Greece GDP growth is accompanied by weakening trade and falling investment

Let us take the opportunity to be able to look at some better news from Greece which came from its statistics office yesterday.

The available seasonally adjusted data indicate that in the 3
rd quarter of 2018 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in volume terms increased by 1.0% in comparison with the 2
nd quarter of 2018, while in comparison with the 3 rd quarter of 2017, it increased by 2.2%.

So Greece has achieved the economic growth level promised for 2012 in the original “shock and awe” plan of the spring of 2010. Or to be more specific regained it as the 1.3% growth of the second quarter of 2017 saw the annual growth rate rise to 2.5% at the opening of this year before falling to 1.7%. So far in 2018 Greece has bucked the Euro trend but in a good way as quarterly economic growth has gone 0.5%,0.4% and now 1%.

If we continue with the upbeat view there was this on Monday from the Markit PMI business survey of the manufacturing sector.

Greek manufacturing firms signalled renewed growth
momentum in November, with the PMI rising to a six month high. The solid overall improvement in operating
conditions was driven by stronger expansions in output and
new orders. That said, foreign demand was not as robust,
with new export order growth easing to a 14-month low.
Manufacturers increased their staffing numbers further
in November, buoyed by stronger production growth and
domestic client demand.

So starting from a basic level there is growth and it is better than the average for the Euro area with a reading of 54 compared to 51.8. Also there is hopeful news for an especially troubled area.

In line with stronger client demand, manufacturing firms
expanded their workforce numbers at the fastest pace for
three months. Moreover, the rate of job creation was one of
the quickest since data collection began in 1999

Concerns

If we move to the detail of the national accounts we see that even this level of growth comes with concerns.

Exports of goods and services increased by 2.8% in comparison with the 2nd quarter of 2018. Exports of goods increased by 1.0% while exports of services increased by 3.8%.

This looks good at this point for what was called the “internal devaluation” method where the Greek economy would become more price competitive via lower real wages. But it got swamped by this.

Imports of goods and services increased by 7.5% in comparison with the 2nd quarter of 2018. Imports of goods increased by 8.3% while imports of services increased by 2.2%.

If we look deeper we see that the picture over the past year is the same. We start with a story of increasing export growth looking good but it then gets swamped by import growth.

Exports of goods and services increased by 7.6% in comparison with the 3rd quarter of 2017. Exports of goods increased by 7.9%, and exports of services increased by 8.0%…… Imports of goods and services increased by 15.0% in comparison with the 3 rd quarter of 2017. Imports of goods increased by 15.0%, and imports of services increased by 16.0%.

This is problematic on two counts and the first one is the simple fact that a fair bit of the Greek problem was a trade issue and now I fear that for all the rhetoric the same problem is back. Perhaps that is why we are hearing calls for reform again. Are those the same reforms we have been told have been happening. Also I note a lot of places saying Greek economic growth has been driven by exports which is misleading. This is because it is the trade figures which go in and they are a drag on GDP due to higher import growth. We can say that Greece has been both a good Euro area and world member as trade growth has been strong over the past year but it has weakened itself in so doing.

Investment

An economy that is turning around and striding forwards should have investment growth yet we see this.

Gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) decreased by 14.5% in comparison with the 2nd quarter of 2018.

Ouch! Time for the annual comparison.

Gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) decreased by 23.2% in comparison with the 3rd quarter of 2017.

Whilst those numbers are recessionary as a stand-alone they would be signals of a potential depression but for the fact Greece is still stuck in the middle of the current one. For comparison Bank of England Governor Mark Carney asserted that UK investment is 16% lower than it would have otherwise have been after the EU Leave vote so Greece is much worse than even that.

There are issues here around the level of public investment and the squeeze applied to it to hit the fiscal surplus targets. If this from National Bank of Greece in September is to turn out to be correct then it had better get a move on.

A back-loading of the public investment programme, along with positive confidence effects, should provide an additional boost to GDP growth in the H2:2018,

What did grow then?

Rather oddly the other sectoral breakdown we are provided with shows another fall.

Total final consumption expenditure decreased by 0.2% in comparison with the 2nd quarter of 2018.

But the gang banger in all of this is the inventories category which grew by 1321 million Euros or if you prefer accounts for 2.4% quarterly GDP growth on its own. This is not exactly auspicious looking forwards as you can imagine unless there is about to be a surge in demand. The only caveat is that we do not get a chain-linked seasonally adjusted number.

Comment

As you can see there is plenty of food for thought in the latest GDP numbers for Greece.On the surface they look good but the detail is weaker and in some cases looks simply dreadful. That is before we get to the impact of the wider Euro area slow down. The problem with all of this is that of we look back rather than the 2.1% economic growth promised for 2012 Greece saw economic growth plunge into minus territory peaking twice at an annual rate of 10.2%. Or the previous GDP peak of 60.4 billlion Euros of the spring of 2009 has been replaced by 48 billion in the autumn of 2018.

Meanwhile after the claimed triumphs and reform and of course extra cash the banks look woeful. So of course out comes the magic wand. From the Bank of Greece.

The proposed scheme envisages the transfer
of a significant part of non-performing exposures
(NPEs) along with part of the deferred
tax credits (DTCs), which are booked on bank
balance sheets, to a Special Purpose Vehicle
(SPV). value (net of loan loss provisions). The
amount of the deferred tax asset to be transferred
will match additional loss, so that the
valuations of these loans will approach market
prices. Subsequently, legislation will be
introduced enabling to transform the transferred
deferred tax credit into an irrevocable
claim of the SPV on the Greek State with a
predetermined repayment schedule (according
to the maturity of the transaction).

More socialisation of losses?

 

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A strong performance for UK GDP but can it last?

Something of a new era in UK Gross Domestic Product or GDP measurement begins as we get a quarterly number after already receiving GDP data for two out of the three months. So in essence we will find out if Meatloaf was right about this.

Now don’t be sad
‘Cause two out of three ain’t bad.

The good news is that the extra two weeks or so mean that more data can be collected and so the quarterly number should be more accurate and less prone to revision. The not so good news is that if we look at the monthly data there are issues which look clear.

The month-on-month growth rate was flat in August 2018. Growth rates in June and July 2018 were both revised up by 0.1 percentage points to 0.2% and 0.4%, respectively.

Does anybody really believe we actually went 0.2% followed by 0.4% and then 0% in monthly terms?

Later we will receive the latest National Institute for Economic and Social Research or NIESR estimate which will be for October so it will be a busy day on the GDP front! Here is where they previously think we stand.

Building on the official data, our monthly GDP Tracker suggests that the economy will expand by 0.7 per cent in the third quarter and by 0.5 per cent in the final quarter of this year. This amounts to a growth rate of 1.5 per cent in 2018 as a whole.  The biggest surprise was from the production sector and, in particular,manufacturing output which expanded by 0.8 per cent. This strength was across the board and the outturn was above our forecast for the same period, partly because of changes to the back data.

If I was to post a challenge to that it would be concerning the rosy scenario for manufacturing when we know that the car/automotive sector has been and continues to struggle. It in my opinion is being hit by the diesel scandal and past stimuli for the sector as if you run a high you have eventually to have a bit of a hangover.

Forecasts

Yesterday we received the forecasts from the European Commission and Pierre Moscovici. If you are in the “bad boys (girls)” club then your punishment is to have your annual growth rate forecast at 1.2% as that was what was provided for the UK and Italy, Frankly that looks optimistic on current trends for the latter. The numbers are rather tight though as the Euro average of 1.9% is pulled higher by some smaller economies. Actually even a little by Greece but care is needed here as Pierre and his predecessors have been forecasting economic growth of 2% per annum since 2012 and therefore through a severe economic depression.

Today’s data

As it is a rare event I do not want to miss the opportunity to praise the Bank of England forecasters who suggested this earlier this month.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) in volume terms was estimated to have increased by 0.6% between Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2018 and Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2018.

In one respect it was balanced.

All four sectors of output contributed positively to growth in Quarter 3 2018, with the largest contribution from the services industries at 0.3 percentage points.

If we look deeper we see this.

In the construction industry, output continued to recover following a weak start to 2018, which was in part impacted by the adverse weather. Output increased by 2.1% in Quarter 3 2018 – the fastest increase since Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2017………Output in the production sector rose by 0.8% in Quarter 3 2018, following a decline of 0.8% in Quarter 2 (Apr to June). While output increased across all four main production sectors, around half of total production growth in Quarter 3 was driven by manufacturing……….In the services industries, output growth eased to 0.4% in Quarter 3 2018, contributing 0.3 percentage points to growth in GDP. This is in line with average rates seen since the start of 2017, following the relatively strong growth of 0.6% in Quarter 2 2018.

There are various messages here which have several impacts. Let me start with construction where we are building some new housing.

Q3 compared with Q2 is a rise of £872 million, primarily driven by a £507 million rise in private housing, offsetting the £162 million fall in commercial output. ( h/t @NobleFrancis ).

Then car production to which we will return later.

Transport equipment rose by 2.3% in Quarter 3, reflecting both a bounce back from a 2.7% fall in the previous quarter and strength in UK car exports in Quarter 3.

For once services did not take up all the strain and in fact growth there faded a bit with the sector most in boom, computer programming only rising 4.4% on a year before in spite of a strong quarterly performance of 2.2%.

Rebalancing

It is hard to type that word without thinking of former Bank of England Governor Baron King of Lothbury. The word that is as in fact the reality was much more elusive. However he will be cheering this from the ermine sidelines.

Net trade made the largest positive contribution to GDP growth in Quarter 3 2018 (0.8 percentage points), driven by a 2.7% rise in exports, while imports were flat……….The export growth in Quarter 3 reflects an increase in both goods (4.4%) and services exports (0.8%), with goods exports to non-EU countries growing more robustly than to the EU.

More power to their elbow and it is welcome that this mostly comes from goods exports as we have some detail on them as opposed to services where the numbers are even more of guess. Some of this will fade as we are back to the automotive sector but any ray of sunshine here is good and it was confirmed by the trade data.

The total trade deficit (goods and services) narrowed £3.2 billion to £2.9 billion in the three months to September 2018, due mainly to an improving goods balance.

There was also a bit of hope for wages which would have been included on Baron King’s rebalancing theme if he was thinking ahead.

This was driven by solid growth of 1.3% in compensation of employees (CoE), which contributed 0.6 percentage points to overall growth of nominal GDP.

This section was not all roses as export led growth is usually assumed to come with rising investment but not this time.

The rises in government and private dwelling investment were partially offset by a 1.2% decrease in business investment in Quarter 3. This was the sharpest decline since Quarter 1 2016.

 

Comment

Today’s GDP release shows that the UK economy pretty much reflected the weather in the third quarter of 2018. Not as hot perhaps but pretty good and for once the trade figures boosted it. Compared to our peers it was an especially good quarter as downbeat production data from France and Germany suggested that the 0.2% GDP growth for the Euro area might be revised down to 0.1% as if we look further it was 0.16%. In terms of our debt and deficit metrics it was also a good quarter as we can add in inflation there to get this.

Growth in nominal gross domestic product (GDP) strengthened for the second consecutive quarter in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2018, rising by 1.1%.

However there was a building issue which we have observed previously as we return to the automotive sector as promised earlier.

Trade of motor vehicles decreased by 6.2% in September, contributing negative 0.11 percentage points to GDP growth.

This troubled area is likely to further drag on trade and GDP in the fourth quarter, We can bring in the UK’s slowing monetary growth theme as well here to suggest a weaker fourth quarter and if we add in the Euro area’s problems then maybe a much weaker fourth quarter.

The monthly GDP numbers chime in with this theme if we look at them.

Monthly growth was flat in August and September 2018, following a downwardly-revised 0.3% month-on-month growth in July.

Frankly things are not going well for the monthly numbers as they are much too volatile but they too even allowing for that suggest a slowing.

I will be releasing my first weekly podcast this afternoon after the NIESR release as there is a lot to look at their including for example please be nice to any luvvies you see today. I just saw one and missed the chance.

Motion pictures grew by 9.3% in September, making information and communication the biggest contributor to monthly growth. The rise in motion pictures was due to broad-based growth within the sector.

Podcast

Here is the link to my opening podcast.

 

What just happened to the GDP and economy of France?

Sometimes reality catches up with you quite quickly so this morning Mario Draghi may not want a copy of any French newspapers on holiday. This is because on the way to one of the shorter and maybe shortest policy meeting press conferences we were told this.

The latest economic indicators and survey results have stabilised and continue to point to ongoing solid and broad-based economic growth, in line with the June 2018 Eurosystem staff macroeconomic projections for the euro area.

As you can see below Mario did drift away from this at one point but then returned to it in the next sentence.

Some sluggishness in the first quarter is continuing in the second quarter. But I would say almost all indicators have now stabilised at levels that are above historical averages.

Then we got what in these times was perhaps the most bullish perspective of all.

Now, one positive development is the nominal wage performance where, you remember, we’ve seen a pickup in nominal wage growth across the eurozone. Until recently this pickup was mostly produced by wage drift, while now we are seeing that there is a component, which is the negotiated wage component, which is now – right now the main driver of the growth in nominal wages.

Most countries have a sustained pick up in wage growth as a sort of economic Holy Grail right now. So we were presented with a bright picture overall and as I pointed out yesterday Mario is the master of these events as he was even able to make a mistake about economic reforms by saying there had been some, realise he had just contradicted what is his core message and engage reverse  gear apparently unnoticed by the press corps.

France

This morning brought us to the economic growth news from France which we might have been expecting to be solid and broad-based and this is what we got.

In Q2 2018, GDP in volume terms* rose at the same pace as in Q1: +0.2%

Now that is not really solid especially if we recall it is supposed to be above historical averages so let us also investigate if it is broad-based?

Household consumption expenditure faltered slightly in Q1 2018 (−0.1% after +0.2%): consumption of goods declined again (−0.3% after −0.1%) and that of services slowed down sharply (+0.1% after +0.4%).

The latter slowdown is concerning as we note that estimates put the services sector at just under 79% of the French economy. We also might expect better consumption data as whilst it may be a bit early for Mario’s wages growth claims to be at play household disposable income rose by 2.7% in 2017. However such metrics seem to have dropped a fair bit so far this year as household purchasing power was estimated to have fallen by 0.6% in the opening quarter of this year. So if anything is broad-based here it is the warning about a slowdown we got a few months ago and not the newer more upbeat version.

Trade

This was a drag on growth but not in the way you might expect. The easy view would be that French car exports would have been affected by the trade wars developments. But whilst there nay be elements of that it was not exports which were the problem.

Imports recovered sharply in Q2 2018 (+1.7% after −0.3%) after the decrease observed in Q1. Exports also bounced back but to a lesser extent (+0.6% after −0.4%). All in all, foreign trade balance contributed negatively to GDP growth: −0.3 points after a neutral contribution in the previous quarter.

That is a bit like the UK in the first quarter and we await developments as even quarterly trade figures can be unreliable.

Production

Production in goods and services barely accelerated in Q2 2018 (+0.2% after +0.1%)………….Output in manufactured goods fell back again (−0.2% after −1.0%). Production in refinery stepped back (−9.9% after −1.6%) due to technical maintenance; production in electricity and gas dropped too (−1.7% after +1.9%). However, construction bounced back (+0.6% after −0.3%).

As you can see there is not a lot to cheer here as construction may just be correcting the weather effect in the first quarter. There was better news from investment though.

In Q2 2018, total GFCF recovered sharply (+0.7% after +0.1% in Q1 2018), especially because of the upsurge in corporate investment (+1.1% after +0.1%). It was mainly due to the upswing in manufactured goods (+1.2% after −1.1%)

As there was not much of a sign of a manufacturing upswing lets us hope that the optimism ends up being fulfilled as other wise we seem set to see more of this.

Conversely, changes in inventories drove GDP on (+0.3 points after 0.0 points).

The Outlook

We of course are now keen to know how the third quarter has started and what we can expect next? From the official survey published on Tuesday.

The balances of industrialists’ opinion on overall and
foreign demand in the last three months have dropped
again sharply in July – they had reached at the beginning of the year their highest level in seven years, before dropping back in the April survey. Business managers are also less optimistic about overall and foreign demand over the next three months;

If we look at the survey index level the number remains positive overall but the direction of travel is south, not as bad as the credit crunch impact but more like how the Euro area crisis impacted which is odd. Let us now switch to the services sector.

According to business managers surveyed in July
2018, the business climate remains stable in services.
The composite indicator which measures it has stood at
104 since May 2018, above its long-term average
(100).

Is stable the new contraction? Perhaps if we allow for the rail strikes in the second quarter but the direction of travel has again been south. If we step back and look at the overall survey which has a long record we see that it recorded a pick up early in 2013 which had some ebbs and flows but the trend was higher and now we are seeing the first turn and indeed sustained fall.

I cannot find anything from the Markit PMI business surveys on this today as presumably they are mulling how they seem now to be a lagging indicator as opposed to a leading one.

Comment

The rhetoric of only yesterday has faded quite a bit as we mull these numbers from France. It is the second biggest economy in the Euro area and the story that if we use a rowing metaphor it caught a crab at the beginning of the year now seems untrue. It may even have under performed the UK which is supposed to be on a troubled trajectory of its own. Under the new structure we do not have the official numbers for June in the UK. The surveys quoted above do not seem especially optimistic apart from the Markit ones which of course have been through this phase.

A more optimistic view comes from the monetary data which as I analysed on Wednesday has stopped getting worse and strengthened in terms of broad money and credit. Let me give a nod to the masterful way Mario Draghi presented the narrow money numbers.

The narrow monetary aggregate M1 remained the main contributor to broad money growth. ( It fell…)

So the outlook should be a little better and the year on course for the 1.3% suggested by the average number calculated today. But 0.7%,0.7% to 0.2%,0.2% is quite a lurch.

In other news let me congratulate France on being the football World Cup winners. Frankly they have quite a team there. But in the language world cup there is only one winner as Mario Draghi went to some pains to point out yesterday.

Let me clear: the only version that conveys the policy message is the English version. We conduct our Governing Council in English and agree on an English text, so that’s what we have to look at.

Or as someone amusingly replied to me Irish……

Can the Bank of England improve productivity?

This morning has brought a reminder of a challenge to the Bank of England,

Labour has said it will set the Bank of England a new 3 per cent target for productivity growth but refused to specify when this should be achieved. John McDonnell, shadow chancellor, will on Wednesday launch Labour’s final report on the UK’s financial system. ( Financial Times)

Reading this raised a wry smile as of course the reforms of Governor Carney reduced productivity by changing the output of the Monetary Policy Committee from 12 meetings a year to 8. But I think we all know they are likely to overlook that one.

Why?

The interim report was published in December and hammered out a familiar beat about UK productivity.

UK productivity has stagnated since the financial crisis of 2007/08. Real output per hour worked rose
just 1.4% between 2007 and 2016 . Within the G7, only Italy performed worse (-1.7%). Excluding the UK, the G7 countries have experienced a 7.5% productivity increase over this period, led by the US, Canada and Japan.

Also there is this.

In addition, the ‘productivity gap’ for the UK – the difference between output per hour in 2016 and
its pre-crisis trend – is minus 15.8%. The productivity gap for the G7 ex-UK countries is minus 8.8%.

I have been consistently dubious about “productivity gap” type analysis for several reasons. Firstly some economic activity and hence productivity before the credit crunch was just an illusion or a type of imagination. Otherwise we would not have had a credit crunch. Also the simple reality is that we have ups and downs not just ups.

Added to that is the problem of international comparisons. Let me illustrate that with some official data from the Office for National Statistics.

The UK’s long-running nominal productivity gap with the other six G7 economies was broadly unchanged in 2016: falling from 16.4% in 2015 to 16.3% in 2016 in output per hour worked terms.

Yet there are clearly problems with this as I note we are doing better than Japan which is a strong exporting nation.

On a current price gross domestic product (GDP) per hour worked basis, UK productivity in 2016 was: above that of Japan by 8.7%, with the gap narrowing from 10.0% in 2015

Also we have apparently done much better than Italy in the credit crunch era by getting worse relative to them!

lower than that of Italy by 10.5%, with the gap widening from 9.6% in 2015

Or if you prefer I think the comparison with France tells us the most if we recall that our economies are much more similar than we often like to admit and yet we are.

lower than that of France by 22.8%, with the gap widening from 22.2% in 2015

Thus we can only conclude that the numbers are not giving us the full picture. For example I think it is the UK’s success with employment that has to some extent worsened recorded productivity.

Also the Financial Times is in error on the data.

Productivity growth has never exceeded 3 per cent a year in Britain.

I think there is a clue in the phrase Industrial Revolution which challenges that! Or more recently there was over 6% in 1940 and 41 or 5% in 1968 in terms of total factor productivity according to FRED the database of the St.Louis Fed.

How would this happen?

A basic problem is identified which I agree with.

UK banks have helped to create a distorted economy. Lending is flowing into unproductive sectors.

This goes further.

As a central bank sitting at the heart of
the UK financial system, the Bank of England needs to be playing an active, leading role, ensuring banks
are helping UK companies to innovate. Flow of funds analysis shows that banks are diverting resources
away from industries vital to the future of this country.

Here I depart a little as I think that the Bank of England should set an environment to help banks change but it is not its role to centrally direct. I do agree with the last sentence as for example I have written many times about how the Funding for Lending Scheme pumped up UK mortgage lending rather than business lending.

One way this occurs is that banks have to put much more capital aside for business lending than they do for mortgage lending or unsecured lending. Also on the demand side for business lending there is a feature which my late father ( who was a small business owner) really,really,really,really ( h/t Carly Rae Jepson)  hated. Here is Dan Davies on Medium pointing out the reality here.

Because, historically, a very high proportion of business lending in the British market has been mortgage-lending-in-disguise. The business loan is usually secured, and usually additionally secured by a charge over the owner’s house.

He hints at some hope for the future but have I clearly pointed out yet that my father hated this feature with a passion? Changes though will need to be throughout the Bank of England infrastructure as the Bank Underground blog has in my view lost the plot as well.

Combining this with firm accounting data, we estimate that a £1 rise in the value of the homes of a firm’s directors leads the average firm in our sample to invest 3p more and increase their total wage bill by 3p.

Yes house prices raise both investment and wages. You might wonder with house prices soaring in recent years compared to almost any other metric it did not trouble anyone that investment and wages are not following it! But instead taking the numbers above with the ones below mean it is apparently a triumph.

This is because the homes of firm directors are worth £1.5 trillion………..Combined with the microeconometric evidence that firms invest 3p more for every £1 increase in the value of their director’s homes, this implies that nominal business investment would rise by around £4.5 billion (0.03*150); an increase of about 2.8%.  By a similar calculation, a 10% increase in real estate prices would increase the total nominal wages paid by firms by 0.8% due to the homes of firm directors.

Thus the answer to life the universe and everything is not 42 as one might reasonably argue especially on international towel day but it is at least according to all echelons of the Bank of England higher house prices. It is time for some PM Dawn to cool us down.

Reality used to be a friend of mine
Reality used to be a friend of mine
Maybe “Why?” is the question that’s on your mind
But reality used to be a friend of mine

Comment

There is a lot to consider here as there is a fair bit of nuance. You see there are areas which can be improved I think. Firstly there are the barriers to business lending around supply ( risk capital requirements) and demand ( having to pledge your home). Next there are changes caused ironically by the higher house prices the Bank of England is so keen on. From Dan Davies again.

we’ve got a generation of young adults coming through who neither own houses, nor have any realistic aspirations to do so. Residential housing as an asset has been more or less completely financialised, and now needs to be seen as part of the pension savings industry .

So the future for millennials is very different and as banks are unlikely to be accepting avocados on toast or otherwise as security this is on its way.

And if you have a generation of businesspeople who don’t own houses, and who therefore can’t be fit into the historic template of British small business lending, then you’ve got the impetus for a total reinvention of small business finance in the UK.

Thus the Bank of England does need to get in tune with Tracy Chapman.

Don’t you know
They’re talkin’ bout a revolution
It sounds like a whisper.

Can it under its present leadership? I very much doubt it but for all the hot air it produces there is an opportunity under the new Governor next year to really drive things forwards. After all he or she hopefully will not be connected to a policy like QE which via its support of zombie banks in particular has worsened productivity.

Meanwhile on a lighter note Financing Investment also suggests this.

Moving some Bank of England functions to Birmingham.

This would help justify HS2 to some extent. But I also recall this from Yes Prime Minister. Here is the Chief of the Defence Staff on relocation.

You can’t ask senior officers to live permanently in the North!  The wives would stand for it for one thing. Children’s schools. What about Harrods? What about Wimbledon? Ascot? Henley? The Army & Navy club? I mean civilisation generally, it is just not on…….Morale would plummet.

Mind you there was some hope

I suppose other ranks can be, junior officer perhaps

 

Smart Meters and HS2 pose problems for the concept of Investment

One of the sacred cows of economic theory is the concept of investment. The text books have it as what 1066 and all that would call a “Good Thing”. We see this repeated by the media and there are many cries for it to be increased because of the low-cost of it in terms of interest-rates and more importantly bond yields. From a UK perspective that is invariably an easy thing to say or write because we have a culture which leads to strong consumption levels and usually growth which tends to crowd out at least some investment. So as a starter let us look at what investment means.

An investment is an asset or item that is purchased with the hope that it will generate income or will appreciate in the future. In an economic sense, an investment is the purchase of goods that are not consumed today but are used in the future to create wealth. In finance, an investment is a monetary asset purchased with the idea that the asset will provide income in the future or will be sold at a higher price for a profit. ( Investopedia ).

In essence the major feature is that it is for the future rather than the now as opposed to consumption which is for now. In some ways it is similar to a catalyst in a chemical reaction which makes a change without being used itself. Of course if we move from the text books to the real world we see that nearly all types of investment do in the end run out via wear and tear or simply getting out of date. Even more problematic is the issue of time. What I mean by that is in its own the concept of deferral seems rather moral and good as well of course of being completely contrary to the zeitgeist of these times. But what if it takes so long to be developed that by the time it arrives it is already out of date? That issue does not apparently trouble the world’s statisticians who changed the GDP calculations a few years ago to include Research and Development as an investment regardless of whether it actually led to anything. A dangerous move in my view.

Smart Meters

These are devices for measuring your domestic energy consumption ( gas and electric ). These allow you to see what you are consuming in pretty much real-time and save you the trouble of reading your meter as they send readings to your supplier. So gains but very minor ones. You might believe from the constant stream of both TV and radio advertising that they help you to cut your bills along these lines.

#GAZNLECCY have been causing mayhem for too long. Get them under control with smart meters!

How exactly? There is a radio version which says they will help someone with their favourite dinner but never says how. Actually as we stand it is very misleading as whilst the meters are given for no individual cost they are in fact collectively added to people’s bills. So in the future the “cheaper” dinner will be more expensive!

According to the Financial Times the rollout is not going to well.

 

But as energy suppliers work towards a government target to offer every home in Britain a smart meter by 2020, people in the industry warn the £11bn infrastructure delivery programme is increasingly shrouded in complexity, while costs are mounting.

Not only is it more expensive it is not turning out as promised.

 

So far the devices fitted are first generation technology — known as “Smets1”. These are generally more expensive, less sophisticated and are considered less secure than the second version — Smets2 — which was intended to be the main model rolled out to the market…….Crucially there is a chance the older devices will go “dumb” if a customer chooses to switch energy provider, as the new utility company may not be able to access the data.

Against this there are two possible types of gain. The first is that once people see their energy use they will cut back on it, how they tell that from those who cut back due to higher prices I am not sure. The second impact comes from this described by the Guardian.

Over the longer term they will also allow consumers on smart tariffs to take advantage of off-peak deals – cut-price electricity at night, or when there is a plentiful supply because wind turbines are working at full capacity – at which point it is expected that everyone would run their washing machine.

As someone who lives in a block I could immediately see the problem in everyone’s washing machine coming on at 3 am! Hardly good for neighbourly relations especially as we all became more sleep deprived. But after the Grenfell fire disaster there is a much darker issue to face which the proponents of this technology have either overlooked or ignored.

HS2

This is the project for a High Speed railway to the North and the 2 refers to the fact that the line to the Channel Tunnel was 1st. That is not an auspicious comparison as Eurotunnel went bust and for a long time the trains actually crawled past my area on a back line in Battersea. It is in the news today.

The winners of £6.6bn worth of contracts to build the first phase of HS2 between London and Birmingham have been announced by the government.

In itself we see investment in infrastructure and in our future with even a green tinge as railway transport is greener than cars. But there are more than a few possible problems with this particular investment.

But critics say the £56bn project will damage the environment and is too expensive.

Actually more and more doubts are emerging over the final cost. From The Independent.

The HS2’s first phase between London and Birmingham will cost almost £48bn, according to expert analysis commissioned by the Department for Transport (DfT).

That highlights two problems. If we start with costs then if this report is accurate we will have the most expensive railway in the world at £1.25 billion per mile on the first bit from Euston to Old Oak Common. The next is that by 2026 if everything is on time we will only have a new railway to Birmingham which is way short of the “Northern Powerhouse” promises. Assuming that the bits to Leeds and Manchester are eventually built will it all be out of date by then?

Oh and we have an official denial which of course we know what to do with…

Mr Grayling told the BBC’s Today programme that the high-speed rail network will be “on time, on budget” and the government has “a clear idea of what it will cost”.

The whole concept will not be helped by the fact that Carillion is one of the contractors although it looks as though Carrillion will be happy.

Carillion, which last week issued a profit warning and announced the immediate departure of its chief executive, has won two “lots” within the central area. Its share price rose by 7.7% to 60.5p on Monday but it has fallen by more than 76% over the last 12 months.

Comment

The reason for the clamour for new investment plans has support from the price of it. Here we return to the subject of Friday which is the fact that interest-rates and bond yields are very low in historical terms. The UK has existing debt running into the mid 2060s and none of it yields more than 2% currently. Frankly we could look further than 50 years ahead and could follow Argentina, Ireland and Belgium in issuing 100 year debt. It would be likely that the cost would be low and we would pay maybe not even 2% on it.

Against such a low-cost many investments look affordable as it is a low hurdle to overcome. The problem is that if we look at the examples above we have two enormous projects that seem set to not only fail to clear the hurdle but injure the hurdler in the process. Meanwhile I am sure that plenty of smaller projects would bring genuine gains but less publicity. Is this another flaw of the QE era that the investment generated goes to the wrong places and areas?