The problems of the Private Finance Initiative mount

The crossover and interrelationship between the private and public-sectors is a big economic issue. I was reminded of it on Saturday evening as I watched the excellent fireworks display in Battersea Park but from outside the park itself. The reason for this is that it used to be council run and free albeit partly funded by sponsors such as Heart Radio if I recall correctly. But these days like so much in Battersea Park it is run by a company called Enable who charge between £6 and £10 depending on how early you pay. You may note that GDP or Gross Domestic Product will be boosted but the event is the same. However there is a difference as the charge means that extra security is required and the park is fenced in with barriers. I often wonder how much of the charges collected pays for the staff and infrastructure to collect the charge?! There is definitely a loss to public utility as the park sees more and more fences go up in the run-up to the event and I often wonder about how the blind gentlemen who I see regularly in the park with his stick copes.

Private Finance Initiative

Elements of the fireworks changes apply here as PFI is a way of reducing both the current fiscal deficit and the national debt as HM Parliament explains here.

National Accounts use the European System of accounts (ESA) to distinguish between on and off balance sheet debt. If the risks and reward of a project is believed to be passed to the private sector, it is not recorded in the government borrowing figures, and remains off balance sheet. Approximately 90% of all PFI investment is off balance sheet, and is not recorded in National Accounts. Public
spending statistics, such as the Public Sector Net Debt, also follow ESA.

I like the phrase “believed to be” about risk being passed to the private-sector as we mull how much risk there actually is in building a hospital for the NHS which will then pay you a fee for 25/30 years? However we see why governments like this as what would otherwise be state spending on a new hospital or prison that would add to that year’s expenditure and fiscal deficit/national debt suddenly disappears from the national accounts. Perfect for a politician who can take the credit with no apparent cost.

Problems

The magic trick for the public finances does not last however as each year a lease payment is made. So there is a switch from current spending to future spending which of course is the main reason why politician’s like the scheme. However the claim that the scheme’s offer value for money gets rather hard when you see numbers like this from a Freedom of Information reply last month.

The Calderdale and Huddersfield Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust entered into a PFI with a company called Calderdale Hospitals SPC Ltd. Prior to May 2002, the all in interest rate in respect of bank loans that the company had
taken from its bankers was 7.955% per annum. After May 2002, when the PFI Company refinanced its loan, it was 6.700% per annum.

As you can see the politicians at that time in effect took a large interest-rate or more specifically Gilt yield punt and got is spectacularly wrong. Even with the refinancing the 6.7% looks dreadful especially as we note that we are now a bit beyond the average term for a UK Gilt. So if a Gilt had been issued back then on average it would be being refinanced now at say 1.5%. Care is needed as of course politicians back then had no idea about what was going to happen in the credit crunch but on the other hand I suspect some would be around saying how clever they were is yields were now 15%! On that note let me apologise to younger readers who in many cases will simply not understand such an interest-rate, unless of course they venture into the world of sub-prime finance or get a student loan.

In terms of pounds,shillings and pence here is the data as of 2015.

The total annual unitary charge across all PFI projects active in 2013/14 was £10bn. The cumulative unitary charge payments sum to £310bn: of this £88 billion has been paid (up to and including 2014/15) and £222 billion is outstanding. The unitary charge figures will peak at
0.5% of GDP in 2017/18.

Inflexibility

This is not only an issue on the finance side it is often difficult for the contracts to be changed as the world moves on. Or as HM Parliament puts it.

It can be difficult to make alterations to projects, and take into account changes in the public sector’s service requirements.

Are supporters losing faith?

Today the Financial Times is reporting this.

Olivier Brousse, chief executive of John Laing, which invests in and manages PFI hospitals, schools, and prisons, said PFI had lost “public goodwill” and needs “reinventing” with providers subject to a “payment by results” mechanism where money is clawed back for missed targets.

That is true although he then moves onto what looks like special pleading.

“The market in the UK is going away so we need to get back around the table and agree something acceptable,” said Mr Brousse. “The UK’s need for new infrastructure is significant and urgent. The private sector stands ready to deliver this . . . If the current PFI framework isn’t fit for purpose — then let’s completely rethink it to make it work.”

Indeed we then seem to move onto the rather bizarre.

“The problem with PFI isn’t transparency. It is outcomes,” he said. “I’m a citizen and if a school is built under PFI I also want it to commit to reducing bullying and violence.”

Surely the school should be run by the Governors rather than the company that built it? Perhaps he is trying to sneak in an increase in his company’s role.

There were also mentions of this which as I note the comments to the article seems set to be an ongoing problem whether it s in the public or private sectors.

In August John Laing agreed to hand back a lossmaking £3.8bn 25-year PFI waste project in Greater Manchester for an undisclosed sum. One of Britain’s biggest PFIs, the Greater Manchester waste disposal authority bin clearance, recycling, incinerator and green power station project had struggled to remain profitable. Manchester council said it would save £20m a year immediately from access to cheaper loans and £37m a year from April 2019.

Comment

To my mind the concept of PFI conflated two different things. The fact that private businesses can run things more efficiently than the public-sector which is often but not always true. For that to be true you need a clear objective which is something which is difficult in more than a few areas. The two main dangers are of missing things which turn out to be important as time passes and over regulation and complexity which may arrive together. Then we had the issue that whilst it was convenient for the political class to kick expenditure like a can into the future this meant a larger bill would eventually be paid by taxpayers. Even worse they have ended up trapping taxpayers into deals at what now seem usurious rates of interest.

Pretty much all big contracts with the private-sector seem to hit trouble as this from the National Audit Office on the Hinkley Point nuclear power project points out.

The Department has committed electricity consumers and taxpayers to a high cost and risky deal in a changing energy marketplace. We cannot say the Department has maximised the chances that it will achieve value for money.

There is of course the ever more expensive HS2 railway plan to add to the mix.

Thus we see that some of the trouble faced by UK PFI is true of many infrastructure projects. Yet some of it is specific to them and frankly it is hard to make a case for it right now because of some of the consequences of the credit crunch era. Firstly governments are able to borrow very cheaply by historical standards and secondly because adding to the national debt bothers debt investors much less than it once did especially if it is also simply a different form of accounting for an unaltered reality.

One of the arguments of my late father was that the UK needed an infrastructure plan set for obvious reasons a long way ahead. In many ways now would be a good time because the finance would be cheap but sadly we just seem to play a game of tennis as the ball gets hit from the private side of the net to the public side and back again.

 

 

 

 

 

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Russia has similar inflation to the UK but interest-rates are ~8% higher

As a contrast to the Bank of England move or not at midday which I analysed yesterday let us look at developments at another point of the interest-rate cycle. To do this we need merely to look at Russia where this was announced this last Friday.

On 27 October 2017, the Bank of Russia Board of Directors decided to reduce the key rate by 25 bp to 8.25% per annum.

We learn various things here. Firstly even in this time of Zero Interest Rate Policy ( ZIRP) and indeed NIRP where N = Negative we see that there are countries where the trend has bypassed. Much of Africa has been too. I also note that 0.25% moves seem to be en vogue for which we in the UK should be grateful as I recall the Bank of England hinting at a 0.15% cut this time last year as its Forward Guidance shot itself in the foot. Returning to the Russian situation on the face of it the move looks a bit weak in the circumstances as frankly what is moving from 8.5% to 8.25% really going to achieve? Especially if we note this about inflation.

Annual inflation holds close to 4%. Estimates as of 23 October 2017 indicate that annual inflation is 2.7%. Its downward deviation against the forecast is driven mainly by temporary factors. In September, food prices showed stronger-than-expected annual price decline, on the back of larger supply of farm produce. This extra supply owes its origin to growing crop productivity and the shortage of warehouse facilities for long-term storage. The slowdown of inflation was also triggered by exchange rate movements.

Inflation is projected to be close to 3% by late 2017; going forward, as the temporary factors run their course, it will approach 4%.

So we see that the inflation situation currently has quite a few similarities with the UK as our inflation will also be close to 3% late this year and our inflation has a strong exchange rate influence as well. Yet interest-rates are around 8% different! Central bankers eh?

Let us look deeper.

Oil and Gas

This is a powerful player in the Russian economy and the recent rise in the oil price will put a smile on economic developments. In July an economic paper from the University of St. Petersburg put it like this.

In the first phase of the shock, the government’s income suddenly increases. In other words, the price rise enhances the real national income through the increase in the petroleum exports revenues. This might lead to the reinforcement of the national currency value (or foreign currency depreciation) in the exchange rate systems (fixed or managed floating systems). In the floating exchange rate system, the foreign exchange coming from the increase in the world oil prices would lead to the appreciation of the real exchange rate.

Actually the value of the Rouble and the oil price are correlated over time. If we look back to a nadir for oil prices back in early 2016 when the Brent Crude benchmark fell into the mid-30s in US Dollar terms then it took 75 Roubles to buy one US Dollar. If we skip forwards to today when Brent Crude is around US $60 we see that it takes only 58 Roubles to buy one US Dollar. They do not always move in lock step but over time there is usually a similar trend.

Thus we get to the conclusion that a higher oil price reduces Russian inflation. This does not mean that it does not raise domestic inflation as of course there will be familiar price rises from fuel costs which will trigger other price rises. But that there will be an offsetting move from a higher currency that usually is larger. Accordingly I find this from the Bank of Russia a little strange.

Inflation expectations remain elevated. Their decline has yet to become sustainable and consistent.

We are back to a timing issue as in you need to move ahead of events rather than waiting for them to happen and chasing them.

Impact on the Russian economy

The US Energy Information Authority published this on Tuesday.

Russia was the world’s largest producer of crude oil including lease condensate and the third-largest producer of petroleum and other liquids (after Saudi Arabia and the United States) in 2016, with average liquids production of 11.2 million barrels per day (b/d). Russia was the second-largest producer of dry natural gas in 2016 (second to the United States), producing an estimated 21 trillion cubic feet.

So a big deal which has this impact domestically.

 Russia’s economic growth is driven by energy exports, given its high oil and natural gas production. Oil and natural gas revenues accounted for 36% of Russia’s federal budget revenues in 2016.

Also it is the major export.

In 2016, Russia exported more than 5 million b/d of crude oil and condensate……..Russia also exports fairly sizeable volumes of oil products. According to Eastern Bloc Research, Russia exported about 1.3 million b/d of fuel oil and an additional 990,000 b/d of diesel in 2016. It exported smaller volumes of gasoline (120,000 b/d)[50] and liquefied petroleum gas (75,000 b/d) during the same year.

As to the impact on the overall economy it is not easy to be precise as Factosphere points out.

Experts estimate the share of Oil&Gas sector in the Russian GDP to vary from 15% to 20%, but that does not take into consideration effect of a number of related and supporting industries that depend on O&G sector performance (equipment producers, transportation, etc.). Therefore, the overall influence of the sector on the Russian economy and GDP shall be much higher.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here but if we stick with the inflation issue then with Brent Crude Oil around US $60 per barrel it seems unlikely that Russia will see much imported inflation generated. Quite possibly the reverse. We know that the Urals production is cheaper but the principle remains. Thus the difference between it and the UK in terms of inflation prospects hardly seems to justify an around 8% interest-rate gap.

There is one clear difference though which ironically would be seen as a success in the UK. From Trading Economics.

Real wages in Russia rose 2.6 percent year-on-year in September 2017, following a downwardly revised 2.4 percent gain in August and missing market expectations of 3.9 percent. Average nominal wages jumped 5.6 percent to RUB 37,520 while annual inflation rate slowed to 3 percent, the lowest since at least 1991.

So higher interest-rates yes but nothing like that much higher. The fun comes in figuring out how much the Bank of Russia and the Bank of England are wrong!

Meanwhile it seems set to be a relatively good year for the Russian economy and a nod from it to OPEC for its efforts in raising the crude oil price. Looking ahead there are of course issues as we mull the impact of having large resources on the wider economy or what became called the Dutch Disease. One of them is the transfer of resources and wealth or if you prefer the oligarch issue.

Currently there is also the issue of economic sanctions on Russia.

Me on Core Finance TV

http://www.corelondon.tv/bank-of-england-timing-mess/

Central banks face an ongoing exit strategy problem

Today features one of the earliest themes of this blog. It can be summarised around the line never get yourself into something without a plan to get out of it. Back in my early days on this website I suggested that when the time came to roll back the interest-rate cuts and Quantitative Easing ( QE) that central banks would dither and delay and thereby act too late. We now know that in generic terms what was happening then wasn’t the half of it as more and more QE was to follow around the world as well as more interest-rate cuts taking some negative. So the problem became ever larger as central banks had more skin in the game and would be even more afraid of any setbacks should they withdraw policy stimulus.

Also there was another feature likely to lead to a delay. You see by the 18th of January 2011 I was pointing out this.

Even worse than this if we go back to the Bank of England’s forecasts for 2010 we can see that they underestimated inflation in 2010 by a considerable amount. This continues the Bank of England’s forecasting record which is now so poor in this area it is abject.

The nuance that has developed over time is that central banks seem to be most woeful at forecasting the most important factor at the time. For example the Bank of England has more recently kept getting wage growth wrong and the ECB raised the issue of 5 year inflation swaps and then led itself down the garden path. Whilst there will be official denials this fact of course is likely to add to the existing penchant to dilly and dally on any policy tightening.

Sweden

This morning has seen this announcement from the Riksbank.

Given this, the Executive Board of the Riksbank has decided to hold the repo rate unchanged at -0.50 per cent and does not expect to raise it until the middle of 2018. Purchases of government bonds will continue during the second half of 2017, as decided in April. At the end of the year, the purchases of government bonds will thus amount to a total of SEK 290 billion, excluding reinvestments.

So it remains very expansionary and here is the apparent justification.

Economic activity is strong and inflation is close to the target of 2 per cent.

Even odder is the enthusiasm for making Swedes better off by making them poorer.

Monetary policy needs to remain expansionary for inflation to continue to be close to 2 per cent……..However, it has taken time and a great deal of support from monetary policy to bring up inflation and inflation expectations

As you can see the view here is that without the policy of the Riksbank the economy of Sweden would somehow disappear off a cliff. But its problem is highlighted in its report.

The Swedish economy is strong. The upturn in inflation has continued and been faster than expected. In   July, inflation was 2.4 per cent in CPIF terms, and 2.1 per cent in terms of the CPIF excluding energy  prices. GDP growth was unexpectedly high in the second quarter. Monthly indicators point to the strong  developments continuing through the second half of the year. Although the inflation outcome for July is  primarily explained mainly by temporarily higher prices for foreign travel, the underlying development  appears stronger than expected. Inflation is therefore expected to be somewhat higher during the  remainder of the year than was forecast in July.

There is something familiar in their inability to forecast either GDP or inflation as we note inflation is above target! Now perhaps they did forecast Del Potro stunning Roger Federer this morning in the US Open tennis but in terms of the day job this continues the poor record of the Riksbank. This matters when you are undertaking what is an extreme monetary policy experiment as for example first-time buyers are unlikely to see this as a triumph.

The rate of increase of housing prices has gradually risen  throughout 2017. In July, housing prices rose by an annual rate of  9 .6 per cent. Surveys show that the general public and estate  agents continue to expect rising housing prices in the period  ahead.

Apologies for the formatting issue but there is a clear problem for Sweden via this issue. There are other issues as we look into the detail of corporate borrowing.

 has increased  in significance in recent years for real estate companies in  particular ( they are talking about securities issuance here)

and personal borrowing.

. Lending to households in the form of pure consumer  loans without collateral has increased at an ever‐higher pace and,  in July, the annual rate of growth amounted to 8 per cent.

Oh and the suggestion that interest-rates could rise next year is an example of Swedish recycling of the Forward Guidance of Mark Carney as this from September last year proves.

Not until the second half of 2017 does the Executive Board consider it appropriate to begin slowly increasing the repo rate.

ECB

By the time you read this you may already know the policy announcement from Mario Draghi but the Riksbank has undertaken a form of trolling.

This could happen if, for example, the Riksbank’s monetary policy deviates too far from that of other countries.

They mean the Euro of course and this morning’s announcement implies they expect little from the ECB today.

Oh Canada

Yesterday’s announcement from the Bank of Canada may have provoked a stream of letters signed Mark of Threadneedle Street mentioning destruction of legacy and questioning whether they understand the true purpose of Forward Guidance.

The Bank of Canada is raising its target for the overnight rate to 1 per cent. The Bank Rate is correspondingly 1 1/4 per cent and the deposit rate is 3/4 per cent.

The rationale really rather reminds us of the situation in Sweden.

Given the stronger-than-expected economic performance, Governing Council judges that today’s removal of some of the considerable monetary policy stimulus in place is warranted.

Of course if we look at house price developments in parts of Canada ( Toronto and Vancouver) there is another similarity and you could argue that the response is far too late as well as being too small.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here. As I pointed out earlier the monetary expansionism moved on in both scale and concept ( including corporate bonds in several places and even equities in Japan). It also moved on in time as depending on how you count it we are approaching a decade of this. Thus makes me have a wry smile when central bankers use the buzzword “normalisation” when what must seem normal to millennials for example is where we are now!

But if we stay with the normalisation theme then 1% or so in Canada and the US does not take us far does it? The real issue is shown by economic growth in Sweden and indeed today from the Euro area which has been shown to have been stronger than first thought.

 

But in both places we still have negative interest-rates and ongoing QE bond buying programmes leaving us mulling the words of Coldplay.

Oh, no, I see
A spider web, it’s tangled up with me,
And I lost my head,
The thought of all the stupid things I’d said,

Me on CoreTV Finance

http://www.corelondon.tv/bond-bubble-fiction-reality-not-yes-man-economics/

 

Whatever happened to savers and the savings ratio?

A feature of the credit crunch era has been the fall and some would say plummet in quite a range of interest-rates and bond yields. This opened with central banks cutting official short-term interest-rates heavily in response to the initial impact with the Bank of England for example trimming around 4% off its Bank Rate to reduce it to 0.5%. If we go to market rates the drop was even larger because it is often forgotten now that one-year interest-rates in the UK rose to 7% for around a year or so as the credit crunch built up in what was a last hurrah of sorts for savers. Next central banks moved to reduce bond yields via purchases of sovereign bonds via QE ( Quantitative Easing) programmes. In the UK this was followed by some Bank of England rhetoric heading towards the First World War pictures of Lord Kitchener saying your country needs you.

Here is Bank of England Deputy Governor Charlie Bean from September 2010.

“What we’re trying to do by our policy is encourage more spending. Ideally we’d like to see that in the form of more business spending, but part of the mechanism … is having more household spending, so in the short-term we want to see households not saving more but spending more’.

Our Charlie was keen to point out that this was a temporary situation.

“It’s very much swings and roundabouts. At the current juncture, savers might be suffering as a result of bank rate being at low levels, but there will be times in the future — as there have been times in the past — when they will be doing very well.

Mr.Bean was displaying his usual forecasting accuracy here as of course savers have seen only swings and no roundabouts as the Bank Rate got cut even further to 0.25% and the £79.6 billion of the Term Funding Scheme means that banks rarely have to compete for their deposits. This next bit may put savers teeth on edge.

“Savers shouldn’t see themselves as being uniquely hit by this. A lot of people are suffering during this downturn … Savers shouldn’t necessarily expect to be able to live just off their income in times when interest rates are low. It may make sense for them to eat into their capital a bit.”

In May 2014 Charlie was at the same game according to the Financial Times.

BoE’s Charlie Bean expects 3% interest rate within 5 years

There is little sign of that so far although of course Sir Charlie is unlikely to be bothered much with his index-linked pension worth around £4 million if I recall correctly plus his role at the Office for Budget Responsibility.

House prices

I add this in because the UK saw an establishment move to get them back into buying houses. This involved subsidies such as the Bank of England starting the Funding for Lending Scheme in the summer of 2013 to reduce mortgage rates ( by around 1% initially then up to 2%) which continues with the Term Funding Scheme. Also there was the Help to Buy Scheme of the government. I raise these because why would you save when all you have to do is buy a house and the price accelerates into the stratosphere?

The picture on saving gets complex here. Some may save for a deposit but of course the official pressure for larger deposits soon faded. Also the net worth gains are the equivalent of saving in theoretical terms at least but only apply to some and make first time buyers poorer. Also care is needed with net worth gains as people can hardly withdraw them en masse and what goes up can come down. Furthermore there are regional differences here as for example the gains are by far the largest in London which leads to a clear irony as official regional policy is supposed to be spreading wealth, funds and money out of London.

There is also the issue of rents as those affected here have no house price gains to give them theoretical wealth. However the impact of the fact that real wages are still below the credit crunch peak has meant that rents have increasingly become reported as a burden. So the chance to save may be treated with a wry smile by those in Generation rent especially if they are repaying Student Loans.

Share Prices

This is a by now familiar situation. If we skip for a moment the issue of whether it involves an investment or saving as it is mostly both we find yet another side effect of central bank action. In spite of the recent impact of the North Korea situation stock markets are mostly at or near all time highs. The UK FTSE 100 is still around 7300 which is good for existing shareholders but perhaps not so good for those planning to save.

Number Crunching

There are various ways of looking at the state of play or rather as to what the state of play was as we are at best usually a few months behind events. From the Financial Times at the end of June.

UK households have responded to a tight squeeze on incomes from rising inflation, taxes and falling wages by saving less than at any time in at least 50 years. According to new figures from the Office for National Statistics, 1.7 per cent of income was left unspent in the first quarter of 2017, the lowest savings ratio since comparable records began in 1963.

This compares to what?

The savings ratio has averaged 9.2 per cent of disposable income over the past 54 years,

Some of the move was supposed to be temporary which poses its own question but if we move onto July was added to by this.

In Quarter 1 2017, the households and NPISH saving ratio on a cash basis fell to negative 4.8%, which implies that households and NPISH spent more than they earned in income during the quarter.

The above number is a new one which excludes “imputed” numbers a trend I hope will spread further across our official statistics. It also came with a troubling reminder.

This is the lowest quarterly saving ratio on a cash basis since Quarter 1 2008, when it was negative 6.7%.

As they say on the BBC’s Question of Sport television programme, what happened next?

The United States

We in the UK are not entirely alone as this from the Financial Times Alphaville section a week ago points out.

Newly revised data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis show that American consumers have spent the past two years embracing option 2. The average American now saves about 35 per cent less than in 2015……….Not since the beginning of 2008 have Americans saved so little — and that’s before accounting for inflation.

Comment

One of the features of the credit crunch was that central banks changed balance between savers and debtors massively in the latter’s favour. Measure after measure has been applied and along this road the claims of “temporary” have looked ever more permanent. Therefore it is hardly a surprise that savings seem to be out of favour just as it is really no surprise that unsecured credit has been booming. It is after all official policy albeit one which is only confessed to in back corridors and in the shadows. After all look at the central bank panic when inflation fell to ~0% and gave savers some relief relative to inflation. If we consider inflation there has been another campaign going on as measures exclude the asset prices that central banks try to push higher. Fears of bank deposits being confiscated will only add to all of this.

Meanwhile as we find so often the numbers are unreliable. In addition to the revisions above from the US I note that yesterday Ireland revised its savings ratio lower and the UK reshuffled its definitions a couple of years or so ago. I do not know whether to laugh or cry at the view that the changed would boost the numbers?! I doubt the ch-ch-changes are entirely a statistical illusion but the scale may be, aren’t you glad that is clear? We are left mulling what is saving? What is investment?

But we travel a road where many cheerleaders for central bank actions now want us to panic over an entirely predictable consequence. Or to put it another way that poor battered can that was kicked into the future trips us up every now and then.

 

 

 

Would the Bundesbank of Germany raise interest-rates if it could?

At the heart of the Euro area economy is Germany but as we have discussed before it has something of an irregular heartbeat in the way it affects its Euro area partners. For example as I pointed out on the 9th of January it is a deflationary influence on them via its balance of payments surplus.

In November 2016, Germany exported goods to the value of 63.2 billion euros to the Member States of the European Union (EU), while it imported goods to the value of 56.9 billion euros from those countries.

One does not wish to be critical of it for its relative economic success but there are clear side-effects as well as benefits from it. One is the trade position above another is that fact that its membership of the Euro makes its exchange-rate higher.. For all the talk and indeed promises of economic convergence the fact is that many Euro area countries have economies with little in common with Germany. For example later this year Italy seems likely to move into economic growth territory for its membership of the Euro which is very different to the German situation. Let us investigate the German economy.

Inflation

On Wednesday this was released by the Federal Statistics Office.

The inflation rate in Germany as measured by the consumer price index is expected to be 2.2% in February 2017. Such a high rate of inflation was last measured in August 2012. Based on the results available so far, the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) also reports that the consumer prices are expected to increase by 0.6% on January 2017.

The Euro area standard measure was also 2.2% although it rose by 0.7% on the month. We have a complete switch on the disinflationary period just passed which showed low and at times falling inflation for goods prices as they rose by 3.2%. These were led by energy at 7.2% and food at 4.4%.

This was reinforced only yesterday by this.

the index of import prices increased by 6.0% in January 2017 compared with the corresponding month of the preceding year. This was the highest increase of a yearly rate of change since May 2011 (+6.3%). In December and in November 2016 the annual rates of change were +3.5% and +0.3%, respectively. From December 2016 to January 2017 the index rose by 0.9%.

As you can see there are inflationary pressures in the system and it looks as though imported raw materials will impact the system especially the price of oil which was approximately half the rise. If German economic policy was set by the Bundesbank then there is no way it would have a negative interest-rate in the face of such pressure.

Consumption

This has traditionally been a weaker link in the German economy and that seems to be continuing as the numbers below have an extra day in them compared to last year.

According to provisional data turnover in retail trade in January 2017 was in real terms 2.3% and in nominal terms 4.5% larger than that in January 2016.

We do get a like for like update on a monthly basis.

Calendar and seasonally adjusted (Census X-12-ARIMA), sales in January 2017 were 0.8% lower than in December 2016 and 0.2% lower in nominal terms.

If we look back to 2010 and mark it at 100 we see that January 2017 was at 106.1 which shows the German economy is not powered by retail sales.

Economic output

This has been a better phase for Germany as this official data shows.

The economic situation in Germany in 2016 thus was characterised by solid and steady growth (+0.7% in the first quarter, +0.5% in the second quarter and +0.1% in the third quarter). For the whole year of 2016, this was an increase of 1.9% (calendar-adjusted: +1.8%).

I am not sure that 0.7%,0.5%, 0.1% and then 0.4% is steady but it was solid! To be fair it was more consistent in annual terms although if we look further at the year it had a feature you might not expect.

government final consumption expenditure was up by as much as 3.2%.

Also Germany did shift a little in terms of one of the world economic issues which is the balance of payments surplus.

exports of goods and services rose by 3.3% compared with the previous year. There was however a larger increase in imports (+4.5%) in the same period. Consequently, the balance of exports and imports had a downward effect, in arithmetical terms, of –0.2 percentage points on GDP growth compared with the previous year.

There was also another sign of a German economic strength ticked away there.

the economic performance in the fourth quarter of 2016 was achieved by 43.7 million persons in employment, which was an increase of 267,000, or 0.6%, on a year earlier.

This performance allowed the headline writers some click bait. From the Guardian.

Germany overtook the UK as the fastest growing among the G7 states during 2016. Europe’s largest economy expanded at the fastest rate in five years, showing growth of 1.9% last year.

Of course the numbers are not precise to 0.1% after all if they were then this adjustment from 2014 as matters such as military expenditure and Research and Development saw new rules would not be necessary.

The conceptual changes have led to an increase in the level of the German GDP, amounting to roughly 3%

Public Finances

These were very strong in spite of the rise in spending.

A strong economic backdrop has helped Germany post a record budget surplus of €23.7bn in 2017 ( they mean 2016), fuelled by higher tax revenues, rising employment and low debt costs. It was the highest budget surplus since reunification in 1990 and the third successive year the government has had a budget surplus.

The old argument is of course that it would help the European and world economy if Germany loosened the public purse strings. This would also presumably reduce the balance of payments surplus in a beneficial double-whammy. The catch in terms of Euro area rules is that the national debt to GDP ratio is at 69.4% above the (supposed) 60% limit although of course rather good compared to the vast majority of its peers.

Looking ahead

The immediate future certainly looks bright for German manufacturing.

The PMI rose from 56.4 in January to 56.8 in February, the highest since May 2011. The increase in the headline figure reflected the output, new orders and suppliers’ delivery times components, while employment and stocks of purchases also made positive overall contributions. The current 27-month sequence of improving manufacturing conditions is the longest observed in over eight-and-a-half years. (Markit)

This led to an improvement also in forecasts for the year as a whole.

The survey results suggest that manufacturing will contribute to a strengthening in overall economic growth in the first quarter. IHS Markit currently expects q/q growth of at least 0.6% in Q1, up from 0.4% in Q4 last year, and is forecasting a 1.9% rise in GDP over 2017 as a whole.”

This has been reinforced by the service sector survey which has just been released.

the rate of expansion in total business activity accelerated and was slightly stronger than the trend shown over 2016 as a whole. Moreover, new business rose at the fastest rate since February 2016 and employment growth was the strongest since June 2011.

Comment

Let me leave you all with a question. The US Federal Reserve is hinting ever more strongly at an interest-rate rise this month although of course we await th words of Janet Yellen later. But in 2016 the German economy grew more quickly than the US one and may well do so this year. It also has inflation above target. Where would German interest-rates be if the Bundesbank was back in charge?

If you want a real mind game then imagine where a new German Mark would be and the implications from that?!

 

 

 

 

The economic impact of a higher dollar and interest-rate rises

We are in the middle of a central bank 24 hours and of course last night the US Federal Reserve continued its recent habit of only raising interest-rates just before Christmas.

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

On the face of it not much of a change and it is only to as they put it 3/4 percent. However in the modern era there is a significance in that it is in a world of ZIRP ( Zero Interest Rate Policy) and indeed NIRP where N = Negative. This has been highlighted this morning by one of the forerunners of the NIRP world which is the Swiss National Bank.

The Swiss National Bank (SNB) is maintaining its expansionary monetary policy. Interest on sight deposits at the SNB is to remain at –0.75% and the target range for the three-month Libor is unchanged at between –1.25% and –0.25%.

So we have another perspective which is that the spread between these two central banks is now 1.5% which is small in absolute terms but in these days is a lot. Also I note that an interest-rate of -0.75% is “expansionary” whereas one of 0.75% is merely “accommodative”. Oh and the SNB isn’t entirely convinced so we get yet more rhetoric from it.

At the same time, the SNB will remain active in the foreign exchange market as necessary, while taking the overall currency situation into consideration.

Already this morning a country which was previously expected to lower interest-rates has kept them unchanged as Norway remains at 0.5%. Although here there is also clearly an effect from the higher price of crude oil. Meanwhile later we will hear from the Bank of England which cut Bank Rate in August a move which I argued was unwise at the time and looks even worse now. No wonder Governor Mark Carney has moved onto discussing climate change rather than monetary policy or sledgehammers!

Bondpocalypse

It was only on Monday I was looking at the return of the bond vigilantes and overnight they have been active in some areas. For example the US ten-year Treasury Note yield has risen to 2.6%. It was only in early November that it was 1.78%. There have been effects in that period from the likely fiscal plans of President-Elect Trump and expectations for yesterday evening’s interest-rate rise but there was a further kicker. From the Guardian

But investors were caught out by surprisingly bullish comments from Fed chair Janet Yellen in the wake of the announcement and by projections showing that 11 of her 17 policy-making colleagues see borrowing costs rising another three times in 2017.

So not only was there an actual increase but the future path moved higher although to be more precise steeper as the Federal Reserve is really only projecting faster moves to a particular level. There is the obvious cautionary note that we were promised “3-5” interest-rate rises for 2016 by John Williams of the San Francisco Fed and got only one. But this time around the return of some inflationary pressure seems set to be on their minds.

This has seen the German 10 year yield rise back up to 0.36% in spite of the ongoing QE from the ECB. Whilst we are looking at this the “safe haven” problem they claimed to have fixed if getting worse as the two-year German yield is now -0.78%. Meanwhile the Bank of England has spent some £3 billion this week alone on a QE program described as a “sledgehammer” only for the UK Gilt ten-year yield to go back to 1.5% which is higher than when it came out of the tool cupboard. My Forward Guidance is for a sharp increase in inflation in the use of the word counterfactual.

Across the world in Japan there was plenty of work to do as the trend was against the recent promise of the Bank of Japan to keep its benchmark yield at 0%. I will explain later why they may have needed to sober up Governor Kuroda to authorise this but it must have been a busy day over there to keep it as low as 0.08%.

Dollar Hollar

If we look at the fact that the Japanese Yen has dropped sharply to 118 versus the US Dollar you will understand why the keys to the Sake cabinet at the Bank of Japan may have to have been taken off its Governor. All his Christmas wishes have come true in spite of the fact he is unlikely to celebrate it. From 115 to 118 in a manner described by Alicia Keys as “Fallin'” or by Status Quo as “Down Down” . It seems to have affected Prime Minister Abe so much he is going to join Vladimir Putin in a hot spring later.

Mario Draghi will be pleased also as the Euro slips below 1.05 versus the US Dollar as it and the UK Pound £ (1.253) get pushed lower but remain in station.

For the US itself then we see a further tightening of monetary policy via the US Dollar which has risen overall by about 1.5% since the interest-rate rise announcement. As it was expected it must be forecasts via the “dot plots” for 2017 that have changed things. Via this route monetary policy has an effect before it happens or in fact can have an impact even if it never happens something which has led to central bankers to get drunk on the implications. Care is needed though because for any real economic impact the changes and moves need to be sustained for a period.

Bank of England

This is left rather in disarray by this. If it was a schoolboy(girl) it would be in the corner wearing a dunces cap. This is the problem of having a Governor who is a “dedicated follower of fashion” when fashions change! Should the US Federal Reserve deliver on its interest-rate promises then Mark Carney will look very out of step as inflation rises above its target. Also his “sledgehammer” of QE is currently being swept aside in the UK Gilt market by worldwide trends. No wonder he is now opining on climate change and income inequality although those unfamiliar with him would do well to note his appalling record in any form of Forward Guidance. He has not be nicknamed the “unreliable boyfriend” only in jest.

Comment

As ever let us look at the impact on the real economy of this. In itself a 0.25% interest-rate rise should not have much impact but the effect via the US Dollar will be powerful. Let us start with the US economy as we have a benchmark from Fed Vice-Chair Fischer which I looked at on November 9th last year.

The New York Fed trade model suggests that a 10 percent appreciation of the U.S. dollar is associated with a 2.6 percent drop in real export values over the year. Consequently, the net export contribution to GDP growth over the year is 0.5 percentage point lower than it would have been without the appreciation and a cumulative 0.7 percentage point lower after two years

The Dollar Index has in fact risen from around 80 in July 2014 to 102.6 now so quite an effect will be taking place.

If we look abroad for an impact then the obvious place to look is Tokyo as the Bank of Japan gets what it wants with a plummeting Yen but also faces rising bond yields. It seems set to plough ahead regardless which poses worrying questions for Japanese workers and consumers as rising inflation seems set to impact on real wages.

Meanwhile out song for the day has to be this from Aloe Blacc.

I need a dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
hey hey
Well I need a dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
hey hey
And I said I need dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
And if I share with you my story would you share your dollar with me

 

 

What a carry on from Bank of England Governor Carney

Today we find ourselves reviewing the latest data on the UK employment and wages situation. We do so noting that the inflation situation for real wages has briefly improved although one months data here compares with the 3 months over which the headline wages data is calculated. But before we get to it there were some extraordinary statements made to the Treasury Select Committee of UK Parliament by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney. Make what you will of this from the Guardian.

“The thing about forward guidance,” drawled Mogadon Mark Carney, opening one eyelid a millimetre or two, “is that it is guidance that is forward. Which isn’t to say it’s meant to be in any way accurate. Indeed, it would be surprising if it were. The most important thing about forward guidance is that the underlying economic determinants should be correct, not that it should be helpful.”

Now those who remortgaged on the back of his hints and promises of higher interest-rates or took out fixed-rate business loans may be checking the definition of miss-selling at this point as they read the section I have highlighted. Indeed Governor Carney admits that I have been right all along to point out his failures as he admits even he would be surprised if he had been right. This is very awkward for those who have placed themselves full square behind him although to be fair there is probably not much daylight where they placed themselves. I note also that Governor Carney is now a figure of fun in the Guardian, does this mean that he no longer has film-star looks and we need to be told if he is still a rock star central banker I think?

Also there was a particularly dubious statement from Governor Carney. From the Financial Times.

Mr Carney told a committee of MPs that low global interest rates and rising inequality in developed countries were driven by “much more fundamental factors”.

UK interest-rates just got lower because he cut them in August! Oh and he introduced an extra £60 billion of UK QE Gilt purchases to try to reduce Gilt yields (admittedly not going so well right now) and £10 billion of Corporate Bond buying to do the same there. His Chief Economist called this a “Sledgehammer” but Mark now seems to think it was nothing to do with that at all? Odd as he finds the time to try to take any credit he can from it.

Also the issue of rising inequality is another thing which is apparently nothing to do with Governor Carney. As of course time only started in June 2013 some may forgive him for not reading Bank of England research from August 2012.

QE has caused the price of gilts to rise and yields to fall, in turn leading to an increase in demand for, and price of, a wide range of other assets, including corporate bonds and equities.

Indeed it went further than this.

By pushing up a range of asset prices, asset purchases have boosted the value of households’ financial wealth held outside pension funds, but holdings are heavily skewed with the top 5% of households holding 40% of these assets.

Actually we can combine both of Mark Carney’s denials as you see back in 2012 the Bank of England had the opposite view of the impact in savers.

That suggests that deposit holders are likely to have been affected much more by the cuts in Bank Rate than by downward pressure on longer-term interest rates as a result of QE.

Before I move on this from that 2012 paper was a real example of moral hazard when you review your own policies.

The paper shows that QE also has a broadly neutral impact on a fully funded ‘defined benefit’ scheme.

Now whilst they at the Bank of England may have a fully funded pension elsewhere they were in rather short supply and since then the supply has got shorter due to its actions.

Also as happens so often with Bank of England Governors Mark Carney has become keen on a lower value for the pound.

“The UK economy has … had a large external imbalance and that large external imbalance as represented by a large current account deficit needed to be righted,” he said. “The exchange rate is part of that adjustment mechanism.”

Odd that he seems to have got on that particular bandwagon so recently as you could have made that case for years and indeed decades.

Oh and here is a development which ties in yesterday’s inflation numbers with today’s wages data and provides a headache for the distributional denials of Mark Carney.

 

Today’s Data

Employment

This number has seen quite a boom as the UK economy recovers from the credit crunch and it continues as shown below. From the Office for National Statistics.

There were 31.80 million people in work, 49,000 more than for April to June 2016 and 461,000 more than for a year earlier.

There were 23.24 million people working full-time, 350,000 more than for a year earlier. There were 8.56 million people working part-time, 110,000 more than for a year earlier.

So we continue to generate jobs and this means that the employment rate of 74.5% is as high as it has been since the numbers started in 1971. Care is needed as the definition of full-time working is somewhat flexible and we would need to know population size to have an idea of employment per capita.

Unemployment

This opens well too.

The unemployment rate was 4.8%, down from 5.3% for a year earlier and the lowest since July to September 2005…….There were 1.60 million unemployed people (people not in work but seeking and available to work), 37,000 fewer than for April to June 2016 and 146,000 fewer than for a year earlier.

Also I note that unemployment for women fell which is good as last month the situation was different and seemed to be picking them out. In the silver lining there is a cloud but if you make a big deal of it you have to explain why you are pushing a series which was already discredited some 30 years ago.

For October 2016 there were 803,300 people claiming unemployment-related benefits. This was:9,800 more compared with September 2016…9,900 more than for a year earlier.

Wages

These continued as before.

Between July to September 2015 and July to September 2016, in nominal terms, total pay increased by 2.3%, unchanged compared with the growth rate between June to August 2015 and June to August 2016.

Although real wage growth dipped slightly.

Comparing the 3 months to September 2016 with the same period in 2015, real AWE (total pay) grew by 1.7%, 0.1 percentage points lower than seen in the 3 months to August.

Care is needed here though because if we use the Retail Price Index to calculate real wages we see that the growth fades significantly as it these days is around 1% more than the official measure. But if we stick with the official measure you may enjoy some perspective here.

Looking at longer term movements, since comparable records began in 2000 average total pay for employees in Great Britain in nominal terms increased from £311 a week in January 2000 to £505 a week in September 2016; an increase of 62.2%. Over the same period the Consumer Prices Index increased by 40.6%.

Comment

We find much to consider here as Governor Carney continues to twist and turn and indeed spin as he attempts to explain why he cut Bank Rate and eased monetary policy into a currency decline. A simple precis of his approach is that everything good is due to him and bad isn’t. Meanwhile the UK labour market looks like it has carried on regardless with one clear exception which is that if you have employment at a peak wage growth would in the past be much higher. Remember also that the wage growth excludes the self-employed and small businesses. Also higher employment does tend to have this effect these days.

0.2% growth in output per hour in Q3, down from 0.6% in Q2 #productivity

Speaking of numbers this is an intriguing one from Merryn Somerset Webb.

Pension Protection Fund spends £600,000 on PR. Why do they need PR? Someone explain?