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?

 

 

 

The UK Public Finances are another source of embarrassment for Mark Carney

Today sees the latest data on the UK Public Finances which so far have meandered on in the same not entirely merry way as before the EU leave vote. This is in stark contrast to the modeling provided by HM Treasury.

In the ‘shock scenario’ presented in the short-term analysis, in 2017-18, real GDP would be 2.9% lower than baseline, but potential GDP would have declined by 2.1% compared to the baseline.

Believe it or not this was the more moderate scenario and as we have not entered that fiscal year it could of course happen but so far we have seen nothing like that.Of course we should have done as the UK economy was supposed to immediately shrink by up to 1%. The consequence was that the fiscal or budget deficit would rise by £24 billion in 2017/18 and the more extreme “severe shock” would see it rise by £39 billion.

There is a particularly worrying postscript to this in that it was personally signed off by former Bank of England Deputy Governor Professor Sir Charles Bean who of course made a right charlie of himself. Well he is now at the Office of Budget Responsibility producing more growth and borrowing forecasts. There is a particular irony in the lack of responsibility and indeed the rewards for failure on display here.

The Financial Times brings up forecasts of a dire future almost as quickly as it has to offer mea culpae for the previous ones being wrong.

The EU’s Brexit negotiators expect to spend until Christmas solely discussing Britain’s divorce from the bloc, denying London any trade talks until progress is made on a €60bn exit bill and the rights of expatriate citizens.

The Bank of England

The Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney is of course familiar with the concept of providing “alternative facts” and he was on that road at this month’s Inflation Report.

First, the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement eased fiscal policy over the coming years. This explains about half of our forecast upgrade.

Actually there was an announced change but of course that relies on you believing the forecasts of George Osborne. For example the UK budget was originally supposed to be in surplus right now which of course faded not to the grey of Visage but remained solidly in red ink. So it was the sort of claimed change which probably ends up at the same destination. The flight boards may say a diversion Helsinki but somehow the flight lands at the original destination Copenhagen. At the time of typing this Andrew Tyrie of the Treasury Select Committee is really skewering the Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane on this subject by pointing out that this stimulus is apparently much more stimulative than others of the same size and asking why?

Of course Governor Carney is on the road to changing the UK public finances for the worse in two respects. As we move forwards the inflation he is so keen on “looking through” will raise the cost of financing index-linked bonds. As these are linked to the Retail Price Index which is rising at an annual rate of 2.6% the bill is on its way. Also part of the “Sledgehammer” of policy action last August was the Term Funding Scheme which has raised the national debt which shows a clear lack of forethought. You need to make your way to Appendix 9 but there it is some £31.37 billion of additional debt so that the Bank of England can subsidise the banks yet again.

Today’s data

We open with the traditional January surplus.

Public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) was in surplus by £9.4 billion in January 2017, a £0.3 billion larger surplus than in January 2016; this is the highest January surplus since 2000.

There was some good news in the receipts column.

Self-assessed Income Tax and Capital Gains Tax receipts increased by £2.0 billion to £19.8 billion in January 2017 compared with January 2016; this is the highest January on record (monthly recording of self-assessed tax receipts began in April 1999).

Of course it should be the best on record as it is inflated by economic growth and of course inflation over time. However the rises in the tax-free Personal Allowance over the past 2 government’s will have dampened this somewhat.

Something familiar

This is the ongoing issue of ch-ch-changes to the methodology stirring up all the grit from the bottom of the pot so that the water goes from clear to murky.

In this month’s bulletin we have introduced a new methodology for the recording of Corporation Tax and Bank Corporation Tax Surcharge receipts.

It is hard not to groan a little although of course it is badged as an improvement.

Previously, we have used cash receipts for these taxes as a proxy for accrued revenue. An improved methodology derives accrued revenue figures by adjusting cash receipts to more accurately reflect the time at which the economic activity relating to the tax receipts took place.

It is in fact a type of seasonal adjustment.

The impact of introducing the new methodology is to distribute the tax revenue more evenly over individual months in the year.

Actually it also makes the amount in recent years higher. Do they not know how much was collected?

A deeper perspective

This is provided by the financial year so far.

Public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) decreased by £13.6 billion to £49.3 billion in the current financial year-to-date (April 2016 to January 2017), compared with the same period in the previous financial year;

This is essentially because of a good performance on the revenue front.

In the current financial year-to-date, central government received £553.7 billion in income; including £416.8 billion in taxes. This was around 5% more than in the previous financial year-to-date.

Also contrary to the hints of a fiscal boost we received last autumn and still be trumpeted by the Bank of England this morning there has been some restraint in public expenditure.

Over the same period, central government spent £581.2 billion; around 2% more than in the previous financial year-to-date.

Care is needed here but this is quite close to the current official inflation measure ( CPI 1.8%), the same as what next month will be the new measure at the top of the release ( CPIH 2%), and below the number used for index-linking for that sector of the UK Gilt market ( RPI 2.6%). Of course much of the period here was  where inflation was lower but its rise may well tighten policy in real terms. This would be consistent with what we are hearing from the NHS and councils although the former always needs more money.

The National Debt

If he was still Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne would be shouting this from the rooftops.

Public sector net debt (excluding both public sector banks and Bank of England) was £1,589.2 billion at the end of January 2017, equivalent to 80.5% of gross domestic product (GDP); an increase of £43.6 billion (or a decrease of 0.6 % points as a ratio of GDP) since January 2016.

He was so keen to be able to declare the latter part of that quote but sadly for him he was the past before it arrived. Poor George, although if we look at his fees for speeches maybe not so poor George. The more eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted the “improvement” which helped.

Public sector net debt (excluding public sector banks) was £1,682.8 billion at the end of January 2017, equivalent to 85.3% of gross domestic product (GDP); an increase of £91.7 billion (or 1.9 % points as a ratio of GDP) since January 2016.

Actually the internationally comparable figure was 87.6% of GDP as of last March.

Comment

As ever much is going on. If we start with the Bank of England then it has not so much moved the goalposts as built its Ivory Tower on the wrong pitch. As the Ivory Tower is fixed in the ground then reality has to change so it has spent so much of this morning talking about a theoretical concept called U* unemployment which does some of the trick. They were discomfited trouble when Andrew Tyrie simply asked them when this had happened before? I did not expect Mark Carney to know as of course the UK did not exist before June 2013 but the blank embarrassed faces of the others were a sight to behold. Sadly nobody asked about why so many female members were leaving the Monetary Policy Committee this year?

The public finances continue to improve albeit more slowly than we would have hoped. There are dangers ahead from the cost of index-linked Gilts as inflation continues to rise and the impact of this inflation on the wider economy. But there are other issues as for example an area near to me in Battersea Park often becomes a trailer park in the search for more revenue, although sadly I understand that the benefit goes more to a private company ( Enable ) than the council itself.

 

 

 

 

 

The Forward Misguidance of Mark Carney and the Bank of England continues

Yesterday was a rather extraordinary day at the Bank of England even by its standards. I do not mean in terms of the policy announcements as they were not only unchanged but were always likely to be that way. This is of course because it boxed itself in with its pronouncements of economic doom last summer leading to its Bank Rate cut and extra QE (Quantitative Easing). There was actually a technical announcement on the QE front about another Operation Twist style move.

the Committee agreed to re-invest the £11.6 billion of cash flows associated with the redemption of the January 2017 gilt held by the Asset Purchase Facility

If you think about an economy which the Bank of England now thinks will have 2% economic growth in 2017 and inflation heading above target soon that is simply completely inappropriate and wrong. It is a consequence of its silly “Sledgehammer” rhetoric which Mark Carney plainly feels is too embarrassing to reverse now.

Economic growth forecasts

The Bank of England and Mark Carney seem to be getting worse and worse at this. From yesterday’s MPC (Monetary Policy Committee) Minutes.

The preliminary estimate of GDP growth for 2016 Q4 had been 0.6%, the same rate of growth as had been registered in the previous two quarters, and 0.2 percentage points higher than expected at the time of the November 2016 Inflation Report. This, together with improvements in business survey output and expectations indicators, had led Bank staff to raise their GDP growth nowcast for 2017 Q1 to 0.5%, also 0.2 percentage points higher than in November.

Such things matter when the Forward Guidance had led to policy changes as we saw in August. In fact the situation is ever more woeful than that. Even the Financial Times which of course has lauded Mark Carney as a “rockstar” central banker could not avoid pointing out this reality.

The Bank of England upgraded UK growth forecasts significantly for the second time in six months on Thursday in the latest indication the central bank’s once-dire outlook for the economy after June’s Brexit vote has been proven overly pessimistic.

The bank said it now predicts gross domestic product will grow 2 per cent this year, the same as last year and up from 1.4 per cent forecast in November. Shortly after the referendum, the BoE predicted the economy would expand just 0.8 per cent.

The simple fact is that the UK consumer and if you look into the detail our female consumers behaved like they have in the past and carried on regardless. It is for the Bank of England to explain why it ignored UK economic history. Perhaps the way it is now packed with people I have described as Carney’s cronies?

Was this predictable?

Yes it was as I pointed out back then. From August 3rd last year on the day of ignominy for the Bank of England.

I would vote for unchanged policy as I waited to see how we respond to the lower value of the UK Pound £ which on the old rule of thumb has provided a move equivalent to a 2%  Bank Rate cut.

I repeated this view on BBC Radio Four’s Moneybox on the 17th of September when I debated with ex Bank of England staffer Professor Tony Yates who said “they did pretty much the right thing”. However it was kind yesterday of Mark Carney to confirm that I was indeed right all along.

Third, financial conditions in the UK remain supportive, underpinned by low risk-free rates, the 18% fall in sterling since its November 2015 peak, and lower credit spreads.

Mark Carney tries to take the credit for this

Perhaps the worst part of yesterday’s Inflation Report was the bit where Mark Carney tried to take the credit for the performance of the UK economy.

In part this reflects Bank of England policy actions, which have also helped lower the impact of uncertainty on activity.

He omitted to point out his own doom laden pronouncements which would hardly have helped uncertainty and he had another go at that yesterday.

This stronger projection doesn’t mean the referendum is without consequence………More broadly, the level of GDP is still expected to be 1½% lower in two years’ time than projected in May, despite the substantial easing of monetary, macroprudential and fiscal policies.

If we return to Governor Carney’s claims we see that we had a “bazooka” from a lower pound compared to a “pea shooter” from his Bank Rate cut as I pointed out on Moneybox. Indeed the Governor got himself into something of a mess at the press conference as he tried to take some of the credit for consumer resilience (debt fuelled growth) and then denied that there was much debt fuelled growth! So let us leave him in his own land of confusion.

Ivory Tower alert

We got some of this too as the woeful Bank of England forecasting effort saw this addition.

Specifically, the MPC now judges that the rate of unemployment the economy can achieve while being consistent with sustainable rates of wage growth to be around 4½%, down from around 5% previously.

This was such a hot potato that the subject was handed over to Deputy Governor Ben Broadbent to explain. Ben was obviously uncomfortable as he began speaking behind his hand in the manner of Jose Mourinho. He then tried to tell us he had been right all along which of course begged the question of why there was a change? Anyway we then did get a brief burst of honesty.

Forecasting is a hazardous business

It is for Ben!

Oh and remember when their Forward Guidance was that 7% unemployment was a significant level? Whatever happened to that….

Inflation

Another problem is brewing here and this is in addition to the fact that it is going “higher and higher”. This from the Bank of England yesterday was simply wrong.

Beyond that, inflation is expected to increase further, peaking around 2.8% at the start of 2018, before falling gradually back to 2.4% in three years’ time.

As I have written many times on here that is too low as I expect it to rise above 3% due to the impact of the lower UK Pound £ and the higher price of crude oil. I recall Kristin Forbes of the Bank of England saying that she thought inflation would be pushed some 1.75% higher but now she seems to have done something of a U-Turn and decided it will be more like 0.75%. As the UK Pound £ has fallen further in the meantime that is quite a big change.

Comment

There is one aspect of Bank of England Forward Guidance which has in fact proved correct.

the appropriate level of Bank Rate is likely to be materially below the 5% level set on average by the Committee prior to the financial crisis.

I think we can say 0.25% is materially below 5%. But the rest of it has proven to be woeful. After all Mark Carney’s hints of a Bank Rate rise would fit an economy over 3 years into a growth phase and with inflation set to run above target. But of course all his hints and teases were followed by exactly the reverse or a Bank Rate cut.

As to the inflation forecast well this morning has brought the beginnings of a further critique of that as well. From the BBC.

Npower has announced one of the largest single price rises implemented by a “Big Six” supplier. The company will raise standard tariff electricity prices by 15% from 16 March, and gas prices by 4.8%. A typical dual fuel annual energy bill will rise by an average of 9.8%, or £109.

Also there is the media inspired great lettuce and broccoli crisis of 2017.

Some supermarkets are rationing the amount of iceberg lettuce and broccoli customers can buy – blaming poor growing conditions in southern Europe for a shortage in UK stores.

Tesco is limiting shoppers to three iceberg lettuces, as bad weather in Spain caused “availability issues”.

Morrisons has a limit of two icebergs to stop “bulk buying”, and is limiting broccoli to three heads per visit.

Asda said courgette stocks were still low after a UK shortage last month.

I guess we can expect higher prices here too as we mull whether the weather has ever affected food availability in the past! As a public service announcement there did not appear to be any shortage at Lidl at Clapham Junction yesterday. What will the Bank of England do about rising inflation? Well as you can see it takes a while to say “nothing”

At its February meeting, the MPC unanimously judged that it remained appropriate to seek to return inflation to the target over a somewhat longer period than usual, and that the current stance of monetary policy remained appropriate to balance the demands of the Committee’s remit.

If you are trading the US non-farm payroll numbers today then good luck….

 

 

 

Mark Carney plans to do nothing about rising UK inflation

Today is inflation day in the UK where we receive the full raft of data from producer to consumer inflation topped off with the official house price index. We already know that December saw gains elsewhere in the world such as Chinese producer prices and consumer inflation in the Czech Republic and some German provinces so we advance with a little trepidation. That of course is the theme we were expecting for the UK anyway as the oil price was unlikely to repeat the falls of late 2015 ( in fact it rose) and this has been added to by the fall in the value of the UK Pound £ after the EU leave vote last June.

The Bank of England

Governor Mark Carney updated us in a speech yesterday about how he intends to deal with rising inflation. But first of course we need to cover his Bank Rate cut and £70 billion of extra QE ( Quantitative Easing) including Corporate Bond purchases from August as tucked away in the speech was a confession of yet another Forward Guidance failure.

Over the autumn, demand growth remained more resilient than had been expected, particularly consumer spending.

Yet at the same time we were expected to believe that by being wrong the Bank of England was in fact a combination of Superman and Wonder Woman as look what it achieved.

but an output gap of some 1½%, implying around 1/4 million lost jobs

So Mark why did you not cut Bank Rate by a further 1.5% and do an extra £350 billion of QE because then you would have pretty much eliminated unemployment? If only life were that simple! For a start it is rather poor to see a theory (the output gap) which I pointed out was failing in 2010 and did fail in 2011 having a rave from a well deserved grave. I guess any port is  welcome when you are in a storm of your own mistakes.

As to his intention to deal with inflation I summarised that last night as he spoke at the LSE.

Here is the Mark Carney speech explaining how and why he will miss his inflation target http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/Pages/speeches/2017/954.aspx 

It was nice to get a mention on the BBC putting the other side of the debate.

http://bbc.in/2jsktij

You see with his discussion of algebra and “lambda,lambda,lambda” we are given an impression of intellectual rigour but the real message was here.

the UK’s monetary policy framework is grounded in society’s choice of the desired end.

What is that Mark?

monetary policymaking will at times involve striking short-term trade-offs between stabilising inflation and supporting growth and employment

As you see we are being shuffled away from inflation targeting as we wonder how long the “short-term” can last? As we do we see a familiar friend from my financial lexicon for these times.

inflation may deviate temporarily from the
target on account of shocks

So “temporarily” is back and a change in the remit will allow him to extend his definition of it towards the end of time if necessary.

Since 2013, the remit has explicitly recognised that in these
circumstances, bringing inflation back to target too rapidly could cause volatility in output and employment
that is undesirable.

Of course with his Forward Guidance being wrong on pretty much a permanent basis Governor Carney can claim to be in a state of shock nearly always. A point of note is that this is a policy set by the previous Chancellor George Osborne not the current one.

The fundamental problem is that as inflation rises it will reduce real wages ( although maybe not in the Ivory Tower simulations) and thereby act as a brake on the economy just like in did in 2011/12.

Today’s data

We are not surprised on here although I see many messages online saying they were.

The all items CPI annual rate is 1.6%, up from 1.2% in November.

In terms of detail the rise was driven by these factors.

Within transport, the largest upward effect came from air fares, with prices rising by 49% between November and December 2016, compared with a smaller rise of 46% a year earlier.

So a sign of how air travellers get singed at Christmas and also this.

Food and non-alcoholic beverages, where prices overall, increased by 0.8% between November and December 2016, having fallen by 0.2% last year

So Mark Carney and the central banking ilk will be pleased as if we throw in motor fuel rises the inflation is in food and fuel or what they call “non-core”. Of course the rest of us will note that it is essential items which are driving the inflation rise.

Target alert

I have been pointing out over the past year or so the divergence between our old inflation target and the current one. Well take a look at this.

The annual rate for RPIX, the all items RPI excluding mortgage interest payments (MIPs) index, is 2.7%, up from 2.5% last month.

It is above target and whilst there are dangers in using one month’s data we see that this month implies that our inflation target was loosened in 2002/03 by around 0.6%. Good job nothing went wrong later……Oh hang on.

What happens next?

We get a strong clue from the producer prices numbers which tell us this.

Factory gate prices (output prices) rose 2.7% on the year to December 2016 and 0.1% on the month,

As you see they are pulling inflation higher and if we look further upstream then the heat is on.

Prices for materials and fuels paid by UK manufacturers for processing (input prices) rose 15.8% on the year to December 2016 and 1.8% on the month.

The relationship between these numbers and consumer inflation is of the order of the one in ten sung about by the bank UB40 so our rule of thumb looks at CPI inflation doubling at least.

House Prices

What we see is something to make Mark Carney cheer but first time buyers shiver.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 6.7% in the year to November 2016 (up from 6.4% in the year to October 2016), continuing the strong growth seen since the end of 2013.

So whilst I expect a slow down in 2017 the surge continues or at least it did in November. Surely this will have been picked up by the UK’s new inflation measure which we are told includes owner-occupied housing costs?

The all items CPIH annual rate is 1.7%, up from 1.4% in November……The OOH component annual rate is 2.6%, unchanged from last month.

So no as we see a flightless bird try to fly and just simply crash. That is what happens when you use Imputed Rent methodology which after all is there to convince us we have economic growth and therefore needs a low inflation reading.

As an aside we got an idea of the boom and then bust in Northern Ireland as the average house price rose to £225,000 pre credit crunch but is now only £124,000. Is that a factor in its current crisis?

Comment

Last night saw a real toadying introduction to the speech by Mark Carney at the LSE.

He is someone who thinks very deeply about the big responsibilities he has, and he has that very rare talent of being able to think and act at the same time

The introducer must exist in different circles to me as I know lot’s of people like that and of course the last time Governor Carney acted the thinking was wrong. I did have a wry smile as this definition of the distributional problems that the extra QE has and will create.

He has been thinking very hard about distributional issues

What we actually got was a restatement of Bank of England policy which involves talking about the inflation target as if they mean it and then shifting like sand to in fact giving the reasons why they will in fact look the other way. Last time they did this the growth trajectory of the UK economy fell ( with real wages) rather than rose as claimed. The only ch-ch-changes in the meantime are that the current inflation remit will make it even easier to do.

 

 

 

 

The “Sledgehammer” of Mark Carney raises the UK National Debt

Firstly welcome to the winter solstice and the realisation that the only way is up for the length of the day although the coldest day is not due for a month. Of course I should not forget my readers on the underside of the world who have the benefit of the longest day but not the light prospects! Although the weather should get warmer for a while. As today updates us on the UK Public Finances let us continue in an end of year reflective vein. We can gain some wry amusement from looking back and noting where we were supposed to be now.

It is entirely appropriate that we should on the darkest day of the year pull out the forecasts of the UK Office for Budget Responsibility. Let us go back to the summer of 2010 as it emerged blinking into the sunlight.

public sector net borrowing (PSNB) to fall from 11.0 per cent of GDP in 2009-10 to 1.1 per cent in 2015-16;

There is more.

public sector net debt (PSND) to increase from 53.5 per cent of GDP in 2009-10 to a peak of 70.3 per cent in 2013-14, falling to 69.4 per cent in 2014-15 and 67.4 per cent in 2015-16;

Plus a coup de grace for this section.

the cyclically-adjusted current budget deficit of 5.3 per cent of GDP in 2009-10 to be eliminated by 2014-15 and reach a surplus of 0.8 per cent of GDP in 2015-16.

A surplus? Well even the OBR back then could only manage it by imposing an economic cycle. This is a politically inspired wheeze as you see by changing the cycle you can get pretty much any result you want whilst of course reality remains unchanged. As PM Dawn reminded us.

Reality used to be a friend of mine
Reality used to be a friend of mine
Maybe “why?” is the question that’s on you mind
But reality used to be a friend of mine
Reality used to be a friend of mine.
Reality used to be a friend of mine
Please don’t ask me ’cause I don’t know why,
but reality used to be a friend of mine.

Number Crunching

Taken independently, and on the basis of our central forecast, there is a greater than 50 per cent chance of this target being met in 2015- 16. There is also a greater than 50 per cent chance of it being met a year early, in 2014-15.

So that’s 100% +, do I have that right? Anyway let us move on from a world where wage growth is 5% and we are just about to eliminate the current account deficit, I kid you not.

Today’s data

Let us open with a cheery improvement.

Public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) decreased by £0.6 billion to £12.6 billion in November 2016, compared with November 2015.

So we have an improvement showing that the public finances have not collapsed, at least so far, after the EU leave vote. That is of course awkward for the OBR new boy Professor Sir Charlie Bean who signed off an official forecast saying the UK economy would shrink by between 0.1% and 1% in the quarter following a leave vote. You could argue therefore that he was a perfect candidate to continue the past record of the OBR.

If we move to the more reliable quarterly numbers we see a familiar pattern.

Public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) decreased by £7.7 billion to £59.5 billion in the current financial year-to-date (April to November 2016), compared with the same period in 2015.

We are a very long way from the surplus predicted by the OBR! That went to 2019/20 and now seems to have vanished in a puff of smoke. The real point here though is that whilst our deficit continues to decline it is doing so at a slower rate than you might expect as the official economic growth figures turned nearly four years ago.

You can compare the number above with what the OBR told us in March to see that it has retained its skill set.

In the Spring Budget (16 March 2016),OBR estimated that the public sector would borrow £55.5 billion during the financial year ending March 2017 (April 2016 to March 2017).

What is economic growth?

Not this time an existential style discussion what I intend to do is use the revenue and taxes numbers as a guide. After all tax receipts are an actual number as opposed to some of the imputations of GDP. On the face of it we seem to be doing reasonably well.

Central government receipts for the financial year-to-date (April to November 2016) were £421.8 billion, an increase of £17.8 billion, or 4.4%, compared with the same period in the previous financial year.

However we need to take care as the strongest numbers are from National Insurance where some rates were raised this year. But what we might consider the core numbers are not far off what we think economic growth is,especially if we recall that income tax receipts have been negatively influenced by the raising of the Personal Allowance.

VAT receipts increased by £2.5 billion, or 2.9%, to £89.1 billion…Income Tax-related payments increased by £2.1 billion, or 2.1%, to £101.9 billion

So a bit under 3% say as an estimate. Oh and there was a boost from an expected and an unexpected source.

Corporation Tax increased by £2.8 billion, or 9.7%, to £32.2 billion…….Stamp Duty on land and property increased by £0.7 billion, or 9.2%, to £8.2 billion

So we are collecting more Corporation Tax than many would like you to believe although we could do better. Also Stamp Duty per se has been on a bit of a tear.

Stamp Duty on shares increased by £0.5 billion, or 24.4%, to £2.5 billion.

National Debt

There is a little bit of statistical chicanery going on here as the improvement in the ratio compared to GDP has stopped.

At the end of November 2016, the provisional estimate of PSND (Public Sector Net Debt) ex as a percentage of GDP stood at 84.5%; an increase of 0.1 percentage points compared with November 2015.

But in the spirit of the OBR above we have apparently found a new “cycle” or something like that.

At the end of November 2016, the provisional estimate of PSND ex BoE as a percentage of GDP stood at 81.6%; a decrease of 0.5 percentage points compared with November 2015. This is the sixth successive month of debt falling on the year as a percentage of GDP and indicates that GDP is currently increasing (year-on-year) faster than PSND ex BoE.

One day perhaps we will have PSND excluding debt.

Mark Carney

You may wonder what he is doing here. Well two of his “Sledgehammer” policy decisions from August have increased the UK National Debt.

any private sector corporate bonds purchased will lead to an increase in public sector net debt equal to the total purchase price of the bonds as the bonds are not liabilities of the public sector.

Also this.

By the end of November 2016, the Bank of England had made £5.8 billion of loans through the Term Funding Scheme. These transactions have been financed by the creation of central bank reserves and so will increase public sector net debt accordingly.

Comment

So we find ourselves in a familiar position where the UK fiscal deficit is falling but more slowly than we would have hoped and expected in the circumstances. If we step back there were two decisions which have contributed to this. The largest influence was the so-called triple lock for increases to the basic state pension which has been especially expensive in real terms in recent times due to the low rate of the official consumer inflation number. Also on the revenue side there was the decision to push the Personal ( tax-free) Allowance substantially higher which has held income tax revenues back.

Meanwhile as we review the way that the Bank of England cut Bank Rate into a currency fall we see yet another side-effect. This is that the Term Funding Scheme and Corporate Bond purchases increase the National Debt. This is particularly ill-fated for the purchases of foreign companies like Maersk where they benefit but the UK taxpayer pays.

 

Why is Mark Carney avoiding the “credit” for higher house prices?

We find ourselves in the middle of a concerted campaign by the Bank of England which is in a phase where it is barely out of the news and media. It was only yesterday we looked at the published views of its Chief Economist and now we find that Governor Carney has had plenty to say. There is one clear feature of these Open Mouth Operations from the Bank of England and that is that the headlines are about anything but monetary policy! Both seem very keen to discuss matters that are beyond their remit which to my mind is a confession that my critique that they made a policy error in August is troubling them.

Let me open with something about which the Governor and I can agree.

We meet today during the first lost decade since the 1860s

This first makes me think of his past claim that monetary policy was not “Maxxed-Out”, if so what has he been doing on his own terms? But let me continue with something else I can agree with because it is at the heart of my analysis.

Over the past decade real earnings have grown at the slowest rate since the mid-19th Century

Now that is a type of lost decade. But we immediately have a problem because our Mark is trying to deflect us away from a policy choice he has made which in my opinion will make the situation worse.

The MPC is choosing a period of somewhat higher consumer price inflation in exchange for a more modest increase in unemployment

Having highlighted real wages he then attempts to ignore this.

this resolution is expected to occur as imported inflation begins to weigh on people’s real incomes, slowing consumption growth.

He even gives us the economic equivalent of a straw (wo)man to deflect us from the situation above.

For example, returning inflation to the 2% target in three years’ time would call for rates around 100 basis points higher over the next three years. Compared to the MPC’s November projections, that would increase unemployment by around 250,000 people.

No doubt the economics department at the Bank of England will produce any simulation the Governor wants but some of this is risible. For example this is very different to him simply not having cut interest-rates in August. Also his policy horizon is not 3 years unless he is now choosing his own one. If we move onto CPI inflation heading towards 3%+ and RPI inflation heading towards 4%+ how does that go with this rhetoric Mark?

The happy medium is a monetary policy framework with a credible commitment to low, stable, predictable inflation over the medium term, as in the UK’s tried and tested arrangements.

Incredible more like……

Distribution problems

We are hearing a lot about this from the Bank of England which is a clear sign that reality is proving inconvenient for it. There is quite a shift implied in the sentence below and my theme that Bank of England Governors morph into the same person gets support from the re-emergence of the word “rebalancing” as the spectre of Baron King of Lothbury appears like the Ghost of Christmas Past.

we must grow our economy by rebalancing the mix of monetary policy, fiscal policy and structural reforms.

Is he now responsible for these too or sing along to the “It wasn’t me” from Shaggy? Let us take the advice he gives below.

Acknowledge current challenges and address them, wherever possible.

Quantitative Easing

This is a big problem for Mark Carney on a day he had just bought another £1 billion of UK Gilts. The problem is that it has helped the rich or if you prefer those who own assets. As central banks have majored on “wealth effects” as a gain from easy monetary policy they have provided their own confession to this challenge. Mark gives us examples of the effect in America and the world but is a lot more shy about the UK.

The picture in the UK is complex but in general suggests relatively stable but high levels of overall inequality, with sharper disparities emerging in recent times for the top 1%.

I am not so sure why he is being so shy as you see back in 2012 the Bank of England’s own research hammered the point home.

By pushing up a range of asset prices, asset purchases have boosted the value of households’ financial wealth held outside pension funds, but holdings are heavily skewed with the top 5% of households holding 40% of these assets.

Perhaps for Mark UK economic history only starts in June 2013. But if so he then has a problem because he seems a little shy about this as well!

Moreover, rising real house prices between the mid-1990s and the late 2000s has created a growing disparity between older home owners and younger renters

But house prices have been doing this on Mark’s watch.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 7.7% in the year to September 2016 (unchanged from 7.7% in the year to August 2016), continuing the strong growth seen since the end of 2013. ( Office for National Statistics).

Surely he wants to take the credit for the wealth effects central bankers love? Or perhaps just not yesterday. Meanwhile ( and thank you to Andrew Baldwin for reminding us of regional inflation differences in yesterday’s comments) we see this in the official data.

In September 2016, the most expensive borough to live in was Kensington and Chelsea, where the cost of an average house was £1.4 million. In contrast, the cheapest area to purchase a property was Blaenau Gwent, where an average house cost £76,000.

I don’t know about you but the implications of that are an extraordinary distribution of wealth and resources?! Not every bit is his fault as capital cities especially London have been en vogue. But when we read of cheapest ever mortgage rates and the Funding for (Mortgage) Lending Scheme and now the MTFS a big arrow points at Governor Carney’s office. The banks always seem to pass go and collect £200 whilst the Go to jail, go directly to jail card seems to have disappeared from the version of Monopoly.

Does monetary policy float all boats?

There are obvious critiques of this above but let me add what is another major theme of mine and let me use Governor Carney’s own words to do it.

Few in positions of responsibility took theirs. Shareholders, taxpayers and citizens paid the heavy price.

QE and easy monetary policy bailed them out and ossified the financial system and thereby contributed heavily to this.

In the UK the shortfall, at 16%, is even worse ( GDP per capita)…The underlying reasons for the 16% shortfall of the UK’s productive capacity, relative to trend, are poorly understood.

I do not like projecting trends but in spite of the fact that doing so has been a disaster the Bank of England loves it, well for things that suit it anyway.

Comment

There are a litany of issues here. For example I am no doctor but I cannot think of any cure that takes eight years not to work can you?

Monetary policy has been keeping the patient alive, creating the possibility of a lasting cure through fiscal and structural operations. It has averted depression and helped advanced economies live to fight another day, so that measures to restore vitality can be taken.

8 years Mark? Anyway in these 8 years Mark has been busy marking his own exam paper.

What if the MPC had not acted? Simulations using the Bank’s main forecasting model suggest that the Bank’s monetary policy measures raised the level of GDP by around 8% relative to trend and lowered unemployment by 4 percentage points at their peak. Without this action, real wages would have been 8% lower, or around £2,000 per worker per year, and 1.5 million more people would have been out of work. In short, monetary policy has been highly effective.

So in Spinal Tap terms Mark has awarded himself 11 out of 10. Or more likely some economist deep in the bowels of the Bank of England bunker has. On his road to being a supreme court of judge,jury and witness on himself he does not seem to have suffered from this “uncertainty is high”.

So there you have it a masterclass in a Sir Humphrey Appleby style speech where you attract favourable headlines and leave behind misleading messages. Oh and speaking of Yes Prime Minister I doff my cap one more time!

Leak inquiry into leaking of letter warning about leaks

Just as a reminder the purpose of a leak inquiry is merely not exist not to actually catch anyone. Otherwise it might catch the person who launched the inquiry….

How many promises about Royal Bank of Scotland have been broken today?

One of the main features of the credit crunch in the UK were the collapse of Royal Bank of Scotland and the UK taxpayer bailout of it. Since then we have been regularly informed that it has recovered and that the sunlit uplands are not only in sight but have arrived. The 27th of January this year was an example of this.

“I am determined to put the issues of the past behind us and make sure RBS is a stronger, safer bank,” chief executive Ross McEwan said.

“We will now continue to move further and faster in 2016 to clean up the bank and improve our core businesses.”

I am not sure how you can move “further and faster” on something you have supposedly fixed several times before! If we look back to September 2014 we were told something which is likely to echo later in this article.

we expect to spend much of the next 18 months simply marvelling at the sheet size of the RBS’ capital surplus and wondering why it is just sitting there gathering dust,’ he said.

Back in 2012 my old employer Union Bank of Scotland was on the case sort of.

However, with 2013 expected to be the last year of significant restructuring for RBS, it is likely to be one of the first European banks to have dealt with legacy issues

The International Financing Review put its oar in as well.

In some ways, however, RBS is well ahead of the pack…….RBS was forced to concentrate on what it was good at and should come out of its current (second) restructuring as one of the more efficient banks in the industry.

Mind you at least someone had a sense of humour on the way.

If we advance to the figures released in January of 2014 we see that BlueBullet on Twitter had a wry take on events.

Dear Dragons Den, I have 80% share. Losses this year are £8 billion. I am paying out £0.5 billion in bonuses. Would you like to invest? #RBS

Royal Bank of Scotland Today

Which pack was RBS “well ahead of” here?

The Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS) did not meet its common equity Tier 1 (CET1) capital or Tier 1 leverage hurdle rates before additional Tier 1 (AT1) conversion in this scenario. After AT1 conversion, it did not meet its CET1 systemic reference point or Tier 1 leverage ratio hurdle rate.

The rhetoric carries on as Mark Carney is telling us “they (RBS) have made progress” in this morning’s press conference. Although there is a clear warning signal as he deflects a question about it to a colleague. This happens on difficult questions and means that the Governor cannot be quoted in future on the details for RBS.

Reuters sums up the tale of woe for RBS here.

The unexpected result underlines the litany of problems RBS is grappling with, which include a mounting legal bill for misconduct ahead of the 2008 financial crisis and difficulties selling off assets such as its Williams & Glyn banking business.

So “litany of problems” is the new “stronger,safer bank”? So what will it do about this?

The state-backed lender rushed out a statement following the announcement to say it would take a range of actions, including selling off bad loans and cutting costs to make up the capital shortfall identified by the tests of around 2 billion pounds ($2.49 billion).

“Rushed out a statement” is really rather poor when it will have been given advance notice about this but this does echo its response to the 2008 crisis. Meanwhile I guess it cannot go back to the UK taxpayer for more cash as of course it did this only in March.

Royal Bank of Scotland is paying £1.2bn to the Treasury to buy out a crucial part of its £45bn bailout in a step towards returning the bank to the private sector.

This was a way that Chancellor George Osborne massaged and manipulated the UK public finances back then. Was this from Earth Wind & Fire the backing track?

Every man has a place
In his heart there’s a space
And the world can’t erase his fantasies
Take a ride in the sky
On our ship, fantasize
All your dreams will come true right away

I do hope that he will be called in front of the Treasury Select Committee to explain this and that his diary is not too full as he collects new titles. As I suspect we can file this in the bin.

George Osborne has already said he is hoping to generate £25bn from the sale of three-quarters of its RBS shares in this parliament,

The share price is down nearly 3% at 191.5 pence as I type this and perhaps it should be another 3%. The breakeven for the UK taxpayer is just over £5.

Other UK banks

There were more technical and minor failures to be seen.

Barclays did not meet its CET1 systemic reference point before AT1 conversion in this scenario. In light of the steps that Barclays had already announced to strengthen its capital position, the PRA Board did not require Barclays to submit a revised capital plan…..Standard Chartered…. did not meet its Tier 1 minimum capital requirement (including Pillar 2A). In light of the steps that Standard Chartered is already taking to strengthen its capital position, including the AT1 it has issued during 2016, the PRA Board did not require Standard Chartered to submit a revised capital plan.

A confession from Mark Carney

We got yet another U-Turn as we were told that household debt is now an issue which I summarised on Twitter like this.

Mark Carney says “thanks” to a question about household debt which means of course the opposite!

The fact that the subject got a mention is extremely revealing. As nobody at the press conference had either the gumption or the courage to ask Governor Carney how his Bank Rate cut and extra QE would improve household debt we were left with a sinking feeling. Which of course is what Governor Carney had been telling us was happening to house hold debt. Also he has a pretty odd view about lending for cars and automobiles.

Does Mark Carney really think “auto lending” is secured debt as he just claimed? What about depreciation?

There used to be quite a few adverts on the radio for Buy To Let lending for cars which I always thought was bizarre. Either Governor Carney wants to boost this or he used his £250,000 a year rent allowance to have a punt. Oh excuse me, long-term investment.

We were also told that he has plenty of “tools” although when I enquired about a definition of them some were ones he may or may not agree with.

A bunch of them, they sit on the committee with me.

I have been warning about the rise of unsecured lending in the UK and my latest piece on the issue was only yesterday. Perhaps the Governor read it.

Comment

There are several issues to consider here. I think that the way Governor Carney has used it to highlight claimed concerns about the rise of household lending is revealing. It enabled him to get this on record with little chance of being challenged as the media rushes to print about RBS. I also note that he shuffled the question about Buy To Let lending to someone else.

Meanwhile RBS continues on its own private ( albeit publicly owned) Road To Nowhere. We have almost infinite inflation in false dawns but a reality of disappointment and failure. After 8 years of this is it time to file the claims of reform in the “Liars Lexicon” mentioned in the comments section yesterday.

Meanwhile we have an example of another of my themes in play. Actual helicopter money from the Indian Air Force.