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

 

 

What is the economic impact of an oil price shock?

The economic news event of the weekend was the attack on the Saudi oil production facilities. It looks as though Houthi rebels and Iran were involved but forgive me if I am careful about such things along the lines of this from the Who.

Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again

As you can imagine there was a lot of attention on the London oil price opening last night and no doubt fear amongst those who were short the oil price. Their fears were confirmed as we saw an initial flurry of stop loss trading which can the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil go above US $71 which was some US $11 higher. It then fell back to more like US $68 quite quickly. For those unaware this is a familiar pattern in such circumstances as some will have lost so much money they have to close their position and everybody knows that. It is a cruel and harsh world although of course you need to know the nature of the beast before you play.

Thus the first impact was some severe punishment for sections of the oil trading market. The rumour was that a lot of quant funds were short of oil and we will have to wait and see if there is a blow-up here. If we move on we see that the oil price has been falling this morning leaving the price of a barrel of Brent Crude at US $65.50 or up over 8%.So let us start by looking at the winners from a higher oil price.

Winners

A clear group of winners and presumably the group who have taken the edge off the higher oil price are the shale oil wildcatters in the United States and elsewhere.

“Since the last in-depth review five years ago, the United States has reshaped energy markets both domestically and around the world,” the IEA’s Executive Director, Fatih Birol, said at the presentation of the report on Friday, accompanied by U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. ( oilprice.com )

If we continue with this analysis here is some more detail.

U.S. crude oil exports have soared since the ban was lifted at the end of 2015, to reach 3.159 million bpd on average in June 2019, according to the latest available EIA crude export detail.

As you can see the impact of the shale oil era had one underlying effect last night and this morning via the way that Saudi production is not as important as it was. But also there is the economic model of the shale oil industry which I have pointed out before is more of a cash flow model than a profit one. So I would have expected them to rush to hedge their production last night and this morning. As it happens these levels are ones which would be profitable for them as their costs are often around US $50 per barrel. However they will not be making as much as you might think as they would have impacted more on the WTI ( West Texas Intermediate ) benchmark which is about US $5 lower than the Brent benchmark.

Other companies in the production business will also be winners and we see an example of that as the British Petroleum share price is up 4% at 523 pence today.

Next comes the countries who are net oil producers. We have looked at the US already and the position for Saudi Arabia is mixed as it is getting a higher price but has lower production. Russia is a clear winner as its economy depends so much on its oil production.

Exports of mineral products (consisting mainly of oil and natural gas) accounted for 59.2% of total Russian exports in 2016 (Rosstat, 2017).

There is quite a list of winners in the Middle East including ironically Iran assuming it will be allowed to sell its oil. Then places like Kazahkstan as well as Canada and to some extent Australia. There is also Norway where according to Norskpetroleum it represents some 16% of GDP and 40% of exports as well as this.

The government’s total net cash flow from the petroleum industry is estimated to NOK 251 billion in 2018 and NOK 263 billion in 2019

Thus I am a little unclear how Oxford Economics are reporting that Norway would lose from a higher oil price.

There are quite a few African countries which produce oil and Libya comes to mind as do Ghana and Nigeria ( assuming the output of the latter can avoid the problems there).

Another group of winners would be world central banks especially the ECB after its moves on Thursday. The reason for this is that they have been trying to raise the inflation rate for some time now and either mostly or entirely failing as Mario Draghi pointed out on Friday..

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.

Should this transpire then we will no doubt see a shift away from core and the new “super core” measures of inflation which for newer readers basically ignore what are really important.

Losers

These are the net oil importers which are most of us. In terms of economic effect the standard view has been this from FXCM.

Data analysed by the Federal Reserve shows that a 10 percent increase in the price of oil is associated with about a 1.4 percent drop in the level of U.S. real GDP.

The 10% depends on the actual price but that has been a standard with the Euro area thinking there would be the same effect on it from a US $5 move. Of course these days the US would see more offset from the shale industry and I think worldwide the advance of renewable energy would help at the margins. But a higher oil price leads to a net loss overall as the importers are assumed to fall by more than the exporters rise. Geographically one thinks of China, Japan and India.

The effect on inflation is unambiguously bad and let me offer a critique of the central banking view above. The impact of inflation on real wages will make workers and consumers worse and not better off reminding us that central bankers have long since decoupled from reality.

Comment

There are a couple of perspectives here. The first is that in any warlike situation the truth is the first casualty. This leads to a situation where we do not know how long Saudi oil output will be reduced for, which means that we do not know how long there will be an upwards push on the oil price. Next comes a situation where looking ahead there will be fears that attacks like this could happen again. That is in some way illogical as defences will no doubt be improved but is part of human nature especially as we now know how concentrated the production facilities are in Saudi Arabia.

Another perspective is provided by the fact that the oil price is back to where it was in May and some of July.

Oh and central bankers used to respond to this sort of thing with interest-rate increases whereas later this week we are expecting an interest-rate cut from the US Federal Reserve. How times change…..

Podcast

Thank you to those of you who have supported this as the listener numbers on Soundcloud on Saturday alone exceeded any previous week..

 

Today has seen a shocking decision on the Retail Prices Index or RPI

This morning the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced his plans for the Retail Price Index or RPI. This is an issue close to my heart and something I have put a lot of time and effort into since its future became the subject of doubt in 2012. The moment we were told on Monday that today was the day I feared the worst along the lines of the saying “a good day to bury bad news”. With the Chancellor’s Budget Statement and the ongoing debate in Parliament over Brexit today has proven to be a day that the UK deep state thinks it can get away with something it has been angling for since 2012.

In essence HM Treasury has wanted to scrap the RPI because it is expensive in terms of the interest paid on UK index linked Gilts and for various pensions. Of course those making such decisions often benefit from RPI linked pensions it is for others and particularly younger readers that they want it to go. The last 7 years have seen various methodological efforts mostly around the formula effect but they have found themselves up against opponents like me and their cases have foundered and sunk.

Housing Costs

This is another area where up until today the HM Treasury effort had mimicked the Titanic. If we go back to 2002/03 the UK introduced a main measure of inflation that excluded owner occupied housing costs called CPI. Why? Well in a familiar theme it is cheaper for the Treasury as it gives a lower reading than the RPI, and more subtly when it is put in the GDP numbers it gives a higher reading ( averaging about 0,23%).

Next they though they could do better and find a way of measuring housing costs and further reduce the inflation number. That hit the barrier that house prices are soaring so instead of real numbers they decided to make some up. This is the Rental Equivalence system where they assume home owners pay rent to themselves when they do not. Rental Equivalence is the inflation version of Imputed Rents. In the UK the measure based on this is called CPIH and partly due to my efforts has been widely ignored.

House of Lords

The Economic Affairs Committee published a report in January after taking evidence from various sources including me and here is an example.

The Deputy National Statistician, Jonathan Athow, said that the lack of a measure of owner-occupier housing costs in CPI was its “major weakness”. Shaun Richards, an independent adviser to pension and investment funds, said that “if there is something untenable in my opinion it is a measure of inflation which completely ignores a very important sector which is owner-occupied housing.

In their report they then went on to reject the Rental Equivalence methodology of CPIH.

We are not convinced by the use of rental equivalence in CPIH to impute owner-occupier housing costs. The UK Statistics Authority, together with its stakeholder and technical advisory panels and a consultation of a wide range of interested parties, should agree on the best method for capturing owner-occupier housing costs in a consumer price index.

Over to the UK Statistics Authority

Here is their response to this.

In light of the 10 years of development and consultation, ONS are not minded to undertake any further engagement with users and experts specifically on rental equivalence and owner-occupier housing costs. There is never likely to be agreement on a single approach.

As no doubt many of you have spotted that is shifting the goalposts as the EAC from the House of Lords had rejected an approach. Why are they shifting the goalposts? Well they are back with the rejected approach.

ONS views rental equivalence as the correct approach conceptually for an economic measure of inflation, and one where sufficient data is available to make it practical. Of
course, they remain committed to ongoing monitoring and development of the CPIH and the Household Cost Indices.

Here is the crux of the matter. They have made a decision and regardless of the objections and argument they keep making the same decision. They lose the debate but come back again.Over time I have rallied support at the Royal Statistical Society ( which in another “accident” of timing is in a conference this morning and cannot reply) and as you can see above the House of Lords. So it leaves me mulling this from Hotel California.

And in the master’s chambers,
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can’t kill the beast

Another problem with Rental Equivalence

Tucked away in the House of Lords report was something of a bombshell.

 We note that the private rental market is subject to its own distortions and may not provide a good proxy for owner-occupier housing costs.

The fantasy structure of Rental Equivalence relies on good data from ordinary rents. Just for clarity I have no problem at all with the concept of using rents for those who do. But there are two catches. They are hinted at in the quote above and let me specify them. There are doubts that the properties which are let are that similar to those which are owned. But more fundamentally I have seen experts post concerns that due to the mixture of new and old rents being incorrect in the survey used the number is up to 1% too low. Since it claims currently rental inflation is of the order of 1% that is quite an issue!

Research

This is something we are regularly denied as for example work was done around 2012 around the Formula Effect but has never been published. I and others are of the opinion that fashion clothing and more recently computer game pricing are factors here. Today is not for the detail but I wrote to both the EAC and the Treasury Select Committee on this subject on February 26th as follows.

My understanding of this which I have checked with others is that the exact impact of the change is unknown because the Office for National Statistics suspended its investigation into this back in 2012. Perhaps one day it will properly explain why it did this but for now the main issue is that we do not know the precise impact until the proper research is completed and peer reviewed. I am sorry to have to point out that your letter is therefore potentially materially misleading and has already had a market impact on the price of index-linked Gilts.

This is a familiar theme where there are claims of research but when you ask for it then it does not appear. If I ever get a reply to that letter I will let you know.

I had other concerns but I am here just establishing a principle.

Comment

There are various conceptual issues here of which the simplest is that over the past 7 years the UK statistical authorities have pursued a campaign which has been one of propaganda rather than argument. We have done much better here as those of you who have followed the replies of Andrew Baldwin will know. He has made the case for the RPIJ measure which revealingly was first promoted but then abandoned by the UK statistical establishment when it did not give them what they wanted. Their behaviour was similar to a spoilt child taking their football home with them.

On a conceptual level the statistician Simon Briscoe has covered it well I think.

The details of the opportunities missed are in the table below but with ONS producing sub-standard documents like the infamous “shortcomings” paper, OSR failing (I think ever) to criticise anything that ONS has done on RPI, and the UKSA board not even trying to sort anything out (and being subservient to the Treasury), there is little hope.

https://simonbriscoeblog.wordpress.com/2019/09/03/how-poor-governance-led-to-the-problems-with-the-rpi/

The OSR is the Office for Statistics Regulation to which I gave evidence and I would say they ignored it but for the fact I believe it went straight over their heads.

Let me also address why the Bank of England supports this. Their main game is to inflate house prices. So if you keep house prices out of the inflation measure it is all growth or from their perspective jam today. First-time buyers or those trading up face inflation and face in many cases unaffordable properties yet according to the inflation numbers they are better off!

But there is a glimmer of good news. I suspect that the Chancellor Sajid Javid thought he would kick this particular can onto somebody else’s watch.

Today the Chancellor has announced his intention to consult on whether to bring the methods in CPIH into RPI between 2025 and 2030, effectively aligning the measures.

I intend to continue to fight on as the establishment view has crumbled so many times before. There is hope around the Household Cost Indices mentioned above although they are a good idea which the establishment are trying to neuter ( You will not be surprised that it is in the areas of housing costs and student loans). So let me leave you with the Fab Four.

The long and winding road
That leads to your door
Will never disappear
I’ve seen that road before
It always leads me here
Lead me to you door

 

Retail Sales continue to be a bright spot for the UK economy

Today brings us up to date on the UK retail sector but before we get to it there is something that will have the full attention of the Bank of England. Let me hand you over to City-AM.

The Royal Bank of Scotland was hit this morning on the news that two brokers had lowered their forecasts for the company’s shares.

Analysts at Macquarie downgraded the company from buy to neutral this morning, slashing its target price to 201p, from 246p.

Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs reiterated its buy rating on the stock, but lowered its target price to 325p from 360p.

Shares were trading down around eight per cent to 182.5p.

Firstly at least I warned you as those who read my post on the sixth of this month will be aware. The theme of the credit crunch era has been that RBS is always about to turn a corner ( as in a way highlighted by a 360p price target) but the path turns out to be this one.

We’re on a road to nowhere
We’re on a road to nowhere
We’re on a road to nowhere

If you believed Brewin Dolphin on the 6th you may be wondering what happened to the ” path to redemption”? Also those with longer memories may be wondering about the “nest egg”

City Minister Lord Myners yesterday claimed that the ownership of RBS and LBG – which were both rescued from collapse by the Treasury in the credit crisis – represented a “nice little nest egg” for the taxpayer. ( Evening Standard September 2009)

I have picked this out for a reason because the Ivory Tower of the Bank of England has trumpeted the “Wealth Effects” of its policies whereas RBS has been a spectacular case of wealth destruction. I can widen this out as Barclays is at a recent low at 138 pence reminding me that the chairman who promised to double the share price has gone I think, which is for best because it has halved. The Zombie Janbouree continues with HSBC below £6 and Lloyds at 59 pence.

This is way beyond just a UK issue as for example the European banks are in quite a mess headlined by Deutsche Bank falling back below 6 Euros this morning. Or in some ways more so by the Spanish banks as the economy is still doing well but they look troubled too. Here is Mike Bird of the Wall Street Journal.

Japanese regional bank share prices have now broken below their Feb 2016 lows. The sector is, to use the technical terminology, completely screwed.

This is quite a change of approach from Mike who is something of the order of my doppleganger on Japan. Anyway my point is that the them here is that there have been no wealth effects from the banks and more seriously they cannot be supporting the economy.

The official Bank of England view is that banks are “resilient” and it is “vigilant”

Bond Yields

On the other side of the coin support is being provided by another surge in the UK Gilt market. These are extraordinary times with the UK having a ten-year yield of 0.44% and a five-year yield of 0.35%. Those who have owned UK Gilts have seen extraordinary gains and this includes the ordinary person with pension savings. However this is no silver bullet as we would be in a better place than we are if it was, But it does support the economy.

Whilst I am looking at this area let me deal with all the inverted yield curve mania going on via a tweet that proved rather popular yesterday.

Some worry about the yield curve ( 2s/10s) being inverted but I am sanguine about that. This is because when it bought £435 billion of UK Gilts the Bank of England distorted the market giving us an example of Goodhart’s Law.

It does not buy two-year Gilts thereby distorting the market and making past signals unreliable.

The Bank (as agent for BEAPFF) purchases conventional gilts with a minimum residual maturity of greater than three years in the secondary market.

Retail Sales

This morning has brought another good set of retail sales figures for the UK.

The quantity bought in July 2019 increased by 0.2% when compared with the previous month, with strong growth of 6.9% in non-store retailing.

The duff note there is the implication for the high street but the numbers below confirm that the situation for the UK economy overall remains positive.

In the three months to July 2019, the quantity bought in retail sales increased by 0.5% when compared with the previous three months, with food stores and fuel stores seeing a decline…….Year-on-year growth in the quantity bought increased by 3.3% in July 2019, with food stores being the only main sector reporting a fall at negative 0.5%.

The positive spin in the decline of the high streets is provided by this.

In July 2019, online retailing accounted for 19.9% of total retailing compared with 18.9% in June 2019, with an overall growth of 12.7% when compared with the same month a year earlier.

The flipside is that less money flows through the high street and sadly I suspect this is not a new trend.

Department stores’ growth increased for the first time this year with a month-on-month growth of 1.6%; this was following six consecutive months of decline.

Comment

Let me shift now to why is this happening? The situation regarding the UK consumer is strong and has been supported by several factors. The first is in the numbers themselves and repeats a theme I first highlighted on the 29th of January 2015.

Both the amount spent and the quantity bought in the retail industry reported strong growth of 3.9% and 3.3% respectively when compared with a year earlier.

That gives us an ersatz inflation measure of the order of 0.6% which made me look it up and the official deflator is 0.8%. That is very different to the ordinary inflation measures we see which are 2%-3%. So in a sense your money goes further ( strictly declines in value more slowly) and is compared to this.

Estimated annual growth in average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain increased to 3.7% for total pay (including bonuses) and 3.9% for regular pay (excluding bonuses).

So in real terms there are gains in this sector. Thus it is no great surprise it has done well.

Also there is the fact that whilst the annual rate of growth has slowed we are still on something of an unsecured credit orgy.

The additional amount borrowed by consumers to buy goods and services was £1.0 billion in June, compared with £0.9 billion in May…….The annual growth rate of consumer credit continued to slow in June, falling to 5.5%

Is anything else growing at an annual rate of 5.5%.

Cauliflowers

There seems to be something of a media mania here as this from BBC Essex illustrates.

“Customers I’ve never seen before are coming in just for cauliflowers” Great Baddow greengrocers Martin and George Dobson are selling imported cauliflowers at cost price as Britain experiences a shortage. Prices have reached £2.50

I checked in two local supermarkets and they were selling then for £1 albeit they were from Holland. Then I went to Lidl and they were selling UK cauliflowers for 75 pence. Maybe a bit smaller than usual but otherwise normal so I bought one.

The campaign against the UK Retail Price Index carries on

This week brought some disappointing news for the Bank of England. If we go back to Monday we were told this.

LONDON (Reuters) – British households’ expectations for inflation over the next 12 months rose to 2.8% in July from 2.6% in June, according to a survey from U.S. investment bank Citi and pollsters YouGov.

Longer-term inflation expectations rose to 3.4% from 3.3% in June, the Citi/YouGov survey of 2,011 adults showed.

“Rising inflation expectations should … support hawks at the (Bank of England),” Citi economists Christian Schulz and Ann O’Kelly said.

There are two problems there for the Bank of England. The first is that expectations imply that people think that inflation is above the 2% target and has been so. This is an implied defeat for the enormous effort that it and other parts of the UK establishment have put it getting our official statisticians have put into getting the Imputed Rent driven CPIH as the headline inflation measure.

Even worse the measure of future expectations has risen. This shows two factors at play. One is rhetoric as we are subjected to a media barrage about future falls in the UK Pound £ exchange rate. The other is the reality that the UK Pound £ has been in a weak phase and in inflation terms this is best represented by the rate against the US Dollar because it is the currency in which nearly all commodities are priced. Whilst it is relatively stable this morning at US $1.2060. Whereas if we go back a bit over 3 months to the early part of May we see that it was some 11 cents higher. Over the past year it is some 5.5% lower so we can see that there is some commodity price pressure on the cards so well done to the ordinary person surveyed for inflation expectations.

Producer Price Inflation

We can find out what is coming down the inflation pipeline from these numbers.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 1.8% on the year to July 2019, up from 1.6% in June 2019…….The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process was 1.3% on the year to July 2019, up from 0.3% in June 2019.

This is a change as the previous overall trend was for both input and output inflation to be falling. The main area is a little awkward so let us look at it.

On the month, crude oil provided the largest positive contribution of 0.30 percentage points with monthly growth of 1.8%. This is a 9.3 percentage points increase following negative growth of 7.5% in June 2019.

This is because the lower UK Pound has been a constant influence but the oil price has been ebbing and flowing to some extent mirroring the tweets of President Trump on the trade war. For example yesterday it rose 3/4% as he announced delays in planned tariffs on China. So the outlook with Brent Crude around US $61 per barrel is for it to have a small disinflationary impact looking ahead but the trend may change with one tweet.

Also do any of you have thoughts on this? The subject is on my mind anyway after last Friday’s power cut in Battersea.

This growth was mainly driven by electricity production and distribution, which increased 20.1% on the year to July 2019, the highest the rate has been since records began in 2009.

Consumer Inflation

Here the situation looks calm on the surface but there are two serious problems below it.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 2.1% in July 2019, increasing from 2.0% in June 2019.

In a world where US President Trump describes a 0.3% monthly and 1.8% annual increase like this I am not sure where this puts us!

Prices not up, no inflation.

Anyway if we return to the UK we see that a problem I have warned about before is back.

The largest upward contribution (of 0.08 percentage points) to change in the CPIH 12-month rate came from recreation and culture. Within this group, the largest effect came from games, toys and hobbies (in particular from computer games and consoles) where prices overall rose by 8.4% between June and July 2019 compared with a rise of 4.1% between the same two months a year ago.

Here is the confession that we are blundering in the dark here.

Price movements for these items can often be relatively large depending on the composition of bestseller charts and the upward contribution between the latest two months follows a downward contribution, from computer games purchased online and games consoles, between May and June 2019.

This matters because it highlights a systemic problem. A similar problem is in play with fashion clothing. Rather than doing something about it the UK establishment has been using the latter problem as a tool for beating the Retail Price Index with. Rather than research and reflection we get rhetoric.

Retail Price Index

Speaking of the RPI the annual rate fell to 2.8% which is partially good news for rail passengers because the rate at which regulated fares rise will be that. At east it is below the rate of wages increases. But there is a problem here too.

An error has been identified in the Retail Prices Index (RPI) in 2019, caused by an issue with the 2017 to 2018 Living Costs and Food Survey (LCF)dataset, which is used to produce the weights underpinning the RPI.

Indicative estimates show that if the corrected LCF dataset had been used to calculate the 2019 RPI weights, it would have led to an upward revision of 0.1 percentage points to the published RPI annual growth rate in March 2019, from 2.4% as currently published to 2.5% and a downward revision of 0.1 percentage points to the June 2019 rate, from 2.9% as currently published to 2.8%. No other month’s annual growth rates have been affected.

It is a good job that large amounts of financial contracts do not depend on this, Oh wait! But these numbers also matter in themselves.

House Prices

There was some excellent news here.

Average house prices in the UK increased by 0.9% in the year to June 2019, unchanged from May 2019 . Over the past three years, there has been a general slowdown in UK house price growth, driven mainly by a slowdown in the south and east of England.

The lowest annual growth was in London, where prices fell by 2.7% over the year to June 2019, less than the 3.1% fall in May 2019. Average house prices in London have now been falling over the year each month since March 2018.

With wage growth at 3.7% finally houses are on average becoming more affordable. As the London numbers highlight there are regional disparities though. On the other side of the coin house prices in Wales rose by 4.4%.

Comment

I have a couple of serious points to make so let me start with some humour courtesy of The Guardian.

City economists had forecast CPI to fall to 1.9% – instead, it’s now over the Bank’s target of 2%.

The unexpected rise could pile pressure on Threadneedle Street to raise interest rates, even as economic growth falters…

Meanwhile the problems with how we measure inflation in the UK pile up as computer game are added to the problems with fashion clothing. Yet the UK Statistics Authority and the ONS have instead spent their time joining the establishment campaign against the RPI. Please do not misunderstand me as I have a lot of sympathy with the ordinary statisticians who in my experience are doing their best, but it was hard not to have a wry smile this morning at us getting the numbers wrong and creating their worst nightmare a “discontinuity”.

If we look wider we see that there are problems elsewhere as the changes to package holiday prices showed in Germany and in the wider Euro area inflation data. That will impact the GDP numbers via the deflator. Ironically with an RPI style inflation measure or perhaps based on the new HII/HCI the UK could be in good shape here.

Let me give another perspective by quoting Paul Johnson of the IFS in Prospect Magazine from February.

A version of it, CPIH, takes account of owner occupiers’ housing costs and is the one that the statisticians would like us to use. But it is of relatively recent vintage and hasn’t really caught on yet.

He seems to have forgotten that it was the Johnson Review ( yes him) that recommended this in 2016.

ONS should move towards making CPIH its main measure of inflation. In the meantime, the CPI should continue to be the main measure of inflation.

 

 

Can the IMF hang on in Argentina?

There was a whiff of ch-ch-changes yesterday as we note the result of the elections held in Argentina.

Argentine voters soundly rejected President Mauricio Macri’s austere economic policies in primary elections on Sunday, casting serious doubt on his chances of re-election in October, early official results showed. ( Reuters)

As ever the politics is not my concern but the economics is and there is rather a binary choice here.

Voters were given a stark choice: stay the course of painful austerity measures under Macri or a return to interventionist economics.

This has more than a few consequences because we have a situation where the economy has nose dived as the Peso plunged and inflation soared. In response the present government negotiated the biggest IMF ( International Monetary Fund) bailout ever. Oh and the none too small matter of an official interest-rate which was 63.71% on Friday which sticks out like a sore thumb in a world which saw 6 central banks cut interest-rates last week alone.

Below is the Reuters view on the consequences for the financial world.

Argentine stock and bond prices were expected to slide when financial markets opened on Monday because Fernandez’s lead far exceeded the margin of 2 to 8% predicted in recent opinion polls.

The peso plunged 5.1% to 48.50 per U.S. dollar following early official results on the platform of digital brokerage firm Balanz, which operates the currency online non-stop.

Financial Markets

There has been a lot of rhetoric about the Peso plunging but we are still waiting for official trading to start as I type this. Balanz are wisely quoting a wide spread of 46.5 to 48.5 versus the US Dollar. I am often critical of wide foreign exchange spreads but in this instance I have some sympathy. Meanwhile I note that China.org.cn is on the case.

But the South African rand and Argentine peso have both fallen significantly against the yuan, with the rand down 9.36 percent year-on-year and the value of the peso falling 37.29 percent.

Maybe there will now be more Chinese tourists.

Moving to bond markets I am reminded that in what seems like a parallel universe Argentina issued a century or 100 year bond in 2017. Now as it was denominated in US Dollars it is not as bad as you might think for holders. Mind you it is bad enough as the price has fallen by 3 points to just above 71. If you are a professional bond investor you are left having to explain to trustees and the like how you have managed to lose money in what has been the biggest bull market in history.You would be desperately hoping nobody turns up with a chart of the Austrian century bond where the price is more like 171. Maybe you could try some humour as show this from M&G Bond Vigilantes from when the bond was issued.

Given the unusual maturity of the bond, the model choked after 50 years. However, we can see that the implied probability of default given these assumptions is already at 97% for a bond maturing in 50 years. Given this, a century bond should not be seen as being much riskier.

If you have a 97% risk of default things cannot get much riskier can they?

The economic situation

The IMF tried to be optimistic at the end of last month but we can read between the lines.

In Argentina, the economy is gradually recovering from last year’s recession. GDP growth is projected to increase to -1.3 percent in 2019 and 1.1 percent in 2020 due to a recovery in agricultural production and a gradual rebuilding of consumer purchasing power, following the sharp compression of real wages last year. Inflation is expected to continue to fall. However, with inflation proving to be more persistent, real interest rates will need to remain higher for longer, resulting in a downward revision to GDP growth in 2020.

As you can see it tries to be optimistic as after all wouldn’t you if you has lent so much money? But the reality of the wider piece was of a slow down in Latin America.

If we go to the statistics office we are told this.

Progress report on the level of activity. Provisional estimates of GDP for the first quarter of 2019
The provisional estimate of the gross domestic product (GDP), in the first quarter of 2019, shows a 5.8% drop in relation to the same period of the previous year. The level of GDP in the first quarter is 2.0% lower than in the fourth quarter of 2018.

The seasonally adjusted GDP of the first quarter of 2019, compared to the fourth quarter of 2018, shows a variation of -0.2%, while the cycle trend shows a positive variation of 0.1%.

As to trade there is good and bad news. The good is that Argentina has a trade surplus so far in 2019 as opposed to a deficit which will be providing a boost to GDP via net exports. Indeed exports are up by around 2% overall although nearly all of this took place in May. But the good news ends there because the real shift in the trading position has been to what can only be called a collapse in import volumes. As of the June figures the accumulated drop was 27.9% for the year so far. That is ominous because it hints at quite a fall in domestic consumption especially if we note what Argentina exports and imports. From the European Commission.

The EU is Argentina’s second trading partner  (after Brazil), accounting for 15.7% of total Argentinean trade in 2016. In 2016 EU-Argentina bilateral trade in goods totalled EUR 16.7 billion.

Argentina exports to the EU primarily food and live animals (65%) and crude materials except fuel (16%) (2016 data).

The EU exports to Argentina mainly manufactured goods, such as machinery and transport equipment (50%) and chemical products (22.6%) (2016 data).

If we switch to inflation then the annual rate of inflation is a stellar 55.8%. However there are signs of a reduction as the monthly rate in June was 2.7%. Of course we get a perspective from the fact that many central banks are desperately trying to get an annual rate of 2.7%. But in Argentina is suggests an amelioration and the year ahead estimate is for 30%.

Comment

There are various perspectives here but let me start with the interest-rate one. At any time an interest-rate of over 60% is a red flag but right now it is more like a double or triple red flag. No wonder the unemployment rate rose to 10.1% in the first quarter of the year. But staying with the central bank maybe it will be needing the US $66.4 billion of foreign exchange reserves.

The next view must be one of terror from the headquarters of the IMF. Back on May 21st I pointed out this.

When the IMF completed its third review of Argentina’s economy in early April, managing director Christine Lagarde boasted that the government policies linked to the country’s record $56bn bailout from the fund were “bearing fruit”.

Oh and the forecast for economic growth in 2020 was 2.1% back then as opposed to the 1.1% of now. That has horrible echoes because there was a time that Christine Lagarde was involved in a big IMF programme for Greece and forecast 2.1% growth next year when in fact the economy collapsed. She of course has put on her presumably Loubotin running shoes and sped off to the ECB in Frankfurt but sadly the poor Argentines cannot afford to do this.

Researchers at two Argentine universities estimate that 35% of the population is living in poverty, up from the official government rate of 27.3% in the first half of 2018.

Should the IMF programme fold get ready for an army of apologists telling us that it was nothing at all to do with Madame Lagarde.

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