Rising inflation trends are putting a squeeze on central banks

Sometimes events have their own natural flow and after noting yesterday that the winds of change in UK inflation are reversing we have been reminded twice already today that the heat is on. First from a land down under where inflation expectations have done this according to Trading Economics.

Inflation Expectations in Australia increased to 4.20 percent in June from 3.70 percent in May of 2018.

This is significant in several respects. Firstly the message is expect higher inflation and if we look at the Reserve Bank of Australia this is the highest number in the series ( since March 2013). Next  if we stay with the RBA it poses clear questions as inflation at 1.9% is below target ( 2.5%) but f these expectations are any guide then an interest-rate of 1.5% seems well behind the curve.

Indeed the RBA is between a rock and a hard place as we observe this from Reuters.

Australia’s central bank governor said on Wednesday the current slowdown in the housing market isn’t a cause for concern but flagged the need for policy to remain at record lows for the foreseeable future with wage growth and inflation still weak.

Home prices across Australia’s major cities have fallen for successive months since late last year as tighter lending standards at banks cooled demand in Sydney and Melbourne – the two biggest markets.

You know something is bad when we are told it is not a concern!

If we move to much cooler Sweden I note this from its statistics authority.

The inflation rate according to the CPI with a fixed interest rate (CPIF) was 2.1 percent in May 2018, up from 1.9 percent in April 2018. The CPIF increased by 0.3 percent from April to May.

So Mission Accomplished!

The Riksbank’s target is to hold inflation in terms of the CPIF around 2 per cent a year.

Yet we find that having hit it and via higher oil prices the pressure being upwards it is doing this.

The Executive Board has therefore decided to hold the repo rate unchanged at −0.50 per cent and assesses that the rate will begin to be raised towards the end of the year, which is somewhat later than previously forecast.

Care is needed here as you see the Riksbank has been forecasting an interest-rate rise for some years now but like the Unreliable Boyfriend somehow it keeps forgetting to actually do it.

I keep forgettin’ things will never be the same again
I keep forgettin’ how you made that so clear
I keep forgettin’ ( Michael McDonald )

Anyway it is a case of watch this space as even they have real food for thought right now as they face the situation below with negative interest-rates.

Economic activity in Sweden is still strong and inflation has been close to the target for the past year.

US Inflation

The situation here is part of an increasingly familiar trend.

The all items index rose 2.8 percent for the 12 months ending May, continuing its upward trend since the beginning of the year. The index for all items less food and
energy rose 2.2 percent for the 12 months ending May. The food index increased 1.2 percent, and the energy index rose 11.7 percent.

This was repeated at an earlier stage in the inflation cycle as we found out yesterday.

On an unadjusted basis, the final demand index moved up
3.1 percent for the 12 months ended in May, the largest 12-month increase since climbing 3.1 percent in January 2012.

In May, 60 percent of the rise in the index for final demand is attributable to a 1.0-percent advance in prices for final demand goods.

A little care is needed as the US Federal Reserve targets inflation based on PCE or Personal Consumption Expenditures which you may not be surprised to read is usually lower ( circa 0.4%) than CPI. We do not know what it was for May yet but using my rule of thumb it will be on its way from the 2% in April to maybe 2.4%.

What does the Federal Reserve make of this?

Well this best from yesterday evening is clear.

In view of realized and expected labor market conditions and inflation, the Committee decided to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 1-3/4 to 2 percent. The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative, thereby supporting strong labor market conditions and a sustained return to 2 percent inflation.

If we start with that let me give you a different definition of accommodative which is an interest-rate below the expected inflation rate. Of course that is off the scale in Sweden and perhaps Australia. Next we see a reference to “strong labo(u)r market conditions” which only adds to this. Putting it another way “strong” replaced “moderate” as its view on economic activity.

This is how the New York Times viewed matters.

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates on Wednesday and signaled that two additional increases were on the way this year, as officials expressed confidence that the United States economy was strong enough for borrowing costs to rise without choking off economic growth.

Care is needed about borrowing costs as bond yields ignored the move but of course some may pay more. Also we have seen a sort of lost decade in interest-rate terms.

The last time the rate topped 2 percent was in late summer 2008, when the economy was contracting and the Fed was cutting rates toward zero, where they would remain for years after the financial crisis.

Yet there is a clear gap between rhetoric and reality on one area at least as here is the Fed Chair.

The decision you see today is another sign that the U.S. economy is in great shape,” Mr. Powell said after the Fed’s two-day policy meeting. “Most people who want to find jobs are finding them.”

Yet I note this too.

At a comparable time of low unemployment, in 2000, “wages were growing at near 4 percent year over year and the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation was 2.5 percent,” both above today’s levels, Tara Sinclair, a senior fellow at the Indeed Hiring Lab, said in a research note.

So inflation is either there or near but can anyone realistically say that about wages?

Mr. Powell played down concerns about slow wage growth, acknowledging it is “a bit of a puzzle” but suggesting that it would normalize as the economy continued to strengthen.

What is normal now please Mr.Powell?

Comment

One of my earliest themes was that central banks would struggle when it comes to reducing all the stimulus because they would be terrified if it caused a slow down. A bit like the ECB moved around 2011 then did a U-Turn. What I did not know then was that the scale of their operations would increase dramatically exacerbating the problem. To be fair to the US Federal Reserve it is attempting the move albeit it would be better to take larger earlier steps in my opinion as opposed to this drip-feed of minor ones.

In some ways the US Federal Reserve is the worlds central bank ( via the role of the US Dollar as the reserve currency) and takes the world with it. But there have been changes here as for example the Bank of England used to move in concert with it in terms of trends if not exact amounts. But these days the Unreliable Boyfriend who is Governor of the Bank of England thinks he knows better than that and continues to dangle future rises like a carrot in front of the reality of a 0.5% Bank Rate.

This afternoon will maybe tell us a little more about Euro area monetary policy. Mario Draghi and the ECB have given Forward Guidance about the end of monthly QE via various hints. But that now faces the reality of a Euro area fading of economic growth. So Mario may be yet another central bank Governor who cannot wait for his term of office to end.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is because it makes an effort to reflect this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s data

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is essentially driven by this.

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

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

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

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

Comment

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

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

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

I hope the event goes well for you.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

The Bank of England seems determined to ignore the higher oil price

This morning has brought the policies of the Bank of England into focus as this from the BBC demonstrates.

Petrol prices rose by 6p a litre in May – the biggest monthly increase since the RAC began tracking prices 18 years ago.

Average petrol prices hit 129.4p a litre, while average diesel prices also rose by 6p to 132.3p a litre.

The RAC said a “punitive combination” of higher crude oil prices and a weaker pound was to blame for the increases.

It pointed out that oil prices broke through the $80-a-barrel mark twice in May – a three-and-a-half year high.

As well as the higher global market price of crude, the pound’s current weakness against the US dollar also makes petrol more expensive as oil is traded in dollars.

There is little or nothing that could have been done about the rising price of crude oil but there is something that could have been done about the “pound’s current weakness against the US dollar”. In fact it is worse than that if we look back to April 20th.

The governor of the Bank of England has said that an interest rate rise is “likely” this year, but any increases will be gradual.

This was quite an unreliable boyfriend style reversal on the previous forward guidance towards a Bank Rate rise in May that the Financial Times thought was something of a triumph. But the crucial point here is that the UK Pound £ was US $1.42 the day before Mark Carney spoke as opposed to US $1.33. Some of that is the result of what we call the King Dollar but Governor Carney gave things a shove. After all we used to move with the US Dollar much more than we have partly because our monetary policy was more aligned with its. Or to be precise only cuts in interest-rates seem likely to be aligned with the US under the stewardship of Governor Carney.

Just as a reminder UK inflation remains above target where it has been for a while.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 2.4% in April 2018, down from 2.5% in March 2018.

The welcome fall in inflation due to the rally in the UK Pound £ has been torpedoed by the unreliable boyfriend and a specific example of this is shown below.

Let us give the BBC some credit for releasing those although the analysis by its economics editor Kamal Ahmed ignores the role of the Bank of England.

Silvana Tenreyro

Silvana in case you are unaware is a member of the Monetary Policy Committee who gave a speech at the University of Surrey yesterday evening. As you can imagine at a time of rising inflation concerns she got straight to what she considers to be important.

Many critics have laid the blame on the tools that economists use – our models.So, in my speech today, I
will attempt to shed some light on how and why economists use models. Specifically, I will focus on how they
are useful to me as a practitioner on the MPC

Things do not start well because in my life whilst there has been a change from paper based maps to the era of Google Maps they have proved both useful and reliable unlike economic models.

An oft-used analogy is to think of models as maps

Perhaps Silvana gets regularly lost. She certainly seems lost at sea here.

Similarly, economic models have improved with greater
computing power, econometric techniques and data availability, but there is still significant uncertainty that
cannot be eliminated.

Let me add to this with an issue we have regularly looked at on here which is the Phillips Curve and associated “output gap” style analysis.

Many commentators have recently argued that the Phillips curve is no longer apparent in the data – the
observed correlation between inflation and slack is much weaker than it has been in the past. If the Phillips
curve truly has flattened or disappeared, then the current strength of the UK labour market may be less likely
to translate into a pick-up in domestic inflationary pressures. Given that the Phillips curve is one of the
building blocks of standard macroeconomic models, including those used by the MPC, a breakdown in the
relationship would also call for a reassessment.

Er no I have been arguing this since about 2010/11 as the evidence began that it was not working in the real world. However Silvana prefers the safe cosy world of her Ivory Tower.

My view is that these fears are largely misplaced. I expect that the narrowing in labour market slack we have
seen over the past year will lead to greater inflationary pressures, as in our standard models.

The fundamental problem is that the Bank of England has told us this for year after year now. One year they may even be right and no doubt there will be an attempt to redact the many years of errors and being wrong but we are now at a stage where the whole theory is flawed even if it now gets a year correct. As we stand with four months in a row of falling total pay in the UK the outlook for the Phillips Curve is yet again poor. Here is how Silvana tells us about this.

Although average weekly earnings (AWE) growth has now been strengthening since the middle of 2017,

Inflation

Fortunately on her way to the apparently important work of explaining to us of how up is the new down regarding economic models Silvana does refer to her views on inflation.

such as energy costs. And indeed, Chart 2 shows that the contribution of the purple bars to inflation
is correlated with the peaks and troughs of oil-price inflation over the past decade or so

It is probably because her mind is on other matters that she has given us a presumably unintentional rather devastating critique of the central bankers obsession with core inflation which of course ignores exactly that ( and food). Mind you it does not take her long to forget this.

Since the effects of oil-price swings are transitory, there is a good case for ‘looking through’ their impact on inflation.

Oh and those who recall my critique of the Bank of England models on the subject of the impact of the post EU leave vote will permit me a smile as I note this.

But in the past few quarters, we have seen some
building evidence that import prices have been rising slightly less than we had expected (only by around half
of the increase in foreign export prices – Chart 3). For me, this may be one reason why CPI inflation has
recently fallen back faster than we had expected.

I have no idea why they thought this and argued against it correctly as even they now admit. This is of course especially awkward in the middle of a speech designed to boost the economic models that have just been wrong yet again!

Comment

If we move to the policy prescription the outlook is not good for someone who has just dismissed the recent rise in the oil price as only likely to have a “transitory” effect. In fact as we move forwards we get the same vacuous waffle.

While I anticipate that a few rate rises will be needed, the timing of those rate rises is an open question

Okay but when?

With falling imported inflation offset by a gradual pick-up in domestic costs, I judge that conditional on the
outlook I have just described, a gradual tightening in monetary policy will be necessary over the next three
years to return inflation to target and keep demand growing broadly in line with supply.

So not anytime soon!

The flexibility is limited, however – waiting a few more
quarters increases the likelihood that inflation overshoots the target. In May, I felt that as in these scenarios, the costs of waiting a short period of time for more information were
small.

So more of the same although let me give Silvana a little credit as she was willing to point out that Forward Guidance is a farce.

Taken literally, the models suggest implausibly large economic effects from promises about interest rates many years in the future. There is ample empirical evidence that these strong assumptions do not hold in real-world data.

Also she does seem willing to accept that the world is a disaggregated place full of different impacts on different individuals.

Another unrealistic assumption in many macroeconomic models is that everyone is the same. Or more
accurately, that everyone can be characterised by a single, representative household or firm.

 

What are the prospects for the US economy?

As we progress through 2018 we find eyes as ever turning regularly to the US economy. Not only to see what the world’s largest economy is up to but also to note any changes. The economic growth news for the first quarter was pretty solid. From the Bureau of Economic Analysis or BEA.

Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 2.3 percent in the first quarter of 2018
according to the “advance” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the
fourth quarter, real GDP increased 2.9 percent.

So whilst we see a slowing it is exacerbated in feel by the way the numbers are annualised and is much lower than that seen in the UK and much of Europe. Also the US has developed something of a pattern of weak first quarter numbers so we need to remind ourselves that the number is better than that seen in both 2016 and 2017. As to the detail the slowing was fairly general. If we were looking for an estimate of the recovery since the credit crunch hit then we get it from noting that if we use 2009 as out 100 benchmark then the latest quarter was at 120.58.

Let us move on with a reminder of the size of the US economy.

Current-dollar GDP increased 4.3 percent, or $211.2 billion, in the first quarter to a level of $19.97
trillion.

Looking ahead

There was something potentially rather positive tucked away in the Income report that was released with the GDP data.

Disposable personal income increased $222.1 billion, or 6.2 percent, in the first quarter, compared with
an increase of $136.3 billion, or 3.8 percent, in the fourth quarter. Real disposable personal income
increased 3.4 percent, compared with an increase of 1.1 percent.

At a time of weak wages growth considering the economic situation that was a strong reading which may feed forwards into future consumption numbers. I wondered what drove it but in fact it was pretty broad-based across the different sectors with the only fall being in farm income. As an aside the personal income from farming was surprisingly small considering the size of the US farming sector at US $27.9 billion.

Moving onto the Nowcasts of GDP the news has also been good. From the Atlanta Federal Reserve.

The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the second quarter of 2018 is 4.0 percent on May 3, down from 4.1 percent on May 1.

They start the series in optimistic fashion so let us say that around 3% may well be where they end up unless something fundamental changes.

Moving onto the business surveys we saw this yesterday.

April survey data indicated a strong expansion in
business activity across the U.S. service sector.
However, although the rate of growth accelerated, it
remained below the series’ long-run average.
Meanwhile, the upturn in new business quickened
to a sharp rate that was the fastest since March
2015. ( Markit PMI ).

Which added to this from May Day.

April survey data signalled a steep improvement in
operating conditions across the U.S. manufacturing
sector. The latest PMI reading was the highest since
September 2014, supported by stronger expansions
in output and new orders. Moreover, new business
rose at the sharpest pace in over three-and-a-half
years. ( Markit PMI)

Thus the summary for the start of the second quarter is so far so good which again means the US is in better shape than elsewhere at least for now.

Inflation

Earlier this week I note that the US Federal Reserve was for once on target. What I mean by that was that the PCE ( Personal Consumption Expenditure) inflation rate rose by 2% in March compared to a year before. Expectations of this are what caused the addition of the word I have highlighted in Wednesday’s Fed statement.

The Committee will carefully monitor actual and expected inflation developments relative to its symmetric inflation goal.

There has been a lot of debate over this much of it misinformed. Firstly central bankers virtually never mean it and secondly they are hinting at a possible run higher after a long period when it has been below the 2% target.

Such a likelihood was reinforced by the Markit PMI surveys.

On the price front, input cost inflation picked up in
April. The rate of increase was strong overall and
the second-quickest since June 2015. (services)

Meanwhile, average prices charged rose at the
quickest pace since June 2011, with the rate of
inflation accelerating for the fourth successive
month. Survey respondents commonly noted that
higher charges were due to increased costs being
passed on to clients. (Manufacturing)

Of course having begun the process of raising interest-rates without the most common cause of it these days ( a currency collapse) the US Fed is not in that bad a place at least in its own mind should inflation overshoot the target in the summer. Although of course as I have pointed out before in terms of logic it should have been more decisive rather than dribbling out increases along the lines expected for the rest of 2018 by Reuters.

While the Fed left interest rates unchanged on Wednesday, it is possibly set to raise them by a total of 75 basis points this year.

King Dollar

This was summarised by Reuters thus.

In just two weeks the dollar has surged nearly four percent against a basket of the most traded currencies, erasing all the losses it had suffered since the start of 2018 .DXY.

Against a broader group of currencies, including those from emerging markets, the greenback is now in positive territory against half of them.

This brings us back to the topic of yesterday where the US Dollar rebound has hit the weaker currencies such as the Turkish Lira and the Argentine Peso hard. Following on from the change of heart of the unreliable boyfriend in the UK it has seen the UK Pound £ dip below US $1.36 and the Euro is below US $1.20.

Is this a return to the interest-rate differentials that had up to then been ignored? Maybe a bit but perhaps the reality is more that the modern currency trade seems to be to follow the economic growth and as we have observed above at the moment the US economy looks relatively strong.

Comment

So in terms of conventional economic analysis things look pretty good for the US economy as we stand. The danger might be highlighted this afternoon from the wages data in the non farm payrolls release. This is because rising inflation will chip away at real wages if the rate of wages increase stays at 2.7%. Of course that reminds us of the issue of the fact that wages growth is only at that level with an unemployment rate at 4% leading many economists to scrabble through Google searches trying to redact references to full employment at a higher rate.

Elsewhere there are potential concerns of which one is debt. Should growth continue on its current path then it will help the national debt withstand the pressure placed on it by the Trump tax plan. On the private-sector side though familiar fears are on the scene.

 

Yahoo Finance helpfully updates us with this.

They’re also safer than junk bonds, at least in theory, with lenders getting repaid before creditors when firms get into trouble

What could go wrong?

Finally in spite of the recent dollar strength the Yen has pushed its way back to 109 leaving me with this from Carly Simon.

Why does your love hurt so much?
Don’t know why

 

 

 

We have good news as the Bank of England gets an inflation headache

As our attention moves today to inflation in the UK there is something we have cause to be grateful for. Let me hand you over to the Independent.

The pound hit its highest level against the dollar since the Brexit vote in June 2016, rising to $1.4364 by mid-morning………….

It has fallen back to US $1.43 since that but the principle that we have seen a considerable recovery since we fell below US $1.20 holds. If we look back to a year ago then we were just below US $1.28 and this matters for inflation trends because so many basic materials and commodities in particular are priced in US Dollars. We have not done so well against the Euro as we are around 2% lower than a year ago here which used to be considered as a dream ticket but as ever when we get what we want we either ignore it or forget we wanted it. The Euro has been strong which we can observe by looking at it versus the Swiss Franc where it has nearly regained the famous 1.20 threshold which caused so much trouble in January 2015.  But overall for us currency driven inflation has become currency driven disinflationary pressure.

Oil

On the other side of the coin we are seeing some commodity price pressure from crude oil and those who follow trading will be worried by this development.

DG closes long USDJPY position (Short of 3 units of yen vs the dollar). Opens short WTI & Brent (one unit of each) ( @RANsquawk )

You have reached a certain level of fame or infamy in this case when you are known by your initials but Dennis Gartman has achieved this with claims like the oil price will not exceed US $44 again in his lifetime. So we fear for developments after finding out he has gone short and if we look back we see that the price has been rising. The rally started around midsummer day last year when it was just below US $45 per barrel for Brent crude as opposed to the US $72 as I type this. More specifically it was at US $53  a year ago.

If we look wider at commodity prices we see that there has been much less pressure here as the CRB Index was 423 a year ago as opposed to the 441 of now. What there has been seems to have been in the metals section which has risen from 894 to 968. We can add to that the recent Russia sanctions driven rise in the Aluminium price as it is not included in the index.

Shrinkflation

This is on my mind because as many of you will recall we were told that products were shrinking because of the lower level of the UK Pound £. Last July the Office for National Statistics told us this.

No, you’re not imagining it – some of your favourite sweets really are shrinking. In November 2016, Toblerone chocolate bars reduced in size by about 10%, provoking outrage online. And Maltesers, M&Ms and Minstrelshave gone the same way.

It’s a phenomenon known as “shrinkflation” – where manufacturers reduce the package size of household goods while keeping the price the same.

I just wondered if any of you have seen signs of prices going back down or more specifically pack sizes growing? If we move to the price of ingredients which was blamed I note that sugar prices are lower over the past year from above US $17 to below US $12 and whilst cocoa prices have risen this year they are still below where they were in early 2016.

Even if the picture for chocoholics is a little mixed there were plenty of products which rose in price which we were told was due to the lower Pound £, have any of these fallen back now it is higher? I can tell you that the new running shoes I have just received were at the new higher £65 rather than the previous £55. I also recall Apple raising prices did they come back down?

Moving back to a more literal shrinkflation there was this a week ago. From City AM

According to new research from LABC Warranty, average house sizes have shrunk by over 12 square metres over the last 50 years.

The study looked at 10,000 houses built between 1930 and the present day, using open data from property sites Rightmove and Zoopla. The analysis concluded that house sizes are smaller than they were in the 1930s, after reaching a peak in the 1970s.

How does that work with the obesity crisis?

Today’s data

There was more of the welcome news we have been expecting on here although I note that the Financial Times has called it “disappointing.”

The all items CPI annual rate is 2.5%, down from 2.7% in February.

We do get a hint that the rally in the UK Pound £ has helped from this part of the detail.

The CPI all goods index annual rate is 2.4%, down from 3.0% last month.

Good prices were pushed up by the previous fall in the currency but now inflation in this area is rather similar to that in the services sector ( 2.5%) so after the recent drops we may see a plateau of sorts. As to the factors at play this month as I have noted several times in the past couple of years it is time to say thank you ladies.

Large downward effect…….. Prices overall rose this year by less than a year ago, with the main downward contributions coming from women’s dresses, jumpers, cardigans and coats, and boys’ T-shirts.

The good news carried on with the Retail Prices Index although of course with a higher number albeit less of a gap than we have got used to.

The all items RPI annual rate is 3.3%, down from 3.6% last month.

Producer Prices

These give us an idea of what is “coming up that hill” as Kate Bush would put it. Here we see some better news at the start.

The headline rate of inflation for goods leaving the factory gate (output prices) was 2.4% on the year to March 2018, down from 2.6% in February 2018.

However we do see the beginnings of the influence of the higher oil price further in the distance.

Prices for materials and fuels (input prices) rose 4.2% on the year to March 2018, up from 3.8% in February 2018.

House Prices

We even had better news on this front.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 4.4% in the year to February 2018 (down from 4.7% in January 2018). The annual growth rate has slowed since mid-2016 but has remained generally under 5% throughout 2017 and into 2018. Average house prices in the UK decreased by 0.1% on the month.

Of course if we look at all the different measures we seem to be bouncing between 0% and 5% but that in itself is better and the 5% upper barrier looks like it might be set to fall.

Comment

Just in time for the sunny spring weather the UK economy has produced two days of good data. Yesterday’s employment data has been followed by a fall in nearly all our inflation measures which of course sprinkles a few rays of sunshine on the prospects for real wages. These numbers will take time to filter into the other data such as consumption and GDP ( from the autumn perhaps) but the worm has now turned in this respect albeit not in time for the first quarter of this year.

Meanwhile there are two pockets of trouble and they are centred within our establishment. Firstly Bank of England Governor Carney has apparently had a headache and asked for some ibuprofen as he mulls how an inflation targeting central banker can raise interest-rates into falling inflation having ignored its rise?

Also the Office of National Statistics has argued itself into an increasingly lonely corner with this.

The all items CPIH annual rate is 2.3%, down from 2.5% in February.

Why has it become the economics version of “Johnny no mates”? Because nobody believes this version of property inflation.

The OOH component annual rate is 1.2%, unchanged from last month

If you have to make up a number my tip is to make at least some effort at credibility.

 

 

 

How soon will the US national debt be unaffordable?

It is time to look again at a subject which has been a regular topic in the comments section. This is what happens when national debt costs start to rise again? We have spent a period where rises in national debts have been anesthetized by the Quantitative Easing era where central bank purchases of sovereign debt have had a side effect of reducing debt costs in some cases by very substantial amounts. Of course  it is perfectly possible to argue that rather than being a side effect it was the real reason all along. Personally I do not think it started that way but once it began like in some many areas establishment pressure meant that it not only was expanded in volume but that it has come to look in stock terms really rather permanent or as the establishment would describe it temporary. Of the main players only the US has any plan at all to reduce the stock whereas the Euro area and Japan continue to pile it up.

So let us take a look at projections for the US where the QE flow effect is now a small negative meaning that the stock is reducing. Here is Businessweek on the possible implications.

Over the next decade, the U.S. government will spend almost $7 trillion — or almost $60,000 per household — servicing the nation’s massive debt burden. The interest payments will leave less room in the budget to spend on everything from national defense to education to infrastructure. The Congressional Budget Office’s latest projections show that interest outlays will exceed both defense discretionary spending and non-military discretionary spending by 2025.

The numbers above are both eye-catching and somewhat scary but as ever this is a case of them being driven by the assumptions made so let us break it down.

US National Debt

It is on the up and up.

Debt held by the public, which has doubled in the past
10 years as a percentage of gross domestic product
(GDP), approaches 100 percent of GDP by 2028 in
CBO’s projections.

Those of you who worry we may be on the road to World War III will be troubled by the next bit.

That amount is far greater than the
debt in any year since just after World War II

As you can see the water has got a bit muddled here as the CBO has thrown in its estimates of economic growth and debt held by the public so let us take a step back. It thinks that annual fiscal deficits will rise to above US $1 Trillion a year in this period meaning that from now until 2028 they will total some US $12.4 billion. That will put the National Debt on an upwards path and the amount held by the public will be US $28.7 Trillion. Sadly they skirt the issue of how much the US Federal Reserve will own so let us move on.

Deficits

These have become more of an issue simply because the CBO thinks the recent Trump tax changes will raise the US fiscal deficit. The over US $1 Trillion a year works out to around 5% of GDP per annum.

Bond Yields

These are projected to rise as the US Federal Reserve raises its interest-rates and we do here get a mention of it continuing to reduce its balance sheet and therefore an implied reduction in its holdings of US Treasury Bonds.

Meanwhile, the interest rate on 10-year Treasury notes increases from its average of 2.4 percent in the latter part of 2017 to 4.3 percent by the middle of 2021. From 2024 to 2028, the interest rate on 3-month Treasury bills averages
2.7 percent, and the rate on 10-year Treasury notes,
3.7 percent.

Currently the 10-year Treasury yield is 2.83% so the forecast is one to gladden the heart of any bond vigilante. If true this forecast will be a major factor in rising US debt costs over time as we know there will be plenty of new borrowing at the higher yields. But here comes the rub this assumes that these forecasts are correct in an area which has often been the worst example of forecasting of all. For example the official OBR forecast in the UK in a similar fashion to this from the CBO would have UK Gilt yields at 4.5% whereas in reality they are around 3% lower. That is the equivalent of throwing a dart at a dartboard and missing not only it but also the wall.

Inflation

This comes into the numbers in so many ways. Firstly the US does have inflation linked debt called TIPS so higher inflation prospects cost money. But as they are around 9% of the total debt market any impact on them is dwarfed by the beneficial impact of higher inflation on ordinary debt. Care if needed with this as we know that price inflation does not as conventionally assumed have to bring with it wage inflation. But higher nominal GDP due to inflation is good for debt issuers like the US government and leads to suspicions that in spite of all the official denials they prefer inflation. Or to put it another way why central banks target a positive rate of consumer inflation ( 2% per annum) which if achieved would gently reduce the value of the debt in what is called a soft default.

The CBO has a view on real yields but as this depends on assumptions about a long list of things they do not know I suggest you take it with the whole salt-cellar as for example they will be assuming the inflation target is hit ignoring the fact that it so rarely is.

In those years, the real interest rate on
10-year Treasury notes (that is, the rate after the effect of
expected inflation, as measured by the CPI-U, has been
removed) is 1.3 percent—well above the current real rate
but more than 1 percentage point below the average real
rate between 1990 and 2007.

Economic Growth

In many ways this is the most important factor of all. This is because it is something that can make the most back-breaking debt burden suddenly affordable or as Greece as illustrated the lack of it can make even a PSI default look really rather pointless. There is a secondary factor here which is the numbers depend a lot on the economic impact assumed from the Trump tax cuts. If we get something on the lines of Reaganomics then happy days but if growth falters along the lines suggested by the CBO then we get the result described by Businessweek at the opening of this article.

Between 2018 and 2028, actual and potential real output
alike are projected to expand at an average annual
rate of 1.9 percent.

The use of “potential real output” shows how rarefied the air is at the height of this particular Ivory Tower as quite a degree of oxygen debt is required to believe it means anything these days.

Comment

The issue of the affordability forecast is mostly summed up here.

CBO estimates that outlays for net interest will increase
from $263 billion in 2017 to $316 billion (or 1.6 percent
of GDP) in 2018 and then nearly triple by 2028,
climbing to $915 billion. As a result, under current law,
outlays for net interest are projected to reach 3.1 percent
of GDP in 2028—almost double what they are now.

This terns minds to what might have to be cut to pay for this. However let me now bring in what is the elephant in this particular room, This is that if bond yields rise substantially pushing up debt costs then I would expect to see QE4 announced. The US Federal Reserve would step in and start buying US Treasury Bonds again to reduce the costs and might do so on a grand scale.. Which if you think about it puts a cap also on its interest-rate rises and could see a reversal. Thus the national debt might remain affordable for the government but at the price of plenty of costs elsewhere.

 

 

 

 

It is time to replace consumer inflation measures with inflation faced by us

Let me open today by agreeing with the Bank of England. As many of you are aware I wrote to Governor Carney challenging the testimony he gave to the House of Lords on the 30th of January. Here is part of the response from the Bank.

No measure of consumer prices is perfect.

A good start however sadly they then claim to agree with me whilst putting  a word in my mouth so to speak that I did not say. I have highlighted it below. Also as CPI has been used as their inflation target since 2003 one might wonder where this point of view has been the last 15 years.

We agree that the single biggest shortcoming of the current CPI is that it excludes the consumption price of owner-occupied housing.

If you could sum up what is wrong with the UK establishment view on inflation that single word does it. By putting it like that you go from an owner occupier spending quite a bit of their income over time on their home to someone who spends far less as it is put into another category as it is an asset which doesn’t count and/or an investment which doesn’t count either. Fantastic isn’t it? Chelsea fans like me would have loved to have done that to Barcelona;s goals last Wednesday night but even the murky world of football does not stoop so low.

On the consumption road the owner-occupier does this.

As you will know, measuring this is not straightforward because the consumption cost of owner-occupied housing services is not directly observable. As you note, people do not pay rent to themselves to live in their own home.

Of course it is not directly observable as it is a fantasy number which is imputed as it does not exist. Theory over reality again, what could go wrong?

This is considered an economically sound concept and it is easy to understand, the price a homeowner would have to pay to rent a home similar to their own, but it is clearly an imputed one.

Is “economically sound” an oxymoron? Also it may just be where I live but I have little idea of what they rental value of my flat is and as I live there am not much bothered. As to the idea that it is easy to understand may be so in the Ivory Towers of the Bank of England but I bet if you asked people you would get the reply “but I don’t”. If we go deeper there has been a lot of trouble with measuring this as the Office for National Statistics does not get the source data and is on its second effort in terms of overall series. Those of you willing to look back to 2012 on here will note that I warned about problems with the original series back then but the establishment of course knew better and when it failed it was as usual nobody’s fault. I have seen arguments that its failure to properly stratify between new and old rents means that it is perhaps 1% per annum to low. If we now move to today’s data release you can see the significance of this.

Private rental prices paid by tenants in Great Britain rose by 1.1% in the 12 months to February 2018; unchanged from January 2018.

RPI

If we move to the Retail Prices Index or RPI the Bank of England tells us this.

RPI suffers from this problem.

Which is?

In any event, an important factor in any measure of consumer prices is avoiding the influence of movements in asset price valuations (such as land prices and asset valuations of housing structures)…………. Indeed, by the inclusion of mortgage interest payments, RPI conflates the consumption cost of housing not only with asset valuations, but also with the costs of financing the acquisition of those assets.

Again theory trumps reality as something which is a large part of people’s budgets disappears from the inflation data as reality gets twisted in the clouds inhabited by the Ivory Towers. Indeed when someone is really dismissing you they tell you are important but….

We should stress that none of this is to say that house prices and mortgage interest payments do not matter. Accurate information on these is central to much of the work of the Bank’s Monetary Policy and Financial Policy Committees as well as many other economic and financial policymakers.  They matter a great deal,

They matter so much that they need to be excluded. If we look at other perspectives this matters I note some work by the NIESR suggesting that 62% of households are owner-occupiers and that this has happened.

There is a genuine question of affordability with housing.,,,,,Essentially since 1997, house prices have become twice as expensive relative to incomes.

That is the real reason that house prices are kept out of the inflation data as you see then the rises are increases in wealth and filter their way into economic growth.Maybe some is but a lot of this is inflation as first-time buyers will not noting ruefully.

Let me put this another way by noting this from the Bank of England.

As you suggest, the other main alternative is the net acquisitions approach.

No I said house prices as  my support for the net acquisitions approach has faded and let me explain why with two numbers. The weight of owner occupiers in CPIH is 17.4% but the weight using net acquisitions is 6.8%. Just as a reminder it is the same housing stock. But even with that manipulation there is a clear difference.

Owner occupiers’ housing costs (OOH) in the UK under the rental equivalence approach have grown by 1.5% in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2017 compared with the corresponding quarter of the previous year.

OOH according to the net acquisitions approach have grown by 2.9% in Quarter 4 2017 compared with the corresponding quarter of the previous year.

This comes from a release which in my opinion was part of a propaganda campaign to convince us that all roads led to the same answer. As you can see that is misfiring and perhaps like the effort with the RPIJ measure will find its way into the recycling bin both friendless and abandoned.

Comment

If we look at today’s data the news is better as we see a fall in consumer inflation with the CPI measure falling to an annual rate of 2.7% and RPI to 3.6%. Those of you mulling the potential for a second Battle of the Thames today as well as those who like to keep up to date on the price of fish might like to know that fish prices rose by 1.3% this February as opposed to 4.7% last year. Looking deeper into the inflation chain we see this.

The headline rate of inflation for goods leaving the factory gate (output prices) was 2.6% on the year to February 2018, down from 2.8% in January 2018. Prices for materials and fuels (input prices) rose 3.4% on the year to February 2018, down from 4.5% in January 2018.

The media report this as the fall in the Pound £ dropping out of the numbers actually especially in the input series it is the stronger £ versus the US Dollar at play as it has a pretty direct line in. It will impact on the other measures as 2018 develops and help to bring down their numbers

Returning to my theme we end up with a pretty clear conclusion as to the establishment’s game as RPI at 3.6% is rubbished and CPI at 2.5% is promoted. I wrote some time back that they always promote things which give the lowest number and if I am ever wrong fell free to let me know. Meanwhile my arguments are hitting home as I notice some of my opponents are getting cold feet.

It has only taken 6 years. If we move onto planning ahead I think we have to move from consumer inflation to the inflation people experience as otherwise we miss this as explained by Edward Harrison.

Using the Minsky model, it’s wholly possible that asset price inflation is through the roof even while consumer price inflation barely budges. For example, say you have a credit crisis that throws people out of work and causes mass unemployment. In that case, it would take many years to get back to full employment. You won’t see inflation rising robustly. Yet, during that period, the central bank could set interest rates at a level that encourages an increase in speculative and then, eventually, Ponzi financing. That’s a recipe for asset price inflation without consumer price inflation.

Whatever your views on the Minsky model that bit is pretty much impossible to argue with. Now should we go forwards with that or backwards with “economically sound concepts” which keep failing?