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?

 

 

The trend towards ever lower interest-rates continues but what about bond yields?

A clear feature of the credit crunch world has been lower interest-rates and lower bond yields. This has come in two phases where the first was badged usually as an emergency response to the credit crunches initial impact. However as I warned back then central banks had no real exit plan from such measures and we then found that the emergency had apparently got worse as so many central banks cuts again. So if you like we went from ZIRP ( Zero Interest-Rate Policy) to NIRP ( N is Negative) . Along the way it is easy to forget now that the ECB did in fact raise interest-rates twice but the Euro area crisis saw it cut them to -0.4% and to deployed over a trillion Euros of QE bond buying so far. In the UK Bank of England Governor Mark Carney also retreated with his tail between his legs after a couple of years or so of Forward Guidance about higher interest-rates which turned out to be anything but as he later cut them to 0.25%!

Reserve Bank of New Zealand

Yesterday evening the Kiwis again joined the party.

The Reserve Bank today reduced the Official Cash Rate (OCR) by 25 basis points to 1.75 percent.

I have a theory that the RBNZ regularly cuts interest-rates when the All Blacks lose at rugby union and on that subject congratulations to Ireland on finally breaking their duck. Moving back to interest-rates that makes 40 central banks ( h/t @moved_average ) who have eased policy in 2016 so far which poses a question over 8 years into the credit crunch don’t you think? Central banks used to raise interest-rates when they claimed a recovery was developing.

Also we can learn a fair bit about the modern central bank from looking at the explanatory statement from the RBNZ.

Significant surplus capacity exists across the global economy despite improved economic indicators in some countries.

Perhaps only the Governor can tell us whether that psychobabble is good or bad! Anyway central banks used to cut interest-rates if the economy is either weak now or expected to be so let’s take a look.

GDP grew by 3.6 percent in the year to the June 2016 quarter, and near-term indicators suggest this pace of growth is likely to continue. Annual GDP growth is forecast to average around 3.8 percent over the next year. This strength has been a feature of the Bank’s projections for some time……….. As GDP is forecast to grow at a faster rate than the economy’s productive capacity, the output gap is projected to rise, contributing to inflationary pressure.

Oh well perhaps not. Also there is another (space) oddity if we look at a cut in interest-rates.

The combination of high population growth, low mortgage rates, and a shortage of housing in Auckland has continued to exert upward pressure on house prices…….Outside of Auckland and Canterbury, house price inflation reached a 10-year high in July, but has fallen slightly since.

Ah yes so a cut in interest-rates will help? Oh hang on as we observe this.

Mortgage rates remain around record lows

If we look at the chart we see that it is no surprise that house price inflation has slowed in Auckland because it want over 25% per annum. For some reason ( perhaps someone familiar with NZ can explain) Canterbury saw over 25% around 3 years ago. However the rest of New Zealand has seen a rise to around 10% per annum. Many would call this quite a boom and a central bank would raise interest-rates. Of course these days we are promised policies from long enough in the past that most will have forgotten they were failures back then.

This follows the announcement of further tightening of loan-to-value ratio restrictions in July 2016.

Also with the New Zealand economy growing so strongly it is hard ot avoid the feeling of beggar thy neighbour about this.

A decline in the exchange rate is needed.

The inflation argument is not so strong even for those who believe that 2% is better than 0%. Added to house prices we see this.

Annual inflation is expected to rise from the December quarter,

One area that is awkward for the central bank is this.

 On an annual basis, the net inflow of working-age migrants rose to a new peak of around 60,000 in September

Of course establishment s everywhere tell us how fantastic this will be for economic growth which makes the rate cut even odder. But we see that it will have ch-ch-changes on New Zealand that elsewhere have contributed to not quite the nirvana promised. It is hard as a Londoner not to have a wry smile at this because both socially and in business you meet so many Kiwis some who are here for a while and some end up staying. It is however of course an urban myth that they all live in one camper van in Kensington! But if the mainstream media finally gets something right in 2016 New Zealand may be about to see a flow of American immigration as well.

The RBNZ does not give us GDP per head which would be interesting to see. We do however get something that as far as I know is unique in the central banking world.

We assume that over the medium term the price of whole milk powder will tend towards USD 3,000 per tonne, and that the Dubai oil price will continue to gradually increase to around USD 60 per barrel.

Firstly you get the wholesale milk price as you note it is provided before the crude oil price!

A Challenge to the central bankers

The RBNZ kindly gave us the central bankers view of what happens next.

Policy rates are at record lows across
most advanced economies and are expected to remain stimulatory over coming years. In 2016, quantitative easing by central banks has been at its highest level since the global financial crisis. The degree of unconventional monetary policy is unlikely to increase further.

Of course Forward Guidance from central bankers has been anything but that! Also whilst they may well continue to reduce official interest-rates it looks to me as if there will be trouble elsewhere. This is because inflation looks set to rise and its impact on real or inflation adjusted bond yields. There was an element of this in the rise in the US 30 year bond yield that I pointed out yesterday after Donald Trump was elected.

Putting it another way the chart of inflation expectations below is revealing. However take care as these things are very broad brush as in useful for trends but very inaccurate in my opinion.

That starts to make current bond yields look a bit thin doesn’t it?

Comment

Today I have been looking at two opposite forces as the central banking army continues its advance but faces more potential guerilla style opposition. We do not yet know how much inflation will pick-up overall but we do know that unless the oil price falls heavily it will do so. We also know that in some areas we are seeing hints of commodity prices rising again as for example Dr.Copper has been on the move. in response bond yields are rising today and as summer has moved into autumn we have been seeing this overall. For example the ten-year bund yield in Germany is now 0.28% as I type this. This is simultaneously giddy heights compared to recently as well as still very low!

So a clash is coming as I believe that central banks such as the ECB are happy for yields to rise now so they can act again later and claim success. The problem is two-fold. If it is so good why do we always need more and secondly how does this work with rising inflation trends?

 

What are the economic consequences of a Donald Trump victory?

This morning has seen an event which some will describe as a victory for anti-establishment hopes and others as the end of the world as we know it. The victory of Donald Trump adds to the UK vote to leave the European Union as events which only just before they happened were supposedly not far off unpossible. As an ex options trader my first thought is that the media and dare I say/write it experts understanding of probability has had a simply shocking 2016. One of the things I learned back in the day was that when you make investments you need to wipe you own wishes,wants and likes from you mind science fiction style and maximise objectivity. Also the era of “big data” is not going so well is it?

This has some economic consequences in itself as much of the media has damaged itself in 2016 by being so consistently wrong. How that combines with an age where we consume so much more news is not crystal clear but I expect the main organisations to lose viewers and readers and for newer forms to emerge. There will be one minor relief which is that the one track mind exhibited by the Financial Times this summer and autumn will be replaced by choosing whether to blame Brexit or Trump!

Let me also throw in an issue for the banking and financial centre. After all we have been told that the victory of New York as a banking centre or rather the banking centre was nailed on by the UK EU leave vote. Yet @madamebutcher points out this.

Suddenly, all the American bankers want to stay in London.

We could perhaps do an exchange where our bankers go there and theirs come here. This would mean that everyone would be simultaneously wrong and right!

Economic policy

Has there been an election campaign where there was so little emphasis on the economics? The one main hint along the way as we have discussed on here was that both candidates were likely to have some form of fiscal stimulus. However there were elements of other policies which will affect the economics of which the main one was the protectionist rhetoric and promises of Donald Trump. From the FT.

Mr Trump has campaigned on his pledge to build a wall on the Mexican border, called for a ban on Muslim immigration and the deportation of 11m unauthorised immigrants.

There was also this.

Mr Trump has opposed the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership deal and called for fundamental changes to the Nafta pact with Mexico and Canada……He has also threatened to impose punitive 45 per cent tariffs on goods from China, stoking fears of a trade war.

And this.

Mr Trump has promised the biggest tax revolution since Ronald Reagan, pledging to cut taxes across the board. He says no American business would pay more than 15 per cent of their profits in tax, compared with a current maximum of 35 per cent. The top rate of tax would fall from 39.6 per cent as the Republican reduces the number of tax brackets.

So there was in fact a fair bit but it was covered by a smokescreen on other issues including the obvious personality clash. It was there but often a secondary element rather than primary. There was no “It’s the economy, stupid!” like the original Bill Clinton campaign.

Fiscal Policy

There was already an element of fiscal expansionism in the tax cutting plans highlighted above. For younger readers this is very similar to what Ronald Reagan promised and did as President and back then it went well. Advocates of Arther Laffer were pleased to see the economy strengthen and as it did so tax revenues do well too. Of course that was then and now is a post credit crunch world where many old relationships have broken, but it did look to have worked back then.

On the spending front there was this clear hint.

We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none, and we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.

That is very reminiscent of the “New Deal” of F.D Roosevelt from back in the day or at least it feels like it. Of course we should apply some sort of filter to an acceptance speech likely to be given at a time of a combination of high emotion and much tiredness but some of that will need to be done now I think. It was also backed up by this.

I will harness the creative talents of our people and we will call upon the best and brightest to leverage their tremendous talent for the benefit of all. It is going to happen. We have a great economic plan. We will double our growth and have the strongest economy anywhere in the world.

We have quite an odd combination of free market promises on taxes and apparent central planning on infrastructure spending. There has been a clear market adjustment to this which is that the 30 year ( long bond) yield has risen by 0.12% to 2.75%.

What about monetary policy?

The US Federal Reserve has been on the wires and media outlets in the last week yet again promising us an interest-rate rise in December. If we apply logic then the apparent fiscal expansionism expressed by President-Elect Trump should make that even more likely. However there is in reality doubt on two fronts now. As fans of the economic effect of bond yields then a persistent rise ( remember this one is not even a day old) in the 30 year yield will make them less likely to rise. Next central bankers love to use uncertainty as an excuse and 2016 has provided quite a lot of that.

So whilst an interest-rate rise in December should be more likely I suspect it has become less likely now.

Other central banks

The Bank of Japan has been on the wires because the Yen has strengthened to 103 versus the US Dollar and the Nikkei dropped over 900 points to 16,251. But apart from it promising “bold action” for about the 1000th time it is quiet. However I suspect one thing will change which is the constant uses of Brexit as a scapegoat will mostly be replaced by the election of Donald Trump.

Comment

You may be wondering why I have not referred to financial markets more and that is simply because many of them have calmed down apart from those I have mentioned. There is of course one other. The Mexican Peso has fallen some 10% and at times more today as we wonder how much a wall can cost? I have a Mexican neighbour and wonder what to say to her?

Meanwhile fiscal expansionism may well lead to a change in US Federal Reserve policy. I have wondered in the past if future interest-rate increases could be combined with (even) more QE so are we now singing along to Sweet.

Does anybody know the way, did we hear someone say
(We just haven’t got a clue what to do)
Does anybody know the way, there’s got to be a way
To Blockbuster

Should you be feeling down today it could be worse as Newsweek has proven.

What will the US Federal Reserve do next?

One of the regular themes of this blog has been uncertainty about the state of the US economy post credit crunch. We have many metrics which record an improvement and yet this recovery somehow seems to be not quite like ones in the past. This is perhaps best highlighted by the data from the labor ( as they spell it) market. If we look at the headline then the situation if we use old style thinking looks rather good.

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 255,000 in July, and the unemployment rate was
unchanged at 4.9 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.

So as we approach concepts of the natural rate of unemployment and what some considered to be full employment we see that the US economy is still creating jobs. However Ivory Tower economic models would have forecast a lot more than this.

Over the year, average hourly earnings have risen by 2.6 percent.

In yet another twist they would not be predicting that real wages would be rising nor that consumer inflation would see a dip.

The all items index rose 0.8 percent for the 12 months ending July, a smaller increase than the 1.0 percent rise for the 12 months ending June.

But perhaps the biggest challenge for those in their Ivory Towers has been this.

Both the labor force participation rate, at 62.8 percent, and the employment-population ratio, at 59.7 percent, changed little in July.

The labor force participation rate was more like 66% to 67% before the credit crunch  and this matters as falls in it flatter the unemployment numbers.In round number terms we would expect the US labor force to be around 168 million rather than the current 159 million for the level of population. There are demographic issues like an increased number of retirements as the baby boomer generation age but it is also likely that some have become what is called “discouraged”.

Open Mouth Operations

We have seen plenty of these from the US Federal Reserve in 2016 and the opening salvo came from John Williams of the San Francisco Fed on January 4th. From Reuters.

For 2016, “I think something in that three to five rate hike range makes sense at least at this time,” Williams said in an interview on CNBC.

Since then he has suggested 2-3 and 2 and as I wrote on the 16th of this month now seems to be more of fan of higher inflation targets than higher interest-rates. So a bad 2016 for his credibility, especially as we note the number of interest-rate increase so far which is 0 and the approaching US election.

Yesterday the baton was picked up by Vice-Chair Stanley Fischer.

So we are close to our targets. Not only that, the behavior of employment has been remarkably resilient.

Let us look at the thinking behind it and as ever it focuses on the labor market.

Employment has increased impressively over the past six years since its low point in early 2010, and the unemployment rate has hovered near 5 percent since August of last year, close to most estimates of the full-employment rate of unemployment.

You may note that Stan still seems to think that concepts such as full employment are at play although even he cannot avoid mentioning this.

depending on what happens to labor force participation among other things.

The “missing” 9 million only get a sideways mention.

reflecting demographic factors such as the aging of the baby-boom generation

Actually in Stan’s world all the old Ivory Tower concepts seems to be at play.

the unemployment rate is currently close to most estimates of the natural rate

Indeed he follows John Williams by still apparently believing there is a natural rate of interest as well.

The decline in estimates of r*–the neutral interest rate that neither boosts nor slows the economy–which is related to the fear that we are facing a prolonged period of secular stagnation.

In a rather extraordinary addition footnote 10 adds this to our sum of knowledge.

For the record, I note (a) that looking ahead, I expect GDP growth to pick up in coming quarters, as investment recovers from a surprisingly weak patch and the drag from past dollar appreciation diminishes, and (b) that I am an optimist.

It is hard not to wonder if like the US Federal Reserve back then Stan was an optimist heading into the 2008 recession? But if we look at part a) then it looks for now as if he is getting some support from the data.

The GDPNow model forecast for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the third quarter of 2016 is 3.6 percent on August 16, up from 3.5 percent on August 12. ( Atlanta Fed )

Accordingly Stan may think job done in terms of Open Mouth Operations as he reads this in the Financial Times.

The Federal Reserve is close to meeting both its targets for the US economy, one of its leading policymakers said, as he delivered an upbeat verdict on the post-crisis recovery.

Inflation

Even a cursory look at the rhetoric on inflation provided by our Stan poses problems.

Although total PCE inflation was less than 1 percent over the 12 months ending in June,

Like Adam Posen used to do when he was at the Bank of England Stan has to pick and chose amongst sub-indices to claim we are close to target. Rather oddly he does not seem to simply point out that he thinks inflation will pick-up going forwards. After all he is supposed to be looking 18/24 months forwards.

Productivity

There is a problem here for Stan as his employment cheerleading meets the output or GDP (Gross Domestic Product) numbers.

Output growth has been much less impressive. Over the four quarters ending this spring, real GDP is now estimated to have increased only 1-1/4 percent.

So we are left noting this.

Output per hour increased only 1-1/4 percent per year on average from 2006 to 2015, compared with its long-run average of 2-1/2 percent from 1949 to 2005.

Indeed he goes further.

A 1-1/4 percentage point slowdown in productivity growth is a massive change, one that, if it were to persist, would have wide-ranging consequences for employment, wage growth, and economic policy more broadly. For example, the frustratingly slow pace of real wage gains seen during the recent expansion likely partly reflects the slow growth in productivity

Some might think that a nine-year period is a sign of something persisting as it is only a year short of being another lost decade. For that not to happen now there would have to be quite a change.

Most recently, business-sector productivity is reported to have declined for the past three quarters, its worst performance since 1979.

Comment

This week will increasingly focus on US Federal Reserve policy as we approach the annual Jackson Hole symposium where more than a few policy changes have been announced. We will see both sides of the debate jostling for attention but Vice-Chair Fischer has other problems in addition to the ones I have mentioned so far. For example why did our “optimist” not join Esther George in voting for an interest-rate rise at the last meeting? Also why does our “optimist” feel the need to mention this.

that the U.S. economy could find itself having to contend at some point with negative interest rates–something that the Fed has no plans to introduce;

Surely in his world of rising interest-rates this is of no concern at all. Let us leave him singing along with Eminem and Dido.

The morning rain clouds up my window and I can’t see at all
And even if I could it’ll all be gray, but your picture on my wall
It reminds me, that it’s not so bad, it’s not so bad

Bank of England Brainwashing

I was concerned to note that there was clear evidence of this yesterday as West Han United fans sang along with the Bank of England theme song so enthusiastically! 🙂

The Olympics

I am sad to see it end but there are dangers in bringing it into everything as Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times has illustrated today.

Obscure fact: Katarina Johnson-Thompson high jump of 5.98 in heptathlon would have won gold medal in individual women’s high jump

Actually she would have won the pole vault as well and would have saved on the pole! Even if we correct to 1.98 we have the problem that Thiam of Belgium also jumped it and is recorded as number one in the heptathlon high jump.