few decades.

Comment

The real problem is that this should be one of the better phases for the Italian economy. This is because it should be benefiting from the lower price of crude oil and other commodities. Also the ECB has set a deposit rate of -0.4% and set out on an extraordinary expansion of its balance sheet. As of the start of this month some 155.9 billion of Italian government bonds have been purchased which gives quite a boost to Renzi’s government via its fiscal position. At some shorter maturities Italy is even being paid to borrow and the ten-year yield is below 1.1%. Very valuable when you have a national debt to GDP ratio of around 133% (IMF).

But instead growth has faded and if we look forwards the outlook does not look that bright. Here is the official view.

The composite leading indicator for the Italian economy showed a further decline, albeit to a lesser intensity than the declines of recent months.

If we move to the private-sector Markit PMI we are told this.

The manufacturing economy started the third quarter on a softer footing,……

And something of a curate’s egg for services which starts well.

July was, in general, another positive month for the services economy, with business activity growing steadily

But then we get this.

“However, the survey’s future expectations indicator, which deteriorated further to a 32-month low, sends a warning signal that growth in business activity is set to remain subdued and that hiring may slow.

So I write this sadly as Italy is a lovely country which I like very much but even the IMF does not hold out much hope for a recovery before the 2020s so the theme for economic growth is from Talking Heads.

We’re on a road to nowhere
Come on inside
Takin’ that ride to nowhere
We’ll take that ride

 

 

La Belle France continues to find sustained economic growth elusive

It is past time for us to hop across the channel or in this context La Manche and take a look at the ongoing economic problems of France. These have no doubt not been helped by the effect of the recent terrorist outrages on tourism but today has given us a reminder of other issues with the French economy. So let us get straight to it.

Production and Manufacturing

This morning’s data release shows that it was not a good June for either overall production or manufacturing in France. From Insee.

In June 2016, output decreased in the manufacturing industry (-1.2% after +0.1% in May). It declined again in the whole industry (-0.8% after -0.5%).

Imagine if that had been the pre-Brexit position in the UK! The Financial Times would cover nothing else. Perhaps the award of a Legion d’Honneur to its editor Lionel Barber may mean that it may be in no rush to point out that the situation in June in France was considerably worse than the UK.

If we look for more perspective we see that the problems are more than just for a single month.

Over the second quarter of 2016, output decreased slightly in the manufacturing industry (-0.2% q-o-q). It was virtually stable in the overall industry (-0.1% q-o-q).

So in essence these readings spent the second quarter on a road to nowhere. That picture does not change much if we switch to an annual comparison.

Manufacturing output of the second quarter of 2016 grew slightly compared to the same quarter of 2015 (+0.3%, y-o-y). Overall industrial output was also up (+0.4%).

The release is rather reticent or perhaps forgetful on the issue of a monthly comparison with 2015 so let me help out. In June 2015 adjusted production was 101.7 and this year was 100.4 whereas manufacturing had dropped from 102.7 to 101.2.

Factors at play

Like the UK the transport sector in France has been having a good run.

Over a year, manufacturing output soared in the manufacture of transport equipment (+7.6%) and rose more moderately in “other manufacturing”(+0.5%).

The whole transport manufacturing sector seems to have been doing well as I note this from the Financial Times earlier.

BMW sales hit fresh records in July

However the boomlet does seem to be fading so needs watching. On the other side of the coin has been what is happening in the energy industry in France.

Output collapsed in the manufacture of coke and refined petroleum products (-12.4% after -21.0%)
Output plunged in the manufacture of coke and refined petroleum products, because of the shutdown of a refinery and blockades of several others in the beginning of June.

So there should be something of a bounce back there once things return to normal.

What about consumption of goods?

In June 2016, household consumption expenditure on goods decreased: -0.8% in volume*, as in May.

Now this gets a little awkward as we note that a factor in this is something which is overall a benefit for France which is lower expenditure on energy.

In June, consumption of energy tumbled significantly (-6.3% after -0.8%); it is its highest drop since June 2013.

GDP growth

The second quarter of 2016 turned out to be quite a disappointment.

In Q2 2016, GDP in volume terms* was stable : 0.0% after +0,7% in Q1.

I will look at the way this must have disappointed the ECB (European Central Bank) in a moment but there was quite a sharp fall in domestic demand seen.

All in all, final domestic demand (excluding inventory changes) was flat: its contribution to GDP growth was flat (after +1.0 points in Q1)

This was mostly consumption falling but there was also a decline in investment. Net exports rose in case you are wondering why the numbers do not add up but even there we saw something to mull.

Imports significantly stepped back (-1.3% after +0.5%), while exports still modestly declined (-0.3% as in the previous quarter).

So yes trade was a positive influence but only because imports fell faster than exports.

Looking Ahead

We are not too early for the Bank of France indicator which in its usual over optimistic fashion predicted GDP growth of 0.3% and the 0.2% for the second quarter of this year. From Reuters.

France’s economy will expand 0.3 percent in the third quarter, returning to growth after stalling in the previous three-month period, the said on Monday in its first estimate for the period.

The central bank gave its estimate in its monthly business climate survey, in which it said industrial sector confidence picked up slightly in July, increasing by one point on the previous month to 98. However confidence within the services sector dipped by a point to 96.

There is food for thought in the numbers which are long-running series where the average is 100. Earlier this month the PMI survey for the Euro area pointed out this.

whereas France continued to hover around the stagnation mark……However, France continued to stagnate, acting as a significant drag on the region.

If we look into the detail of the reports specifically on France we see this.

The service sector returned to growth at the start of the third quarter, compensating for ongoing manufacturing weakness and leaving overall private sector activity broadly flat on the month.

The ECB

Mario Draghi and his colleagues must be wondering what to do next as France joins Italy in the economic slow lane with Germany and Spain in the fast line and of course Ireland which according to its statisticians overtook the Starship Enterprise in 2015. That is a problem of one size fits all monetary policy.

But France has benefited from a lower exchange rate with the trade-weighted Euro at 94.6 as opposed to the 104.5 of March 2014. Also the official interest-rate is set at -0.4% ( below the lower bound for the UK claimed by Bank of England Governor Carney) and as of the beginning of this month had purchased some 179.2 billion of French government bonds. This means that at the 2 and 5 year maturities France is paid to borrow and even at the benchmark 10 year it currently pays a mere 0.12%. As to whether the low level of bond yields boosts the economy is a moot point but it certainly helps the fiscal position of the French government.

With growth low more eyes will turn to this number especially as it approaches 100%.

At the end of Q1 2016, the Maastricht debt amounted to €2,137.6 billion, a €40.7 billion increase in comparison to Q4 2015. It accounted for 97.5% of GDP, 1.4 points higher than the Q4 2015’s level.

Comment

This has been a long running saga where the French economy recovered well from the initial credit crunch impact in 2010 and 11. But the follow-up blow of the Euro area crisis has seen its economy stagnate and now even with the ECB monetary accelerator pressed to and sometimes beyond the metal there seems to be more problems. Sustained economic growth seems to be singing along with Bonnie Tyler.

I was lost in France

Bank of England

Yesterday it failed to purchase as many UK Gilts as it wanted to buy. This was a consequence of trying to buy ultra long-dated UK Gilts which is something I have critiqued many times as well as before the event yesterday. I suggested a solution on Twitter.

Dear Bank of England Simply buy some extra medium-dated Gilts today! Yours Shaun

Instead the solution was well not a solution.

The Bank will incorporate the Stg 52mn shortfall from yesterday’s uncovered operation within the second half of the current six-month purchase programme.

Talk about making yourself look inflexible and leaden footed. The markets will take them as well as sadly us as taxpayers for fools now.

The new Bank of England QE program explained

Today brings us quite a bit of new information on the state of play of the UK economy post the Brexit leave vote and the Bank of England response to it. It is a rather moot point that the Bank of England should have waited for such data before pressing the trigger on its monetary sledgehammer. After all it may yet crack the wrong nut! Let me start with what we have discovered about the new Bank of England QE (Quantitative Easing) machine which fired up its new engines yesterday. Just as a reminder I pointed out on August 5th that the salvo of £70 billion ( including £10 billion of Corporate Bonds) may well have been fired straight into the nearest foot.

The deficit of defined benefit pensions, which pay out an income linked to an employee’s final salary, jumped £70bn as a direct consequence of the decision to reduce interest rates by 0.25 per cent, according to Hymans Robertson, the consultancy.

Ah so a one for one ratio with the planned QE increase! At this point Mark Carney and the Bank of England are wearing a collective Dunces cap. Let us move onto the technical details of the new QE era. Back in 2012 the Bank of England reported on another issue

that would give an estimate of the total increase in household wealth stemming from the Bank’s £325 billion of asset purchases up to May 2012 of just over £600 billion, equivalent to around £10,000 per person if assets were evenly distributed across the population.

Apart from an implicit confession that it is aiming at equity and house prices the obvious catch is that the assets are not “evenly distributed” as they are concentrated in much fewer hands as the echoes of the 1% and 0.1% appear. Or to be put another way.

And the survey suggested that the median household held only around £1,500 of gross assets,

The Purchases

This will be made on a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at which point the Bank of England’s presumably exhausted bond buyers will retire for the next four days. Each day they will do this.

Between 8 August 2016 and 31 October 2016, the size of auctions will initially be £1,170mn for each maturity sector.

They buy a particular part of the maturity spectrum on a particular day so today Tuesday is for long-dated Gilts.

The Bank will continue, normally, to conduct three auctions a week: gilts with a residual maturity of 3-7 years will be purchased on Mondays; of over 15 years on Tuesdays; and of 7-15 years on Wednesdays.

Tuesday’s are particularly significant as they are the day that not only our children are committed to the consequences of QE but our grandchildren as well. The category “over 15 years” includes our longest-dated UK Gilt which matures in 2068 and as part of previous operations the Bank of England owns some £989 million of it.

As the size of the operation increases then this factor will become more significant.

The Bank does not currently intend to purchase gilts where the Bank holds more than 70% of the “free float”, i.e. the total amount in issue minus government holdings. The Bank will, however, continue to keep the gilts eligible for purchase by the APF under review.

The consequences

These are to be seen in UK Gilt prices which are surging and consequently in yields which are falling. The benchmark ten-year yield has fallen below 0.6% this morning for the first time ever and the thirty-year yield has fallen to yet another new low of 1.41%. Of course the latter will be seeing Bank of England purchases today as it buys the highest Gilt prices we have ever seen.

Those who have the ability to remortgage might well be noting that the UK five-year Gilt yield is a mere 0.17% as that particular rate is used for the various derivatives used to set the rates for fixed-rate mortgages. So there could be a bonanza set of offers to come unless of course the banks suck the gains into their margins.

Differences with the ECB

Yesterday showed up a couple so let me explain. The ECB will not buy bonds yielding less than its deposit rate currently -0.4%. Whereas the Bank of England bought a 2019 Gilt yielding a mere 0.03% proving that it is quite content to buy UK Gilts at a yield much lower than its Bank Rate of 0.25%. As it finances its purchases at Bank Rate it may lead to some head-scratching however! Perhaps nobody has thought that through yet.

But the concept of a 0% or even negative yield does seem to put the Bank of England off as there were offers for Gilts around that area it rejected and I suspect that the cause was along those lines. We will have to wait and see as this will not recur until next Monday.

Index-Linkers

Just for clarity the Bank of England does not buy these as part of its QE operations so around 22% of the UK Gilt market is not available to it. It has of course purchased then in the past for its pension fund.

Today’s data

This opened with the most timely in the series from the British Retail Consortium. From Reuters.

Retail spending in July was 1.9 percent higher than a year earlier, the biggest rise in six months and up sharply from 0.2 percent growth in June, when bad weather added to uncertainty around June 23’s referendum, the British Retail Consortium said.

This news added to yesterday’s.

The data are in line with figures on Monday from credit card company Visa which showed consumer spending picked up in July, as Britons’ behaviour failed to match a post-Brexit slump in sentiment reported in earlier surveys.

So we should note that the BRC numbers do not always coincide with the official data and single month retail sales figures are unreliable but so far so good especially compared to the worst fears. It adds to the positive tourism figures reported yesterday.

Next up came some solid production data although it was for June so maybe only slightly affected by the Brexit result.

Total production output is estimated to have increased by 0.1% in June 2016 compared with May 2016……..Total production output is estimated to have increased by 2.1% between Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2016 and Quarter 2 (Apr to Jun) 2016.

So month on month positive albeit by the smallest margin but the quarterly data was reviewed like this by Andy Verity of the BBC.

Industrial output grew in the second quarter of the year faster than it had since 1999 (ONS).

A little care is needed as the boost was earlier in the quarter and may have been affected by the Easter seasonal adjustment misfiring but still good.

Manufacturing was down on the month by 0.3% but overall had a good quarter.

The largest contribution to the quarterly increase in total production came from manufacturing, which increased by 1.8%. The largest contribution to the increase in manufacturing came from the manufacture of transport equipment, which increased by 5.6%.

I have highlighted the transport sector because it was it after a good quarter which was the main player in June manufacturing dipping.

Trade problems

These are ongoing for the UK economy and I have been writing about them for years and years. As the monthly figures are pretty hopeless as for example the important services data is only collected quarterly here is the state of play.

Between Quarter 1 (January to March) 2016 and Quarter 2 (April to June) 2016, the total trade deficit for goods and services widened by £0.4 billion to £12.5 billion.

Persistent deficits are the name of the game here. How much of a difference the lower UK Pound will make is open to speculation although some sections of the Financial Times appear to believe it should have been affecting the trade figures before it had happened?! Perhaps they have been watching too many time travel episodes of Dr.Who.

Comment

There is something of an irony in that as I look through and analyse the new QE operations of the Bank of England program that today’s evidence suggests it is not necessary. There are always dangers in any data series but retail sales and production (albeit modestly) being higher do not a case for QE make. If QE helped a trade position then we should have started it some 20 years or more ago!

Yet the siren voices at the Bank of England cry out again. From Reuters.

“Bank rate can be cut further, closer to zero, and quantitative easing can be stepped up”, McCafferty wrote in an op-ed for the Times.

Has Ian McCafferty forgotten already that he voted against the extra QE? No doubt he hopes people will forget how his votes for an interest-rate rise turned into the reality of an interest-rate cut. He must be dizzy from all the U-Turns and spinning around.