India has an economic growth problem

As 2019 has developed we have been noting the changes in the economic trajectory of India. Back on October 4th we noted this from the Reserve Bank of India as it made its 5th interest-rate cut in 2019.

The MPC also decided to continue with an accommodative stance as long as it is necessary to revive growth, while ensuring that inflation remains within the target.

This was in response to this.

On the domestic front, growth in gross domestic product (GDP) slumped to 5.0 per cent in Q1:2019-20, extending a sequential deceleration to the fifth consecutive quarter.

For India that was a slow growth rate for what we would call the second quarter as they work in fiscal years.

What about now?

Friday brought more bad news for the Indian economy as this from its statistics office highlights.

GDP at Constant (2011-12) Prices in Q2 of 2019-20 is estimated at `35.99 lakh crore, as against `34.43 lakh crore in Q2 of 2018-19, showing a growth rate of 4.5 percent. Quarterly GVA (Basic Price) at Constant (2011-2012) Prices for Q2 of 2019-20 is estimated at `33.16 lakh crore,
as against `31.79 lakh crore in Q2 of 2018-19, showing a growth rate of 4.3 percent over the corresponding quarter of previous year.

The areas which did better than the average are shown below.

‘Trade, Hotels, Transport, Communication and Services related to Broadcasting’ ‘Financial, Real Estate and Professional Services’ and ‘Public Administration,
Defence and Other Services’.

The first two however slowed in the year before leaving us noting that the state supported the economy as you can see below.

Quarterly GVA at Basic Prices for Q2 2019-20 from this sector grew by 11.6 percent as compared to growth of 8.6 percent in Q2 2018-19. The key indicator of this sector namely, Union Government Revenue Expenditure net of Interest Payments excluding Subsidies, grew by 33.9
percent during Q2 of 2019-20 as compared to 22.2 percent in Q2 of 2018-19.

Regular readers will not be surprised what the weakest category was.

Quarterly GVA at Basic Prices for Q2 2019-20 from ‘Manufacturing’ sector grew by (-)1.0
percent as compared to growth of 6.9 percent in Q2 2018-19.

Also those who use electricity use as a signal will be troubled.

The key indicator of this sector, namely, IIP of Electricity registered growth rate of 0.4 percent during Q2 of 2019-20 as compared to 7.5 percent in Q2 of 2018-19.

In terms of structure the economy is 31.3% investment and 56.3% consumption. The investment element is no great surprise in a fast growing economy but it has been dipping in relative terms. The main replacement has been government consumption which was 11.9% a year ago and is 13.1% now as we get another hint of a fiscal boost.

Switching to a perennial problem for India which is its trade deficit we see that it was 3.8% of GDP in the third quarter of this year. That is a little better but there is a catch which is that it has happened via falling imports which were 26.9% of GDP a year ago as opposed to 24% now. So another potential sign of an internal economic slowing.

We can move on by noting that this time last year the GDP growth rate was 7% and that The Hindu reported it like this.

Growth in the gross domestic product (GDP) in the July-September quarter hit a 25-quarter low of 4.5%, the government announced on Friday.

The lowest GDP growth in six years and three months comes as Parliament has been holding day-long discussions on the economic slowdown, with Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman assuring the Rajya Sabha that the country is not in a recession and may not ever be in one.

4.5% growth is a recession?

Unemployment

The numbers are rather delayed am I afraid leaving us wondering what has happened since.

Unemployment Rate (UR) in current weekly status in urban areas for all ages has been estimated as 9.3% during January-March 2019 as compared to 9.8% during April- June 2018.

Inflation

This has been picking up as the Economic Times reports below.

Inflation touched 4.62%, according to the data released by the statistics office on Wednesday, compared to 3.99% in the month of September. Inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), was 3.38% in October last year.

Sadly for India’s consumers and especially the poor much of the inflation is in food  prices as inflation here was 7.9%. Vegetables were 26.1% more expensive than a year before and it would seem the humble onion which is a big deal in India is at the heart of it. From India Today.

Households and restaurants in India are reeling under pressure as onion prices have surged exponentially  across the country. A kilo of onion is retailing at Rs 90-100 in most Indian states, peaking at Rs 120-130 per kilo in major cities like Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, Odisha, and Pune.

For those wondering about any inflation in pork prices then the answer is maybe.The meat and fish category rose at an annual rate of 9.75%.

Manufacturing

We noted in the GDP numbers that there was a fall but this seems to have sped up at the end of the quarter as it fell by 3.9% in September on a year before driven by this.

The industry group ‘Manufacture of motor vehicles, trailers and semitrailers’ has shown the highest negative growth of (-) 24.8 percent followed by (-) 23.6 percent in ‘Manufacture of furniture’ and (-) 22.0 percent in ‘Manufacture of fabricated metal products, except machinery and equipment’ ( India Statistics)

Fiscal Policy

From Reuters last month.

After the corporate tax cuts and lower nominal GDP growth, Moody’s now expects a government deficit of 3.7 per cent of GDP in the fiscal year ending in March 2020, compared with a government target of 3.3 per cent of GDP.

Also there is this from the Economic Times.

In India, private debt in 2017 was 54.5 per cent of the GDP and the general government debt was 70.4 per cent of the GDP, a total debt of about 125 of the GDP, according to the latest IMF figures.

The ten-year bond yield is 6.5% showing us that India does face substantial costs in issuing debt.

Comment

We get another hint of the changes at play as we note this from the Reserve Bank of India in November and note that the result was 5%.

For Q1:2019-20, growth forecast was revised
down from 7.2 per cent in the November 2018 round
to 6.1 per cent in the July 2019 round.

As we look forwards it is hard to see what will shake India out of its present malaise.Of course if the daily news flow that the trade war is fixed ever turns out to be true that would help. But otherwise India may well still be suffering from the demonetarisation effort of a couple of years or so ago.

After the falls of last year the Rupee has been relatively stable and is now at 71.6 versus the US Dollar. A lower Rupee is something which gives with one hand ( competitiveness) and takes away with another ( cost of imports especially oil). But as it starts its policy meeting tomorrow the RBI will feel the need to do something in addition to changing its fan chart for economic growth ( lower) and inflation ( higher) giving us what is for India something of a stagflationary influence.

Podcast

 

 

The UK sees some welcome lower consumer,producer and even house price inflation

Today we complete a 3 day sweep which gives us most of the UK economic data with the update on inflation. Actually the concept of “theme days” has gone overboard with Monday for example giving us way too much information for it to be digested in one go. Of course the apocryphal civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby from Yes Prime Minister would regard this as a job well done. Actually in this instance they may be setting a smokescreen over good news as the UK inflation outlook looks good although of course the establishment does not share my view of lower house price growth.

The Pound

This has been in a better phase with the Bank of England recording this in its Minutes last week.

The sterling exchange rate index had increased by around 3% since the previous MPC meeting

If they followed their own past rule of thumb they would know that this is equivalent to a 0.75% Bank Rate rise or at least used to be. Then they might revise this a little.

Inflationary pressures are projected to lessen in the near term. CPI inflation remained at 1.7% in September
and is expected to decline to around 1¼% by the spring, owing to the temporary effect of falls in regulated
energy and water prices.

As you can see they have given the higher value of the UK Pound £ no credit at all for the projected fall in inflation which really is a case of wearing blinkers. The reality is that if we switch to the most significant rate for these purposes which is the US Dollar it has risen by around 8 cents to above US $1.28 since the beginning of September. Actually at the time of typing this it may be dragged lower by the Euro which is dicing with the 1.10 level versus the US Dollar but I doubt it will be reported like that.

For today’s purposes the stronger pound may not influence consumer inflation much but it should have an impact on the producer price series. This was already pulling things lower last month.

The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process was negative 2.8% on the year to September 2019, down from negative 0.9% in August 2019.

Oil Price

The picture here is more complex. We saw quite a rally in the early part of the year which peaked at around US $75 for Brent Crude in May. Then there was the Aramco attack in mid=September which saw it briefly exceed US $70. But now we are a bit below US $62 so there is little pressure here and if we add in the £ rally there should be some downwards pressure.

HS2 and Crossrail

If you are looking for signs of inflation let me hand you over to the BBC.

A draft copy of a review into the HS2 high-speed railway linking London and the North of England says it should be built, despite its rising cost.

The government-commissioned review, launched in August, will not be published until after the election.

It says the project might cost even more than its current price of £88bn.

According to Richard Wellings of the IEA it started at £34 billion. Indeed there also seems to be some sort of shrinkflation going on.

These include reducing the number of trains per hour from 18 to 14, which is in line with other high-speed networks around the world.

Here is the Guardian on Crossrail.

Crossrail will not open until at least 2021, incurring a further cost overrun that will take the total price of the London rail link to more than £18bn, Transport for London (TfL) has announced.

According to the Guardian it was originally budgeted at £14.8 billion.

If we link this to a different sphere this poses a problem for using low Gilt yields to borrow for infrastructure purposes. Because the projects get ever more expensive and in the case of HS2 look rather out of control, How one squares that circle I am not sure.

Today’s Data

This has seen some welcome news.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month inflation rate was 1.5% in October 2019, down from 1.7% in September 2019.

Both consumers and workers will welcome a slower rate of inflation and in fact there were outright falls in good prices.

The CPI all goods index is 105.6, down from 106.0 in September

The official explanation is that it was driven by this.

Housing and household services, where gas and electricity prices fell by 8.7% and 2.2%, respectively, between September and October 2019. This month’s downward movement partially reflected the response from energy providers to Ofgem’s six-month energy price cap, which came into effect from 1 October 2019……Furniture, household equipment and maintenance, where prices overall fell by 1.1% between September and October this year compared with a fall of 0.1% a year ago.

That is a little awkward as the official explanation majors on services when in fact it was good prices which fell outright. Oh dear! On the other side of the coin have any of you spotted this?

The only two standout items were women’s formal trousers and branded trainers.

Perhaps more are buying those new Nike running shoes which I believe are around £230 a pair.

There was an even bigger move in the RPI as it fell by 0.3% to 2.1% driven also by these factors.

Other housing components, which decreased the RPI 12-month rate relative to the CPIH 12-month rate by 0.05 percentage points between September and October 2019. The effect mainly came from house depreciation………Mortgage interest payments, which decreased the RPI 12-month rate by 0.08 percentage points between September and October 2019 but are excluded from the CPIH

Regular readers will know via the way I follow Gilt yields that I was pointing out we would see lower interest-rates on fixed-rate mortgages for a time. Oh and if you look at that last sentence it shows how laughable CPIH is as an inflation measure as it blithely confesses it ignores what are for many their largest payment of all.

House Prices

There was more good news here as well.

UK average house prices increased by 1.3% over the year to September 2019, unchanged from August 2019.

So as you can see we are seeing real wage growth of the order of 2% per annum in this area which is to be welcomed. Not quite ideal as I would like 0% house price growth to maximise the rate of gain without hurting anyone but much better than we have previously seen. As ever there are wide regional variations.

Average house prices increased over the year in England to £251,000 (1.0%), Wales to £164,000 (2.6%), Scotland to £155,000 (2.4%) and Northern Ireland to £140,000 (4.0%).London experienced the lowest annual growth rate (negative 0.4%), followed by the East of England (negative 0.2%).

Comment

The “inflation nation” which is the UK has shifted into a better phase and I for one would welcome a little bit of “Turning Japanese” in this area. However the infrastructure projects above suggest this is unlikely. But for now we not only have a better phase more seems to be on the horizon.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 0.8% on the year to October 2019, down from 1.2% in September 2019…..The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process was negative 5.1% on the year to October 2019, down from negative 3.0% in September 2019.

As I pointed out yesterday this will provide a boost for real wages and hence the economy. It seems a bit painful for our statisticians to admit a stronger £ is a factor but they do sort of get there eventually.

All else equal a stronger sterling effective exchange rate will lead to less expensive inputs of imported materials and fuels.

Meanwhile let me point out that inflation measurement is not easy as I note these which are from my local Tesco supermarket.

Box of 20 Jaffa Cakes £1

Box of 10 Jaffa Cakes £1.05

2 packets of Kettle Crisps £2

1 packet of Kettle Crisps £2.09

Other supermarkets are available…..

 

 

UK Retail Sales are strong again posing questions for the CBI and BRC

We find ourselves advancing today on what is the strengths of the UK economy which is retail sales. These have consistently supported economic output and GDP ( Gross Domestic Product). However there is an undercut to this as our propensity to consume is a major factor in our persistent balance of trade deficits. It is also one of the factors that gets forgotten when this tune starts up and people get the vapors because it is an area where we are different.

I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so
Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so
I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so
Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so

British Retail Consortium

This has played a rather different tune to the official data as these excerpts from its prices report show.

Shop prices fell by 0.6% on the previous year as low consumer demand and stiff competition continued to push down prices…….While consumers may welcome lower prices, falling consumer demand is squeezing retailers’ already tight margins.

Their volume data has been weak for some time.

Unsurprisingly September proved to be another difficult month for retailers, with like-for-like sales declining by 1.7 per cent compared to last year. Worryingly, even online sales moved closer to stalling, with growth of non-food online sales only 0.7 per cent.

“Ongoing Brexit uncertainty is clearly having a material impact on the consumer psyche, with all but one non-food category being in decline in September. Consumers are choosing to focus on the essentials, with food one of the few categories delivering growth.

The trouble is that they have ended up looking like they have experienced a set of bum notes as the official data has turned out to be pretty good. Indeed frankly there has been no relation between the two at all.

The CBI

The Confederation of British Industry has been sending out an SOS for some time now.

Retail sales volumes in the year to September fell for the fifth consecutive month, albeit at a slower pace than the previous month, according to the latest CBI Distributive Trades Survey. Retailers expect the contraction in sales volumes to ease further in October.

There is a particular subject they seem obsessed with.

Five successive months of falling volumes tells its own story about the tough conditions retailers are having to operate in. Add to this the pressures of Sterling depreciation and the need to plan for potential tariffs and supply issues in the event of a no-deal Brexit and you get a gloomy picture for the sector.

The media have often joined in with this gloomy view but have regularly found themselves crossing their fingers that their readers,listeners and viewers have forgotten this when the official data is released. I fear that the British Retail Consortium and the CBI are imposing their own views on a particular issue onto the data rather than just letting the numbers speak for themselves.

Today’s Data

At first it might appear odd that this was a good number.

The quantity bought was flat (0.0%) in September 2019 when compared with the previous month, following a fall of 0.3% in August 2019.

There is the improvement from last month’s fall but there is also the fact that September last year was a particularly weak number where the index fell from 106.2 to 105.4 so if we switch to an annual comparison we see a strengthening of the position.

The year-on-year growth rate shows that the quantity bought in September 2019 increased by 3.1%, with growth across all sectors except department stores and household goods.

If we look at the picture we see that pretty much everywhere is strong but particularly non-retail and food.

In September 2019, all four main sectors contributed positively to the amount spent and quantity bought, resulting in a year-on-year growth of 3.4 and 3.1 percentage points respectively.

Non-store retailing provided the largest contribution to the growth in the quantity bought at 1.4 percentage points. Food stores reported the largest contribution to the amount spent at 1.5 percentage points in September 2019.

The Recent Trend

There have always been issues with monthly retail sales data being erratic and the modern era with the development of Black Friday and Amazon sales days have made that worse. Thus we get the best idea from the three month average.

In the three months to September 2019, moderate growth in the quantity bought continued at 0.6% when compared with the previous three months, with all sectors within non-food stores reporting declines except “other stores”.

That may be moderate growth for retail sales but we would be happy indeed if all the other areas of the economy managed it! As to the detail we are told this.

Non-store retailing showed strong growth at 4.3%; this includes a strong monthly growth in July 2019 of 6.9% with summer promotions boosting sales more than usual in this month. Food stores also reported a growth in the three-month on three-month movement; this follows three previous months of decline in the three-month on three-month growth rate.

I am afraid that one sector seems locked into decline though.

Department stores continued the ongoing decline in the three-month on three-month movement resulting in 13 consecutive months of no growth in this sector.

Online Sales

These continue to strengthen overall.

Internet sales increased by 9.1% for the amount spent in September 2019 when compared with September 2018, with all sectors reporting growths except department stores.

However the monthly numbers like elsewhere are erratic.

In contrast, internet sales fell on the month by 2.0% when compared with August 2019.

It seems that department stores cannot buy a break as I note that their online sales over the past year have fallen by 3.6%

Comment

We are seeing yet more confirmation of the theme that I established on the 29th of January 2015.

 However if we look at the retail-sectors in the UK,Spain and Ireland we see that price falls are so far being accompanied by volume gains and as it happens by strong volume gains. This could not contradict conventional economic theory much more clearly. If the history of the credit crunch is any guide many will try to ignore reality and instead cling to their prized and pet theories but I prefer reality ever time.

Actually we have shifted from absolute price falls to relative ones as inflation in this area which has been around 0.3% is far lower than wage growth, So we have real wage growth of over 3% which is boosting retail sales. Ironically the British Retail Consortium think this impact may be even stronger.

September Shop Prices fell by 0.6% compared to a 0.4% decrease in August. This is the highest rate of decline since May 2018…..Non-Food prices fell by 1.7% in September compared to August’s decrease of 1.5%. It is the highest rate of decline since May 2018.

So according to their numbers relative real wages are surging but as to the consequences well Kim Syms got it right I think.

Too blind to see it
Too blind to see what you were doing
Too blind to see it
Too blind to see what you were doing.

As to the wider issue these numbers move the UK further away from a recession as they suggest a small ( 0.03%) boost on a quarterly basis and a stronger annual one.

Meanwhile in other news Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has flown all the way to Boston in the United States to lecture us all on climate change.

Asked about his views on climate change and potential divestments from fossil fuel firms, Carney said a more effective approach would be to help companies, including automakers and energy producers, move to lower emissions.

“It’s not just about divestment,” he said. Better, he said, would be “to put capital into an energy company, that’s going from oil-and-coal heavy to a renewable mix, that they wouldn’t otherwise do if they didn’t get the capital.” ( Reuters)

He did however find time to remind us that his priority remains The Precious! The Precious!

Carney said the British central bank would probably cut the countercyclical capital buffer that it sets for banks to zero, from 1% now, if the economy – which faces the prospect of a no-deal Brexit shock – took a hit.

The Investing Channel

 

 

Good News on UK inflation but not on house prices or for those predicting Cauliflower inflation

This morning has opened with some bad news for the Office for National Statistics and the UK Statistics Authority. They have placed what little credibility they have left on what is called the Rental Equivalence method where you use fantasy imputed rents as a way of measuring owner-occupied inflation. Apart from the obvious theoretical flaws there have been all sorts of issues with actually measuring rents in the first place which led to one of the worst things you can have in statistics which is a “discontinuity” leading to a new method being required. It tells us that rental inflation is of the order of 1% per annum. So let me hand you over to a new report from Zoopla released today.

Average rents increased by 2% to stand at £876 in the 12 months to the end of September……..But despite the overall improvement in affordability, the rate at which rents are rising has accelerated from 1.3% a year earlier to reach a three-year high of 2%, although it still remains below the 10-year average of annual growth of 2.3%

Regular readers will be aware that I have posted research from the Royal Statistical Society website which argued that the official measure of rental inflation is around 1% per annum too low. The reason for this is an incorrect balance between new and old rents. Zoopla with their measure suggests that a rise in rental inflation has been missed by the official data. There is a logic to this for those of us who think that rents are influenced by wages growth as we have seen a rise in wages growth over this period.

Affordability

Whilst the official measure of rental inflation is in yet more disarray we should tale time to welcome this.

Our director of research and insights, Richard Donnell, said: “Renting is more affordable today than the 10-year average. This follows weak rental growth over the last three years, and an acceleration in the growth of average earnings.”………..As a result, the typical renter now spends 31.8% of their earnings on rent, down from a peak of 33.3% in 2016, according to our inaugural Rental Market Report, which records trends in the often-neglected private rented sector.

Propaganda

In a rather ironic twist the establishment has been trying to bolster its case. Here is Mike Hardie of the ONS in Prospect Magazine from earlier this month.

A recent House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee inquiry highlighted that the strategy was not working, with RPI use remaining widespread. In March, David Norgrove, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, wrote to the then chancellor of the exchequer requesting his consent to bring the methods of RPI into line with CPIH.

Meanwhile back in reality here is the actual point the EAC made.

We disagree with the UK Statistics Authority that RPI does not have the potential to become a good measure of inflation.

The truth is that out official statisticians have deliberately not updated the RPI and then blamed it. Next from the EAC came something that was incredibly damning for the official approach.

We are not convinced by the use of rental equivalence in CPIH to impute owner-occupier housing costs.

Returning to the official view in Prospect Magazine there seems to have been an outbreak of amnesia on this subject.

Our headline consumer prices measures, which include the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) and CPI plus owner occupiers’ housing costs (CPIH), for the most part reflect the change in price of acquiring goods and services—in other words, we record the advertised price for an apple or a new car.

Also that explanation is exactly what they do not do with owner occupied housing costs! In a further twist you may note that even their example backfires. Because of the proliferation of rental and leasing deals in the car market it is one area where you probably should now use a rental model and even a small imputed bit.

Regular readers will know I have been a fan of the new Household Cost Indices suggested by John Astin and Jill Leyland. However I note from the Prospect Magazine article that the development process that is taking ages is neutering them.

we also capture mortgage interest costs, which are excluded from other measures of inflation, such as CPI and CPIH.

No mention of house prices which were in the original prospectus and were one of the strengths of the measure? Also take a guess as to which inflation measure right now does have mortgage costs? It is the officially villified RPI.

I am afraid this could not be much more transparent. I have contacted both Prospect Magazine and its editor on Twitter to request a right of reply but so far nether have responded.

Today’s Data

There was some good news as inflation did not rise.

The all items CPI annual rate is 1.7%, unchanged from last month.

As it happens the CPIH measure comes to the same answer in spite of 17% representing a lot lower number that does not exist in CPI.

The OOH component annual rate is 1.1%, unchanged from last month…..Private rental prices paid by tenants in the UK rose by 1.3% in the 12 months to September 2019, unchanged since May 2019.

I will leave explaining that to the official number-crunchers but we have returned to my original point that as well as the theoretical problems in using fantasy imputed rents they do not seem able to measure rents properly. If they had the data they could delve into it but in another error they do not.

An especially welcome development was this.

The all items RPI annual rate is 2.4%, down from 2.6% last month.

Especially as on the month prices actually fell.

The all items RPI is 291.0, down from 291.7 in August.

It might be best to keep that quiet or the deflationistas will be back spinning along with Kylie.

I’m spinning around
Move outta my way
I know you’re feeling me
‘Cause you like it like this
I’m breaking it down
I’m not the same
I know you’re feeling me
‘Cause you like it like this

The Trend Is Your Friend

If we look at the producer price output data the future is bright.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 1.2% on the year to September 2019, down from 1.7% in August 2019.

Even better news comes further up the chain.

The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process was negative 2.8% on the year to September 2019, down from negative 0.9% in August 2019.

Here is the main factor at play.

Crude oil provided the largest downward contribution to the annual rate of input inflation.

Comment

If we start with today’s figures we have received some welcome news as inflation was expected to rise. Indeed those who follow the RPI have just seen a fall which changes the real wages picture positively although of course we await the wages data for September. Should the UK Pound £ remain in a stronger phase ( it is over US $1.27 as I type this) then it and the lower oil price we looked at above will give UK inflation a welcome downwards push. Mind you as we observe those factors it is hard to avoid wondering how the economists surveyed thought inflation would be higher!

As we step back we are reminded of the utter shambles created by the use of rental equivalence and today it has come from an unusual source. If we look into the detail of the RPI we see this.

Mortgage interest payments, where average charges rose this year but fell a year ago; and  House depreciation, with the smoothed house price index used to calculate this
component rising this year by more than a year ago.

As it happens not much difference to the rental measure but to get imputed rents into CPIH at a weight of 17% other things had to be reduced and RPI fell because it does not have this effect amongst other things.

Other differences including weights, which decreased the RPI 12-month rate relative to the CPIH 12-month rate by 0.28 percentage points between August and September 2019. The effect came mainly from air fares; sea fares; second-hand cars; games, toys and hobbies and equipment for sport and open-air recreation; food and non-alcoholic
beverages; and fuels and lubricants. This was partially offset by a widening effect from furniture and furnishings, carpets and household textiles.

You see another flaw in the CPI style methodology is that via the way better off people spend more it represents people about two-thirds of the way up the income stream as opposed to the median.

Cauliflower

Remember when the lack of UK Cauliflowers was going to make us have to pay much more for ropey ones? Below is the one I bought for 59 pence last week.

 

 

Why inflation is bad for so many people

Today I wish to address what is one of the major economic swizzles of our time. That is the drip drip feed by the establishment and a largely supine media that inflation is good for us, and in particular an inflation rate of 2% per annum is a type of nirvana. This ignores the fact that that particular number was chosen by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand because it “seemed right” back in the day. There was no analysis of the benefits and costs.

On the other side of the coin there has been a major campaign against low or no inflation claiming it is the road to deflation which is presented as a bogey(wo)man. There are several major problems with this. The first is that many periods of human economic advancement are exhibited this such as the Industrial Revolution in the UK. Or more recently the enormous advances in technology, computing and the link in more modern times. On the other side of the coin we see inflation involved in economies suffering deflation. For example Greece saw consumer inflation rising at an annual rate of over 5% in the early stages of its economic depression. That was partly due to the rise in consumer taxes or VAT but the ordinary Greek will simply feel it as paying more. Right now we see extraordinary economic dislocation in Argentina where a monthly inflation rate of 4% in August comes with this from Reuters.

The country’s economy shrank 2.5% last year and 5.8% in the first quarter of 2019. The government expects a 2.6% contraction this year.

Argentina’s unemployment rate also rose to 10.6% in the second quarter from 9.6% in the same period last year, the official INDEC statistics agency said on Thursday.

The Euro Area

The situation here is highlighted by this release from the German statistics office this morning.

Harmonised index of consumer prices, September 2019
+0.9% on the same month a year earlier (provisional result confirmed)
-0.1% on the previous month (provisional result confirmed)

This is around half of the European Central Bank or ECB inflation target so let us switch to its view on the subject.

Today’s decisions were taken in response to the continued shortfall of inflation with respect to our aim. In fact, incoming information since the last Governing Council meeting indicates a more protracted weakness of the euro area economy, the persistence of prominent downside risks and muted inflationary pressures. This is reflected in the new staff projections, which show a further downgrade of the inflation outlook.

That is from the introductory statement to the September press conference. As you can see it is a type of central banking standard. But later Mario Draghi went further and to the more intelligent listener gave the game away.

The reference to levels sufficiently close to but below 2% signals that we want to see projected inflation to significantly increase from the current realised and projected inflation figures which are well below the levels that we consider to be in line with our aim.

My contention is that this objective makes the ordinary worker and consumer worse off.

Real Wages

The behaviour of real wages has changed a lot in the credit crunch era. If we look at my home country the UK we see that nominal wage growth has only recently pushed above an annual rate of 4%. But if we look at the Ivory Tower style projections of the OBR it should have pushed above 5% years ago based on Phillips Curve style analysis like this from their report on the 2010 Budget.

Wages and salaries growth rises gradually throughout the forecast, reaching 5½ percent in 2014…………Thereafter, the more rapid increase in employment is sufficient to lower unemployment, so that the ILO unemployment rate falls to
6 per cent in 2015.

As you can see wages growth was supposed to be far higher than now when unemployment was far higher. If they knew the number below was associated with a UK unemployment rate of below 4% their computers would have had a moment like HAL-9000 in the film 2001 A Space Odyssey.

The equivalent figures for total pay in real terms are £502 per week in July 2019 and £525 in February 2008, a 4.3% difference.

Real pay still has some distance to go to reach the previous peak even using a measure of inflation ( CPIH) that is systematically too low via its use of Imputed Rents to measure owner-occupied housing inflation.

It is the change here which means that old fashioned theories about inflation rates are now broken but the Ivory Tower establishment has turned a Nelsonian style blind eye to it. Let me illustrate by returning to the ECB press conference.

While labour cost pressures strengthened and broadened amid high levels of capacity utilisation and tightening labour markets, their pass-through to inflation is taking longer than previously anticipated. Over the medium term underlying inflation is expected to increase, supported by our monetary policy measures, the ongoing economic expansion and robust wage growth.

This is the old assumption that higher inflation means higher wage growth and comes with an implicit assumption that there will be real wage growth. But we have learnt in the credit crunch era that not only are things more complex than that at times things move in the opposite direction. There is no former rejection of Phillips Curve style thinking than the credit crunch history of my country the UK. Indeed this from the Czech National Bank last year is pretty damning of the whole concept.

Wage dynamics in the euro area remain subdued even ten years after the financial crisis. Nominal wage growth1 has seldom exceeded 2% since 2013 (see Chart 1). Wages have not accelerated significantly even since 2014, when the euro area began to enjoy rising economic growth and falling unemployment. Following tentative signs of increasing wage growth in the first half of 2017, wages slowed in the second half of the year.

Comment

It is the breakdown of the relationship between wages and inflation that mean that the 2% inflation target is now bad for us. The central bankers pursue it because one part of the theory works in that gentle consumer inflation helps with the burden of debt. The catch is that as we switch to the ordinary worker and consumer they are not seeing the wage increases that would come with that in the Ivory Tower theory. In the UK it used to be assumed that real wage growth would be towards 2% per annum whereas in net terms the credit crunch era has shown a contraction.

If we look at the United States then last week’s unemployment report gave us another signal as we saw these two factors combine.

The unemployment rate declined to 3.5 percent in September, and total nonfarm
payroll employment rose by 136,000, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported
today………In September, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls,
at $28.09, were little changed (-1 cent), after rising by 11 cents in August. Over the
past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 2.9 percent.

It is only one example but an extraordinary unemployment performance saw wage growth fall. There have been hundreds of these butt any individual example the other way is presented as a triumph for the Phillips Curve. Yet the US performance has been better than elsewhere.

Oh did I say the US has done better, Here is the Pew Research Center from last year.

After adjusting for inflation, however, today’s average hourly wage has just about the same purchasing power it did in 1978, following a long slide in the 1980s and early 1990s and bumpy, inconsistent growth since then. In fact, in real terms average hourly earnings peaked more than 45 years ago: The $4.03-an-hour rate recorded in January 1973 had the same purchasing power that $23.68 would today.

All of this is added to by the way that rises in the cost of housing are kept out of the consumer inflation numbers so they can be presented as beneficial wealth effects instead.

Australia cuts interest-rates for the third time in five months

This morning has brought news that we were expecting so let me hand you over to the Reserve Bank of Australia or RBA.

At its meeting today, the Board decided to lower the cash rate by 25 basis points to 0.75 per cent.

This means that the RBA has cut three times since the fifth of June. Thus those who travel in a land down under are seeing a central bank in panic mode as it has halved the official interest-rate in this period. It means that they have joined the central bankers headbangers club who rush to slash interest-rates blindly ignoring the fact that those who have already done so are singing along with Coldplay.

Oh no I see
A spider web it’s tangled up with me
And I lost my head
And thought of all the stupid things I said
Oh no what’s this
A spider web and I’m caught in the middle
So I turned to run
The thought of all the stupid things I’ve done.

If we look at the statement we get a reminder of our South China Territories theme.

The US–China trade and technology disputes are affecting international trade flows and investment as businesses scale back spending plans because of the increased uncertainty. At the same time, in most advanced economies, unemployment rates are low and wages growth has picked up, although inflation remains low. In China, the authorities have taken further steps to support the economy, while continuing to address risks in the financial system.

We can cut to the nub of this by looking at what the RBA also released this morning.

Preliminary estimates for September indicate that the index decreased by 2.7 per cent (on a monthly average basis) in SDR terms, after decreasing by 4.6 per cent in August (revised). The non-rural and rural subindices decreased in the month, while the base metals subindex increased. In Australian dollar terms, the index decreased by 3.5 per cent in September.

So the benefit from Australia’s enormous commodity resources has faded although it is still just above the level last year.

Over the past year, the index has increased by 1.8 per cent in SDR terms, led by higher iron ore, gold and beef & veal prices. The index has increased by 5.2 per cent in Australian dollar terms.

Aussie Dollar

The index above makes me think of this and here is a view from DailyFX.

Australian Dollar price action has remained subdued throughout most of 2019 with spot AUDUSD trading slightly above multi-year lows.

As I type this an Aussie Dollar buys 0.67 of a US Dollar which is down by 6.6% over the past year. The trade-weighted index has been in decline also having been 65.1 at the opening of 2018 as opposed to the 58.9 of this morning’s calculation.

So along with the interest-rate cuts we have seen a mild currency depreciation or devaluation. But so far President Trump has not turned his attention to Australia.

Also if we stay with DailyFX I find the statement below simply extraordinary.

 if the central bank continues to favor a firm monetary policy stance since announcing back-to-back rate cuts.

A firm monetary stance?

Back to the RBA Statement

Apparently in case you have not spotted it everybody else is doing it.

Interest rates are very low around the world and further monetary easing is widely expected, as central banks respond to the persistent downside risks to the global economy and subdued inflation.

As central bankers are pack animals ( the idea of going solo wakes them up in a cold sweat) this is very important to them.

Then we got a bit of a “hang on a bit moment” with this.

The Australian economy expanded by 1.4 per cent over the year to the June quarter, which was a weaker-than-expected outcome. A gentle turning point, however, appears to have been reached with economic growth a little higher over the first half of this year than over the second half of 2018.

Now if you believe that things are turning for the better an obvious problem is created. Having cut interest-rates twice in short order why not wait for more of the effect before acting again as the full impact is not reached for 18/24 months and we have barely made four?

Mind you if you look at the opening of the statement and the index of commodity prices you may well be wondering how that fits with this?

a brighter outlook for the resources sector should all support growth.

Indeed the next bit questions why you need three interest-rate cuts in short order as well.

Employment has continued to grow strongly and labour force participation is at a record high.

With that situation this is hardly a surprise as it is only to be expected.

Forward-looking indicators of labour demand indicate that employment growth is likely to slow from its recent fast rate.

The higher participation rate makes this hard to read and analyse.

Taken together, recent outcomes suggest that the Australian economy can sustain lower rates of unemployment and underemployment.

Moving to inflation the RBA seems quite happy.

Inflation pressures remain subdued and this is likely to be the case for some time yet. In both headline and underlying terms, inflation is expected to be a little under 2 per cent over 2020 and a little above 2 per cent over 2021.

It does not seem to bother them much that if wage growth remains weak trying to boost inflation is a bad idea. Also if they look at China there is an issue brewing especially as the Swine Fever outbreak seems to be continuing to spread.

Pork prices have surged more than 70% this year in China due to swine fever, and “people are panicking.”

( Bloomberg)

House Prices

These are always in there and we start with an upbeat message.

There are further signs of a turnaround in established housing markets, especially in Sydney and Melbourne.

Yet the foundations quickly crumble.

In contrast, new dwelling activity has weakened and growth in housing credit remains low. Demand for credit by investors is subdued and credit conditions, especially for small and medium-sized businesses, remain tight.

Comment

A complete capitulation by the RBA is in progress.

It is reasonable to expect that an extended period of low interest rates will be required in Australia to reach full employment and achieve the inflation target. The Board will continue to monitor developments, including in the labour market, and is prepared to ease monetary policy further if needed to support sustainable growth in the economy, full employment and the achievement of the inflation target over time.

They like their other central banking colleagues around the word fear for the consequences so they are getting their retaliation in early.

The Board also took account of the forces leading to the trend to lower interest rates globally and the effects this trend is having on the Australian economy and inflation outcomes.

This is referring to the use of what is called r* or the “natural” rate of interest which of course is anything but. You see in this Ivory Tower fantasy it is r* which is cutting interest-rates and not their votes for cuts. In fact it is nothing at all to do with them really unless by some fluke it works in which case the credit is 100% theirs.

Sweet fantasy (sweet sweet)
In my fantasy
Sweet fantasy
Sweet, sweet fantasy ( Mariah Carey )

 

 

The UK consumer continues to both shop and buy

This morning has opened with a reminder that the UK is progressing towards electronic forms of payment. From the BBC.

Consumers spent more money on credit cards with UK retailers last year than they did in cash, a retailers’ trade body has said.

Debit cards were the most popular, but falling cash use pushed notes and coins down to third place, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said.

Cash accounted for just over £1 in every £5 spent with UK shops.

The exact details of the numbers can be found here.

Credit and charge cards accounted for £82bn, or 22%, of retail sales last year – outstripping cash (£78bn) for the first time, according to the BRC, which has been running its payments survey for 20 years. Spending on debit cards totalled £216bn.

So the real story is the way that debit cards have come to dominate spending. In a sense they have become another form of cash and more convenient in that you do not have to go to a cash point and take money out before spending. I checked the research and they have grown from 49.6% of of transactions in 2013 to 56.8% in 2018. For foreign readers they ( and credit cards) are very convenient as you can “tap and go” in the UK for purchases up to £30. I do see people paying with cash but I see it less and less.

Returning to the growth argument the BBC seems to have omitted the bit which reminded us how strong UK retail sales have been.

Total UK retail sales rose by 4.1% to £381 billion, from £366 billion the previous year.

The BRC research was in essence driven by a whinge about this.

Retailers spent £1.3 billion just to accept payments from customers

I can see their point although inexplicably they seem to have omitted the costs of taking more cash in terms of security and the like.

Today’s Data

I had been thinking that we were due a weaker number based on reverse logic. You see these are erratic numbers and the outlook with the real wage growth we have is good, so a reverse ferret could be in play. At first it did look like that.

The monthly growth rate in the quantity bought in August 2019 fell by 0.2%; non-store retailing was the largest contributor to this fall, partially offsetting the strong growth reported last month for this sector.

However things are not quite how they seem because the July numbers which were originally reported as 108.8 have been revised higher to 109.3. So compared to where we thought we were August’s numbers were higher at 109. So good news on the index level gives a poor month on month number.

If we look deeper we see that overall growth has been continuing.

In the three months to August 2019, moderate growth in the quantity bought continues at 0.6% when compared with the previous three months, with growth in non-store retailing being the main contributor to the increase.

As it happens this fits well with the annual comparison.

The year-on-year growth rate shows that the quantity bought in August 2019 increased by 2.7%; this is a slowdown compared to the stronger growth experienced earlier in the year which peaked at 6.7% in March 2019.

We get a further perspective here as we note that growth has slowed from the March peak. Actually it had to slow from that sort of growth rate as even the UK consumers lust for spending is not infinite. Also March will have been boosted by some pre expected Brexit day stocking up.

Low Inflation

I have argued since the 29th of September 2015 that low inflation boosts retail sales via its impact on real wages. From today’s data that looks to be still in play because if you look at the difference between amount spent and volume you have a hint of the inflation rate.

In the three months to August 2019, the amount spent increased by 1.1% and the quantity bought increased by 0.6% when compared with the previous three months.

When compared with a year earlier, both the amount spent and quantity bought showed strong growth of 3.4% and 2.7% respectively in August 2019; this growth is a slowdown to the strength experienced earlier in the year.

Online Sales

There was an unusual development which I suspect is a fluke but will monitor.

Online sales as a proportion of all retailing fell to 19.7% in August 2019, from the 19.9% reported in July 2019.

That is especially curious as the BRC reported this for the same period.

Footfall declined by 1.3% in August, compared to the same point last year when it declined by 1.6%……..On a three-month basis, footfall decreased by 2.1%. The six and twelve–month average declines are 1.4% and 1.7% respectively.

As you can see they have consistently reported declines and in terms of the official data have been consistently wrong which up until this month can be explained by the decline of the high street and the rise of online shopping.

The CBI

I am not sure what they have been smoking to have reported this.

The CBI said that while retail sales volumes and orders both fell at their fastest since December 2008 in the year to August, sales were only slightly below average for the time of year, and to the least extent in four months.

As you can see that sentence seems to collapse under its own contradictions. Furthermore it was for a slightly earlier period that we have been looking at today and we know that was revised up. Anyway they expect the future to be dreadful and from where they think we are starting then it will be even worse than dreadful.

The CBI’s latest Distributive Trades Survey – which provides a gauge of retailers or the difference between those reporting rising and falling sales volumes – slumped to -49 in August from -16 in July.

Along with marking the biggest pace in a drop since the 2008 financial crisis, it was the second weakest reading since records began in 1983.

Comment

If we look back the story has been one of sustained growth because today’s release only takes us back to 2013 but if we go back 6 years to August 2013 we see an index level of 89 compared to this August’s 109. So we have seen growth of 22% in total. This has been quite a support for the UK economy but it does have a bit of a hangover because our trade figures so bear the brunt of this. Here they are for the three months to July.

Excluding unspecified goods (including non-monetary gold) the total trade deficit narrowed by £3.7 billion to £4.7 billion, exports fell £2.5 billion to £159.0 billion and imports fell £6.2 billion to £163.8 billion in the three months to July 2019.

They are an off set affected I think by the expected March Brexit date in addition to the usual problems. But the fundamental point is that we have run yet another deficit. For newer readers I feel that the situation is not as bad as it looks because we have so little detail on services trade but that is far from saying it would solve the problem.

However in conclusion the overall stream on UK data has been pretty good in the circumstances. Or as the Rolling Stones put it.

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes, well, you might find
You get what you need.

The Investing Channel