Germany will be the bellweather for the next stage of ECB monetary easing

Today there only is one topic and it was given a lead in late last night from Japan. There GDP growth was announced as 0.3% for the last quarter of 2018 which sounded okay on its own but meant that the economy shrank by 0.4% in the second half of 2018. Also it meant that it was the same size as a year before. So a bad omen for the economic growth news awaited from Germany.

In the fourth quarter of 2018, the gross domestic product (GDP) remained nearly at the previous quarter’s level after adjustment for price, seasonal and calendar variations.

If you want some real precision Claus Vistensen has given it a go.

German GDP up a dizzying 0.0173% in Q4.

Of course the numbers are nothing like that accurate and Germany now faces a situation where its economy shrank by 0.2% in the second half of 2018. The full year is described below.

Hence short-term economic development in Germany showed two trends in 2018. The Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) reports that, after a dynamic start into the first half of the year (+0.4% in the first quarter, +0.5% in the second quarter), a small dip (-0.2% in the third quarter, 0.0% in the fourth quarter) was recorded in the second half of the year. For the whole year of 2018, this was an increase of 1.4% (calendar adjusted: 1.5%). Hence growth was slightly smaller than reported in January.

Another way of looking at the slowdown is to compare the average annual rate of growth in 2018 of 1.5% with it now.

+0.6% on the same quarter a year earlier (price and calendar adjusted)

If we look at the quarter just gone in detail we see that it was domestic demand that stopped the situation being even worse.

The quarter-on-quarter comparison (price, seasonally and calendar adjusted) reveals that positive contributions mainly came from domestic demand. Gross fixed capital formation, especially in construction but also in machinery and equipment, increased markedly compared with the third quarter of 2018. While household final consumption expenditure increased slightly, general government final consumption expenditure was markedly up at the end of the year.

Is the pick up in government spending another recessionary signal? So far there is no clear sign of any rise in unemployment that is not normal for the time of year.

the number of persons in employment fell by 146,000, or 0.3%, in December 2018 on the previous month. The month-on-month decrease was smaller than the relevant average of the past five years (-158,000 people.

Actually we can say that it looks like there has been a fall in productivity as the year on year annual GDP growth rate of 0.6% compares with this.

Number of persons in employment in the fourth quarter of 2018 up 1.1% on the fourth quarter of 2017.

Also German industry does not seem to have lost confidence as we note the rise in investment which is the opposite of the UK where it ha been struggling. But something that traditionally helps the German economy did not.

However, development of foreign trade did not make a positive contribution to growth in the fourth quarter. According to provisional calculations, exports and imports of goods and services increased nearly at the same rate in the quarter-on-quarter comparison.

In a world sense that is not so bad news as the German trade surplus is something which is a global imbalance but for Germany right now it is a problem for economic growth.

So let us move on as we note that German economic growth peaked at 2.8% in the autumn of 2017 and is now 0.6%.

Inflation

This morning’s release on this front does not doubt have an element of new year sales but seems to suggest that inflation has faded.

 the selling prices in wholesale trade increased by 1.1% in January 2019 from the corresponding month of the preceding year. In December 2018 and in November 2018 the annual rates of change had been +2.5% and +3.5%, respectively.
From December 2018 to January 2019 the index fell by 0.7%.

Bond Yields

It is worth reminding ourselves how low the German ten-year yield is at 0.11%. That according to my chart compares to 0.77% a year ago and is certainly not what you might expect from reading either mainstream economics and media thoughts. That is because the German bond market has boomed as the ECB central bank reduced and then ended its monthly purchases of German government bonds. Let me give you some thoughts on why this is so.

  1. Those who invest their money have seen a German economic slowing and moved into bonds.
  2. Whilst monthly QE ended there are still ECB holdings of 517 billion Euros which is a tidy sum especially when you note Germany not expanding its debt and is running a fiscal surplus.
  3. The likelihood of a new ECB QE programme ( please see Tuesday’s post) has been rising and rising. Frankly the only reason it has not been restarted is the embarrassment of doing so after only just ending it.

Accordingly it would not take much more for the benchmark ten-year yield to go negative again. After all all yields out to the nine-year maturity now are. Let me point out how extraordinary that is on two counts. First that it happened at all and next the length of time for which negative bond yields have persisted.

If we look at that from another perspective we see that Germany could if it so chose respond to this slowing with fiscal policy. It can borrow for essentially nothing and in both absolute and relative terms its national debt has been falling. The awkward part is presentational after many years of telling other euro area countries ( most recently Italy) that this is a bad idea!

Comment

If you are a subscriber to the theme that Euro area monetary policy has generally been set for Germany’s benefit then there is plenty of food for thought in the above. Indeed it all started with the large devaluation it engineered for its exporters via swapping the Deutschmark for the Euro. That is currently very valuable because a mere glance at Switzerland suggests that rather than 1.13 to the US Dollar  the DM would be say 1.50 and maybe higher. Care is needed because as the Euro area’s largest economy of course it should be a major factor in monetary policy just not the only one.

Right now there will be chuntering of teeth in Frankfurt on two counts. Firstly that my theme that the timing of what you do matters nearly as much as what you do and on this front the ECB has got it wrong. Next comes the issue that it was not supposed to be the German economy that was to be a QE junkie. Yes the trade issues have not helped but it is deeper than that.

With some of the banks in trouble too such as Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank we could see a “surprise” easing from the ECB especially if there is a no-deal Brexit. That would provide a smokescreen for a fast U-Turn.

Me on The Investing Channel

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Help with UK energy prices turns into higher inflation just like with house prices

This morning has brought news which will have had Bank of England Governor Mark Carney spluttering as he enjoys his morning espresso. The Halifax Building Society does its best to hide it but their house price for January 2019 at £223,691 is lower than the £224,025 of a year ago. Or if you prefer the index at 724 is below the 725.1 of a year ago. Perhaps his staff will console him by reminding him that the index means that house prices are according to the Halifax over seven times higher than they were in 1983.

In case you were wondering how the Halifax spins it we are told this.

Prices in the three months to January were 0.8% higher than in the same three months a year
earlier – down from the 1.3% annual growth rate recorded in December.

Although they cannot avoid having to point out these two rather inconvenient facts..

House prices in the latest quarter (November-January) were 0.6% lower than in the preceding
three months (August – October)
On a monthly basis, house prices decreased by 2.9% in January, following a 2.5% rise in
December.

The Halifax has another go at presenting the numbers and note the swerve from monthly to quarterly numbers which they omit to mention.

Attention will no doubt be drawn towards the monthly fall of -2.9% from December to January, the second time in
three years that we have seen a drop as a new year starts. However, the bigger picture is actually that house prices
have seen next to no movement over the last year, with annual growth of just 0.8%.
“This could either be viewed as a story of resilience, as prices have held up well in the face of significant economic
uncertainty, or as a continuation of the slow growth we’ve witnessed over recent years.”

So they have shown “resilience” by falling 2.9% in a month? That sort of language is of course central banker style as it covers banks which quite often then collapse. If we look for a pattern we see that the monthly moves are erratic but that the quarterly comparison has been negative for the last three months now. Also if prices remain here then 2019 will show some more solid annual falls because there were some blips higher last year especially in the summer.

Looking ahead

The underlying situation does not tell us a lot either way.

Monthly UK home sales latest quarter. December saw 102,330 home sales, which is very close to
the 5 year average of 101,515…….In December mortgage approvals showed little difference to the previous month. Bank of England industry-wide figures show that the number of mortgages approved to finance house
purchases – a leading indicator of completed house sales saw a flat 0.2% rise to 63,793. The December rate is still not far below the 2018 average of 64,913 but is 2,694 below the average of the past 5 years.

So maybe a little weaker which they try to offset with this.

On the demand side we see very high employment levels, improving real wage growth, low inflation and low mortgage rates.

The catch of course is that we saw plenty of house price growth with falling real wages and compared to them house prices took quite a shift upwards. Let us move on as we note that none of the house price measures we look at are perfect but that overall we have seen a welcome fall in house price growth which hopefully will begin the long road to making them more affordable again. Otherwise the only way for them to be more affordable is for more interest-rate cuts and credit easing, or a trip to negative interest-rates as we looked at yesterday.

Energy Inflation

Okay let me open with a reminder that we are looking at something that was badged as reducing energy costs with the implication that it would reduce inflation. Or to link with the topic above “help” with energy costs.

The price cap for customers on default (including standard variable) tariffs, introduced on 1 January 2019, will increase by £117 to £1,254 per year, from 1 April for the six-month “summer” price cap period. The price cap for pre-payment meter customers will increase by £106 to £1,242 per year for the same period. ( UK Ofgem)

As you can see those are pretty solid increases to say the least. Here is the explanation.

Capped prices only increase when the underlying cost of energy increases. Equally when costs fall consumers’ bills are cut as suppliers are prevented from keeping prices higher for longer than necessary.

The caps will continue to ensure that the 15 million households protected pay a fair price for their energy because the rises announced today reflect a genuine increase in underlying energy costs rather than supplier profiteering.

We do get something of a breakdown.

Around £74 of the £117 increase in the default tariff cap is due to higher wholesale energy costs, which makes up over a third (£521) of the overall cap.

That is really rather odd as I note that the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil is at US $62.63 some 7% lower than a year ago. Of course there is the lower value of the UK Pound £ to take into account but that leaves us roughly unchanged. Or to put it another way UK weekly fuel prices at the pump have fallen by approximately ten pence per litre since the peaks in the autumn of last year.

Accordingly I hope that this is investigated as there is more to it than meets the eye in my opinion.

While the prices of wholesale energy contracts used for calculating the cap have fallen in recent months, overall these costs remain 17% higher than the last cap period (see wholesale energy charts below).

Also there are ongoing higher prices from the cost of green energy.

Other costs, including network costs for transporting electricity and gas to homes and costs associated with environmental and social schemes (policy costs), have also risen and contributed to the increase in the level of the caps.

These get tucked away in the explanation but over time have been substantial. If the establishment have the faith in them they claim why do they keep trying to hide it? there have been successes in the world of green power such as the substantial improvement seen from solar efficiency but we have made little progress in the obvious need to be able to store it. Also according to Wired the polar vortex which hit the US caused trouble for electric vehicles.

That’s because the lithium-ion batteries that power EVs (as well as cellphones and laptops) are very temperature sensitive.

 

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here but let me start with my theme that the UK suffers from institutionalised inflation. For once let me give the BBC some credit as Victoria Fritz has figured out that something does not seem right.

11 million households protected by the Government’s energy price cap have been told that their bills are set to go up by around £100 a year. What good is a cap if it moves just months after it was set?

Governor Carney will be particularly keen on this form of inflation as he regularly flies around the world to lecture us on climate change, But on what is a Super Thursday as we get the quarterly inflation report ( Narrator, for newer readers it is usually anything but,,,) his mind will be on house prices and perhaps in the press conference he will have another go at this.

Mark Carney met senior ministers on Thursday to discuss the risks of a disorderly exit from the EU.

His worst-case scenario was that house prices could fall as much as 35% over three years, a source told the BBC. ( September 2018)

Or he 33% fall scenario suggested in November although of course that required a Bank Rate rise to 5.5% which stretched credulity to way beyond breaking point.

Hard Times at the Bank of England on both Forward Guidance and inflation expertise

It is time for us to dip back into the data in the UK economy as we look at retail sales, But before we get there we have seen another development and it has come from UK Gilt yields which are the cost of borrowing for the UK government. I have been writing for some time that they have been very low due to the fear for some or expectation for others that the Bank of England will start a new phase of QE ( Quantitative Easing) bond purchases. At the nadir the UK ten-year yield dipped below 1.2% which still left plenty of margin as the Sledgehammer QE drove it down to 0.5%. I still consider that to be madness but it is something the media and other economists do not understand so any debate stalls. But the Gilt yield issue is that it has risen to 1.37% which if it goes a little further will have economic effects via fixed-rate mortgages and business borrowing.

In terms of context other bond yields have also risen but the UK has seen its rise faster. Even I cannot entirely avoid politics so let me add that there were roads this week when Brexit developments ,might have led to UK Gilt yields falling due to expectations of more Bank of England QE in spite of the international trend. Should fixed-rate mortgages rise in price then we can perhaps expect a little more of this.

The UK housing market ended 2018 on a weak note with uncertainty still biting, alongside continuing lack of stock and affordability issues, according to the December 2018 UK Residential Market Survey. ( Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors or RICS)

Also they expect things to get worse.

Moving forward, however, over the next three months sales expectations are now either flat or negative across the UK. The headline net balance of -28% represents the poorest reading since the series was formed in 1999. The twelve-month outlook is a little more upbeat, suggesting that some of the near-term pessimism is linked to the lack of clarity around what form of departure the UK might make from the EU in March.

Worse for them I mean as lower house prices would benefit first time buyers who have seen house prices accelerate away from them in nominal and real terms in the credit crunch era.

Also they seem to have their doubts about the promised future supply.

Meanwhile it is hard to see developers stepping up the supply pipeline in this environment. Getting to the government’s 300,000 building target was never going to be easy but pushing up to anywhere near this figure will require significantly greater input from other delivery channels including local authorities taking advantage of their new-found freedom.

That of course would be a case of history on repeat or as the Four Tops put it.

Now it’s the same old song
But with a different meaning
Since you been gone

Ben Broadbent

The issues above will not make the Bank of England very happy and this will add to the dark cloud around Deputy Governor Broadbent otherwise known as the absent-minded professor. Here is an excerpt from something I posted on the Royal Statistics Society website in October.

” there are fewer than 10 million owner occupier mortgages. Is the cost of a house to someone who happens
already to have paid off his or her mortgage really zero?”

So we see that we cannot use something which is used around 10 million times but we can use the Imputed Rents which are used precisely zero times! I do not recall anyone arguing for mortgage costs to be used for those who do not have one, in the way he is calling for rents to be used for those who do not pay them. For example the RPI has mortgage costs, but also as a considerably larger component house prices  via  the use of depreciation.

The absent-minded professor spoke up strongly for the Rental Equivalence model which the House of Lords rejected this week. Also they were disappointed with other aspects of his performance.

Let me end by congratulating the Lords and Baroness Bowles on pressing the Deputy Governor responsible for the RPI on the issue of what Yes Prime Minster satirised as “Masterly Inaction”. As they point out there are changes which could have been made as opposed to the state of play during his tenure.

“That process seems to have stalled.”

Retail Sales

These were something of a journey and had a kicker that seems to have been missed in the melee so let me explain.

When compared with the previous month, the quantity bought in December 2018 decreased by 0.9%, as all sectors except food stores and fuel stores declined on the month.

So down except we know the numbers are regularly erratic and are likely to be even more so with the advent of Black Friday in November. Let us therefore look for more perspective.

In the three months to December 2018, estimates in the quantity bought decreased by 0.2% with declines across all main sectors except fuel.

As to the wider impact Rupert Seggins has crunched some numbers.

UK retail sales fell -0.2%q/q in the final quarter of 2018, indicating that the retail sector took -0.01% off GDP growth in Q4.

If we move to the annual comparison though we get some relief as the volume figures were 3% higher if we return to the December numbers with fuel sales and 2.6% without or a 0.17% addition to GDP using Rupert’s calculator. But there has been a slowing even with such numbers.

Looking at annual growth rates, the whole of 2018 increased by 2.7% in the quantity bought; an annual slowdown in comparison with the peak of 4.7% experienced in 2016.

One of the things which bemuses me from time to time is that it is often those who support issues such as climate change who seem most unhappy about a decline in retail sales growth missing the logical link. But my main point here is that if we compare the volume and sales figures retail inflation is a mere 0.7% on an annual basis.

Comment

It was only last week that I suggested that the Bank of England was giving the wrong Forward Guidance about interest-rates as the economic outlook darkens. If the rough and ready calculator for retail inflation is in any way accurate then that is reinforced by today;s number and that adds to the lower consumer inflation numbers we saw earlier this week. Added to that the Bank of England has publicly backed the wrong horse in the inflation measurement stakes.

Even worse it has backed the establishment line driven by Her Majesty’s Treasury which is precisely the body it is supposed to be independent from. Perhaps that is something to do with the fact that the Deputy-Governors are HM Treasury alumni in a case of what in another form we call “regulatory capture”.

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Lower UK inflation provides some welcome good news for real wages

This morning allows us to take a deep breath and move from last night’s excitement which rapidly turned to apparent stalemate to a whole raft of UK inflation data. As we stand the UK Pound has rallied a bit to US $1.288 and 1.129 versus the Euro but in inflation terms that represents a drop as it was around 7% higher versus the US Dollar a year ago. So that is what is around the corner as today the influence will be a bit more than that as the UK Pound was weaker in December versus the Dollar which is the currency in which commodities are priced.

Moving to the price of crude oil there will be a downwards influence on today’s numbers from it as we note a March futures price which peaked at US $84.58 and was more like US $56 around the time the UK numbers are collected. If we look at the weekly fuel prices we see that petrol prices dropped from being around 12 pence per litre dearer than a year before to more like 2 pence. However this gain has been offset to some extent by the way that diesel has become much more expensive than petrol with the gap between the two being around 4 pence in December 2017 but more like 10 pence in December 2018. Does anybody have a good reason for this?

Inflation Targeting

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney answered some online questions on the 9th of this month at what is called the Future Forum. Let me open with a point of agreement.

On your question about the level of the inflation target, long and varied experience has shown that price stability is the best contribution monetary policy can make to the public good.

The problem is that whilst I mean price stability he is being somewhat disingenuous as that is not what he means. Let me highlight with this.

There are good reasons why central banks around the world, including the Bank of England, target a low, positive rate of inflation not no inflation.

As you can see he talks the talk but does not walk the walk and here is his explanation.

 A little inflation ‘greases the wheels’ of the economy, for example by helping inflation-adjusted wages adjust more smoothly to changes in companies’ demand for labour and facilitating shifts in resources between sectors in response to changes in supply and demand. Moreover, a positive inflation rate gives monetary policy space to deliver better outcomes for jobs and growth

So it helps him to look like a master of the universe and helps wages adjust. Seeing as wages have adjusted downwards I hope he was challenged on that point. But there is more.

From a more technical point of view, the official rate of inflation might also over-estimate the true rate at which prices are rising because it is hard to strip out increases that reflect improvements in the quality of goods and services on offer. Aiming for a 0% inflation target would risk forcing the economy into deflation in the medium term.

That is really rather breathtaking! Let me explain why by comparing his “might” by the reality that UK consumer inflation has since the change to CPI as the inflation target in 2003 consistently under recorded inflation via the way that owner occupied housing is ignored completely. They always meant to get around to it but somehow forget until they managed to find a way ( imputed rent) of having one of the fastest areas of inflation recorded as one of the slowest in the new “comprehensive” CPIH measure.

At least he has dropped the effort to claim that relative prices could not move with a 0% inflation target. This is because I kept pointing out that when we had around 0% around 3 years ago there was a big relative price shift via the much lower price of crude oil which had driven it. So it is good that this particular fantasy had its bubble burst but not so good that the Ivory Towers responsible carry on regardless.

Also if we return to the quality issue a powerful point was made by the statistician Simon Briscoe who stood up and stated that each time he bought a new I-Pad it cost him more than a thousand pounds. But whilst he realised each one was better how does that work if he neither needs nor uses the additions or only uses a few of them?

Inflation

As we had been expecting the consumer inflation numbers provided some good news this morning.

The all items CPI annual rate is 2.1%, down from 2.3% in November……..The all items RPI annual rate is 2.7%, down from 3.2% last month.

The main driver here was transport costs as we expected because if we throw in the whole sector then annual inflation was cut by a bit more than 0.2% due to it. Actually slightly more for the RPI as it has a higher weight for air fares. Also the RPI was affected by something a little embarrassing for a Bank of England which had raised Bank Rate in November by 0.25%.

Mortgage interest payments, which decreased the RPI 12-month rate by 0.09 percentage points between November and December 2018 but are excluded from the CPIH.

Of course they are excluded from the woeful CPIH which essentially only includes things which do not exist in its calculations about owner occupied housing and ignores things which are paid. Here is its major player.

Private rental prices paid by tenants in the UK rose by 1.0% in the 12 months to December 2018, up from 0.9% in November 2018.

As you can see even at the new overall lower trend for house price growth (which was previously around 5% per annum ) it way undershoots the number.

Average house prices in the UK increased by 2.8% in the year to November 2018, up slightly from 2.7% in October 2018 (Figure 1). Over the past two years, there has been a slowdown in UK house price growth, driven mainly by a slowdown in the south and east of England.

The lowest annual growth was in London, where prices fell by 0.7% over the year to November 2018, unchanged from October 2018.

 

Comment

There are two entwined elements of good news here as we note first the fact that the annual rate of inflation has fallen and done so quite sharply if we look at RPI. The next is that it has helped UK real wage growth into positive territory on a little more clear-cut basis. Should total pay growth continue to exceed 3% ( it was last 3.3%) then it is hardly a boom but hopefully we will see a sustained rise. At a time when the economic outlook has plenty of dark clouds this is welcome especially as the outlook seems set fair.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 2.5% on the year to December 2018, down from 3.0% in November 2018. The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process slowed to 3.7% on the year to December 2018, down from 5.3% in November 2018.

Inflationary pressure in the system has slowed.

Moving to measurement I have some hopes for this from the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee.

Next Thursday 17 January we will publish “Measuring Inflation”, our report on the use of RPI.

It did appear that something of a stitch-up was underway but efforts were made to provide an alternative view as for example I invited them to a debate at the Royal Statistical Society on the subject. They then became quite critical of the way that our official statistician have refused to update the RPI even for changes which would be simple. So fingers crossed! Although of course the establishment is a many-headed hydra.

Sticking with the RPI I referred yesterday to an article in the Financial Times about index-linked Gilts and here is the most relevant sentence.

 This implies inflation of about 3.2 per cent — well above current levels and the Bank of England’s 2 per cent target.

So it implies inflation of 3.2% which was well above the 3.2% the RPI was at the time the piece was written?!

 

 

Did the Riksbank of Sweden just panic?

This morning has brought news of an event that had been promised so many times but turned out to be a false dawn. Indeed on their way to apparently making sense of this world Rosa & Roubini Associates told us this.

Riksbank Likely to Wait Longer Before Lift-Off

I guess you are now all expecting this.

Economic activity is strong and the conditions are good for inflation to remain close to the inflation target in the period ahead. As inflation and inflation expectations have become established at around 2 per cent, the need for a highly expansionary monetary policy has decreased slightly. The Executive Board has therefore decided to raise the repo rate from −0.50 per cent to −0.25 per cent.

Actually there is quite a bit that is odd about this as indeed there has been, in my opinion, about the monetary policy of the world’s oldest central bank for some time. Let me give you two clear reasons to be doubtful. Firstly GDP growth plummeted from the 1% of the second quarter of this year to -0.2% in the third. Or as the Riksbank puts it.

As expected, Swedish GDP growth has slowed down during
the second half of this year. However, the downturn in the third  quarter was greater than expected.

So if we step back we immediately wonder why you raise rates when economic growth is slowing when you could have done so when it was rising? The excuse provided looks weak especially as we note the automobile industry has continued to struggle.

One contributory cause of  this was that household consumption fell by a surprisingly large  degree, but this can partly be explained by temporarily weak car sales.

Also inconvenient numbers are regularly described as temporary even when they are nothing of the sort.

Moving onto inflation the outlook has also changed as we have moved towards the end of 2018.

The inflation rate according to the CPI with a fixed interest rate (CPIF) was 2.1 percent in November 2018 (2.4 percent in October). The CPIF decreased by 0.1 percent from October to November.  ( Sweden Statistics)

Here is FXStreet from last week when these numbers came out.

Nordea Markets 1/2: : CPIF inflation stood at 2.1% in November, below consensus and 0.3% point below the ’s forecast. Core inflation, i.e. CPIF ex energy, came out at 1.4%, as much as 0.3% point below the Riksbank’s call.

To be fair to Nordea they were expecting a hike so perhaps they had received an official nod because there is now another factor at play. That is of course the lower trajectory of the oil price which looks set to depress headline inflation numbers in the weeks and months ahead. If we take a broad sweep the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil has fallen some US $30 since the Riksbank balked at raising Swedish interest-rates. I think you can spot the problem here. Apparently the wages fairy will turn up which of course is yet another central banking standard view in spite of reality not being that helpful.

Wage growth has certainly become a little lower than
the Riksbank’s forecast over recent months and the forecast has been revised downwards slightly.

The Riksbank’s own view

Let me know switch to some sections of their monetary report which frankly would fit better with an interest-rate cut.

The global economy, which has grown rapidly in recent years, is now entering a phase of more subdued GDP growth, which is in line with the Riksbank’s earlier forecasts.

So Sweden is swimming against the trend?

Economic activity in Sweden is still strong, although GDP growth and inflation have been weaker than expected.

So definitely maybe. What about inflation prospects?

Even though inflation has been lower than expected, the conditions remain good for inflation to stay close to the inflation target going forward.

Then we get quite a swerve because you might think that with the claimed view of the Riksbank more interest-rate hikes will be on the way. It would be logical assuming there is anyone who believes the growth path remains strong and inflation will be ~2% per annum. But apparently not.

The forecast for the repo rate has therefore been revised downwards to indicate that the next repo rate rise will probably occur during the second half of 2019 . After this, the forecast indicates approximately two rate rises per year by 0.25 percentage points each time.

If we skip the last sentence on the grounds that this has been not far off the promised pattern since the Riksbank last raised back in 2011 we see that what is now called a “dovish hike” has just taken place. What that means is that whilst there has been a rise the future expected path falls. Thus if you follow central banking forward guidance interest-rates as 2019 develops may now be lower than you were expecting.

Operation Twist and QE

The other factors in Sweden’s monetary policy are described below.

At the end of November, the Riksbank’s government bond
holdings amounted to just under SEK 350 billion, expressed as a nominal amount.

But they are giving Operation Twist an extra squeeze.

In December 2017, the Executive Board also decided that reinvestments of the large principal payments due in the first six months of 2019 should be allocated evenly across the period from January 2018 to June 2019 . This means that the Riksbank’s holdings of government bonds will increase temporarily in 2018 and the beginning of 2019.

If you wished to tighten monetary policy then you could simply let these bonds mature and not replace them.

US Federal Reserve

As we were expecting it did this last night.

Today, we raised our target range for short-term interest
rates by another quarter of a percentage point. ( Chair Powell)

Not everyone was on board however as there was a nearly 800 point swing in the Dow Jones Industrial Average in response to it. This also meant it ignored the advice from President Trump not to do so and to cut the amount of Quantitative Tightening. The issue was summed up by the Wall Street Journal but not in the way the author thought it meant.

The data says the economy is doing great; the markets say it could be headed for a recession.

At turning points the data is always too late by definition which means that some sort of judgement call is required. Central banks have about a 0% success rate in predicting recessions.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider in the latest central banking moves but the major point is one of timing. Monetary policy is supposed to lead events and not to lag them which is why “data dependency” is not only flawed it is illogical. To be fair to the US Federal Reserve it has at least tried to get ahead of events whereas the Riksbank has not.

Meanwhile there is a country with a central bank meeting today which has just had some strong economic news.

The quantity bought in November 2018 when compared with October 2018 increased by 1.4%, with a strong monthly growth of 5.3% in household goods stores….The strongest growth can be seen in comparison with the same period a year earlier where the amount spent increased by 5.0% and the quantity bought increased by 3.6%.

Is anybody expecting Mark Carney and the Bankof England to have raised interest-rates in response to the strong retail sales data? I am using the past tense as the vote was last night.

Number Crunching

 

 

 

 

UK Inflation starts to head lower and help real wage growth

Today brings the latest UK official inflation data into focus. However the last 24 hours have brought another shift in the environment because the crude oil price had another of those days when it took something of a dive. Here is Oilprice.com on the subject.

Crude prices fell 4 percent on Monday and about 7 percent on Tuesday. WTI dropped below $47 per barrel and Brent fell to the $56 handle.

Moving onto the likely causes they tell us this.

Oil prices crashed to new one-year lows on Tuesday, dragged down by a deepening sense of global economic gloom as well as fears of oversupply in the oil market itself.

The reasons for the sudden meltdown were multiple. Rising crude oil inventories and expected increases in shale production weighed on oil prices, but the price crash was accentuated by the broader selloff in financials.

Genscape said that inventories are rising, which has raised fears of tepid demand amid soaring supply growth.

We are back to mulling an increase in shale oil production at a time when demand is weakening. As ever there is an undercut as we wonder if the shale oil producers will be so enthusiastic if the oil price remains at these new lower levels. If we switch to the impact on the inflation outlook then we now have an oil price that is around 10% lower than a year ago if we use the Brent Crude benchmark and more than that using West Texas Intermediate as the gap between the two has approached US $10.

The impact of this should be felt to some extent in the input version of the producer price data for November and maybe via fuel prices at the pump in a much more minor way on the consumer price inflation number. By the time we get the December data there will be a stronger influence and this will be accompanied by other commodity prices falls. For example Dr. Copper is at US $2.68 as I type this or 14% lower than a year ago. The CRB Commodity Index has not fallen as much but is still some 6% lower than a year ago.

Central Banks

The news above will be debated at the US Federal Reserve as it decides US interest-rates and the subject of QT today. Of course central bankers ignore what they call non-core factors such as energy and food in their favourite inflation measures but the ordinary person cannot and the picture has changed. Also as @fwred reminds us central banks are no longer using their balance sheets to raise inflation.

From an economic perspective, we’ll be debating the impact of QE for years looking at the counterfactual and the complementary effects of other policy tools, including negative rates. ECB’s estimate: ~2% boost both to real GDP and inflation, or +40bp per year.

Well apart from the Bank of Japan anyway, but it has failed to do much about inflation at all in spite of the size of its actions which now exceed annual economic output or GDP.

Today’s data

Having emphasised the impact of lower oil prices let us get straight to the impact.

The annual rate of inflation for materials and fuels purchased by manufacturers (input prices) slowed to 5.6% in November 2018, down 4.7 percentage points from October 2018 . The 12-month rate of input inflation has been positive since July 2016. The annual rate was driven predominantly by crude oil prices, which showed growth of 15.5% in November 2018, although this was down from 40.4% in October 2018. The one-month rate for materials and fuels fell 3.1 percentage points to a negative 2.3% in November 2018.

As you can see there was quite a change in the trajectory in November and as the annual rate remained positive there is more to come. There was also the beginning of an effect on the output number.

The annual rate of inflation for goods leaving the factory gate (output prices) fell by 0.2 percentage points to 3.1% in November 2018 . The 12-month rate of output inflation has remained positive since July 2016. On the month, output inflation also slowed, falling 0.1 percentage points to 0.2%.

Actually there was a larger impact from the lower oil price than this but it got offset by this.

This increase reflects the rise in Tobacco Duty introduced in November 2018 and is the highest the rate has been since March 2014.

So not the best of months for Oasis fans.

But all I need are cigarettes and alcohol!

Consumer Inflation

Here we also saw a marginal nudge lower in the main two measures.

The all items CPI annual rate is 2.3%, down from 2.4% in October…….The all items RPI annual rate is 3.2%, down from 3.3% last month

This was driven by lower rates of inflation for recreation and culture and this.

Petrol prices fell by 2.6 pence per litre between October and November 2018, compared with a rise of 1.8 pence per litre between October and November 2017.

Actually I noted this mention about recreation and culture.

Price movements for both
computer games and live music events can often be relatively large depending on the composition of
bestseller charts and the bands that are touring at the time of price collection.

This was on my mind due to the fact that Ringo Starr and Ronnie Wood joined Paul McCartney on stage at the O2 in London on Sunday night. My point is that you can measure the ticket price but what is your quality measure? From the excitement on social media that changed by Ringo’s presence in the crowd before we get to having the only surviving Beatles playing on stage and to top it off being joined by a Rolling Stone.

How to measure inflation

We can move onto the widely ignored official measure called CPIH.

The all items CPIH annual rate is 2.2%, unchanged from last month.

It is widely ignored because of the way it uses Imputed Rents to get to this.

The OOH component annual rate is 1.1%, unchanged from last month ( OOH = Owner Occupied Housing).

House Prices

A couple of weekends ago when the economics editor of the Financial Times was presumably otherwise engaged I noted this.

The original consumer price index included house prices. But they were removed in 1983 and replaced with “non-market rents” — an estimate of how much owners could charge to let their homes…….
Including house prices in the new index would not guarantee a higher rate of inflation as high house price inflation might be offset by smaller increases, if not a decline, in rents or offset by price changes in other components. But large and persistent acceleration in this new economy-wide index would be a sign of more general inflation.

This was about the US and written by Joseph Carson but it applies to the UK as well. I note it got widespread support in the comments, although we cannot make a comparison to the pro Imputed Rent articles as they seem to have suspended the comments system for those.

The rate of UK house price inflation has slowed and I welcome that but it remains a much better guide to inflation than any rental fantasies.

Average house prices in the UK increased by 2.7% in the year to October 2018, down from 3.0% in September 2018. This is the lowest annual rate since July 2013 when it was 2.3%. Over the past two years, there has been a slowdown in UK house price growth, driven mainly by a slowdown in the south and east of England.

Comment

There is some pre-Christmas cheer in the UK inflation data today as we see the new lower oil price start to have an impact on the numbers. If it is true that the New Year Sales have started early then that too may impact on the December data although of course it will wash out to some extent in January.

But for the moment the trend for consumer and indeed asset inflation is down and we should welcome the way that will benefit real wages and indeed first time buyers in the property market. Also as someone who has spent the last 6 years or so arguing about inflation measurement with official bodies being operated like puppets by HM Treasury I had a wry smile at this tweet which ignores the measure it has pressed for.

ECB monetary policy can inflate house prices at least….

Tomorrow the European Central Bank meets for what has become a crucial policy meeting. There is a lot for it to discuss on the economic front and let us open with an element of deja vu.

Bank Of Spain Governor De Cos: No Signs Of New Property Bubble In Spain – RTRS ( @LiveSquawk )

It is hard not to think of the “Never believe anything until it is officially denied” by the apocryphal prime minister Jim Hacker at this point. He is responding to this covered by El Pais yesterday.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is calling on Spain to monitor the price of real estate following a rebound of the property market after years of crisis. After analyzing late 2017 statistics, the global agency has detected early signs of “a slight overvaluation,” although it stressed that there is still nothing like a new housing bubble in Spain.

Here is a reminder of the state of play which is that Spain is a nation of home owners.

The IMF finds that house prices increased by around 15% between 2014 and 2017, but that sales are being driven by existing housing stock rather than new housing. Another change from pre-crisis days is that the home ownership rate has dropped from 80% to 77% as people increasingly turn to the rental market.

Let us bring the numbers up to date via INE from the end of last week.

The annual variation of the Housing Price Index (IPV) in the third quarter of 2018 increases four tenths and stands at 7.2%……The quarterly variation of the general IPV in the third quarter of 2018 is 2.2%.

The IMF seems to have missed that the pace of house price growth has picked up in Spain. Not only the 2.2% quarterly rise but the fact that the overall index set at 100 in 2015 is now at 120.5. Returning to the role of the ECB a typical mortgage rate (over 3 years) is 1.93%.

Ireland

Last time around a housing boom and later bust in Spain was accompanied by one in Ireland so let us check in on yesterday’s official update.

Residential property prices increased by 8.4% nationally in the year to October. This compares with an increase of 8.5% in the year to September and an increase of 11.7% in the twelve months to October 2017.

As you can see the heat is on again and is heading towards levels which caused so much trouble last time around.

Overall, the national index is 17.6% lower than its highest level in 2007. Dublin residential property prices are 20.1% lower than their February 2007 peak, while residential property prices in the Rest of Ireland are 22.7% lower than their May 2007 peak.

Also they have got there rather quickly.

Property prices nationally have increased by 83.8% from their trough in early 2013. Dublin residential property prices have risen 98.0% from their February 2012 low, whilst residential property prices in the Rest of Ireland are 77.9% higher than at the trough, which was in May 2013.

Now that it has got the central banking holy grail of higher house prices the ECB seems to have, for some reason got cold feet about putting them in the consumer inflation index.

The ECB concludes that the integration of the OOH price index would deteriorate the current
frequency and timeliness of the HICP, and would introduce an asset element. Against this
background, it takes the view that the OOH price index is in practice not suitable for
integration into the official HICP.

It has turned into a classic bureaucratic move where you promise something have a committee formed to do it which concludes so sadly that it will not do it. The reasons stated were known all along.

Economic growth

Whilst house price developments will put a smile on the faces of Governing Council members other economic developments may wipe that smile away. One possible bright spot has gone a bit dark. From France24.

 

The Bank of France said the Eurozone’s second-biggest economy would eke out growth of only 0.2% in the three months to December, down from 0.4% in a previous estimate and from that rate in the third quarter.

“Services activity has slowed under the impact of the movement. Transport, the restaurant and auto repair sectors have gone backwards,” the bank said in its latest company survey.

The forecast is well short of the 0.8% that would be needed to meet the government’s 2018 growth target of 1.7%.

That was reinforced by the production and manufacturing data for October which was up on the month but 0.1% lower than a year ago. The growth shortfall will only make the next French problem worse. From Reuters.

Macron announced wage increases for the poorest workers and a tax cut for most pensioners on Monday to defuse discontent, leaving his government scrambling to come up with extra budget savings or risk blowing through the EU’s 3 percent of GDP limit.

That is especially awkward considering how vocal the French government had been about the Italian budget plans which in percentage terms was set to be a fair bit smaller.

Italy

The perennial under performer in economic terms seems to be in yet another “girlfriend in a coma” style phrase. From the latest monthly economic report.

In Italy, the GDP decreased marginally in the third quarter due to a contraction in both gross fixed investments and private consumption. On the contrary, the net exports contributed positively to growth.

The employment stabilized on past months levels recording a re-composition, which favored full time employees. Unemployment rate increased and was complemented by a reduction in inactive persons.

Italian inflation continued to be lower than the Eurozone average but the gap is closing.
In November, both the consumer confidence and the composite indicators decreased. The leading indicator stabilized on past months minimum values confirming the business cycle weakness.

There is a genuine danger of what some of the media have decided to call a technical recession. I get the point about it being within the margin of error and applaud their sudden conversion to this cause. But missing from this is the fact that this is an ongoing depression in Italy which shows not only no sign of ending but may be getting worse.

Comment

This will be a meeting of two halves. The awkward part is that after all the extraordinary monetary action involving negative interest-rates, QE and credit easing the Euro area economy has slowed from a quarterly growth rate of 0.7% to 0.2%. If we were not where we are the ECB would be discussing a stimulus programme. Except of course the plan is to announce the end to monthly QE bond purchases. Some places are suggesting a delay to future interest-rate increases as they catch up with my long-running view that Mario Draghi has no intention of raising them on his watch.

The second half will be the one emphasised which is that the ECB has hit its inflation target.

Euro area annual inflation is expected to be 2.0% in November 2018, down from 2.2% in October 2018, according to a flash estimate from Eurostat.

Okay not the 1.97% level defined by the previous President Jean-Claude Trichet but close enough. I wonder if any of the press corps will have the wit to ask about the U-Turn on including house prices in the inflation measure and whether that is because monetary policy can inflate house prices?