As UK house price growth fades so has the economy

Today has opened with news that is in tune with my expectations for 2017. This is my view that house price growth will slow and that it may also go negative. Such an event would make a change in the UK’s inflation dynamics as that would mean that official consumer inflation would exceed asset or house price inflation and of course would send a chill down the spine of the Bank of England. Here is the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

The headline price growth gauge slipped from +7% to +1% (suggesting prices were unchanged over the period), representing the softest reading since early 2013.

The date will echo around the walls of the Bank of England as its house price push or Funding for Lending Scheme began in the summer of 2013. Also the immediate prospects look none too bright.

Looking ahead, near term price expectations continue to signal a flat trend over the coming three months at the headline level……..Going forward, respondents are not anticipating activity in the sales market to gain impetus at this point in time, with both three and twelve month expectations series virtually flat.

Actually flat lining on a national scale conceals that there are quite a few regional changes going on.

house prices remain quite firmly on an upward trend in some areas, led by Northern Ireland, the West Midlands and the South West. By way of contrast, prices continue to fall in London…….. the price balance for the South East of England fell further into negative territory, posting the weakest reading for this part of the country since 2011.

We see that price falls are spreading out from our leading indicator of London and wait to see how they ripple out. Northern Ireland is no doubt being influenced by the house price rises south of the border. A cautionary note is that this survey tends to be weighted towards higher house prices and hence London.

The Real Economy

Let us open with the good news which has come from this morning’s production figures.

In June 2017, total production was estimated to have increased by 0.5% compared with May 2017, due mainly to a rise of 4.1% in mining and quarrying as a result of higher oil and gas production.

It is hard not to have a wry smile at the fact that something that was supposed to be fading away has boosted the numbers! Of the 0.52% increase some 0.51% was due to it and as well as the impact of a lighter maintenance cycle there was some hopeful news.

In addition, use of the re-developed Schiehallion oil field and use of the new Kraken oil field are contributing to the increase in oil production. Both are expected to increase UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) production over the longer-term.

If we move to manufacturing then the position was flat as a pancake.

Manufacturing monthly growth was flat in June 2017.

However this concealed quite a shift in the detail as we already knew that there has been a slow down in car and vehicle production.

Transport equipment provided the largest downward contribution, falling by 3.6% due mainly to a 6.7% fall in the manufacture of motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers.

This was mostly offset by increases in the chemical products and pharmaceutical sectors with some seeing quite a boom.

Chemical products provided the largest upward pressure, rising by 6.9% due mainly to an increase of 31.2% within industrial gases, inorganics and fertilisers.

If step back we see that over the past year there has been some growth but frankly not much.

Total production output for June 2017 compared with June 2016 increased by 0.3%, with manufacturing providing the largest upward contribution, increasing by 0.6%

There is an irony here as a good thing suddenly gets presented as a bad one and of course as ever the weather gets some blame.

energy supply partially offset the increase in total production, decreasing by 4.6% due largely to warmer temperatures.

If we look at other data sources we can say this does not really fit with the Markit PMI business surveys which have shown more manufacturing growth. It may be that they have been sent offside by the fact that the slowing has mostly been in one sector ( vehicles). If the CBI is any guide then the main summer months should be stronger.

Manufacturing firms reported that both their total and export order books had strengthened to multi-decade highs in June, according to the CBI’s latest Industrial Trends Survey.

The overall perspective is that the picture of something of a lost decade has been in play.

Since then, both production and manufacturing output have risen but remain well below their level reached in the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (January to March) 2008, by 7.8% and 4.4% respectively in the 3 months to June 2017.

Trade

One of the apparent certainties of life is that the UK will post an overall trade deficit and the beat remains the same.

Between Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2017 and Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2017, the total trade deficit (goods and services) widened by £0.1 billion to £8.9 billion as increases in imports were closely matched by increases in exports.

So essentially the same as there is no way those numbers are accurate to £100 million. Even the UK establishment implicitly accept this.

The UK Statistics Authority suspended the National Statistics designation of UK trade on 14 November 2014.

If the problems were minor this would not be ongoing more than 2 years later would it? But if we go with what we have we see that as we stand the lower level for the UK Pound post the EU Leave vote has not made any significant impact.

In comparison with Quarter 1 and Quarter 2 of 2016, the total trade deficit over Quarter 1 and 2 of 2017 has been relatively stable.

This gets more fascinating when we note that prices and indeed inflation have certainly been on the move.

Sterling was 8.7% lower than a year ago, with UK goods export and import prices rising by 8.2% and 7.8% respectively over the period Quarter 2 2016 to Quarter 2 2017.

Construction

This is sadly yet another area where the numbers are “not a National Statistic” and I have written before that I lack confidence in them but for what it is worth they were disappointing.

Construction output fell both month-on-month and 3 month on 3 month, by 0.1% and 1.3% respectively.

This differs from the Markit PMI business survey which has shown growth.

Comment

We are finding that the summer of 2017 is rather a thin period for the UK economy. I do not mean the weaker trajectory for house prices because I feel that it is much more an example of inflation rather than the official view that it is economic growth. Yes existing owners do gain ( but mostly only if they sell) but first time buyers and those “trading up” lose.

Meanwhile our production sector is not far off static. So far the hoped for gains from a lower exchange rate have not arrived as we mull again J-Curve economics. Looking forwards there is some hope from the CBI survey for manufacturing in particular and maybe one day we can get it back to previous peaks. But we find ourselves yet again looking to a sector which appears to be on an inexorable march in terms of importance for the services sector dominates everything now and for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile there is plainly trouble at the UK Office for National Statistics as the rhetoric of data campuses meets a reality of two of today’s main data sets considered to be sub standard.

Me on Core Finance TV

http://www.corelondon.tv/bank-england-mpc-confusion/

http://www.corelondon.tv/bitcoin-will-5000-next-level/

http://www.corelondon.tv/ecb-hardcore-operators-inflation-targets/

 

 

 

 

 

Remember rebalancing? Is UK manufacturing really picking- up as housing cools?

Today has opened with a reminder of both  a major economic issue of 2017 for the UK and the theme that the UK is an inflation nation. From the BBC.

British Gas will increase electricity prices by 12.5% from 15 September, its owner Centrica has said, in a move that will affect 3.1 million customers.

However, the company’s gas prices will be held at their current level.

The average annual dual-fuel bill for a typical household on a standard tariff will rise by £76 to £1,120, up by 7.3%.

Unless you live in an all electric property it is the last number I guess which is the most relevant. However the reason is not what you might think according to Centrica.

Centrica chief executive Iain Conn told the BBC’s Today programme that wholesale costs had gone down and were not the reason for the price rise.

“We have seen our wholesale costs fall by about £36 on the typical bill since the beginning of 2014 and that is not the driver”

A fascinating viewpoint and he rammed home what were the real causes.

It is transmission and distribution of electricity to the home and government policy costs that are driving our price increase

We are back to the UK being an inflation nation theme as whilst out political class regularly promise energy cost price caps and the like they then sign us all up to policies often but not always green based which will cost us all more money as time passes. The headline feature in this regard was the promise of £92.50 per megawatt hour to EDF for electricity from the proposed Hinkley Point nuclear power station or around double current prices.

Perhaps that is why the Bank of England targets an inflation rate of 2% per annum and claims that is sound money as in fact there is a steady drip feed away from us. These days the impact of even such a rate of inflation is larger due to the weak level of wage rises.

Inflation trends

The good news on this front has been the rally in the UK Pound £ versus the US Dollar which passed US $1.32 yesterday. Of course the US Dollar is weak overall but the price we pay for commodities will be helped by this. Less hopeful has been the rise in the  price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil has risen above US $52 per barrel. Some other commodity prices have been rising too as the Reserve Bank of Australia reported earlier.

Using spot prices for the bulk commodities, the index increased by 7.4 per cent in July in SDR terms and remains 21.9 per cent higher over the past year.

These things are of course very volatile with The Australian reporting this earlier.

According to Platts’ The Steel Index, benchmark 62 per cent iron ore at Chinese ports rose $US4.10, or 6 per cent, to $US73.10 last night, the highest since early April and up from lows of $US53 hit in mid June.

So there are inflationary pressures around for the rest of this year.

Inflation measurement

This was released yesterday by the UK Office for Statistics Regulation ( OSR ).

On behalf of the Board of the Statistics Authority, I am pleased to confirm the re-designation of CPIH as a National Statistic.

I gave evidence to the OSR suggesting that they should not do so. In my opinion they have not demonstrated that they can estimate imputed rents and prices accurately. The situation below is apparently just fine.

 I acknowledge the efforts by ONS staff to provide reassurance around the quality of the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) private rents microdata, which are currently unavailable to ONS…………. ONS’s lack of assurance over these data in 2014 played a significant role in our decision to remove National Statistics status.

How can you reassure about data you do not know? Anyway the result was no surprise however  the ONS ( Office for National Statistics) will be damaged but what has been a tin eared propaganda campaign in favour of CPIH and I fear the OSR has shown that it looks and sounds good but in reality simply rubber stamps the establishment viewpoint. Even past fans and supporters  of CPIH such as the economics editor of the Financial Time Chris Giles seem to lack any real enthusiasm for it.

House prices

We got an estimate of what has been going on with Nationwide customers today.

The annual pace of house price growth remained broadly stable in July at 2.9%, only a touch lower than the 3.1% recorded in June.

There is an irony here as the effort to exclude house price rises from the inflation data applies just as it is pretty much the same as the official inflation measure. Also the market is looking rather becalmed.

Survey data point to relatively sluggish levels of new buyer enquiries, but at the same time surveyors report that relatively few properties are coming onto the market

UK Manufacturing

The news this morning was good on this front.

The rate of improvement in UK manufacturing operating conditions accelerated for the first time in three months at the start of the third quarter.

A factor in this was very welcome.

foreign demand rose at the second-strongest rate in the series history, beaten only by that recorded in April 2010. Companies reported improved inflows of new work from clients in North America, Europe, the AsiaPacific region and the Middle-East.

Are we finally seeing that bit of economic theory called the J-Curve applying after the fall in the value of the UK Pound? Perhaps we got that as well as a benefit from the recent higher Pound.

Cost pressures eased in July

This would be rare for the UK as movements in the currency invariably seem bad! Just to be clear these are movements over different periods of time where prices respond more quickly than business. Also there was a further improvement in the UK employment situation.

The ongoing upturns in output and new orders encouraged further job creation in July. Staffing levels rose for the twelfth straight month. The pace of expansion was among the best registered over the past three years.

Comment

Let us briefly bask in the glow of a UK manufacturing renaissance especially if we add in the CBI report of a week or two ago. We have even managed to nudge above the economic boom in France as our PMI ( Purchasing Manager’s Index) reading at 55.1 was slightly above its 54.9. Meanwhile house price growth has notably faded. Much more of this and the “rebalancing” of former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King will be on the menu again or if we add a dose of reality for the first time. Also 0.2 on this measure is simply spurious accuracy. Indeed if you note this piece of research from them the margins are much wider.

In fact, periods of sustained downturns, the extent to which takes the annual rate of growth of manufacturing output into negative territory, have only ever been recorded when the PMI surveys output index has fallen below 52.6 for more than one month.

So is 50 the threshold for growth or 52.6? Also there is the issue that on this measure the UK had manufacturing growth in the second quarter as opposed to this.

The latest ONS data meanwhile estimated that manufacturing output fell 0.5% in the second quarter.

So we are either booming or contracting? That makes the “on the one hand….on the other hand” of economists seem accurate! Here is the conclusion of the Markit analysis.

The relationship between the PMI and ONS data therefore suggest that the current weakness in the ONS data is merely another temporary downturn and that a resumption to growth will be seen in the third quarter, providing PMI data remain above 52.6 in August and September.

Let’s be upbeat and hope for that although the real message here is that all the numbers are unreliable. Indeed as is news from my old employer Deutsche Bank. From the Financial Times.

 

Landsec, the property company, said on Tuesday it had signed an agreement for Deutsche to take at least 469,000 square feet at 21 Moorfields, a site under construction in the City of London.

Only last week it was supposed to be flooding out of London. No doubt some will go to Frankfurt but how many?

 

 

 

UK GDP grinds higher thanks to services and the film industry

Today brings us up to date in terms of official data on the performance of the UK economy in the first half of 2017. Whilst expectations are low rather than stellar the last week or so has brought a little more optimistic tinge to things. This started with the retail sales numbers last week. From last Thursday.

In the 3 months to June 2017, the quantity bought (volume) in the retail industry is estimated to have increased by 1.5%, with increases seen across all store types…….Compared with May 2017, the quantity bought increased by 0.6%, with non-food stores providing the main contribution.

This contrasted with the fall of a similar amount seen in the first quarter of the year which meant that we got back to levels seen at the end of 2016 or around 2.6% higher than in the second quarter last year.

This was added to by better news on the tourism front albeit for only some of the latest quarter.

For the period March to May 2017, spend in the UK by overseas residents increased 14% on the previous year to £5.6 billion………During the period March to May 2017, there were 2% more visits abroad by UK residents compared with the corresponding period a year earlier, and they spent 1% more on these visits

So whilst there was still a considerable trade deficit it did shrink a bit compared to last year as we presumably see a beneficial impact of a lower exchange rate for the pound.

Manufacturing

Yesterday came news from the Confederation of British Industry that the manufacturing was in pretty good shape.

Production among UK manufacturers grew at the fastest pace since January 1995 in the three months to July, according to the latest quarterly CBI Industrial Trends Survey……….Output growth is expected to continue to grow strongly in the quarter ahead and manufacturers are upbeat about prospects for overall demand. Domestic orders are expected to continue growing strongly, while expectations for growth in export orders improved to a four-decade high

This was upbeat as you can see and came with positive expectations from all of employment, investment and exports. It also came with some better inflation news.

Meanwhile, input cost pressures cooled in the quarter to July and are expected to soften further in the near-term, while factory gate price inflation is also expected to be more subdued.

This poses a few questions as whilst this is to some extent consistent with the Markit PMI business survey although it was more subdued and had a fading in June. It is much less in line with the official data which has shown only a little growth up to May.

Mini

There was some good news on the production front here as well. From City-AM.

A fully-electric version of the Mini is to be built at BMW’s plant at Cowley, in Oxford, the car firm has announced.

Actually whilst good news it is more accurate to say that it will be assembled there. Also in the light of the announcement that sales of petrol and diesel cars will be banned from 2040 it was interesting to see that BMW is heading down that road to at least some extent.

By 2025, BMW expects electric vehicles to make up between 15 and 25 per cent of sales. It currently produces electric models at 10 plants worldwide.

Today’s GDP Data

Here we go.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated to have increased by 0.3% in Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2017.

So some but not a lot and it was driven by a very familiar sector.

The growth in Quarter 2 2017 was driven by services, which grew by 0.5% compared with 0.1% growth in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2017.

As I regularly point out this sector must be 80% of our economy by now as again and again it grows faster than the other sectors.

The services aggregate was the main driver to the growth in GDP, contributing 0.42 percentage points. Production and construction recorded falls in Quarter 2 2017 of 0.4% and 0.9% respectively, each contributing negative 0.06 percentage points to GDP.

This had an interesting corollary though.

Construction and manufacturing were the largest downward pulls on quarterly GDP growth, following 2 consecutive quarters of growth.

As I have noted above this is very different from the “Production among UK manufacturers grew at the fastest pace since January 1995 ” of the CBI and the growth recorded in the Markit business surveys. I note that Chris Williamson of the latter has been on the wires.

ONS say economy grew 0.3% in Q2, but & output fell 0.5% & 0.9% respectively. These likely to be revised higher.

Regular readers will be aware of my particular doubts about the official data on the UK’s construction sector although there was an interesting reply from the Mayor of West Yorkshire who said that elections always cause slow downs as people wait for the result.

The Film industry

There was good news on this front.

The second largest contributor was motion picture activities, which grew by 8.2% and contributed 0.07 percentage points to GDP growth….. Motion picture activities are a subset of the transport, storage and communications sector, which grew by 1.0%.

Actually only a couple of weeks or so ago Albert Bridge was closed for filming at the weekend and yesterday I noted filming taking place in Battersea Park. This is of course purely anecdotal but this sector has been mentioned in GDP despatches before in recent times. For more information we get referred to the BFI website which does not have the numbers until tomorrow but the ones for the first quarter were strong and perhaps provide a guide.

The total UK spend and budget of these films was £747 million and £983 million respectively, a substantial increase from UK spend of £231 million and total budget of £318 million in Q1 2017. UK spend, as a percentage of budget, was the highest since 2013, at 76%.

The only cloud in this silver lining is that we may have to start being more tolerant of some of the extraordinary statements made by luvvies, excuse me I mean economic miracle workers.

Comment

So the UK economy is grinding on in a slow way as we see the annual rate of growth fall to 1.7%. Also the news from looking at the data on a more personal level shows the minimum rate of growth possible.

GDP per head was estimated to have increased by 0.1% during Quarter 2 2017.

We also learn that the first quarter may not have been the type of statistical quirk we see regularly from the US but of course much more data will be needed for us to be sure of that.

On the more positive side this was always going to be the awkward period after the EU leave vote as higher inflation from the Pound’s fall causes not only lower real wage growth but actual falls.

Real earnings declined despite historically low unemployment. Adjusted for inflation, average weekly earnings fell by 0.7% including bonuses and by 0.5% excluding bonuses, over the year ( to May). For total real pay (including bonuses) this is the largest 3-month average year-on-year decrease since the 3 months to August 2014.

Also the film industry numbers make me wonder about the UK football premiership where the numbers are ballooning but the latest update I can find is this from E&Y.

The Premier League and its Clubs together generated over £6.2 billion in economic output that contributed approximately £3.4 billion to national GDP in 2013/14.

Surely there has been a fair bit of growth? Although of course the flow of money in then sees a flow of money out in transfer fees. Some are claiming that so far this year the defence budget of Manchester City exceeds that of around 25 countries.

 

 

 

The UK sees falling house prices and production data

Today is one of the data days for the UK economy so let us get straight to one of the priorities of the Bank of England. From the Halifax.

House prices have flattened over the past three months. Overall, prices in the three months to June were marginally lower than in the preceding three months. The annual rate of growth has fallen, to 2.6%; the lowest rate since May 2013.

The timing is significant as the Funding for (Mortgage) Lending Scheme of the Bank of England began in the summer of 2013. This kicked off the rises in UK house prices we have seen. However Governor Carney’s morning espresso will have a taste analogous to corked wine as he notes these numbers and looks at the £75.5 billion of cheap funding he has given the banks since last August via the Term Funding Scheme. Can’t a central banker even bribe the banks to do things anymore?

There was in the report some grist to my mill if you recall that I warned that house prices looked like they would slip slide away in 2017.

House prices fell by 1.0% between May and June. This was the first monthly decline since January (1.1%)……House prices in the last three months (April-June) were 0.1% lower than in the previous three months (January March). This was the third successive quarterly fall; the first time this has happened since November 2012.

As you can see we are now looking back nearly five years to a different time when we had just emerged from worrying about a possible “triple dip” in the UK economy. However if we look for perspective the overall picture is as shown below.

Nationally, house prices in June 2017 were 9% above their August 2007 peak. The average house price of £218,390 is £63,727 (41%) higher than its low point of £154,663 in April 2009.

Of course this hides a large amount of regional variations as some places have struggled whilst London has soared. Also tucked away there was something rather unexpected unless the bank of mum and dad is at play.

The number of first-time buyers (FTBs) reached an estimated 162,704 in the first half of 2017, only 15% below the peak in 2006 (190,900), according to the latest Halifax First Time Buyer Review. The number of new buyers is up from 154,200 in the same period in 2016 and more than double the market low in the first half of 2009 (72,700).

The Real Economy

This morning has not been a good day for the underlying UK economy as we note the production figures.

In the 3 months to May 2017 compared with the 3 months to February 2017, the Index of Production was estimated to have decreased by 1.2%, due mainly to falls of 1.1% in manufacturing and 3.5% in energy supply.

As we have a wry smile one more time about the ( good in this instance) poor old weather taking the blame we see some poor figures. If we look at the month in isolation we continue to be disappointed.

In May 2017, total production was estimated to have decreased by 0.1% compared with April 2017, due to falls of 0.2% in manufacturing and 0.8% in energy supply; transport equipment provided the largest contribution to the manufacturing decrease, followed by food products, beverages and tobacco.

The bit that stands out there is the reference to transport equipment as that is consistent with other data showing a slowing in this area. Whilst engine production was up car production was down. Also these numbers fit very badly with the Markit PMI reading of 56.3 for May which indicated a good rate of growth as opposed to the fall reported by the official data.

Looking deeper I see that the wild and erratic ride of the pharmaceutical sector continues.

The decrease in manufacturing is due mainly to the highly volatile pharmaceutical industry, which fell by 7.8%, following a decrease of 12.0% in the 3 months to April 2017.

It rose by 1.1% in May and if we look at its pattern it should do better and help out in July so fingers crossed.

Trade

Here the news was much more normal although in this area that means bad.

Between April and May 2017, the total trade (goods and services) deficit widened to £3.1 billion, reflecting an increase in imports on the month (2.7%). The main contributor to this was an increase in imports of trade in goods….. There was a larger increase in goods imported from non-EU countries, mainly due to increases in mechanical machinery, followed by material manufactures (non-ferrous metals and silver) and oil.

If we look for some more perspective the same general pattern is to be seen.

Between the 3 months to February 2017 and the 3 months to May 2017, the total UK trade (goods and services) deficit widened from £6.9 billion to £8.9 billion.

A driver of this again appears to be a weaker phase for the UK automotive industry.

driven predominantly by increased imports of goods from non-EU countries; transport equipment (cars, aircraft and ships), oil and electrical machinery were the main contributors to this increase.

These numbers are of course just more in a decades long series of deficits. Also I note that the figures have yet to regain “national statistics” status so they are more unreliable than usual.

Some better news came on the inflation front as we had another data set which indicated that the inflationary pressure is easing.

Between April 2017 and May 2017, goods export and import prices decreased by 1% and 0.8% respectively……. the sterling price of crude oil decreasing by 6.2% in the 3 months to May 2017

Construction

The same beat was hammered out by these numbers today.

Construction output fell in May 2017 by 1.2%, in both the month-on-month and 3 month on 3 month time series…….The 3 month on 3 month decrease represents the largest 3 month on 3 month fall in output since September 2012, driven by falls in both repair and maintenance, and all new work.

This was particularly unexpected because for a start the warm weather which took some of the blame for the industrial production fall is usually a boost to construction. Also all the talk of higher infrastructure spending seems to have met a somewhat different reality.

most notably from infrastructure, which fell 4.0% following strong growth in April 2017.

Oh and yet again we have rather a mis-match with the business survey from Markit.

Comment

There were two bits of good economic news today. These were that the inflationary burst looks like it is fading and that house prices have stopped rising and may be falling. Of course the Bank of England will no doubt consider this as bad news. On the other side of the coin we are now in the phase where post the EU Leave vote the economic water was always likely to be colder and more choppy. We are in a phase where production and manufacturing are struggling with little sign that trade is providing much of a boost. Care is needed with the numbers as ever ( especially construction and trade) but our economy is now only grinding ahead and won’t be helped by this news from yesterday and the emphasis is mine.

Despite improvements in both GDP per head and NNDI per head, real household disposable income (RHDI) per head declined by 2.0% in Quarter 1 2017 compared with the same quarter a year ago

Please spare a thought for Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane at this difficult time. For newer readers this “sage” pushed for a “Sledgehammer” expansion of policy when the economy was doing okay and has now switched to talking about rate rises as it slows fulfilling the policy making nightmare of being pro cyclical.

Some Friday Humour

I bring you this from the Wall Street Journal last night.

Japan shows Europe how to dial back stimulus without spooking investors

Only a few hours later Business Insider was reporting this.

the Bank of Japan (BoJ) went all-in earlier today, pledging to buy an unlimited amount of 10-year bonds at a yield

Up is the new down yet again.

British and Irish Lions

I hope that our Kiwi contingent will not be too offended if I wish the Lions all the best for their historic opportunity tomorrow. Victories in New Zealand are rarer than Hen’s teeth can they manage 2 in a row? Here’s wishing and hoping…….

 

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?