The UK joins France and Germany with falling production in April

Today brings us a raft of new detail on the UK economy and as it is for April we get the beginnings of some insight as to whether the UK economy picked up after the malaise of only 0.1% GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) growth in the first quarter of this year. According to Markit PMI business survey we have in the first two months of this quarter but of course surveys are one thing and official data is another.

So far, the three PMI surveys indicate that GDP looks set to rise by 0.3-0.4% in the second quarter.

As for the manufacturing sector the same set of surveys has told us this.

The seasonally adjusted IHS Markit/CIPS Purchasing Managers’ Index® (PMI®
) rose to 54.4, up slightly from April’s
17-month low of 53.9, to signal growth for the
twenty-second straight month.

So we see that April can be looked at almost any way you like. Manufacturing has been in a better phase for a while now partly in response to the post EU leave vote fall in the UK Pound £. According to the survey we are still growing but April was the weakest month in this phase although some caution is required as I doubt whether a survey that can be in the wrong direction is accurate to anything like 0.5.

Of course the attention of Mark Carney and the Bank of England will be on a sector that it considers as and maybe more vital. From the Local Government Association.

Councils’ ability to replace homes sold under Right to Buy (RTB) will be all but eliminated within five years without major reform of the scheme, new analysis from the Local Government association reveals today.

The detail of the numbers is below.

The LGA said that, in the last six years, more than 60,000 homes have been sold off under the scheme at a price which is, on average, half the market rate, leaving councils with enough funding to build or buy just 14,000 new homes to replace them.

We sometimes discuss on here that the ultimate end of the house price friendly policies of the UK establishment will be to give people money to buy houses. Well in many ways Right To Buy does just that as those who have qualified buy on average at half-price. Also we see that one of the other supposed aims of the scheme which was to replace the property sold with new builds is failing. I guess we should not be surprised as pretty much every government plan for new builds fails.

Production and Manufacturing

These were poor numbers as you can see below.

In April 2018, total production was estimated to have decreased by 0.8% compared with March 2018, led by a fall of 1.4% in manufacturing and supported by falls in energy supply (2.0%), and water and waste (1.8%).

The fall in energy supply is predictable after the cold weather of March but the manufacturing drop much less so. If we review the Markit survey it was right about a decline but in predicting growth had the direction wrong. On a monthly basis the manufacturing fall was highest in metal products and machinery which both fell by more than 3% but the falls were widespread.

with 9 of the 13 sub-sectors falling;

If we step back to the quarterly data we see that it has seen better times as well.

In the three months to April 2018, the Index of Production increased by 0.3% compared with the three months to January 2018, due primarily to a rise of 3.2% in energy supply; this was supported by a rise in mining and quarrying of 4.3%………..The three-monthly fall to April 2018 in manufacturing of 0.5% is the largest fall since May 2017, due mainly to decreases in electrical equipment (9.4%), and basic metals and metal products (1.8%).

So on a quarterly basis we have some production growth but not much whereas manufacturing which was recently a star of our economy has lost its shine and declined. There has been a drop in trade which has impacted here.

The fall in manufacturing is supported by widespread weakness throughout the sector due to a reduction in the growth rate of both export and domestic turnover.

Actually for once the production and trade figures seem to be in concert.

Goods exports fell £3.1 billion, due mainly to falls in exports of machinery, pharmaceuticals and aircraft, while services exports also fell £2.5 billion in the three months to April 2018…….Falling volumes was the main reason for the declines in exports of machinery, pharmaceuticals and aircraft in the three months to April 2018 as price movements were relatively small.

That is welcome although the cause is not! But we see a signs of a slowing from the better trend which still looks good on an annual comparison.

In the three months to April 2018, the Index of Production increased by 2.3% compared with the same three months to April 2017, due mainly to a rise of 2.3% in manufacturing.

If we compare ourselves to France we see that it’s manufacturing production rose by 1.9% over the same period. However whilst we are ahead it is clear that our trajectory is worsening and we look set to be behind unless there is quite a swing in May. As to the Markit manufacturing PMI then its performance in the latest quarter has been so poor it has been in the wrong direction.

As we move on let me leave you with this as a possible factor at play in April.

 It should also be noted that survey response was comparatively high this month and notable weakness was due mainly to the cumulative impact of large businesses reporting decreased turnover.


We have already looked at the decline in good exports but in a way this was even more troubling.

 services exports also fell £2.5 billion in the three months to April 2018.

Regular readers will be aware that I have a theme that considering how important the services sector is to the UK economy we have very little detail about its impact on trade. As an example a 28 page statistical bulletin I read had only one page on services. I am reminded of this as this latest fall comes after our statisticians had upgraded the numbers as you see the numbers are mostly estimates.

So not a good April but the annual picture remains better.

The UK total trade deficit (goods and services) narrowed £6.7 billion to £30.8 billion in the 12 months to April 2018. An improvement to the trade in services balance was the main factor, as the trade surplus the UK has in services widened £9.9 billion to £108.7 billion. The trade in goods deficit worsened, widening £3.2 billion to £139.5 billion over the same period.


This was yet again a wild card if consistency can be that.

Construction output continued its recent decline in the three-month on three-month series, falling by 3.4% in April 2018; the biggest fall seen in this series since August 2012.

The consistency comes from yet another fall whereas the wild card element is that it got worse on this measure in spite of a small increase in April


There is a lot to consider here today but let us start with manufacturing where there are three factors at play. The money supply numbers have suggested a slow down and it would seem that they have been accurate. Next we have the issue that exports are weak and of course this is into a Euro area economy which is also slowing as for example industrial production fell by 0.5% in France and 1% in Germany in April on a monthly basis. Some are suggesting it is an early example of the UK being dropped out of European supply chains but I suspect it is a bit early for that.

Moving to construction we see that it is locked in the grip of an icy recession even in the spring. It seems hard to square with the 32 cranes between Battersea Dogs Home and Vauxhall but there you have it. I guess the failure of Carillion has had quite an effect and linking today’s stories we could of course build more social housing.

Looking forwards the UK seems as so often is the case heavily reliant on its services sector to do the economic heavy lifting, so fingers crossed.




How long will it be before the Bank of England hints at a Bank Rate cut?

After Friday’s disappointing UK GDP release this morning brings the beginnings of the first snapshot into the economy in the second quarter. Also there is in the Financial Times a reminder of the problems experienced by the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney.

“>Quiz: Do you have what it takes to study economics?Mark Carney wants teenagers to understand how the economy works. Do you measure up?

A laudable plan but first it would help if the Governor understood what was going on! After all it was as recently as a few months ago that he told us this. From Bloomberg.

But it was February’s Inflation Report, and Mark Carney’s statement that rates needed to rise “somewhat earlier and to a somewhat greater extent” than previously thought that really solidified investors’ view.

Only a couple of months later he fully lived up to his reputation as the “unreliable boyfriend”

That confidence soon expired when Carney used a BBC interview to damp expectations for an imminent interest-rate increase.

Mind you as recently as the 8th of April the Telegraph seemed to be in a 2013 time warp.

Mark Carney is known as the George Clooney of central banking…………have all served to reinforce what former Canadian colleagues term his “star quality”. ……The glamorous governor of the UK’s central bank will soon depart, however.  ( h/t PeterHoskinsTV )

The media seem to have a natural deference to authority as the Financial Times has had to do a screeching U-Turn from the analysis that told us the road to a May Bank Rate rise was a triumph of Forward Guidance.

The UK Pound £

One area which has kept much more up with the times has been the foreign exchanges. The UK Pound £ headed down against the US Dollar by more than a cent as soon as markets were aware of Governor Carney singing along with Luther Vandross.

But now I know
I don’t need you at all, you’re no good for me
I’ve changed my mind
I’m taking back my love

This has now been added to by the weak GDP report and we find ourselves noting that the effective exchange rate at 79.48 is a fair bit lower than the 81.24 of the 17th of April. Or to put it that is the equivalent of a 0.44% Bank Rate cut. Amazing isn’t it when we are told a 0.25% change is such a big deal?

Not all of this is Governor Carney;s fault as for example the US Dollar has rallied but the “rockstar” as he was once called got this completely wrong.


This has been a bright spot for the UK economy over the past 18 months or so. However there is some food for thought in today’s Markit PMI business survey.

The upturn in the UK manufacturing sector slowed
further at the start of the second quarter. Rates of
expansion eased for output, new orders and
employment, in part reflecting a weakening in the
pace of expansion of new work from abroad.

The monthly reading did this.

fell to a 17-month low of 53.9 in April, down from 54.9 in
March. The PMI has signalled expansion in each
of the past 21 months.

Also there was news from an area of the economy that has been particularly robust.

Manufacturing employment increased in April.
The rate of job creation eased to the weakest in 14

If we look for some perspective we see that UK manufacturing did not seem to pick up in April. A change from 54.9 to 53.9 may or may not mean something due to the errors in the estimates but whilst growth compared to our past history is good ( the overall average is 51.2) compared to the recent period it is not.


The burst driven by the post EU leave vote fall in the UK Pound £ is passing us by now.

However, the rate of output charge inflation eased
for the third straight month to the slowest since
August 2017.

But the new weaker Pound £ will not help and the fact that the Sugar Tax is back in the news and Scotland now has a minimum price for alcohol reminds us of our tendency towards institutionalised inflation. Each individual change may have its merits but we can be sure we will face higher prices and inflation as a result.This is especially significant at a time of weak wage growth.

This has been added to recently by the issues in the Middle East raising the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil to around US $74. Although not all commodities are on the rise as this from the Reserve Bank of Australia reminded us earlier today.

Preliminary estimates for April indicate that the index decreased by 3.8 per cent (on a monthly average basis) in SDR terms, after increasing by 0.4 per cent in March (revised). Iron ore and coking coal prices led the decrease……Over the past year, the index has decreased by 1.4 per cent in SDR terms, led by lower iron ore prices.

There is an Australian bias to the commodities chosen but it does show that some are not adding to price pressure.

Unsecured Credit

This was an area that received what looked like praise from Mark Carney as the annual rate of growth pushed past 10% following his Sledgehammer QE of August 2016.

The stimulus is working

The problem is twofold. Firstly he has shifted his language to being “vigilant”. Secondly and much more importantly it has continued on something of a tear.

Consumer net credit rose by £0.3 billion in March 2018. Annual growth of consumer credit fell on the month to 8.6%

Not doubt someone will be trying out a PR release calling this a success as in annual growth shows the stimulus whilst the monthly drop is a success for vigilance. Actually the Bank of England will be worried here as they did not want a lurch downwards like this! Care is needed as the numbers are erratic but if this is an example of macroprudential policy it is also a sign of the problems as you tend to lurch from boom to bust rather than applying the brakes and slowing down.

Anyway even the 8.6% compares with wage growth that has been a bit over 2% and economic growth at 1.2%. Which number looks out of line?

Money Supply

Yesterday we noted that the growth of broad money had fallen to 3.7% in the Euro area and today we discovered that in the UK it had fallen to 3.8%. Thus both have seen a slowing which continues the theme of the last few weeks. If we look at the likely mixture between growth and inflation that currently looks worse for the UK as we start with a higher rate of inflation so lat us hope that drops and soon.


Today’s data is more fuel for the theme that the UK economy has slowed in 2018 and ironically even the news that consumer credit growth lurched downwards in March will worry the Bank of England. Be careful what you wish for is a theme of macroprudential style policies that so many seem to have forgotten. Anyway that may be a one month mirage so let us simply note that recent economic evidence would ordinarily have Mark Carney mulling a Bank Rate cut and not a rise.

We have covered the problems of his Forward Guidance many times so let us now take a different tack which is to compare it with the ECB and Mario Draghi. They face what are similar situations which is broad money growth slowing to as it happens pretty much the same rate of growth. They both will now have the occasional sleepless night wondering of the chance to change policy passed them by and that the boat sailed without them in it. But Mario will sleep better I think as whilst I am no fan of negative interest-rates and large-scale QE he had the Euro area crisis to contend with whereas Mark Carney has had at least a couple of chances to hop on the boat but in a nervous unreliable boyfriend state missed them.

Much of the stimulus in the UK was supposed to boost business borrowing, how has that been going?

Net finance raised was £0.0 billion in March

Yet if we switch to mortgages the beat goes on. If we go back to February 2016 the rate for new mortgages overall was 2.49%. So with the Bank Rate back at 0.5% since November it should be back there? Er no it is 2.04%. As we are told in the Matrix series of films “some things never change…”








UK production and manufacturing have seen a lost decade

Today brings us what is called a theme day by the UK Office for National Statistics as we get data on production, manufacturing and trade. This comes at a time when the data will be especially prodded and poked at. This is mainly driven by the fact that there have been hints of an economic slow down both in the UK and in the Euro area. Added to that we have seen rising tensions around Syria and the Middle East which have pushed the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil above US $70 which if sustained will give us another nudge higher in terms of cost push or if you prefer commodity price inflation. If we return to yesterday’s topic of Bank of England policy we see the potential for it to find itself between a rock and a hard place as a slowing economy could be combined with some oil price driven inflation.


This opened with a worrying note although of course the issue is familiar to us.

In the three months to February 2018, the Index of Production decreased by 0.1% compared with the three months to November 2017, due to a fall of 8.6% in mining and quarrying, caused mainly by the shutdown of the Forties oil pipeline within December 2017.

If we move to the February data we see that it rose but essentially only because of the cold weather that caused trouble for services and construction.

In February 2018, total production was estimated to have increased by 0.1% compared with January 2018; energy supply provided the largest upward contribution, increasing by 3.7%.

If we look into the detail we see that the colder weather raised production by 0.43% meaning that there were weaknesses elsewhere. Some of it came from the oil and gas sector where in addition to some planned maintenance there was a one-day shut down for the rather accident prone seeming Forties field. But there was also something which will attract attention.

Manufacturing output decreased by 0.2%, the first fall in this sector since March 2017, when it fell by 0.4%. Within this sector 7 of the 13 sub-sectors decreased on the month; led by machinery and equipment not elsewhere classified, which fell by 3.9%, the first fall since June 2017, when it decreased by 4.9%.

This has been a strength of the UK economy in recent times and concerns about a possible slow down were only added to by this.

 It should be noted that the growth in this sector of 0.1% during January 2018 and published last month, has been revised this month to 0.0%, further supporting evidence provided in the January 2018 bulletin of a slow-down in manufacturing output.

Although our statisticians found no supporting evidence for this there remains the possibility that the bad weather played a role in this. Otherwise we are left with an impression of a manufacturing slow down which does fit with the purchasing managers indices we have seen. The annual comparison however remains good just not as good as it was.

 in February 2018 compared with February 2017, manufacturing increased by 2.5%.

Also there were hopes that we might regain the previous peak for manufacturing output which was 106.8 in February 2008 where 2015 = 100 but we scaled to 105.4 in January and have now dipped back to 105.2. The situation in production is somewhat worse as we are still quite some distance from the previous peak which on the same basis was at 111.1 in February 2008 and this February was at 104.8. The issue is complicated by the decline of North Sea Oil and Gas but overall those are numbers which look like a depression to me especially after all this time which one might now call a lost decade.


We traditionally advance on these numbers with some trepidation after years and indeed decades of deficits on this particular front. So let us gather some cheer with some better news.

Comparing the 12 months to February 2018 with the same period in 2017, the total trade deficit narrowed by £12.9 billion to £27.5 billion; the services surplus widened by £11.1 billion to £108.3 billion and the goods deficit narrowed by £1.8 billion to £135.8 billion.

Tucked away in this was some good news and for once a triumph for economics 101.

Total exports rose by 10.4% (£59.4 billion) to £627.6 billion compared with total imports, which increased by 7.6% (£46.5 billion) to £655.1 billion.

In true Alice In Wonderland terms our exports have to do this to make any dent in our deficit because the volume of imports is larger.

“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”

Both goods and services imports have responded well to the lower value of the UK Pound £ as well as being influenced by the favourable world economic environment.

 Goods exports rose by 11.3% (£34.9 billion) to £345.0 billion ……..Services exports rose by 9.5% (£24.5 billion) to £282.6 billion

We rarely give ourselves the credit for being a strong exporting nation because it gets submerged in our apparent lust for imports.

As to the more recent pattern I will let you decide if the change below means something as it is well within the likely errors for such data.

The total UK trade deficit (goods and services) widened by £0.4 billion to £6.4 billion in the three months to February 2018

A little wry humour is provided by the fact that in terms of good exports our annual improvement was due to exports to the European Union. However the humour fades a little as I note our official statisticians have no real detail at all on our services exports which is a great shame as they are a strength of our economy.


After the cold spell in February this was always going to be a difficult month.

Construction output continued its recent decline in the three-month on three-month series, falling by 0.8% in February 2018………Construction output also decreased in the month-on-month series, contracting by 1.6% in February 2018, stemming from a 9.4% decrease in infrastructure new work.

In the circumstances I thought this was not too bad although this may have left me in a class of two.

You see the past is better than we thought it was which also confirms some of the doubts I have expressed about the reliability of this data.

The annual growth in 2017 of 5.7% is revised upwards from the 5.1% growth reported.

So it is not in a depression but has entered a recession.


There is a fair bit to consider as we note that any continuation of the recent falls will see manufacturing continue its own lost decade as we note that overall production seems trapped in one with little hope of  what might be called “escape velocity”. That means that the Bank of England faces a scenario where the picture for this particular 14% of the economy has seen the grey clouds darken. By contrast construction went from a really good phase into a recession which  the bad weather has made worse. I would expect the weather effect to unwind fairly quickly but that returns us to a situation which looked weak,

This leaves the expressed policy of the “unreliable boyfriend” in something of a mess as his forward guidance radar seems to have looked backwards again. Perhaps his new private secretary James Benford will help although I note his profile has been so low Bloomberg had to look him up on LinkedIn, I hope they got the right person. Also life can be complex as for example Russians in the UK might be thinking as they go from threats of financial punishment to seeing the UK Pound £ rally by 2% today and by over 10% in the past week to around 91 versus the R(o)uble .

Let me remain in the sphere of the serially uncorrelated error term by congratulating Roma on a stunning win last night.



Individual measures of GDP and household income show weak UK growth since 2008

Today has opened with not so good news for a sector of the UK economy that has been troubling us for the last year or so. From the SMMT or Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

The UK new car market declined in March, according to figures released today by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), with registrations falling -15.7% compared with the same month last year. March 2017 was the biggest month ever for new car registrations, as buyers seized the chance to purchase cars before new Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) rates came into force in April last year. However registrations are still running at a historically high level and last month’s market was the fourth biggest March on record.

As you can see they are in a rush with explanations but we do get some more perspective from this.

New car registrations have fallen for the 12th consecutive month, with year-to-date performance down -12.4%.

The domestic car market has been contracting for a while now and sadly we have to review a scenario that involves government meddling as we note this.

Continuing the recent trend, diesel registrations declined in March, down -37.2%

So far this year diesel sales are down a third from 361,000 in 2017 to 241,000 this year as people wait to see what government policy will be in this area. After the Volkswagen scandal people are much less likely to believe the industry that the new diesels are clean and of course that adds to people like me who were pushed into clean diesels by government company car tax policy back in the previous decade only to discover that by clean they meant poisoning myself and other Londoners.

Whilst sales of hybrid cars are doing better I wonder if more and more buyers are wondering how green they really are?

 In the first quarter of this year 146,614 of these vehicles hit British roads, an increase of 2.7%, as the inclement weather appeared to lead to a boost in registrations.

There are two issues with the green agenda here in my view. Firstly the resources cost of a new car regularly gets ignored and secondly the technology uses some relatively rare elements.

Returning to diesels this is also a problem much wider than for the UK. From Reuters.

Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) has paid more than $7.4 billion to buy back about 350,000 U.S. diesel vehicles through mid-February, a recent court filing shows. The German automaker has been storing hundreds of thousands of vehicles around the United States for months.

Volkswagen has 37 secure storage facilities around the United States housing nearly 300,000 vehicles, the filing from the program’s independent administrator said.

Should these now be subtracted from German exports, production and GDP figures?

Economic impact

The SMMT tells us this.

 Some 200,000 people are employed in new car retail alone, while UK-based car finance firms employ over 45,000 more, with an annual £12.5 billion economic contribution. On the road, the vehicle fuel industry supports 40,000 jobs, and a further 347,000 are employed in vehicle servicing and repair.

The fall in sales will impact on production but not as much as you might think as we mostly export what we make and some of these numbers are good as this from the 29th of March highlights.

More than a quarter of a million engines produced by British factories in February.Exports jump 16.1% in the month as 157,880 units head overseas – 62.0% of all output. Engine manufacturing up 10.3% so far this year as strong start to 2018 continues.

The future

There was some positive news from Vauxhall yesterday.

PSA, which last year acquired Opel/Vauxhall from General Motors (GM.N), will build Peugeot and Citroen models as well as the next Vauxhall Vivaro van in Luton, north of London. Production will rise to 100,000 vehicles from 60,000 in 2017. ( Reuters).

The banks

There is an interrelation here in addition to the obvious as we note that via the growth of car financing the car companies now effectively have banking subsidiaries. From Bloomberg.

Moody’s cut Barclays’ long-term issuer and senior unsecured debt ratings to Baa3, or one step above junk, from Baa2. The bond grader assigned a stable outlook to the ratings for Barclays. Rival Deutsche Bank AG is currently rated one notch higher.

However, the ratings agency gave the British lender a stable outlook and highlighted its “strong franchises in U.K. retail, business banking and global credit cards.”

Things are not so hot when you are a notch below my old employer Deutsche Bank. But I note that the credit agencies suggest times are good in domestic credit as when have they told us that before?

Purchasing Managers Indices

This morning Markit have completed their sequence of surveys and have told us this.

March data signalled a slowdown in business
activity growth across the UK service sector, with
the latest expansion the weakest for over one-and a-half
years. However, survey respondents noted
that snow disruption and unusually bad weather
conditions in March had been a key factor holding
back business activity growth.

The poor old weather always gets the blame for bad news! Some areas will have benefited ( energy suppliers ) but they are invariably silent. I am sure there was some impact via not being able to get to work but more deeply I wonder if this reflects the fact that some output for construction comes under services. We have noted this before when a large company was shifted from services to construction a few years back. Records and statistics seem to be rather malleable.

Moving onto the wider impact we were told this.

“The UK economy iced up in March……..The PMI surveys collectively
signal a quarterly GDP growth rate of just under
0.3%, down from 0.4% in the fourth quarter, albeit
with the rate of growth sliding to just 0.15% in
March alone.”

We will have to see as the last time they told us the UK economy had lurched lower post the EU leave vote Markit ended up with a lot of egg on its face. If we look back to weather related issues it reversed quickly back in 2010.

Encouragingly, in January 2010 and
December 2010, the PMI fell sharply due to heavy
snow but in both cases the decline was more than
reversed in the following month.


There is a fair bit to consider here. UK manufacturing seems to be still doing okay in spite of the woes of the domestic car market ( partly because we import so many cars) and engine production is strong perhaps because of petrol engine shortages in Europe. Construction was hit by the weather and whilst this seemed to miss manufacturing it did hit services. So we seem likely to see lower first quarter GDP numbers which after a panic will probably then bounce back.

However if we look at some official statistics also released today at the individual level economic growth has been less than the aggregate.

Gross domestic product (GDP) per head grew by 0.8% in real terms in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2017 compared with the same quarter a year ago.

On this metric we have only grown by 3% since 2008 and if we continue and shift to income we see this.

Real household disposable income (RHDI) per head increased by 1.0%;  ( on a year before)

Slightly odd if we look at wages and inflation until we note it was this.

Furthermore, net property income (in nominal terms) contributed 1.0 percentage point to RHDI per head, leading to an overall positive position. Property income is not (as might be suggested by the name) the income generated by the ownership of buildings (rental). It is in fact, made up of interest, the distributed income of corporations (dividends, repatriated profits and so on) and rent on land.

Overall it is up 4.1% since 2008. So now we shift from wondering about a slow down to mulling how little we have grown at all.

Me on Core Finance TV



The UK has a construction problem

Today brings us a whole raft of new data on the UK economy but before we get to that there has been some new analysis and indeed something of a confession. Let us start with @NobleFrancis who has crunched some numbers on the impact of the recent cold snap and snow in the UK.

In terms of construction work lost due to the bad weather between Wednesday and Friday last week, we estimate UK construction output has lost £1.6 billion (annual construction output in 2017 was £156.3 billion)……with the majority of new construction work postponed. External repair & maintenance (r&m) construction work was also postponed. r&m on internals of building could still be done but getting to site meant this was also hindered..

He is unconvinced that there will be a catch-up.

…theoretically it’s possible to ‘catch-up’ on work once the weather improves but in construction this rarely happens in practice.

This of course affects a sector which has been in recession since early summer last year and of course with the factor below might be an example of it never rains but it pours.

will also be adversely affected in 2018 Q1 by the liquidation of the UK’s second largest construction firm, Carillion, in January 2018.

The Markit PMI was showing something of a flat lining but it will have predated the worst of the cold weather. Also it seems to have missed this which is from this morning’s official release.

Construction output also decreased in the month-on-month series following growth in the final two months of 2017, contracting by 3.4% in January 2018.

As you can see Carillion had a big impact and added to what seems to have been weak construction output across much of Europe in January. This is the position compared to a year ago.

Compared with January 2017, construction output decreased by 3.9%, representing the biggest month-on-year decline since March 2013.

If this sector was a bank the UK establishment would be piling in like it was the US cavalry wouldn’t it?

On the other side of the coin we will have had a boost to GDP from the energy supply industry as the heating was turned up and it will be a quarter with the main Forties pipeline at full flow assuming there are no problems this month.

A confession of sorts

This came from the Bank of England in a working paper towards the end of last month. Remember the case I have made plenty of times on here that its QE bond buying inflated pension deficits which weakened the UK corporate sector and therefore was not the triumph it was claimed to be? Anyway after more than a few official denials we now have this.

Nor is this just a problem in the UK as low-interest rates have raised the value of pension liabilities around the world.

A sort of confession and attempted deflection all at once! We do however get some interesting detail on the scale of the issue which in spite of the way the sector has contracted is still substantial.

The 6000 DB pension schemes in the UK private sector are a significant source of retirement income, with around 11 million members and assets of around £1.5 trillion. The aggregate funding deficit that these schemes faced (on a Technical Provisions basis ) is estimated to have reached around £300 billion by 2015 , equivalent to more than 15% of annual GDP.

So how did things play out?

while firms with larger pension deficits had an incentive but not an obligation to act in
response to these deficits they paid lower dividends on average, but they did not invest less.

Okay so the first subtraction from the UK economy was lower dividend payments. Of course one of today’s themes Carillion and its economic impact was the opposite of this as it paid dividends rather than fixing its pension scheme. Moving on we get something which is even more damaging for QE supporters.

We show that obligations under recovery plans agreed with TPR prompted firms to adopt a different pattern of behaviour compared to their more voluntary
responses to deficits. Firms making contributions to close those deficits did reduce investment and
dividend payments on average. These effects were greater for firms that were financially constrained, reflecting the more limited options available to them to use external or other internal  funds to smooth out their expenditures. ( TPR = The Pensions Regulator ).

This had quite a big impact.

The scale of these effects was large for many FTSE 350
companies with DB deficits, and responses to them can explain some of the weakness in aggregate
dividends and investment observed since 2007.

This reinforces work first done by Toby Nangle and it is to his credit he was several years at least ahead in time. Oh and as the writers of the working paper have families to feed and one day might hope that the Bank of England tea and cake trolley might arrive again in the rather damp dungeon they have been posted to for further research there is this.

while the effects for some firms were large, by contrast the effects at the aggregate level
have been small in macroeconomic terms, and are dwarfed by the estimated positive impact of QE.
QE is estimated to have boosted the level of GDP by in the region of 1½-3% (Kapetanios et al,
2012; and Weale and Wieladek, 2016), while the negative effects of deficits are only estimated to
have reduced GDP by around 0.1% GDP since 2007.

I do like the way that one of the authors of the work about the GDP boost is the same Martin Weale who voted for it. We can imagine a paper from say Alan Pardew to the West Bromwich board stating that whilst they might be in a relegation crisis he has boosted their points haul by using counterfactual analysis. How do you think Baggies fans would treat the obvious moral hazard?

Production and Manufacturing

There was some expected good news here.

In January 2018, total production was estimated to have increased by 1.3% compared with December 2017; mining and quarrying provided the largest upward contribution, increasing by 23.5% due mainly to the re-opening of the Forties oil pipeline,

In it there was continued good news for manufacturing.

Since records began in February 1968, this sector has never recorded nine consecutive monthly growths……… ( Quarterly output was) manufacturing provided the largest upward contribution with an increase of 2.6% ( on a year ago).

Yet it was also true the monthly increase was only 0.1% and in something of a contradiction was driven by ( sorry).

Growth this month within manufacturing was due mainly to a rise of 1.9% in transport equipment. Within this sub-sector motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers rose by 3.2%

That is not as mad as it may seem as UK engine production has been very healthy. Also the erratic pharmaceuticals sector had a bad quarter (-7.8%) so on its past record it should rebound.


Tucked away in the numbers there was a hint of some better news. This of course has to be taken in the context of years and sadly decades of deficits but there was this.

Comparing the three months to January 2018 with the same period in 2017, the UK total trade (goods and services) deficit widened by £0.4 billion.

Which if we allow for the £2.2 billion increase in oil imports and fall in oil exports should show an improvement. Exports have also had a good year.

Although total (goods and services) exports increased by 5.6% (£8.4 billion)

We of course need a lot more of that.


If we step back and look at the overall position the UK economy continues to bumble its way forwards.We have seen a good run of manufacturing production which means that output is now only 0.3% below its pre credit crunch peak. However the fact it is still below after so much time shows the scale of the damage inflicted. Industrial production is also in a better phase.

On the trade issue there are flickers of improvement but we have a long journey to travel to end the stream of deficits. As to construction it seems to have hit something of a nuclear winter and as government policy has been involved in the creation of this via the impact of Carillion you might think it would be paying more attention, especially as other companies have not dissimilar weaknesses. If this was the banking sector the money would be pouring in. Also are we not supposed to be in the middle of a house building surge?





If UK growth has a “speed limit” of 1.5% how is manufacturing growing at 3.4%?

Yesterday saw the Quarterly Inflation Report of the Bank of England where its takes the opportunity to explain its views on the UK economy. There was a subject which Governor Mark Carney returned to several times and it was also in the opening statement.

It is useful to step back to assess how the economy has performed relative to the MPC’s expectations in order to understand the forces at work on it.

You are always in trouble when you have to keep telling your audience you got things right. I don’t see Pep Guardiola having to explain things like that or Eddie Jones and that is because things have gone well for them. Increasingly the Governor is finding himself having to field questions essentially based upon my theme that the Bank of England has a poor forecasting record. Actually tucked away in his statement was yet another confession.

GDP growth is expected to average around 1¾%
over the forecast period, a little stronger than projected in November.

I would like to present his main point in another way as we were told that policy is “transparent” and being done “transparently”. Okay so apply that test to this?

The MPC judges that, were the economy to evolve broadly in line with its February Inflation Report projections, monetary policy would need to be tightened somewhat earlier and by a somewhat greater extent over the forecast period than it anticipated at the time of the
November Report, in order to return inflation sustainably to the target.

So if they get things right which they usually do not then interest-rates will rise by more than the previous unspecified hint? That is opaque rather than transparent especially when you have a habit of saying things like this.

There’s already great speculation about the exact timing of the first rate hike and this decision is becoming more balanced…………..It could happen sooner than markets currently expect. (Mansion House June 2014).

What actually happened? The next move was a Bank Rate cut! Also I noted this in the Financial Times from back then.

This speech marks an important change of tone from the governor……..with rates rising earlier, further and faster than markets currently price in.

I noted this because it was from Michael Saunders who was of course giving bad advice to Citibank customers as we wonder if his enthusiasm for the Governor’s thoughts and words got him appointed to the Monetary Policy Committee?

Also I note that the 0.25% Bank Rate cut and Sledgehammer QE is claimed to have had an enormous impact.

this strategy has worked with
employment rising and slack steadily being absorbed

Yet this morning Ben Broadbent has contradicted this on BBC 5 Live’s Wake Up To Money.

dep gov Ben Broadbent said that was “true to some extent”, adding he didn’t think a couple of 25 basis point [0.25%] rises in a year would be a great shock

So if two rises are no big deal how was one cut a big deal? I guess if you send out your absent-minded professor out at the crack of dawn he is more likely to go off-piste.

Our intrepid Governor was also keen to expound on the Bank of England’s improvement in the area of diversity which he did as part of a panel composed of four middle-aged white men. As to policy independence regular readers will be well aware of my theme that the establishment took the Bank back under its control some time ago.

Today’s data

This was always going to be affected by the shutdown of the oil and gas pipeline for the Forties area in the North Sea as we already knew it has reduced GDP by around 0.05%.

In December 2017, total production was estimated to have decreased by 1.3% compared with November 2017; mining and quarrying provided the only downward contribution, falling by 19.1% as a result of the shut-down of the Forties oil pipeline for a large part of December.

Ouch indeed! However if we look deeper we see that production has been on an upwards sweep.

Total production output increased by 2.3% for the three months to December 2017 compared with the same three months to December 2016……….For the calendar year 2017, total production output increased by 2.1% compared with 2016,

Now that the Forties pipeline is back to normal there will be an additional push to the numbers.


This sector has been on a good run which has been welcome to see after years and indeed decades of relative decline.

In the three months to December 2017……..due to a rise of 1.3% in manufacturing;

As to the driving force well we have heavy metal football at Liverpool courtesy of Jurgen Klopp and maybe we have some heavy metal economics too.

Within manufacturing, 9 of the 13 manufacturing sub-sectors experienced growth; the largest contribution to quarterly growth came from basic metals and metal products, which increased by 5.7%.

If we look deeper we see this which compares the latest quarter with a year ago..

The largest upward contribution came from manufacturing, which increased by 3.4%, due to broad-based strength, with 9 of the 13 sub-sectors increasing. Transport equipment provided the largest upward contribution, increasing by 6.6%, with three of its four industries increasing. The largest upward contribution came from the manufacture of aircraft, spacecraft and related machinery, while motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers fell by 0.3%.

There is something of an irony for those who found it amusing to jest that the UK would have to export to space in future as we indeed seem to be doing so. Of course space has been in the news this week with the successful, launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket with the successful landing of two of the three boosters which according to the Meatloaf critique “aint bad” and was also awe-inspiring. As you can imagine I heartily approve of it playing Space Oddity on repeat and the way Don’t Panic flashes on the car dashboard in big friendly letters.

Returning to manufacturing we have nearly made our way back to the place we were once before as the Eagles might put it.

 both production and manufacturing output have risen but remain below their level reached in the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008, by 5.2% and 0.5% respectively in the three months to December 2017.


The familiar theme is as ever of yet another deficit but the December numbers were even more difficult to interpret than usual due to the impact of the Forties pipeline closure. This was its impact on the latest quarter.

The 21.6% decrease in export volumes of fuels (mainly oil) had a large impact on the fall in export volumes. When excluding oil export volumes increased by 1.3%……The value increase in fuels imports was due largely to price movements, as fuels import prices increased by 14.2% while fuels import volumes increased by 0.3%.

If we look back 2017 was a better year for UK trade.

UK export volumes up 7.4% between 2016 & 2017, import volumes were up 4.1%

This meant that the trade deficit fell by £7 billion ( not by £70 billion as was initially reported) so the cautionary note is that we still have a long way to go.


Today’s numbers provide their own critique to the rhetoric of Mark Carney and the Bank of England. Let me show you the two. Firstly the data.

The largest upward contribution came from manufacturing, which increased by 3.4%

Yet according to the Bank of England this is the “speed limit”.

the MPC judges that very little spare capacity remains and that supply capacity will grow only modestly over the
forecast, averaging around 1½% a year.

If you think it through logically it is an area where you would expect physical constraints and yet it does not seem to be bothered. Indeed the other area where there are physical constraints has done even better on an annual comparison.

 construction output in Great Britain grew by 5.1% in 2017

So as ever the Bank of England prefers its models to reality and if you listened carefully to the press conference Ben Broadbent confirmed this. What he did not say was that he is persisting with this in spite of a shocking track record.

Just for clarity the construction numbers are correct but had really strong growth followed by the more recent weakness. However as I have pointed out many times care is needed as we regularly get significant revisions..





The UK economy continues to be both lucky and remarkably stable

Today is or if you read this later has been UK GDP day where we find out how the UK economy performed in 2017. For once there is a reasonable amount of debate and uncertainty caused by the outage to the Forties pipeline for much of December as you see in the initial or preliminary estimate the last month in the quarter has very little actual data and is mostly guesstimates. Meanwhile the UK establishment has been on the case and with intriguing timing has looked at GDP or Gross Domestic Product. Here is the Deputy National Statistician on the subject.

GDP measures the market-based economic activity: its primary purpose is to measure an economy’s production, income and expenditure. To calculate GDP, we take all the economic activity and use market prices to weight these different items to estimate the total size of the economy.

Fair enough as it starts but as regular readers will be aware there are more than a few problems with such an approach. Let us start with things that do not have a price or have a very low one.

GDP values goods and services at the price they are sold at, but if the value to me or you is higher than prices we pay we are even better off. Take, for example, free mapping services available on the internet – these are very valuable, but the cost of provision is relatively small. This difference between true benefit and price or cost is not included in GDP;

Next comes things we provide for ourselves.

The non-market activity that GDP excludes is important to well-being. For example, the ‘home production’ of childcare is hugely valuable in terms of child development, and volunteering helps improve the lives of millions of people in the UK;

I have used the example before of everyone suddenly mowing next doors lawn or looking after next doors children. As they would be paid recorded GDP would rise but economic activity would be unchanged. Also there is the issue of use of resources which GDP ignores.

So far so good from our Deputy Statistician but then he reverts to type and the emphasis is mine.

There are a few exceptions to the market-based approach, notably that GDP includes government-provided services and the economic activity imputed for home owners.

This is a big issue because as I pointed out in detail on the 23rd of May 2016 you are using a made-up number in a series that is supposed to be for market prices. It is a clear contradiction and causes all sorts of problems.

For those who have not looked at the numbers then nominal UK GDP has been revised up by at least £50 billion in each of the years 1997 to 2006 due to Imputed Rent and then by a declining amount up to 2011. To give an idea of scale VAT fraud is considered a big deal but changes to it top out at £2.1 billion in 2011.

This was officially declared a “discontinuity” but we carried on regardless in terms of methodology as the numbers changed. The issue of how to treat government services is another problem because it is fair to argue that you have to do something as what government;s do vary but it is also true that prices in that sector and hence GDP are unreliable and in truth are often made up rather than collected. If you want to take a Matrix style blue pill he is the official view on Imputed Rent.

 Likewise, if imputed rents were not included within GDP then an increase in home ownership would have the effect of lowering a country’s GDP.

The other problem created by Imputed Rents is that the logic above means the establishment has now put them in the inflation figures in the CPIH number. So you end up being told that the UK housing sector is a drag on inflation which is why first time buyers are struggling so much, oh hang on…….

Mark Carney

The Governor of the Bank of England has not delivered a defence of GDP he has delivered a defence of his economic forecasts. From Bloomberg.

Asked in a BBC radio interview to quantify the damage from Brexit, he said the economy is now about 1 percentage point smaller than it would have been had the 2016 European Union referendum gone the other way, and that the gap will widen to about 2 percentage points by the end of the year.

“What it works out to is tens of billions of pounds lower economic activity,” he said. “The question then is how do we make that up over time by growing above potential.”

Based on the estimated size of the economy at the end of 2017, the lost output would amount to as much as 40 billion pounds ($57 billion).

Odd timing only a few hours ahead of the GDP release but perhaps the rarefied air in Davos made him forget that. After all these days he does not get the numbers 24 hours early.

Today’s data

The news was in fact pretty good.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated to have increased by 0.5% in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2017, compared with 0.4% in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2017.

It was driven by something familiar and something less familiar but if anything even more welcome.

The dominant services sector, driven by business services and finance, increased by 0.6% compared with the previous quarter……..boosted by the second consecutive quarter of strong growth in manufacturing……….Manufacturing was the largest contributor to growth within production, at 1.3% and contributing 0.13 percentage points.

We get little detail on the manufacturing numbers but there is an intriguing hint of a further pick-up in the employment numbers in the services breakdown.

The business services and finance sector continued to be the main driver of growth in services in the latest quarter, increasing by 0.8% and contributing 0.28 percentage points. There was broad-based growth within this sector, with the largest contributor to GDP growth being employment activities, which increased by 3.6% and contributed 0.04 percentage points.

Here is a quirk for you which immediately made me think of the “NHS crisis” which is all over the media.

The largest contributor to this sector was human health activities with growth of 0.6% and contributing 0.03 percentage points to GDP growth.

Maybe not such a bad health performance although as discussed earlier the data is both uncertain and unreliable.


The construction problem continues.

Construction output was estimated to have decreased by 1.0% during Quarter 4 2017, following contraction in the previous two quarters. However, annual growth was 5.1% between 2016 and 2017, demonstrating that the most recent contractions are relatively small compared with the large growth throughout 2016 and into the first quarter of 2017.

So it continues on a weak recessionary path. Also I am not a fan of the way that the Statistical Bulletin provides context in the way that it does as it is supposed to be for the data release not news management or opinion. That is for elsewhere as how can you be the judge when you are the main witness?


If we step back for a moment we see that the UK economy has in 2017 exhibited a Napoleonic virtue. The one when he asked if particular generals were “lucky”? It has been shown by how stable things have been when so many were predicting instability post the EU Leave vote.

GDP was estimated to have increased by 1.8% between 2016 and 2017, slightly below the 1.9% growth seen between 2015 and 2016.

The luck part has come from how the favourable world economic position has helped manufacturing exports in particular and offset the impact of higher inflation on real wages and consumption. Unlike say in 2007/08 when a weaker pound helped little because the world economy was in poor shape.

As to the detail there is some hope that the ordinary person may begin to see some benefit as GDP per head rose by 0.4% making it 1.2% higher than a year before. But this is an area where we have struggled in the credit crunch era in the same way as with wages and productivity. Although of course last week brought possible better news on productivity via the telecoms sector.

On the other side of the balance sheet is construction and for all the spinning noted above the problems created by Carillion will not help the early part of 2018. If it helps my Nine Elms crane count is at 25.

As ever we need to note that the numbers are not accurate enough to be analysed to the degree they are and we have received a reminder of this from Japan today. From the Financial Times.

Japanese cryptocurrencies exchange abruptly halts withdrawals

You see by some calculations Bitcoin and the crytocurrencies were expected to provide a 0.3% boost to GDP in Japan.