2017 is seeing the return of the inflation monster

As we nearly reach the third month of 2017 we find ourselves observing a situation where an old friend is back although of course it is more accurate to describe it as an enemy. This is the return of consumer inflation which was dormant for a couple of years as it was pushed lower by falls particularly in the price of crude oil but also by other commodity prices. That windfall for western economies boosted real wages and led to gains in retail sales in the UK, Spain and Ireland in particular. Of course it was a bad period yet again for mainstream economists who listened to the chattering in the  Ivory Towers about “deflation” as they sung along to “the end of the world as we know it” by REM. Thus we found all sorts of downward spirals described for economies which ignored the fact that the oil price would eventually find a bottom and also the fact that it ignored the evidence from Japan which has seen 0% inflation for quite some time.

A quite different song was playing on here as I pointed out that in many places inflation had remained in the service-sector. Not many countries are as inflation prone as my own the UK but it rarely saw service-sector inflation dip below 2% but the Euro area for example had it at 1.2% a year ago in February 2016 when the headline was -0.2%, Looking into the detail there was confirmation of the energy price effect as it pulled the index down by 0.8%. Once the oil price stopped falling the whole picture changed and let us take a moment to mull how negative interest-rates and QE ( Quantitative Easing) bond buying influenced that? They simply did not. Now we were expecting the rise to come but quite what the ordinary person must think after all the deflation paranoia from the “deflation nutters” I do not know.

Spain

January saw quite a rise in consumer inflation in Spain if we look at the annual number and according to this morning’s release it carried on this month. Via Google Translate.

The leading indicator of the CPI puts its annual variation at 3.0% In February, the same as in January
The annual rate of the leading indicator of the HICP is 3.0%.

Just for clarity it is the HICP version which is the European standard which is called CPI in the UK. It can be like alphabetti spaghetti at times as the same letters get rearranged. We do not get a lot of detail but we have been told that the impact of the rise in electricity prices faded which means something else took its place in the annual rate. Also we got some hints as to what is coming over the horizon from last week’s producer price data.

The annual rate of the General Industrial Price Index (IPRI) for the month of January is 7.5%, more than four and a half points higher than in December and the highest since July 2011.

It would appear that the rises in energy prices affected businesses as much as they did domestic consumers.

Energy, whose annual variation stands at 26.6%, more than 18 points above that of December and the highest since July 2008. In this evolution, Prices of Production, transportation and distribution of electrical energy and Oil Refining,
Compared to the declines recorded in January 2016.

In fact the rise seen is mostly a result of rising commodity prices as we see below.

Behavior is a consequence of the rise in prices of Product Manufacturing Basic iron and steel and ferroalloys and the production of basic chemicals, Nitrogen compounds, fertilizers, plastics and synthetic rubber in primary forms.

The Euro will have had a small impact too as it is a little over 3% lower versus the US Dollar than it was a year ago.

Belgium

The land of beer and chocolate has also been seeing something of an inflationary episode.

Belgium’s inflation rate based on the European harmonised index of consumer prices was running at 3.1% in January compared to 2.2% in December.

The drivers were mostly rather familiar.

The sub-indices with the largest upward effect on inflation were domestic heating oil, motor fuels, electricity, telecommunication and tobacco.

These two are the inflation outliers at this stage but the chart below shows a more general trend in the major economies of the Euro area.

The United States

In the middle of this month the US Bureau of Labor Statistics confirmed the trend.

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.6 percent in January on a seasonally adjusted basis, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index rose 2.5 percent before seasonal adjustment.

This poses some questions of its own in the way that it confirmed that the strong US Dollar had not in fact protected the US economy from inflation all that much. The detail was as you might expect.

The January increase was the largest seasonally adjusted all items increase since February 2013. A sharp rise in the gasoline index accounted for nearly half the increase,

Egypt

A currency plummet of the sort seen by the Egyptian Pound has led to this being reported by Arab News.

Inflation reached almost 30 percent in January, up 5 percent over the previous month, driven by the floatation of the Egyptian pound and slashing of fuel subsidies enacted by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in November.

Ouch although of course central bankers will say “move along now……nothing to see here” after observing that the major drivers are what they call non-core.

Food and drinks have seen some of the largest increases, costing nearly 40 percent more since the floatation, figures from the statistics agency show. Some meat prices have leaped nearly 50 percent.

Comment

There is much to consider here and inflation is indeed back in the style of Arnold Schwarzenegger. However some care is needed as it will be driven at first by the oil price and the annual effect of that will fade as 2017 progresses. What I mean by that is that if we look back to 2016 the price of Brent Crude oil fell below US $30 per barrel in mid-January and then rose so if the oil price remains around here then its inflationary impact will fade.

However even a burst of moderate inflation will pose problems as we look at real wages and real returns for savers. If we look at the Euro area with its -0.4% official ECB deposit rate and wide range of negative bond yields there is an obvious crunch coming. It poses a particular problem for those rushing to buy the German 2 year bond as with a yield of 0.94% then they are facing a real loss of around 5/6% if it is held to maturity. You must be pretty desperate and/or afraid to do that don’t you think?

Meanwhile so far Japan seems immune to this, of course there will eventually be an impact but it is a reminder of how different it really is from us.

UK National Statistician John Pullinger

Thank you to John and to the Royal Statistical Society for his speech on Friday on the planned changes to UK inflation measurement next month. Sadly it looks as if he intends to continue with the use of alternative facts in inflation measurement by the use of rents to measure owner-occupied housing costs. These rents have to be imputed because they do not actually  exist as opposed to house prices and mortgage costs which not only exist in the real world but are also widely understood.

The ECB faces a growing policy dilemma

Today I want to look at what was one of the earliest themes of this blog which is that central banks will dither and delay before they reduce their policy easing and accommodation. Or to put it another way they will be too late because they are afraid of moving too soon and being given the blame should the economy hic-cup or turn downwards. Back in the day I did not realise how far central banks would go with the Bank of Japan seemingly only limited by how many assets there are in existence in Japan as it chomps on government bonds and acts as a Tokyo whale in equity markets. Actually it has made yet more announcements today including this from Governor Kuroda according to Marketwatch.

“There is not much likelihood that we will further lower the negative rate” from the current minus 0.1%, Kuroda said in parliament, citing Japan’s accelerating growth.

Last time he said something like that he cut them 8 days later if I recall correctly!

However the focus right now is on Europe and in particular on the ECB ( European Central Bank). as it faces the policy exit question I posed on the 19th of January.

If we look at the overall picture we see that 2017 poses quite a few issues for central banks as they approach the stage which the brightest always feared. If you come off it will the economy go “cold turkey” or merely have some withdrawal systems? What if the future they have borrowed from emerges and is worse than otherwise?

What has changed?

Yesterday brought news on economic prospects which will have simultaneously cheered and worried Mario Draghi and the ECB. It started with France.

The Markit Flash France Composite Output Index, based on around 85% of normal monthly survey replies, registered 56.2, compared to January’s reading of 54.1. The latest figure pointed to the sharpest rate of growth since May 2011.

Welcome news indeed and considering the ongoing unemployment issue that I looked it only a few days ago this was a welcome feature of the service sector boom.

Staffing numbers rose for the fourth consecutive month during February. The increase was underpinned by a solid rate of growth in the service sector,

Unusually for Markit it did not provide any forecast for expected GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth from this which is likely to have been caused by its clashes with the French establishment in the past. It has regularly reported private-sector growth slower than the official numbers so this is quite a change.

Next up was Germany and the good news theme continued.

The Markit Flash Germany Composite Output Index rose from January’s fourmonth low of 54.8 to 56.1, the highest since April 2014 and signalling strong growth in the eurozone’s largest economy. Output has risen continuously since May 2013.

The situation is different here because of course Germany has performed better than France in recent times illustrated by its very different unemployment rate. I note that manufacturing is doing well as it benefits from the much lower exchange rate the Euro provides compared to where any prospective German mark would be priced. Markit is much more willing to project forwards from this.

The latest PMI adds to our expectations that economic growth will strengthen in the first quarter to around 0.6% q-o-q, marking a strong start to 2017.

Whilst these are the two largest Eurozone economies there are others so let us add them into the mix.

“The eurozone economy moved up a gear in February. The rise in the flash PMI to its highest since April 2011 means that GDP growth of 0.6% could be seen in the first quarter if this pace of expansion is sustained into March.

There are actually two cautionary notes here. The first is that these indices rely on sentiment as well as numbers and as they point out March is yet to come. But the surveys indicate potential for a very good start to 2017 for the Eurozone.

As the objectives of central banks have moved towards economic growth there is an obvious issue when they look good and it is to coin a phrase “pumping up the volume”.

Also there was a hopeful sign for a chronic Euro area problem which is persistent unemployment in many countries.

February saw the largest monthly rise in employment since August 2007. Service sector jobs were created at a rate not seen for nine years and factory headcounts showed the second-largest rise in almost six years.

What about inflation?

Just like it fell more quickly and further than the ECB expected it has rather caught it on the hop with its rise. The move from 1.1% in December to 1.8% in January means it is just below 2% or where the “rules based” ECB wants it. There is an update later but even if it nudges the number slightly the song has the same drum and bass lines. Indeed yesterday’s surveys pointed to concerns that more inflation is coming over the horizon.

Inflationary pressures meanwhile continued to intensify. Firms’ average input costs rose at the steepest rate since May 2011, with rates accelerating in both services and manufacturing. The latter once again recorded the steeper rise, linked to higher global commodity prices, the weak euro and suppliers regaining some pricing power amid stronger demand.

In the past such news would have the ECB rushing to raise interest-rates which leaves it in an awkward position. The only leg it has left to stand on in this area is weak wage growth.

Asset prices

Mario Draghi’s espresso will taste better this morning as he notes this.

GERMANY’S DAX RISES ABOVE 12,000 FIRST TIME SINCE APRIL 2015 ( h/t Darlington_Dick)

Although even the espresso may provide food for thought.

Oh I don’t know…Robusta coffee futures creeping back towards 5-1/2 year highs

That pesky inflation again. Oh sorry I mean the temporary or transient phase!

As to house prices there is a wide variation but central bankers always want more don’t they?

House prices, as measured by the House Price Index, rose by 3.4% in the euro area and by 4.3% in the EU in the third quarter of 2016 compared with the same quarter of the previous year.

Of course should any boom turn to bust then the rhetoric switches to it was not possible to forecast this and therefore it was a “surprise” and nobody’s fault. The Bank of England was plugging that particular line for all it’s worth only yesterday.

The Euro

Much is going on here and it has been singing along to “Down, Down” by Status Quo again. For example it has moved very near to crossing 1.05 versus the US Dollar this morning which makes us wonder if economists might be right and it will reach parity. Such forecasts are rarely right so it would be its own type of Black Swan but more seriously we are seeing a weaker phase for the Euro as it has fallen from just over 96 in early November 2016 to 93.4 now. Here economists return to their usual form as this has seen the UK Pound £ nudge 1.19 this morning or further away from the parity so enthusiastically forecast by some.

A factor in this brings us back to QE and ECB action. A problem I have reported on has got worse and as ever it involves Germany. The two-year Schatz yield has fallen as low as -0.87% as investors continue to demand German paper even if they have to pay to get it. This is creating quite a differential ( for these times anyway) with US Dollar rates and thereby pushing the Euro lower.

Comment

There are obvious issues here for the ECB as it faces a period where economic growth could pick-up which is of course good but inflation will be doing the same which is not only far from good it is against its official mandate. It does plan to trim its monthly rate of bond buying to 60 billion Euros a month from 80 billion but of course it still has a deposit rate of -0.4%. Thus the accelerator is still being pressed hard. But as we note that the lags of monetary policy are around 18 months then it may well find itself doing that as both growth and inflation rise. Should that lead to trouble then a so-called stimulus will end up having exactly the reverse effect. Yet the consensus remains along the lines of this from Markit yesterday.

No change in policy
therefore looks likely until at least after the German
elections in September.

 

 

Of UK Retail Sales and a 5% cut in real interest-rates

A feature of my career and time working with and analysing finance and economics has been the fall in interest-rates and yields. This of course has ended up with us now facing a period where more than a few interest-rates and bond yields are in fact in negative territory. My subject of yesterday France has a central bank ( ECB) with a deposit and current account of -0.4% and its 2 year bond yield is -0.5%. But let me give you some perspective from the Bank Underground blog of the Bank of England.

Real interest rates have fallen by around 5 percentage points since the 1980s.

Eye-catching is it not? Just to break this down they were 0% in the 1970s, 4.7% in the 1980s, then 1.9% up to the credit crunch and since 2009 have been -1.3%, Oh and that is 6% and not 5% by the way. For clarity this is for the United States one year yield minus how inflation turned out to be in that year.

So in the period since the 1980s we have seen, as I have pointed out quite a few times before quite a stimulus applied to the world economy and of course a fair bit of this has come in the credit crunch era. We then face a rather awkward conundrum because the supposed cure of lower interest-rates and yields is in response at least in part to the problems created by lower interest-rates and yields! A sort of doubling the dose response to an addiction. How does that usually work out?

Of course some want ever more as I note individuals like Kenneth Rogoff who want to ban as much cash as they can as they fear that they will not be able to repeat the “cure” next time around. This plainly means interest-rates going even more negative and more places seeing them. For example the UK now has a Bank Rate of 0.25% after over 3 years of pretty solid economic growth so what happens when the next recession turns up? Such thoughts have the problem of why a cure needs to be repeated so often at ever higher dosages and with ever more side-effects?

As to the causes of this the Bank Underground tries to dismiss fears over secular stagnation by pointing out this.

In the late 1930s, Alvin Hansen developed the term “secular stagnation” to describe his concerns that structural factors such as stagnant technological development and weaker population growth prospects would weigh on growth permanently.  We know now that these concerns over secular trends proved misplaced, and played little role in weaker growth.

Rather ominously that was really only changed by the second world war which is hardly a hopeful precedent! The author hopes that things will get better so lets join him in that but the truth is we are much less sure and there is a sort of unmentioned sword of Damocles hanging all over this which is Japan where the lost decade has become the lost decades.

Although the author would not put it like this there is quite a critique of current Bank of England policy tucked away in the blog.

When agents assign a low probability to the central bank remaining hawkish towards inflation, real rates must rise by a significantly larger amount in response to a given shock to stabilise inflation.  The required response decreases as credibility improves.

So as the credibility of Forward Guidance is only for the credulous now and the Bank of England plans to “look through” rising inflation then the logic applied there suggests real rates will have to rise substantially. Awkward.

Retail Sales

Speaking of rising inflation there was this in the data released this morning.

Average store prices (including fuel) increased by 1.9% on the year, the largest contribution to this increase came from petrol stations, where year-on-year average prices were estimated to have risen by 16.1%.

Regular readers will be aware that I was ahead of the pick-up in retail sales in the UK and quite a few other places by explaining that the lower inflation driven mostly be lower crude oil prices would raise consumption via a boost to real wages. So we are now beginning to see the mirror image of that relationship. It was only on Wednesday that I pointed out the real wage growth was fading and on some inflation measures had now gone negative. The price rise was just not from fuel as this from the food sector shows.

In January 2017, prices increased by 0.5% compared with December 2016, the largest month-on-month rise since April 2013, while the year-on-year increase of 0.2% is the highest since June 2014,

Thus the numbers today are not the surprise they have been presented as.

Month-on-month the quantity bought is estimated to have fallen by 0.3%.

If we look for more perspective we see this.

The underlying pattern as suggested by the 3 month on 3 month movement decreased by 0.4%; the first fall since December 2013.

In annual terms there is still growth but it has faded substantially for the heady days of late 2016.

In January 2017, the quantity bought in the retail industry is estimated to have increased by 1.5% compared with January 2016, the lowest growth since November 2013.

Actually so much of the change can be found in the sector where prices have risen the most.

The year-on-year increase in fuel stores is the largest rise since September 2011, contributing to the strong growth seen in the amount spent in fuel stores on the year. However, the quantity bought has decreased following the rise in fuel prices, suggesting that consumers are more cautious with spending in this sector.

Have readers noticed less traffic on the roads?

Tourism

There was some good news here albeit with an odd kicker.

Overseas residents made 9.2 million visits to the UK in the 3 months to December 2016. This was 6% higher than the same 3 months in 2015. The amount spent on these visits was unchanged at £5.3 billion.

It is no great surprise that the lower UK Pound £ has led to more visitors but I am curious that they spent no more. For a start how do we know? Does someone follow them into every shop? Also this goes against the argument made by some that past retail sales growth in the UK was added to by foreign purchasers using lower price for them.

Whatever the state of play there we do seem to be seeing more US tourists as we wonder if Trump fears are higher than Brexit ones?

Visits from North America increased by 15% in the 3 months to December 2016, when compared with the same 3 months in 2015.

Comment

We see that we have been living our lives in an extraordinarily favourable interest-rate environment. Many reading this will have lived their whole lives in it. The catch is that it has ended up being associated with trouble on two fronts. Firstly it did not avert a credit crunch and in fact ended up contributing to it and secondly if it was a cure we would not be where we are. Although care is needed as there were plenty of economic gains back in the day. As for now well some old fears have reappeared.

More Americans fell behind on their car loan payments in the fourth quarter, bringing auto delinquencies to their highest since the height of the financial crisis, Federal Reserve Bank of New York data released on Thursday showed…….

In the fourth quarter, $142 billion in car loans were generated, giving 2016 the most auto loan originations in the 18-year history of the data, the New York Fed said.

Auto debt hit $1.16 trillion, with a $93 billion rise over the year.

Sub-prime car loans anyone?

If we move to the UK then the consumer surge is fading. The numbers are erratic and influenced by the rise in the price of fuel but even taking that out annual growth fell to 2.6%. It remains a shame that the Bank of England last summer contributed to the inflation rise via the way that their rhetoric and Bank Rate cut and QE pushed the UK Pound £ lower. Before this is over I expect what was badged as a stimulus to turn out to be the reverse via its impact on real wages.

The Forward Misguidance of Mark Carney and the Bank of England continues

Yesterday was a rather extraordinary day at the Bank of England even by its standards. I do not mean in terms of the policy announcements as they were not only unchanged but were always likely to be that way. This is of course because it boxed itself in with its pronouncements of economic doom last summer leading to its Bank Rate cut and extra QE (Quantitative Easing). There was actually a technical announcement on the QE front about another Operation Twist style move.

the Committee agreed to re-invest the £11.6 billion of cash flows associated with the redemption of the January 2017 gilt held by the Asset Purchase Facility

If you think about an economy which the Bank of England now thinks will have 2% economic growth in 2017 and inflation heading above target soon that is simply completely inappropriate and wrong. It is a consequence of its silly “Sledgehammer” rhetoric which Mark Carney plainly feels is too embarrassing to reverse now.

Economic growth forecasts

The Bank of England and Mark Carney seem to be getting worse and worse at this. From yesterday’s MPC (Monetary Policy Committee) Minutes.

The preliminary estimate of GDP growth for 2016 Q4 had been 0.6%, the same rate of growth as had been registered in the previous two quarters, and 0.2 percentage points higher than expected at the time of the November 2016 Inflation Report. This, together with improvements in business survey output and expectations indicators, had led Bank staff to raise their GDP growth nowcast for 2017 Q1 to 0.5%, also 0.2 percentage points higher than in November.

Such things matter when the Forward Guidance had led to policy changes as we saw in August. In fact the situation is ever more woeful than that. Even the Financial Times which of course has lauded Mark Carney as a “rockstar” central banker could not avoid pointing out this reality.

The Bank of England upgraded UK growth forecasts significantly for the second time in six months on Thursday in the latest indication the central bank’s once-dire outlook for the economy after June’s Brexit vote has been proven overly pessimistic.

The bank said it now predicts gross domestic product will grow 2 per cent this year, the same as last year and up from 1.4 per cent forecast in November. Shortly after the referendum, the BoE predicted the economy would expand just 0.8 per cent.

The simple fact is that the UK consumer and if you look into the detail our female consumers behaved like they have in the past and carried on regardless. It is for the Bank of England to explain why it ignored UK economic history. Perhaps the way it is now packed with people I have described as Carney’s cronies?

Was this predictable?

Yes it was as I pointed out back then. From August 3rd last year on the day of ignominy for the Bank of England.

I would vote for unchanged policy as I waited to see how we respond to the lower value of the UK Pound £ which on the old rule of thumb has provided a move equivalent to a 2%  Bank Rate cut.

I repeated this view on BBC Radio Four’s Moneybox on the 17th of September when I debated with ex Bank of England staffer Professor Tony Yates who said “they did pretty much the right thing”. However it was kind yesterday of Mark Carney to confirm that I was indeed right all along.

Third, financial conditions in the UK remain supportive, underpinned by low risk-free rates, the 18% fall in sterling since its November 2015 peak, and lower credit spreads.

Mark Carney tries to take the credit for this

Perhaps the worst part of yesterday’s Inflation Report was the bit where Mark Carney tried to take the credit for the performance of the UK economy.

In part this reflects Bank of England policy actions, which have also helped lower the impact of uncertainty on activity.

He omitted to point out his own doom laden pronouncements which would hardly have helped uncertainty and he had another go at that yesterday.

This stronger projection doesn’t mean the referendum is without consequence………More broadly, the level of GDP is still expected to be 1½% lower in two years’ time than projected in May, despite the substantial easing of monetary, macroprudential and fiscal policies.

If we return to Governor Carney’s claims we see that we had a “bazooka” from a lower pound compared to a “pea shooter” from his Bank Rate cut as I pointed out on Moneybox. Indeed the Governor got himself into something of a mess at the press conference as he tried to take some of the credit for consumer resilience (debt fuelled growth) and then denied that there was much debt fuelled growth! So let us leave him in his own land of confusion.

Ivory Tower alert

We got some of this too as the woeful Bank of England forecasting effort saw this addition.

Specifically, the MPC now judges that the rate of unemployment the economy can achieve while being consistent with sustainable rates of wage growth to be around 4½%, down from around 5% previously.

This was such a hot potato that the subject was handed over to Deputy Governor Ben Broadbent to explain. Ben was obviously uncomfortable as he began speaking behind his hand in the manner of Jose Mourinho. He then tried to tell us he had been right all along which of course begged the question of why there was a change? Anyway we then did get a brief burst of honesty.

Forecasting is a hazardous business

It is for Ben!

Oh and remember when their Forward Guidance was that 7% unemployment was a significant level? Whatever happened to that….

Inflation

Another problem is brewing here and this is in addition to the fact that it is going “higher and higher”. This from the Bank of England yesterday was simply wrong.

Beyond that, inflation is expected to increase further, peaking around 2.8% at the start of 2018, before falling gradually back to 2.4% in three years’ time.

As I have written many times on here that is too low as I expect it to rise above 3% due to the impact of the lower UK Pound £ and the higher price of crude oil. I recall Kristin Forbes of the Bank of England saying that she thought inflation would be pushed some 1.75% higher but now she seems to have done something of a U-Turn and decided it will be more like 0.75%. As the UK Pound £ has fallen further in the meantime that is quite a big change.

Comment

There is one aspect of Bank of England Forward Guidance which has in fact proved correct.

the appropriate level of Bank Rate is likely to be materially below the 5% level set on average by the Committee prior to the financial crisis.

I think we can say 0.25% is materially below 5%. But the rest of it has proven to be woeful. After all Mark Carney’s hints of a Bank Rate rise would fit an economy over 3 years into a growth phase and with inflation set to run above target. But of course all his hints and teases were followed by exactly the reverse or a Bank Rate cut.

As to the inflation forecast well this morning has brought the beginnings of a further critique of that as well. From the BBC.

Npower has announced one of the largest single price rises implemented by a “Big Six” supplier. The company will raise standard tariff electricity prices by 15% from 16 March, and gas prices by 4.8%. A typical dual fuel annual energy bill will rise by an average of 9.8%, or £109.

Also there is the media inspired great lettuce and broccoli crisis of 2017.

Some supermarkets are rationing the amount of iceberg lettuce and broccoli customers can buy – blaming poor growing conditions in southern Europe for a shortage in UK stores.

Tesco is limiting shoppers to three iceberg lettuces, as bad weather in Spain caused “availability issues”.

Morrisons has a limit of two icebergs to stop “bulk buying”, and is limiting broccoli to three heads per visit.

Asda said courgette stocks were still low after a UK shortage last month.

I guess we can expect higher prices here too as we mull whether the weather has ever affected food availability in the past! As a public service announcement there did not appear to be any shortage at Lidl at Clapham Junction yesterday. What will the Bank of England do about rising inflation? Well as you can see it takes a while to say “nothing”

At its February meeting, the MPC unanimously judged that it remained appropriate to seek to return inflation to the target over a somewhat longer period than usual, and that the current stance of monetary policy remained appropriate to balance the demands of the Committee’s remit.

If you are trading the US non-farm payroll numbers today then good luck….

 

 

 

Inflation is back!

Regular readers will be aware that as 2016 progressed and the price of crude oil did not fall like it did in the latter part of 2015 that a rise in consumer inflation was on the cards pretty much across the world. This would of course be exacerbated in countries with a weak currency against the US Dollar and ameliorated by those with a strong currency. This morning has brought an example of this from a country which I gave some praise to only on Monday so let us investigate.

An inflationary surge in Spain

This mornings data release from the statistics institute INE was eye-catching indeed. Via Google Translate

The estimated annual inflation of the CPI in January 2017 is 3.0%, according to the An advance indicator prepared by INE.This indicator provides an advance of the CPI which, if confirmed, would increase of 1.4 points in its annual rate, since in December this variation was of 1.6%.

Okay and the reason why was no great surprise to us on here.

This increase is mainly explained by the rise in the prices of electricity and The fuels (gasoil and gasoline) in front of the drop that they experienced last year.

So as David Bowie put it they have been putting out fire with gasoline. As we investigate further I note that El Pais labels it as an Ultimate Hora and gives us some more detail.

The agency blames the acceleration of inflation to the rise in electricity prices, which this month has exploded, affecting mainly consumers in the regulated market of light, 46.5% of households, Which pay according to the hourly evolution of electricity prices in the wholesale market.

Actually that sounds ominous in the UK as the National Grid was effectively promising no blackouts yesterday but at the cost of more volatile ( which of course means higher) domestic energy prices. The actual numbers for Spanish consumers are eye-watering.

The average price of the megawatt hour (MWh) in the wholesale electricity market was on January 1, 51.9 euros. This Tuesday, the last day of January, the average price stands at 73.27 euros, 43.4% more. On Wednesday 25, the average stood at 91.88 euros (78.9% more than January 1), with maximums of more than 100 euros for the time stretches with more demand. Consumers receiving the regulated tariff (Voluntary Price for the Small Consumer, PVPC) will see those increases already reflected in their next receipt of light and have already been noted in the CPI, which has registered the highest level for more than four Years,

I guess they must be grateful that this has not been a long cold winter as such prices would have appeared earlier and maybe gone higher. The push higher in the inflation measure was exacerbated by the fact that fuel prices fell this time last year.

Thus, in January 2016, electricity fell by 13% compared to the same month in 2015. The gas price fell at a rate of 15%, while other fuels (diesel for heating, butane …) went down To 19.9%. Finally, the fuel and lubricants registered a year-on-year decrease of 7.1%.

It would seem that El Pais has cottoned onto one of my themes.

 The evolution of oil prices largely explained the behavior of the CPI in Spain. In January of 2016, the oil marked minimums in less than 30 dollars. Now, with the price of a barrel of brent upwards (around 55 dollars), fuels are rising and expenses related to housing are rising: gas, of course, a byproduct, and electricity, which is generated Partly by burning gas.

So far we have looked at Spain’s own CPI but the situation was the same for the official Euro area measure called HICP ( which confusingly is called CPI in the UK) as it rose to an annual rate of 3% as well. This poses an issue for the ECB as El Pais points out.

In any case, inflation is already at levels above the ECB’s target of 2%

Also it points out that Spain will see a reduction in real purchasing power as wage growth is now much lower than inflation.

already at levels that imply a loss of purchasing power for pensioners – the government will only update pensions by 0.25 %, The minimum that marks the law, for officials, whose salaries will not rise above 1%, and the vast majority of wage earners, since the average wage increase agreed in the agreements remained at 1, 06%.

There are also other concerns as to how it may affect Spain’s economic recovery.

As Spanish inflation is above European, the Spanish economy may lose competitiveness, not only because it may affect exports, but also because it may lead to a rise in wages.

Germany

A little more prosaic and also for December and not January but we saw this from Germany yesterday.

The inflation rate in Germany as measured by the consumer price index is expected to be +1.9% in January 2017. A similarly high rate of inflation was last measured in July 2013 (+1.9%).

German consumers will be particularly disappointed to note that the inflation was in essential items such as energy (5.8%) and food (3.2%). Of course central bankers and their media acolytes will rush to call these non-core as we wonder if they sit in the cold and dark without food themselves?!

This poses another problem for the ECB as Germany is now pretty much on its inflation target ( just below 2%) and this morning has also posted good news on unemployment where the rate has fallen to 5.9%.

Euro area

This morning’s headline is this.

Euro area annual inflation is expected to be 1.8% in January 2017, up from 1.1% in December 2016, according to a flash estimate from Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union.

So a by now familiar surge as we note that it is now in the zone where the ECB can say it is achieving its inflation target. Of course it will look for excuses.

energy is expected to have the highest annual rate in January (8.1%, compared with 2.6% in December), followed by food, alcohol & tobacco (1.7%, compared with 1.2% in December),

Accordingly if you take out the things people really need ( energy and food) the “core” inflation rate falls to 0.9%. But the heat is on now as Glenn Frey would say.

Weetabix

The Financial Times reported this yesterday.

Giles Turrell, chief executive of Weetabix, said on Monday that the company was absorbing the higher cost of dollar denominated wheat but that Weetabix prices were likely to go up later this year by “mid-single digits”.

Sadly the decline of the FT continues as the “may” is reported in the headline as “Weetabix prices hiked” . The Guardian was much fairer although this bit raised a smile.

Although the company harvests wheat in Northamptonshire, it is sold in US dollars on global markets, meaning the cost in pounds to buy wheat in the UK has gone up.

Comment

It is hard not to have a wry smile as it was not that long ago in 2016 that the consensus was that inflation is dead and of course before that the “deflation nutters” were in full cry. Any news from them today? Of course the official mantra will be on the lines of this as reported by DailyFX.

ECB’s Villeroy says concerns about rising inflation are exaggerated.

What was that about never believing anything until it is officially denied? It was only yesterday that another ECB board member was informing us that there would be no change in monetary policy for 6 months when today’s inflation and GDP data suggests it is already behind the curve, as I pointed out on the 19th of this month. Although as ever Italy ( unemployment rising to 12%) is lagging behind. As Livesquawk points out not everyone has got the memo.

Spanish EconMin deGuindos: Inflationary Trend In Europe Could Lead To Tightening Of MonPol, Higher Interest Rates

So we see a problem and whilst some of the move in Spain is particular to one month it is also true that the pattern has changed now and so should the response of the ECB as it looks forwards.

UK National Statistician

Thank you to John Pullinger for meeting a group of inflation specialists including me at the Royal Statistical Society last Wednesday. I was pleased to point out that his letter to the Guardian of a week ago made in my opinion a case for using real numbers for owner-occupied housing such as house prices and mortgage-rates as opposed to the intended use of an imputed number such as Rental Equivalence. This will be more important when the UK makes the changes planned for March. Here is the section of his letter which I quoted.

And there is a real yearning for trustworthy analysis that deals with both the inherent biases in many data sources and also the vested interests of many who try to cloak their own opinions and prejudices as “killer facts”.

 

 

 

 

 

When will the Riksbank of Sweden cross it’s own Rubicon?

This week is posing more than a few questions for the pattern of world monetary policy and it is only Thursday morning. It is hard not to have a wry smile at my own country where the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney was busy talking the UK Pound £ down yesterday as well as performing a hand brake U-Turn and I believe a hand stand only to be well,Trumped later! We will have to see how that settles down as those selling the Pound ( Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank) have seen their stops fired off this morning and the Financial Times twitter feeds have stopped its regular mentions of its level.

However we are going to continue on what might be called our grand tour to Europe and pop over to the Kingdom of Sweden which of course is a familiar stopping point for me. The reason for that is the extraordinary monetary experiment which is taking place there which is approaching the zone where there should be ch-ch-changes. This morning they have updated us with their monetary policy minutes so let us take a look.

Riksbank

Policy is summarised below.

All of the Executive Board members assessed that it was now appropriate to hold the repo rate unchanged at –0.50 per cent and to reinvest maturities and coupon payments on the government bond portfolio until further notice…….Moreover, a majority of the Executive Board members considered that the risks to the upturn in inflation call for a continuation of the government bond purchases during the first half of 2017 and that they should be extended by SEK 30 billion, corresponding to SEK 15 billion in nominal bonds and SEK 15 billion in real bonds.

Newer readers will be beginning to see my interest as we see something of a full house of negative interest-rates, QE (Quantitative Easing) government bond purchases and an Operation Twist style reinvestment of maturing bonds. In short even Paul Krugman of the New York Times can call them “sadomonetarists” although of course my avoidance of politics means I can only rarely mention him these days although I suppose I can point out his current plan to boost the US economy by buying some bathroom fixtures.

So we see that the monetary pedal is close to the metal although it would seem that the Riksbank has dropped its threat/promise to intervene in foreign exchange markets. although we do have some Forward Guidance.

Increases in the repo rate are not expected to begin until the beginning of 2018.

Care is needed though as Riksbank Forward Guidance has had all the success of Forward Guidance from the Bank of England.

Inflation is on its way

This morning Sweden Statistics has told us this.

In December 2016, the inflation rate according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was 1.7 percent, up from 1.4 percent in November. The CPI rose by 0.5 percent from November to December 2016.

If you are wondering why well it is not a particular surprise.

mainly due to a rise in prices for transport services (9.1 percent), which contributed 0.3 percentage points.

There were other effects of the higher price of oil (package holidays were 4.8% more expensive) and the cost of food rose. So in terms of essential goods ( food and fuel) inflation is particularly rising although of course central bankers consider these to be non-core. If you try to allow for the initial effects of the official negative interest-rate then you see this.

The inflation rate according to the CPIF (CPI with a fixed interest rate) was 1.9 percent in December, up from 1.6 percent in November.

All this matters because this is badged as the modus operandi of the Riksbank.

More precisely, the Riksbank’s objective is to keep inflation around 2 per cent per year.

No doubt you are seeing the point which is that the level of consumer inflation is plainly on its way into that zone in 2017. Also you may note a difference from the ECB (European Central Bank) which aims to keep it just below 2%. So the Riksbank has an easier target and if you like has a little “wriggle” room.

House Prices

Extraordinary monetary policy is often accompanied by a rise in asset prices of which house prices are an example so let us examine today’s data.

Real estate prices for one- or two-dwelling buildings increased by almost 1 percent in the fourth quarter 2016, compared with the third quarter. Prices increased by almost 10 percent on an annual basis during the fourth quarter of 2016, compared with the same period last year.

A driving force in this is the availability of mortgage credit which of course is one of the objectives of the Riksbank. Central bankers love to “pump it up”.

The downturn was mainly due to housing loans, with an annual growth rate of 7.8 percent in November, which was a decrease of 0.1 percentage points compared with October.

It is revealing that an annual growth rate of 7.8% is a downturn isn’t it? If you want it in monetary terms here it is.

Housing loans amounted to SEK 2 882 billion in November, which is an increase of SEK 17 billion compared with the previous month and SEK 209 billion compared with the same month last year.

Also you may note as we have observed before that you can push the cost of mortgage credit lower but it then appears to find something of a floor. After all we cannot harm the “precious” can we?

The average interest rate for housing loans for new agreements was 1.57 percent in November, which means that it dropped compared with October, when it was 1.59 percent.

Comment

There is much to consider here but first let me give you a clear example of the alternative universe which is inhabited by central bankers and their ilk.

Another positive in November was food prices continuing to rise and surprise on the upside.

The only group that should be welcoming this is farmers! Everyone else will be disappointed in the rise of a commodity so essential that it is called “non-core” by central bankers.

If we move to monetary policy then there are echoes of the situation in the Czech Republic that I analysed on Tuesday as we see another country where inflation had a strong December. Oh and I did mention the Riksbank’s poor Forward Guidance performance didn’t I?

Inflation therefore continues to surprise on the downside,

Now they are in danger of being wrong-footed as they continue with negative interest-rates and more QE designed to push inflation higher just as it approaches its target. In my opinion they are rather like Julius Caesar when he crossed the Rubicon as not only is inflation rising but economic growth looks solid.

A growth rate of 3.4 per cent is expected this year, a tenth higher than in the October forecast. Growth for 2017 has been revised upwards by 0.4 percentage points to 2.4 per cent.

Also they expect that the performance of the Krona in 2016 will further boost inflation.

The impact of the exchange rate on inflation has also been analysed. The Swedish krona has recently been unexpectedly weak.

Thus we find ourselves arriving at one of my earliest topics which was and is how central banks will reverse the extraordinary monetary policies they have implemented or more simply what is their exit strategy? So far Life’s Been Good for Sweden and the Riksbank but Joe Walsh also has a warning.

I go to parties sometimes until four
It’s hard to leave when you can’t find the door

 

 

Why use real numbers to measure inflation when you can make them up?

Today brings us yet more evidence on the rise of consumer inflation in the UK. Regular readers will recall that I warned earlier in the year and indeed pre the EU leave vote that a pick-up in inflation was on the cards. Back then much of this view was simply based on the likelihood that the crude oil price would stop falling and the disinflationary effect from it would fade and then end. Then we would see some of the institutionalised inflation of the UK come into play. An example of this has been inflation in services which has rumbled on at about 2% per annum and thus pretty much ignoring the phase of good price disinflation we have just experienced.

Crude Oil

This was in the high 30s if we look at the US Dollar price for Brent crude oil at this time last year and was about to fall so that it fell below the US $30 mark in early January. This compares to a price of just below US $56 so even allowing for daily fluctuations we are on a higher trajectory now and seem set to remain so. Even a rush of production from the shale sector seems unlikely to get us back below US $30 anytime soon. So we see that rather than disinflation we are now seeing some inflationary pressure from the oil price.

The UK Pound £

In spite of the recent rally it has been a poor battered UK Pound for most of 2016. It was in fact falling before the EU leave vote but then it fell sharply creating inflationary pressure via higher prices for imports. This is not something which happens in full immediately as it takes time for fixed-price contracts for example to be replaced with new and higher terms but it is in progress.

If we look at the numbers then this time last year the UK Pound was about to dip below US $1.50 whereas it is now just below US $1.27. Thus we see that commodities prices including the oil one above have around a 15% nudge higher from the exchange rate. Ouch! Other prices will have risen too as the UK Pound has fallen albeit mostly less against many other currencies as well. Even the currency against which it feels there has been a strong bounce back the Japanese Yen is only back to 146 Yen.

Bank of England

We do not get reminded often these days of the latter effect of this statement about QE or Quantitative Easing.

This process aims to directly increase private sector spending in the economy and return inflation to target.

So they are pushing inflation higher just as it was about to surge anyway. A clear policy error and yet another Forward Guidance failure.

Today’s numbers

We saw this.

The all items CPI annual rate is 1.2%, up from 0.9% in October

I pointed out last month that the dip in the numbers was something of a statistical fluke although the media and analysts either forgot or did not notice that by the mentions of an “unexpected” rise. Anyway here is a reminder of the continuing shambles which is the efforts of the Office of National Statistics to measure UK clothing inflation.

This is the largest October to November rise since 2010 and continues the rather volatile movements observed during 2016, especially over the latest 3 months.

This is a fundamental issue which I posted on the Royal Statistical Society website about a month ago highlighting the situation about ladies coats which I am told lack any lining this year and are therefore cold. I have opened a can of worms I think

http://www.statsusernet.org.uk/communities/community-home/digestviewer/viewthread?MessageKey=be4841f9-ef68-4d1b-80a9-7d859cf6b53c&CommunityKey=3fb113ec-7c7f-424c-aad9-ae72f0a40f65&tab=digestviewer#bmbe4841f9-ef68-4d1b-80a9-7d859cf6b53c

If we move back to today’s news then we are seeing in the November figures the effect of the weaker UK Pound in essence. Also there is a significant change as it may only be 0.2% but the trend is clear.

The CPI all goods index annual rate is 0.2%, up from -0.4% last month.

Coming over the horizon

The producer prices situation is beginning to have its effect.

Factory gate prices (output prices) for goods produced by UK manufacturers rose 2.3% in the year to November 2016, compared with an increase of 2.1% in the year to October 2016.

We see that in the goods prices I discussed above and further down the line we see more ch-ch-changes.

The overall price of materials and fuels bought by UK manufacturers for processing (total input prices) rose 12.9% in the year to November 2016, compared with a rise of 12.4% in the year to October 2016.

Housing Costs

I would like to demonstrate today why the planned change in the main UK inflation measure will leave us with the equivalent of a chocolate teapot. The UK National Statistician put out his thoughts late last week and I replied confining myself to a sentence plus one word.

Dear Danny

Thank you for posting the letter from John Pullinger to Tony Cox. There is much I would like to reply on but we learn so much from one sentence which I have copied below.

 

“Our view is that neither mortgage payments nor house prices are a good measure of housing costs. ”

 

So the largest payment someone ever makes in regards a house and/or the largest stream of payments are both to be ignored! They are then replaced by a number under the banner of Rental Equivalence which by contrast is neither paid nor received and in fact is imputed.

The banking sector got itself into quite a mess by replacing mark to market accountancy with mark to model or as some called the latter myth. It has still to recover from this “advantage”.

As this news filters through to the public, confidence in official statistics will be reduced rather than enhanced. This will not be helped by the timing of this as inflation moves above the Bank of England’s target next year.

As of March we will use what is called CPIH as our main inflation measure where H supposedly measures housing costs. Except you see for owner-occupiers it does not and instead with its made up number sings along with Earth Wind & Fire.

Take a ride in the sky
On our ship, fantasize
All your dreams will come true right away

My message has got a decent response already and this one from Arthur Barnett hits home.

Shaun,

You have picked up on an interesting sentence from the National Statistician’s letter.

I would add another sentence –

 

“It is for the above reasoning we believe that the treatment of housing costs in RPIJ is weak.”

 

The two sentences refer to views and beliefs rather than evidence – indeed the National Statistician’s letter does not appear to include the word evidence.

If we switch to the numbers we see that house prices are rising at an annual rate of 6.9% whilst CPIH does this.

The all items CPIH annual rate is 1.4%, up from 1.2% in October

Comment

So we are now on course to hit the UK’s inflation target and maybe quite quickly. One way this may be achieved will be from the price of petrol at the pumps. We have been told today that it is some 10 pence higher than a year ago which adds some 0.3% to consumer inflation all other things being equal. This is not something that I welcome although economists such as my debating partner on Radio 4’s Moneybox Tony Yates presumably does although it is still a long way short of the 4% inflation target he has argued for. Still anyway here is a link from 3 months ago to it when I was pointing out that the Bank of England had made an inflationary policy error.

Also the numbers looked like they were leaked again and I do not necessarily mean the way those in authority get them 24 hours before. Traders in the UK Pound £ seemed to have an Early Wire yet again.

Meanwhile RPI inflation rises at 2.2% or if you exclude mortgage interest payments RPIX is at 2.5%. I remind you of this because our official statisticians have spent the last 3/4 years trying to rubbish it. Yet even the Bank of England has to admit this.

Asked to give the current rate of inflation, respondents gave a median answer of 2.3%, compared to 1.8% in August.

Apparently everyone is wrong again.