Where does the events of last night leave the UK economy?

That was an extraordinary night as yet again much of the polling industry was completely wrong and the UK electorate turned up quite a few surprises. In fact it was not only the political world which spun on its axis because financial markets had cruised into this election as if asleep as I pointed out only on Wednesday. Against the US Dollar the UK Pound £ had been above US $1.29 for a while and had if anything nudged a little higher. Oh and Wednesday suddenly seems like a lifetime away doesn’t it as we sing along to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

Oh, I felt a rush like a rolling bolt of thunder
Spinning my head around and taking my body under
Oh, what a night (Do do do do do, do do do do)
Oh, what a night (Do do do do do, do do do do)

The Exchange Rate

It was not quite like the EU leave vote night which if you recall saw a sharp rally to US $1.50 before plunging as actual results began to come in. But the UK Pound did drop a couple of cents to US $1.275 in a flash. Since then it has drifted lower and is at US $1.27 as I type this. There was a similar move against the Euro as a bit above 1.15 found itself replaced with 1.135 as Sterling longs ended the night with singed fingers.

This means that UK monetary conditions have loosened again and should the fall in the Pound be sustained then we have just seen the equivalent of a 0.5% Bank Rate cut.

Government Bonds

In spite of the fact that there has been something of a shift in the UK political axis and hence potential changes in the economy and fiscal deficit this market has met such a reality with something of a yawn. The ten-year Gilt yield is currently 1.03% meaning there is zero political risk priced into the market there and if we look at what might happen over the next 2 years an annual return of 0.08% barely covers a toenail of it in my opinion!

What we are seeing her in my opinion is how central banks have neutralised bond markets as a signal of anything with their enormous purchases. In this instance it is the £435 billion of UK Gilt purchases by the Bank of England which seem to have left it becalmed in the face of not only higher political risk but also higher inflation.

FTSE 100

This too fell in response to the exit poll forecasting a hung parliament and quickly dropped around 70 points. However then things changed and a rally started and as I type this it is up nearly 50 points around 7500. Why the change? Well there has been an inverse relationship between the value of the Pound and the FTSE 100 for a while now due to the fact that many of the larger UK companies have operations overseas.

By contrast the UK FTSE 250 has fallen by 0.9% to 19,576 on the basis that it is much more focused on the domestic economy. Again though the moves are small compared to the political shift as we mull yet another implication of the expanded balance sheets of central banks. As I wrote only a few days ago are equity markets allowed to fall these days?

Today’s Data

Production

The numbers here start with some growth albeit not much of it.

In April 2017, total production was estimated to have increased by 0.2% compared with March 2017, due to rises of 2.9% in energy supply and 0.2% in manufacturing.

So better than last month, but once we go to the annual comparison we see a decline has replaced the rise.

Total production output for April 2017 compared with April 2016 decreased by 0.8%, with energy supply providing the largest downward contribution, decreasing by 7.4%.

Those who are familiar with the poor old weather taking the blame may have a wry smile at the fact that of a 0.75% fall some 0.74% was due to lower electricity and gas production presumably otherwise known as warmer weather.

Manufacturing

As you can see above this was up by 0.2% on a monthly basis but was in fact unchanged on a year ago with its index being at 104.5 in both April 2016 and 17. You could claim some growth if you go to a second decimal place but that is way to far into spurious accuracy territory for me.

As we look into the detail we see something familiar which is that the erratic and volatile path of the pharmaceutical industry has been in play one more time.

Within manufacturing, there were increases in 10 of the 13 sub-sectors, but this was offset by the weakness within the volatile pharmaceutical industry, which provided the largest downward contribution, decreasing by 12.2%, the weakest month-on-same month a year ago growth since February 2013.

It has yo-yo’d around for a while now albeit with a rising trend but we will have to wait until next month to see if that continues. However there is of course the issue of what the Markit PMI ( Purchasing Managers Index) told us.

The UK manufacturing PMI sprung back to a three
year high in April after a brief blip in March…….“The British manufacturing industry is moving at
such a pace that suppliers are struggling to keep up
with demand.

The “growth spurt” with a reading of 57.3 does not fit well with an annual flatlining does it?

Trade

Again there was a monthly improvement to be seen.

The UK’s total trade deficit (goods and services) narrowed by £1.8 billion between March and April 2017 to £2.1 billion…….Imports fell across most commodity groups between March and April 2017, the largest of which were mechanical machinery, oil and cars;

This was needed as March was particularly poor leading to bad quarterly data.

Between the 3 months to January 2017 and the 3 months to April 2017, the total trade deficit (goods and services) widened by £1.7 billion to £8.6 billion;

Thus the underlying theme here is of yet more deficits. Maybe not the “thousands of them” of the film Zulu but definitely in the hundreds.

An upgrade of the past

The first quarter saw a couple of minor upgrades as the data filtered through this morning.

The total trade in goods and services balance in Quarter 1 2017 has been revised up by £1.3 billion, to £9.3 billion.

They mean revised up to -£9.3 billion and also there was this.

there has been an upward revision of 0.9 percentage points to growth in total construction output – from 0.2% to 1.1%. The potential upward impact of this revision to the previously published gross domestic product (GDP) is 0.05 percentage points.

Comment

So many areas need a slice of humble pie this morning that a large one needs to be baked to avoid running out. As ever I will avoid individual politics and simply point out that there will be quite a lot of uncertainty ahead although of course if you recall that seemed to actually help Belgium’s economy when it had some 18 months or so of it.

As to the economy this is the difficult patch that I have feared where higher inflation impacts. As usual there is a lot of noise as for example the April manufacturing figure is very different to the Markit  business survey. Also we have the impact of warmer weather on production ( whatever the weather is it gets blamed for something) and more wild swings in the pharmaceutical sector which must represent a measurement issue. Meanwhile as I have pointed out before I have little faith in the official construction series but this rather stands out.

a fall in private housing new work

That fits with neither what we have been promised nor the construction business surveys.

 

With UK house prices falling and manufacturing booming are we rebalancing?

This morning has brought news which will send a chill down the spine of the Bank of England. This was from the Nationwide Building Society.

House prices show third consecutive monthly
decline for the first time since 2009.

Over the past three months house prices have gone -0.3% ( March), -0.4% ( April) and now -0.2% in May. For quite a few economic variables we look at the three monthly average to get an idea of trend and if we do that here we see that we can see which way the wind is currently blowing according to the Nationwide. If we look further back we see this.

The annual rate of growth slowed to 2.1%, the weakest in almost four years.

That time scale takes us back to pretty much the time that the Bank of England stepped in to boost the housing market with its Funding for ( Mortgage ) Lending Scheme or FLS. It led to a decline in mortgage interest-rates which was pretty quickly of the order of 1% per annum and according to the Bank of England itself reached a peak of 2%. Initially it was high equity to loan mortgages which benefited but this later spread to the lower equity value ones. This fed through into house prices as higher prices became more affordable due to lower mortgage rates. The house price rise over this period has been from £169,000 to just under £209,000 or around 24% which has allowed the Bank of England to claim that wealth effects have spread through the economy. Thus it will not be pleased to see that fading away and indeed showing signs of a reversal.

The other side of the argument is that much of this has been inflation as first time buyers face house price inflation and this is one I support strongly. In my world a fall in house price growth to around 2% is something to welcome and not to fear as it brings it pretty much into line with both economic growth and wage rises. Indeed I could go further and say that we need house price falls to bring things back into line. The argument for that goes as follows we see that house price growth was 24% but real wage growth according to official data was less than one tenth of that as the index has risen from 98.6 to 100.9. Let me give you two extra thoughts on that which is that the real wages number is in my opinion too high as the impact of higher house prices is excluded. But as an aside even on the favourable basis on which it is calculated to me what leaps off the page/screen is how little real wage growth we have had in what has been a good period for economic growth .

Regular readers will be aware that I have been expecting a house price slow down for a while as this from the 4th of January indicates.

What I mean by that is that the rise in house prices looks set to fade and be replaced by house price falls.

Take care

Just to say that the UK has several house price indices all of which give is different answers. The Nationwide should have actual trading prices but will be limited to Nationwide customers which tend to be more from the south. One thing it does offer is the timely nature of the data and this does fit with what we see from the less timely official series.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 4.1% in the year to March 2017 (down from 5.6% in the year to February 2017). This continues the general slowdown in the annual growth rate seen since mid-2016.

Looking ahead there was also this message sent to me by Dan Cookson.

The non-seasonally adjusted mortgage approvals data took quite a drop in April 

I wonder if there has been something of an Easter effect like we saw in the retail sales data? We will know more next month.

Nine Elms

If there is somewhere which is the leader of the pack right now it looks rather like Nine Elms. That is both convenient as I live near to it and of course inconvenient as I consider the likely impact! For newer readers this is the scale of what is going on there. From Bloomberg.

Almost 20,000 homes are planned for the Nine Elms district, a regeneration site that extends from Lambeth Bridge in the north to Chelsea Bridge in the south.

I can tell you that it takes quite a while to pass it if you are on a Boris bike and actually due to the traffic scheme not a lot less by car. This led to quite a boom.

Prices for existing homes in Nine Elms, where most of the transactions took place, have risen by an average of 43 percent over the same period.

But now something of a bust.

Homes in SW8 postcode district had annual drop of 16% in March.

By some calculations there is a fair bit more to go or as Tube station announcements remind us “Mind the gap”.

Neal Hudson, founder of research firm Residential Analysts Ltd., said in a telephone interview, “Investors have dried up and the bulk of demand for London homes is now from owner-occupiers who can only afford” to pay 450 pounds per square foot.

The Nine Elms homes are priced between 750 pounds and 1,500 pounds a square foot, he said. The apartments are often sold with facilities including gyms, swimming pools and 24-hour concierge services.

Manufacturing

If we switch to a different part of the UK economy then we have just seen some good news. From Markit and its monthly business survey or PMI.

Manufacturing production and new orders both
expanded at above survey average rates.
Companies benefited most from the continued
strength of the domestic market. There was also a
solid increase in new export business as well.

This means that we can hope for a much better performance this quarter than last.

The strong PMI numbers suggest the
manufacturing sector has gained growth
momentum in the second quarter after the sluggish
start of the year.

If we look at the minutiae then the reading dipped from 57.3 in April to 56.7 in May but I doubt anyone believes the measure is that accurate. One intriguing reflection of this if we consider how strong UK employment has been is this.

These underlying dynamics are proving to be a real boon for the manufacturing labour market, with May seeing jobs
added at the fastest pace since mid-2014.

In ordinary times  we would expect to be seeing rises in wage growth and no doubt the Ivory Towers are on the case but the sad reality of the credit crunch era is that we have been singing along with Bob Marley.

I don’t wanna wait in vain.

Comment

As we have had a couple of months of house price falls and a rise in manufacturing then let me take you back to April 2002.

For the Monetary Policy Committee the
challenge is to keep inflation close to the target during a period in which a significant re-balancing of
the British economy will take place.

Sadly for the speaker it took another 15 years for us to have a hint of this and long after his role had ended. Still let me welcome even a flicker of a rebalancing of the UK economy but of course a genuine change would take years. The speaker for those of you who have not guessed was the then Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King who is now Baron King of Lothbury.

Meanwhile at the Bank of England.

Staff at the Bank of England will begin voting on Thursday on whether to hold a strike this year in protest at below-inflation pay rises, union sources told Reuters.

If only there was an organisation which could help by keeping inflation low……

Sgt Peppers

Fifty years ago this album ( for younger readers music back then came on a piece of circular plastic which had to be put in a protective sleeve which led to some extraordinary and now famous artwork) was released by the Beatles and in my opinion deserves a doff of the cap. Plenty of great songs but my favourite is A Day In The Life.

 

 

 

The Bank of England is in a mess of its own making

Today is what is called Super Thursday at the Bank of England although if the brief history is any guide it rarely lives up to the moniker! Actually it is a bit like its Governor Mark Carney whose stewardship has been much more hype than substance.  Indeed only recently we saw that demonstrated by the Charlotte Hogg episode where someone was promoted to the Monetary Policy Committee ( MPC) who when quizzed by Parliament was ignorant of many of the details. In fact as the Deputy Governor for Markets she would have been in charge of the £445 billion QE portfolio a subject about which she knew so little the Treasury Select Committee suggested she spoke to the Debt Management Office ( so she could learn something…). Yet according to Bloomberg the official Bank of England view is from an alternative universe.

Her departure “came at a critical time and represented a material loss to the management of the bank,” the BOE’s Court of Directors said,

Indeed her sacking for breaking rules that she had set is apparently “entirely disproportionate”. The rules presumably were for the little people and proles not for the daughters of baroness’s and earls it would seem. In the same way that whistleblowing rules seem not to apply to Jes Staley of Barclays. By the way this is the banking sector which we are so often told is completely reformed.

Women Overboard

The Carney era has come with protestations of more diversity and at first it seemed like that as more women were appointed. But the more hype than substance theme has appeared in 2017 as they seem to be leaving to go elsewhere. The two women who were on the MPC have either left or are going. Ironically the planned replacement Charlotte Hogg lasted not much longer than a May Fly. Then on April 20th the Financial Times reported this.

Jenny Scott, the executive director for communications at the BoE, is leaving to “pursue new opportunities, including those in the third sector”, according to an internal memo sent to Bank staff on Wednesday.

This is so reminiscent of the Yes Prime Minister episode on equal opportunities where the woman concerned says this about the situation.

I find it  comic, but then it is ( the civil service) run by men after all…. most of the work here needs only about 2 O’Levels anyway.

It is also quite a change of tack from the Financial Times from its previous gushing reviews of what it called a “rock star” central banker.

The “Early Wire” Problem

One of Governor Carney’s reforms was that the MPC now votes the day before the announcement. So that at 12 pm today we will be told the results of yesterday’s vote. The danger is of it leaking and makes one wonder about this from the Financial Times.

Two MPC members thought to have voted for increase at latest meeting

That may or may not be right but before the event there are clear fears they may now especially at a time of warnings like this from the Royal Statistical Society.

One of our key requests in this regard is for the government to end the practice of pre-release access to official statistics, whereby ministers and their officials have access to official statistics before they are released to the public.

Forward Guidance

This has of course turned out to be a anything but as it quickly became something of an oxymoron. There were plenty of ch-ch-changes in it as reality proved regularly inconvenient but they were quickly dwarfed by promises of interest-rate rises suddenly metamorphosing into a Bank Rate cut last August. Down was indeed the new up.

Next there was the issue of the post EU leave vote forecasts which were completely wrong which was especially material when the Bank of England cut Bank Rate and added both an extra £60 billion of ordinary QE and £10 billion of Corporate Bond purchases in response to a slow down which never happened! It has responded with a PR campaign to say that its move averted a slow down which would have been a new experience for the UK economy as monetary policy moves have always been considered to fully impact some 18 months or so after the change. Even worse for the spinners at the Bank of England the ECB has offered the view that the lags are now in fact longer than in the past.

The economic outlook

The outlook for inflation has been a problem for the credibility of the Bank of England ever since it cut Bank Rate last August as it did so in spite of expectations of it going above target. It ignored the impact of a weaker Pound £ and ploughed ahead anyway and already we see that consumer inflation is above target and set to go higher. In terms of how much higher both we and the Bank of England have got lucky with the recent dip in oil prices and the stronger trajectory for the Pound £. That was symbolised for me yesterday as I passed a garage in Vauxhall selling a litre of both diesel and petrol for 115.2p. That one is always at the cheaper end of the spectrum but fuel prices at the pump have dipped.

If we move to the prospects for GDP then we are now in the phase which I thought was going to be the difficult bit which was when inflation impacted on real wages. Today’s output and trade data have been in line with that as they were weak. You can excuse the production data as it was affected by mild weather and consequent low electricity output which was 80% of the March fall but manufacturing and trade were both poor.

The overall trade deficit (goods and services) widened both in Quarter 1 2017 and in the month of March, primarily driven by an increase in imports of oil, chemicals, mechanical machinery and motor vehicles. The total trade deficit in Quarter 1 2017 widened by £5.7 billion to £10.5 billion………The monthly fall of 0.6% in manufacturing was broad-based across 8 of the 13 sub-sectors.

Comment

The Bank of England finds itself in a very awkward position for an activist central bank. The Governor has the obvious problem that he told us that the “lower bound” for Bank Rate was 0.5% and then cut it to 0.25%! Should we see a phase of sustained economic weakness then presumably he would vote to cut again ignoring the fact that at such levels the economic gains are in my opinion offset by the losses such as the rise in unsecured credit. Which brings me to my next point if we are going to have a crony culture at the Bank of England why do we need the other 8 MPC members? Any dissent is so rare and has never been policy changing under Mark Carney’s tenure. Indeed Kristin Forbes waited  until after announcing her departure to actually vote for an interest-rate rise confirming the theme of members getting hawkish on the way out. Perhaps the most extreme case of that was the uber dove David Miles who suddenly claimed he was on the edge of voting for  rate rise.

Today is likely to see at least one vote for a Bank Rate rise but does anybody reading this really feel there is any stomach on the MPC for one? The last sequence of votes for a rise faded and ended up in a cut. Also do they still know where the switch is?

 

 

 

UK economic growth is showing some signs of slowing

We advance on quite a bit of UK economic data today and in a link to yesterday’s article there is news to make  Gertjan Vlieghe of the Bank of England even more gloomy. It comes from the housing market.

House prices in the three months to March were 0.1% higher than in the previous quarter; the lowest quarterly rate of change since October 2016. The annual rate of growth fell further; to 3.8% from February’s 5.1%, the lowest rate since May 2013. ( Halifax).

The date given is significant as it is just before the Bank of England launched its initiative to ramp house prices called the Funding for Lending Scheme. Officially this was supposed to boost business lending whereas the reality was that mortgage rates fell quite quickly by over 1% and the total drop was around 2% according to the Bank of England. The UK house market responded in it usual manner to such stimulus. If we stay with the Bank of England it will no doubt be disappointed that its latest banking and house price subsidy scheme called the Term Funding Scheme has not worked in spite of the £55 billion provided.

By contrast I welcome this news which is being reported by more than one source and regular readers will be aware I was expecting it. Even the Halifax itself briefly joins in.

A lengthy period of rapid house price growth has made it increasingly difficult for many to purchase a home as income growth has failed to keep up, which appears to have curbed housing demand.

An extraordinary example of this is given from the London borough of Haringey when houses have “earnt” much faster than their owners salaries/wages.

House prices in the borough increased by an average of £139,803 over the last two years, exceeding average take-home earnings in the area of £48,353 over the same period – a difference of £91,450, equivalent to £3,810 per month.

What could go wrong?

February was not a good month for the UK economy

This morning’s data releases show that we were not at our best this February.

In February 2017, total production decreased by 0.7% compared with January 2017 with falls in all four main sectors, with electricity and gas providing the largest downward contribution, decreasing by 3.4%.

It is with a wry smile that I note that like the poor numbers for Spain also released this morning a familiar scapegoat takes the rap.

The monthly decrease in electricity and gas was largely due to falls in both electricity generation and in the supply and distribution of gas and gaseous fuels; this was largely attributable to the temperature in February 2017 being 1.6 degrees Celsius warmer than average.

Manufacturing output also fell by 0.1% as the Pharmaceutical industry continued its erratic pattern and drove the numbers yet again.

The deficit on trade in goods and services widened to £3.7 billion in February 2017 from a revised deficit of £3.0 billion in January 2017, predominantly due to an increase in imports of erratic goods;

This was added to by this.

The largest revision was to exports, with a downward revision of £1.3 billion in January 2017. This was mainly due to a revision to the exports of erratic commodities (down by £1.0 billion).

Some of the problem is the ongoing issue of how the UK’s gold trade is measured. Frankly the efforts are not going so well. Better news came from this revision as we see that we both exported and imported more.

Since the last UK trade release, there have been upward revisions across both exports and imports of trade in services throughout the 4 quarters of 2016.

Whilst I continue to have little confidence in the numbers the official construction series had a weak month as well.

output fell by 1.7% in February 2017 in comparison to January 2017……infrastructure provided one of the main downward pressures on output in February, decreasing by 7.3%.

Taking some perspective

Underneath this some of the recent trends remain good. For example if we look at manufacturing.

In the 3 months to February 2017, manufacturing increased by 2.1% (unchanged from the 3 months to January 2017), continuing its strongest growth since May 2010……. ( and on a year ago) manufacturing providing the largest contribution, increasing by 3.3%.

This has been driven by a combination of the transport industry, textiles, machinery and computer equipment.

Within this sub-sector, the manufacture of motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers rose by 14.4% compared with February 2016.

This drove production higher so that it is 2.8% higher than a year ago although North Sea Oil & Gas pulled it lower.

If we move to the trade picture and look for some perspective we see this.

In the 3 months to February 2017, the deficit on trade in goods and services narrowed to £8.5 billion, reflecting a higher increase in exports than imports, mainly due to increases in exports of machinery and transport equipment, oil and chemicals;

So the by now oh so familiar deficit! But a little lower than before. We should remember that we had a relatively good end to 2016.

The current account deficit improved in Quarter 4 2016, mainly due to an improved primary balance and an improved trade in goods position.

However we now wait for the March data as another weak month would be the first turn down in the UK economy for a while. Should we see that then we will be even further away from regaining the pre credit crunch position.

both production and manufacturing output have steadily risen but remain well below their level reached in the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008 by 6.7% and 3.0% respectively in the 3 months to February 2017.

Productivity

This of course is one of the problem areas of the post credit crunch world and whilst we have some the problem is far from solved.

Productivity – as measured by output per hour worked – increased by 0.4% in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2016, following growth of 0.2%, 0.3% and 0.3% in the 3 preceding quarters. As a result, labour productivity was around 1.2% higher in Quarter 4 2016 than in the same period a year earlier and grew consistently over 2016.

Household Debt

I think the chart not only speaks for itself but is rather eloquent.

 

Comment

We have seen the first series of weak numbers from the UK economy since the EU leave vote. Production fell in January and that has now been repeated in February as even manufacturing saw a dip. If we look back the services sector had a disappointing January so the expectations for the NIESR GDP estimate later are likely to cluster around 0.4%. Of course the Bank of England will be watching all of this and perhaps especially the weaker house price data.

As ever the numbers are erratic and we have only part of the picture. On the optimistic front the business confidence figures for all out main sectors showed growth in March. In fact the services data was strong.

March data pointed to a rebound in UK service sector growth, with business activity and incoming new work both rising at the strongest rates so far in 2017. Survey respondents also remained optimistic about the year-ahead business outlook,

Fingers crossed!

 

The UK economy continues to motor ahead or if you prefer is on drugs

Today sees us advance on some key data for the UK economy as we receive production, manufacturing and trade data. But before we even get to it there has been a warning from France which has already opened the day with something of a conundrum.

In January 2017, output decreased sharply again in the manufacturing industry (−1.0% as in the previous month).

Whereas the Markit PMI ( Purchasing Managers Index ) told us this.

 The index was down from January’s reading of 53.6

We were told that the french economy was doing well in January. From Reuters.

“The expansion was broad-based with marked increases in output evident in both the manufacturing and service sectors, driven by firm underlying client demand. In turn, this filtered through into the labor market.”

Markit has had trouble before with France ironically for producing numbers which were lower than official estimates. But this is another issue for a series which has proved to be disappointing in its accuracy in more recent times.

UK monetary policy

This remains extremely expansionary with the Bank of England adding to its holdings of UK Gilts ( government bonds ) and corporate bonds this week. Indeed at £434.2 billion the UK Gilts part of the QE (Quantitative Easing) program has only one day left but at £8 billion so far there is more corporate bond QE to come. If we add in the £43.9 billion of the Term Funding Scheme we get an idea of the total scale of Bank of England monetary policy in balance sheet terms and that is before we note a Bank Rate set at 0.25%.

The other factor at play is the lower level of the UK Pound £ which post the EU leave vote in the UK has provided an economic stimulus equivalent to a 2.75% cut in Bank Rate if we use the old Bank of England rule of thumb. It would have created quite a shock would it not if we had somehow had the same exchange rate as before but with a Bank Rate of -2.5%!

Today’s data

Production and Manufacturing

Unlike the numbers for the French I quoted above these start brightly for the UK.

In the 3 months to January 2017, total production was estimated to have increased by 1.9%, with manufacturing providing the largest contribution increasing by 2.1%, its strongest growth since May 2010.

However manufacturing output continues to see-saw each month along with the pharmaceutical industry.

In January 2017, total production decreased by 0.4% compared with December 2016 with manufacturing providing the largest downward contribution, decreasing by 0.9%…………The monthly decrease in manufacturing was largely due to a decrease in pharmaceuticals, falling by 13.5%,………. pharmaceuticals can be highly erratic, with significant monthly changes, often due to the delivery of large contracts.

I am glad to see that our official statisticians have caught up with the view that I have been expressing on here for the best part of a year now as this recent pattern began last spring. However if we look back over the past year there is some call for a smile for spring.

Total production output for January 2017 compared with January 2016, increased by 3.2%, supported by growth in all 4 main sectors, with manufacturing providing the largest contribution, increasing by 2.7%.

The pharmaceutical sector is up some 6.1% on a year ago which is good news. But of course that only regains some of the ground which we lost.

Since then, both production and manufacturing output have steadily risen but remain well below their level reached in the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008 by 6.7% and 3.3% respectively in the 3 months to January 2017.

What about trade?

This is an ongoing worry for the UK economy that stretches back for around 30 years or so. Actually I recall days when these numbers were considered very important and as a young man working in the City it was “all hands on deck” when they were released. These days they do not get much of a mention especially if they are better because the financial twitter community if I may call it that do quite a bit of cherry picking. But the “same as it ever was” theme continued in January.

The trade deficit in goods and services in January 2017 was £2.0 billion, unchanged from December 2016.

It is odd that such an erratic number is the same for two months in a row but let us take a deeper perspective.

Between the 3 months to October 2016 and the 3 months to January 2017, the total trade deficit (goods and services) narrowed by £4.7 billion to £6.4 billion.

We find some cheer here in the improvement so let us probe further.

At the commodity level, the main contributors to the narrowing of the total trade deficit in the 3 months to January 2017, were increased exports of non-monetary gold, oil, machinery and transport equipment (mainly electrical machinery, aircraft and cars) and chemicals.

So the chemicals numbers are consistent with the reported growth of the pharmaceutical industry which is a relief as they do not always coincide. Also increased production and thence exports of vehicles has helped.

The latest data shows that passenger motor vehicles were the UK’s second highest exported commodity behind mechanical machinery in 2016. The value of cars exported by the UK increased by 14.8% in the year to January 2017 with export growth stronger to non-EU countries (17.9%) compared with the EU (10.0%).

Indeed if you want something hopeful take a look at this.

However one of the problems with these statistics is that they are unreliable and frequently heavily revised. For the UK this is a particular issue as the numbers for the service sector are collected quarterly at best. However this time the revisions were cheerful ones.

The trade in services balance (exports less imports) has been revised upwards by £2.7 billion in Quarter 4 2016, to a trade surplus of £26.6 billion. This reflects an upwards revision of £1.7 billion to exports, and a downwards revision of £1.0 billion to imports.

So a nudge higher for UK GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth in the last quarter of 2017 although not enough to be especially material.

Another way of looking at this is to note how few countries we do so much of our trading with.

In 2016, nearly 50% of all UK exports of goods went to just 6 countries: the United States, Germany, France, Netherlands, Republic of Ireland and China. The United States are our biggest export partner, receiving 15.7% of all UK exported goods.

The UK’s largest import partner was Germany in 2016, supplying 14.8% of all goods imported to the UK. Similar to exports, over 50% of the UK’s imports of goods come from 6 countries: Germany, China, United States, Netherlands, France and Belgium.

Comment

This morning has seen some more relatively good news for the UK economy. The pattern for production and manufacturing has been relatively solid if erratic on a monthly basis and if we add in the noted improvement to services trade there is good news here. The worry ahead is of course the impact of inflation on the economy mostly via its impact on real wages. I note that according to the Bank of England’s latest survey the ordinary person is noticing it.

Asked to give the current rate of inflation, respondents gave a median answer of 2.7%, compared to 2.3% in November………. Median expectations of the rate of inflation over the coming year were 2.9%, compared with 2.8% in November.

They seem much more in touch with reality than the 2.4% for 2017 forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility on Wednesday.

For those who follow the UK construction sector the numbers are below, but take them with not just a pinch of salt and maybe the whole salt-cellar.

Construction output fell by 0.4% in January 2017, following consecutive rises in November and December 2016 (0.8% and 1.8% respectively).

The 0.0001% take the reins at the Bank of England

Yesterday was a rather extraordinary day in the life of the Bank of England which had a Back to the Future feel about it. The Bank of England has not had a person with a peerage at the helm since the period 1944-66 yet there was the equivalent of what is called in cricket ” a future England captain” in front of the Treasury Select Committee who is the daughter and hence I believe second in line to be whatever the daughter of both a Viscount and a Baroness becomes. This was of course Charlotte Hogg who was described by the Guardian thus.

Friends say the 42-year-old was destined for greatness from birth, but say she inherited a “stunning intellect” along with her establishment surname.

I am not sure I would want friends like that and the City slang for being well off or “minted” needs to be replaced with moated in this respect.

Charlotte Hogg grew up in a grade-II-listed moated country house where evenings were spent debating Thatcherite privatisations, economic policy and even European agriculture with whichever leading member of the cabinet had popped round for supper.

Twitter has its own way of covering such things.

Charlotte Hogg’s Family Tree needs to have a whole chapter to itself in Debrett’s… ( h/t @CoxeyLoxey )

If we move to what took place then one of my rules of thumb was in play. This goes as follows. If an establishment figure is reported as intelligent then the number of times that happens the more I subtract from their expected intelligence. In the way that Oliver Letwin went from a man with a “great brain” to one stuffing important papers in rubbish bins. I note therefore how often Charlotte is described as intelligent in the Guardian article.

QE

This section started badly when Charlotte was accused of misrepresenting changes in inequality as wealth inequality has risen since 2007. She was referred to the 2012 Bank of England paper on this and seemed vague about it. It got worse when Charlotte was quizzed on issues of how QE might ever be reversed which is supposed to be part of her remit as Deputy Governor for markets, her answer of “I do think that is quite a long way off in the future” got the reply that such an answer was not good enough.

There was a bit which was even worse and here it is.

Andrew Tyrie ” On balance do you think we would be better off unwinding it or letting it run off?”

Charlotte Hogg ” I don’t see the distinction between the two to be honest”

So apparently there is no difference between unwinding our holdings in  Gilts and letting them mature. So in the extreme case of the longest held by the Bank of England which matures in 2068 pretty much anybody can see the difference in unwinding it today and letting it run to 2068. Andrew Tyrie then suggested that the advice of the Debt Management Office or DMO might be sought presumably hoping that they would have a better grasp of the subject.

This was of course a tacit admittal that the Bank of England has no intention at all of unwinding any of it QE bond holdings which sat rather oddly with this statement from Miss Hogg.

Bank of England’s Hogg says is not alive and well at the . I think all MPC members agree on that. ( Andy Bruce of Reuters )

Also she does not appear to think that this from her written statement has anything to do with the prices and yields in the UK Gilt market.

Having been £85bn at the end of 2006, the total assets on the Bank’s balance sheet are now worth £519bn. The largest item is a £481bn loan to the Asset Purchase Facility – the vehicle through which gilt purchases, corporate bond purchases and TFS lending have been executed on behalf of the MPC.

If Charlotte actually believes what she says then I look forwards to her voting against any more QE which must be pointless as apparently Gilt prices and yields would be unaffected if it stopped.

Today’s data

This morning’s money supply data was another in a series which poses questions for Bank of England policy. The broad measure of the money supply rose by 7% and the lending measure by 5.6% so if we say the economy is growing at around 2% that leaves 5% unaccounted for which is likely to turn up in the inflation numbers sooner or later if UK economic history is any guide.

Also credit seems to be flowing if we look at the mortgage sector.

Lending secured on dwellings rose by £3.4 billion in January. Gross lending and repayments both increased and were above their recent averages .  Approvals of loans secured on dwellings for house purchase increased for the fourth consecutive month and, at 69,928, were the highest since February 2016.

It seems that the boom in unsecured credit is continuing.

The net flow of consumer credit was £1.4 billion in January . The twelve-month growth rate ticked down to 10.3%.

We are regularly told that the monetary policy easing and bank subsidy efforts like the Term funding Scheme are to get credit flowing to smaller businesses, so how is that going?

Loans to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) decreased by £0.2 billion.

Now there seems to be quite a contrast in the response of household borrowing especially of the unsecured kind and business lending does their not? The former has pushed higher since these policies began in the summer of 2013 and some of it has surged whereas the latter has mostly fallen. Or to put it another way only the latter will see the use of the word counterfactual.

The Bank of England has of course been claiming that it saved the UK economy with its August moves so we should be seeing a benefit in small business lending except the growth rate in the last 4 months has gone, -0.2%,0.1, -0.3%,-0.2%.

Comment

So far the UK economy has done pretty well after the EU leave vote which of course is awkward in itself for a Bank of England which predicted an immediate downturn. Of course it was even worse for the Forward Guidance of Governor Carney who predicted an interest-rate rise in such circumstances as recently as January 2016 and then cut them. However so far so good as the Manufacturing PMI business survey told us today.

The survey is signalling quarterly manufacturing output growth close to the 1.5% mark so far in the opening quarter which, if achieved, would be one of the best performances over the past seven years.

The rub in Shakesperian terms will come later in 2017 from this.

“On the price front, input costs and output charges are still rising at near survey record rates. However, the recent easing in both suggests that the impact of the weak sterling exchange rate on prices is starting to subside, providing welcome respite with regards to pipeline inflationary pressures.

But of course by easing the Bank of England made this worse and not better. The reason it did so is that it has a Governor who even those who support him are thinking he appoints people who are “Friends of Mark” which of course I have labelled for some time as “Carney’s Cronies”. The saddest part is that the welcome introduction of more women to the Bank of England has been affected by this as there are plenty of intelligent capable women around. The point of having nine members of the Monetary Policy Committee is to benefit from different views not have them ruled like the nine Nazgul in The Lord of the Rings.

 

 

 

Good news for the UK economy and GDP

Today we embark on a raft of UK economic data but before we even reach it the Financial Times has returned to the most familiar theme in UK economic life.

There is a very cool-looking apartment on sale across the street from Harrods in London. It has three bedrooms, beautiful high ceilings, striking contemporary art on the walls (not included in the sale) and a roomy kitchen done out in glossy white wood and chrome. It is not cheap at £7.25m, but it is an awful lot cheaper than it was last year.

The flat was first listed on March 1 2016 for £8.25m. In July, about three weeks after the EU referendum, its price was cut; then it was cut again in December. Today it is available for about 12 per cent — or a full £1m — less than the original asking price.

Actually that looks like a PR puff piece or indeed advertising dressed up as journalism. But we do move onto an area where the FT has caught up with us in here which is the fact that house prices have been seeing falls in central London.

A quick glance at the property website Zoopla reveals that reductions of 15 to 20 per cent for London homes priced above £1m are not uncommon. According to its research department, more than a third of homes on sale in Kensington and Chelsea have had their asking prices reduced by an average of 7.97 per cent.

The FT typically tries to blame Brexit but then finds someone who thinks it has provided a boost! That comes from this.

After the result was announced, and the pound fell to its lowest level against the dollar for 31 years, the spending power of those buyers with dollars in their pockets escalated wildly. Up about 11 per cent on the currency play alone.

Which means overall we see this.

However, once you factor in the decline in London house prices over the intervening six months, you are looking at some serious markdowns indeed. Knight Frank calculates an effective dollar discount of 22 per cent, between December 2015 and December 2016.

So there you have it the message from the Financial Times is to sing along with the band Middle of the Road about central London property.

Ooh-We, Chirpy, Chirpy, Cheep, Cheep
Chirpy, Chirpy, Cheep, Cheep, Chirp
Let’s go now

If we move on from what in some cases is the equivalent of specific property pimping there are issues here. One is simply the price as we mull if even if a one bedroom property is in Covent Garden it can be considered cheap. Also we need to compare the recent falls which estate agents emphasis with the previous rises which they do not. Next comes the issue that the flipside of a lower £ is that existing owners have lost money in their own currency. Also looking forwards the real issue for many is what you expect the UK Pound £ to do next as the future of course matters much more than the past in that regard.
There is much for me to mull on my next cycle ride into the City as once I pass Battersea Dogs Home then here I am.

Some units at Nine Elms, a new residential development in Battersea, are being marketed at about £1,300 per sq ft, after already being given sizeable reductions, according to Zoopla. For £1,300 per sq ft, you could buy a historic apartment overlooking the Duomo in Florence, or a glossy new-build apartment in Miami Beach.

Is that cheaply expensive or expensively cheap?

Boom Boom UK

It is nice to end the week with some really good news for the UK economy so let us get straight to it.

In December 2016, total production was estimated to have increased by 1.1% compared with November 2016; the only contribution to the increase came from manufacturing……manufacturing provided all the growth, increasing by 2.1%.

So an upwards push to production from manufacturing which did this.

The increase in total production was due to broad-based increases in manufacturing. Pharmaceuticals (which can be highly erratic) provided the largest contribution to the growth, increasing by 8.3%. Other large contributions to the increase came from basic metals and other manufacturing and repair not elsewhere classified, which increased by 4.5% and 3.7% respectively.

So in an, if I may put it this way Trumpton era we find that we are en vogue by boosting manufacturing? We need to dig a little deeper though as pharmaceuticals have had a good 2016 but via a volatile path.

in December 2016 compared with December 2015, total production output increased by 4.3%. All main sectors increased, with the largest contribution provided by manufacturing

They seem a little shy of telling us that manufacturing rose by 4% so let me help out. That was driven by pharmaceuticals being up by 19.1% which illustrates their volatility. This left us with positive numbers for 2016 for both production (1.2%) and manufacturing (0.7%).

If we continue with the good news theme then we have some hope of a further upwards revision to UK GDP for last year. This is the reply I received from our statisticians in what was an excellent service.

IOP and Construction combined have an impact of 0.04%. This is nearly all from IOP. ( @StatsKate )

For newer readers I have little or no faith in the official construction numbers which in the words of Taylor Swift have seen “trouble, trouble,trouble” but for completeness here they are.

Compared with December 2015, construction output increased by 0.6%, the main contribution to this growth came from new housing work.

Trade

Even these had a good news tinge to them this morning.

The UK’s deficit on trade in goods and services was £3.3 billion in December 2016, a narrowing of £0.3 billion, which is contributing to the narrowing in Quarter 4 2016.

So let us look further.

The UK trade deficit on goods and services narrowed to £8.6 billion in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2016, following a sharp widening of the deficit in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2016; this narrowing was predominantly due to an increase in exports of goods to non-EU countries.

Have UK industry and businesses got the new post EU leave vote vibe? I think that it is too pat a conclusion but we did see this.

there was a much higher quarter-on-quarter growth in exports to non-EU countries in Quarter 4 2016, following a fall in Quarter 3…….Exports of goods to non-EU countries rose by 17.3% to £43.8 billion between Quarter 3 2016 and Quarter 4 2016.

So some of it was a simple rebound.

Comment

Today has seen some rather good news for the UK economy as in spite of a drag from the continuing maintenance of the Buzzard oil field production was pushed higher by strong manufacturing data driven by the pharmaceutical industry. Added to this construction at least did not fall and on a quarterly basis the trade figures were better. So there is upwards pressure on the preliminary GDP report although we cannot say exactly how much yet.

There are two main clouds in our silver lining. These are simply  that we have yet another trade deficit in an extremely long series and some perspective on production.

Since then, both production and manufacturing output have steadily risen but remain well below their level reached in the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008 by 7.6% and 4.2% respectively.

A Bank of England for the 0.0000000000000000000001%

Yesterday saw the announcement that Charlotte Hogg was to be promoted to Deputy Governor and it raised this issue.

Dear Mark Carney does promoting a daughter of a Viscount and a Baroness come under the Bank of England Diversity banner?

It certainly comes under the minority banner as I am no expect on Debretts but do wonder if she is in to coin a phrase, a class of one? Oh and it appears that Kristin Forbes is singing along to “We gotta get out of this place” by Blue Oyster Cult.

So if you hint at an interest-rate rise your current lifespan at the Bank of England appears to be 48 hours!