Slow house price growth and a fall in credit card borrowing will worry the Bank of England

2020 has only just begun to borrow a phrase from The Carpenters but already the pace has picked up. Should the oil price remain above US $68 for a barrel of Brent Crude there will be consequences and impacts. But also we can look back on the Bank of England’s priority indicator in 2019 and on the subject here is the Nationwide.

Annual UK house price growth edged up as 2019 drew to a
close, with prices 1.4% higher than December 2018, the first
time it been above 1% for 12 months.

I have put in the format that would be most sensible for whoever is presenting the Bank of England Governor’s morning meeting. That is because pointing out the rise was only 0.1% in December does not seem as good and noting that unadjusted average prices fell by £452 may rewarded with an office that neither the wifi nor the cake trolley reach.

Continuing with that theme perhaps looking north of the border will help.

Scotland was the strongest performing home nation in
2019, with prices up 2.8% over the year.

Might be best to avoid this though.

London ended the year as the weakest performing region,
with an annual price decline of 1.8%.

If you are forced into looking at London then the Nationwide has done some PR spinning of the numbers.

While this marks the tenth quarter in row that prices have fallen in the capital, they are still only around 5% below the all-time highs recorded in Q1 2017 and c50% above their 2007 levels (UK prices are only around 17% higher than their 2007 peak).

Best to avoid the fact that London is usually a leader of the pack for the rest of the country.

Affordability

Should our poor graduate find themselves in this area then perhaps a new career might be advisable as even the Nationwide cannot avoid this.

“Even in the North and Scotland, where property appears
most affordable, it would still take someone earning the
average wage and saving 15% of their take home pay each
month more than five years to save a 20% deposit. In Wales
and Northern Ireland, it would take prospective buyers nearly seven years, and almost eight years for people living in the West Midlands.
“Reflecting the trend in overall house prices, the deposit
challenge is most daunting in the South of England, where it would take an average earner almost a decade to amass a 20% deposit. Again, the pressures are most acute in the
capital, where someone earning an average income would
need around 15 years to save a 20% deposit on the typical
London property (this is even longer than was the case
before the financial crisis, when it would have taken around
ten and a half years).”

So houses are very expensive and in many cases effectively unaffordable which contradicts the official measures of inflation which somehow ( somehow of course means deliberately) miss this out. So officially you are richer it is just unfortunate that you cannot afford housing….

Consumer Credit

Our unfortunate trainee cannot catch a break today as we note this.

The net flow of consumer credit was £0.6 billion in November, the smallest flow since November 2013.

Within it was something to send a chill down the spine of a modern central banker. The emphasis is mine and it will also have stood out in capitals to the Bank of England.

The extra amount borrowed by consumers in order to buy goods and services fell to £0.6 billion in November. This is the weakest since November 2013, and below the £1.1 billion average seen since July 2018. Within this, there was a net repayment of credit cards for the first time since July 2013, of £0.1 billion. Net borrowing for other loans and advances also weakened, to £0.7 billion.

Actually the stock of credit card borrowing fell by a larger amount from £72.4 billion to £72.1 billion. However whilst the drop stands out a little care is needed as the October flow was more than has become usual ( +£400 million) so the drop may be a bit of an aberration.

We learn more from the next bit.

These weak flows mean the annual growth rate of consumer credit fell to 5.7% in November, compared to 6.1% in October. It has now fallen 3.7 percentage points since July 2018, when it was 9.4%.

Whilst that may be true ( we recently had some large upwards revisions which reduced confidence in the accuracy of the data series) it dodges some important points. For example 5.7% is still much faster than anything else in the economy and because of the previous high rate of growth had to slow to some extent due to the size of the amount of consumer credit now ( £225.3 billion in case you were wondering). Also the other loans and advances section continues to grow at an annual rate of 6.6% which has not only been stable but seems to be resisting the impact of a weaker car market as car loans are a component of it.

Mortgage Lending

This morning’s release was a case of steady as she goes.

Lending in the mortgage market continued to be steady in November, and in line with levels seen over the past three years. Net mortgage borrowing fell marginally to £4.1 billion, and mortgage approvals for house purchase remained unchanged at 65,000.

The catch is that the push which began with the interest-rate cuts and QE bond buying after the credit crunch and was turbo-charged by the Funding for Lending Scheme in the summer of 2012 is losing its impact on house prices.

For those of you wondering what the typical mortgage rate now is another release today gave us a pointer.

Effective rates on new secured loans to individuals decreased 9bps to 1.87%.

For more general lending they seem a little reticent below so let me help out by saying it is 6.88%.

Effective rates on outstanding other unsecured loans to individuals decreased 4bps

That is another world from a Bank Rate of 0.75%. Meanwhile on that theme I would like to point out that the quoted interest-rate for credit cards is 20.3%. I have followed it throughout the credit crunch era and it is up by 2.5%. Yes I do mean up so relatively it has risen more as official interest-rates declined. This is something that has received a bit of an airing in the United States and some attention but not so here.

Comment

Let me open with two developments in the credit crunch era. The first is that even high interest-rates ( 20%) above do not seem to discourage credit card borrowing these days. I will also throw in that numbers from Sweden and Germany suggest that a combination of zero interest-rates for many and negative ones for some seem to encourage saving. That is a poke in not one but both eyes for the Ivory Towers.

Moving to our trainee at the Bank of England then I suggest as a short-term measure as the Governor is only around until March suggesting a man of international distinction is required to deal with issues like this.

Meteorologists say a climate system in the Indian Ocean, known as the dipole, is the main driver behind the extreme heat in Australia.

However, many parts of Australia have been in drought conditions, some for years, which has made it easier for the fires to spread and grow.

Returning to the economy then there was some better news from the broad money figures as November was a stronger month raising the annual rate of M4 growth to 4%. The catch is that it takes a while to impact and so is something for around the middle of 2021.

Me on The Investing Channel

 

 

Good news for the UK economy on the wages and broad money front less so on consumer credit

Today I feel sorry for whoever has to explain this at the Bank of England morning meeting.

“Annual house price growth remained below 1% for the 11th
month in a row in October, at 0.4%. Average prices rose by
around £800 over the last 12 months, a significant slowing
compared with recent years – for example, in the same
period to October 2016, prices increased by £9,100.”

That was from the Nationwide Building Society which has brought news to spoil a central banker’s breakfast. After all they have done their best.

“Moreover, mortgage rates remain close to all-time lows –
more than 95% of borrowers have opted for fixed rate deals
in recent quarters, around half of which have opted to fix for five years.”

The irony here is that they have made their own Bank Rate changes pretty impotent. I recall in the early days of this decade noting that nearly all mortgages in Portugal were fixed-rate ones and thinking we were different. Well not any more!

But unlike Governor Carney I consider this to be a good news story because of this bit.

the unemployment rate remains close to 40 year lows and real earnings growth (i.e. after taking account of inflation) is close to levels prevailing before the financial crisis.

So houses are becoming more affordable in general terms and the Nationwide is beginning to pick this up as its earnings to house price ratio has fallen from 5.2 to 5. Although the falls are concentrated in London ( from 10 to 8.9) and the outer London area ( 7.2 to 6.7). Both Northern Ireland ( now 4) and the West Midlands ( now 4.7) have seen small rises.

UK Wages

We can look at the wages position in more detail because this morning has brought the results of the annual ASHE survey.

Median weekly earnings for full-time employees reached £585 in April 2019, an increase of 2.9% since April 2018….In real terms (after adjusting for inflation), median full-time employee earnings increased by 0.9% in the year to April 2019.

So we see something of a turning in the situation for the better although sadly the situation for real wages is not that good, as it relies on the Imputed Rent driven CPIH measure of inflation. So maybe we had 0.5% growth in real wages.

Even using the fantasy driven inflation measure we are still worse off than we once were.

Median weekly earnings in real terms are still 2.9% lower (£18 lower) than the peak in 2008 of £603 in 2019 prices.

These numbers conceal wide regional variations as highlighted here.

In April 2019, the City of London had the highest gross weekly earnings for full-time employees (£1,052) and Newark and Sherwood had the lowest (£431).

Also the way to get a pay rise was to change jobs.

In 2019, the difference in growth in earnings for full-time employees who changed jobs since April 2018 (8.0%) compared with those who stayed in the same job (1.6%) was high, suggesting stronger upward pressure on wages compared with other years.

Tucked away in the detail was some good news for part-time workers.

Median weekly earnings for part-time jobs increased at a greater rate. In 2019, earnings increased by 5.2% in nominal terms, which translates to a 3.1% increase in real terms. The median weekly earnings for part-time employee jobs of £197 is 6.5% higher than in 2008 in real terms.

It seems that the changes in the national minimum wage have had a positive impact here.

Meanwhile far from everyone has seen a rise.

The proportion of employees experiencing a pay freeze or a decrease in earnings (in real terms) in 2019 (35.7%) is lower than in 2018 (43.3%) and in 2011 (relative to 2010) when it was 60.5%.

Mortgages

From the Bank of England today.

Mortgage market indicators point to continued stability in the market. Net mortgage borrowing by households was little changed at £3.8 billion in September. The stability in the monthly flows has left the annual growth rate unchanged at 3.2%. Growth rates have now remained close to this figure for the past three years. Mortgage approvals for house purchase (an indicator for future lending) were also broadly unchanged in September, at 66,000, and remained within the narrow range seen over the past three years.

As you can see this was a case of what Talking Heads would call.

Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was

Although there is a nuance in that the longer-term objective of the Bank of England is still in play. The true purpose of the Funding for Lending Scheme of the summer of 2012 was to get net mortgage credit consistently positive. That was achieved as there have been no monthly declines since ( unlike in 2010 and 2011) and over time the amount has risen. Nothing like the £9 billion pluses of 2007 but much higher than post credit crunch.

Consumer Credit

The credit impulse provided by the Funding for Lending Scheme was always likely to leak into here.

The annual growth rate of consumer credit was 6.0% in September. This growth rate has now been falling steadily for nearly three years. Revisions to the data this month, however, mean that the annual growth rate has been revised up slightly over the past two and a half years.

Let me give you an example of how the rate of consumer credit growth has been falling from last month’s update.

The annual growth rate of consumer credit continued to slow in August, falling to 5.4%.

The “revised up slightly” means it is now being reported as 6.1%. This is really poor as we can all make mistakes but this is a big deal and needs a full explanation as something has gone wrong enough on a scale to change the narrative.

Assuming this number is correct here is the detail for September itself.

The extra amount borrowed by consumers in order to buy goods and services fell slightly to £0.8 billion in September, and for the second month in a row was below £1.1 billion, the average since July 2018.

Broad Money

There was some good news in this release for the UK economy.

Total money holdings in September rose by £10.9 billion, broadly flat on the month, and remaining above the average of the past 6 months.

The amount of money held by households rose by £5.5 billion in September, primarily driven by increased holdings of interest bearing sight deposits. NIOFC’s money holdings rose by £4.3 billion, while the amount held by PNFCs rose by £1.0 billion.

I am a little unclear how a rise of just under £11 billion is “broadly flat”! But anyway this continues the improvement in the annual growth rate to 3.9% as opposed to the 1.8% of both January and May. Individual months can be erratic but we seem to have turned higher as a trend.

Comment

There have been several bits of good news for the UK economy today. The first is the confirmation of the improvement in the trajectory for real wages and some rather good growth for those working part-time. This feeds into the next bit which is the way that houses and flats are slowly becoming more affordable albeit that much of the progress has been in London and its environs. Looking ahead we see that the improvement in broad money growth is hopeful for the early part of 2021.

The higher trajectory for consumer credit growth is mixed,however. Whilst it will have provided a boost it is back to the age old UK economic problem of borrowing on credit and then wondering about the trade gap. It is especially poor that the Bank of England has been unable to count the numbers correctly. Also it is time for my regular reminder that the credit easing policies were supposed to boost lending to smaller businesses. How is that going?

while the growth rate of borrowing by SMEs rose slightly to 1.0%.

Woeful and a clear misrepresentation of what they were really up to.

NB

I later discovered that the Bank of England revised Consumer Credit higher by some £6.1 billion in August meaning that as of the end of September it was £225.1 billion.

 

 

 

What are the prospects for UK mortgage rates?

Today I thought I would reverse things around and look at a consequence of one of 2019’s themes. So let me hand you over to Moneyfacts.

The data shows that the largest rate reduction has been recorded in the five year maximum 80% loan-to-value (LTV) tier, which has fallen by 0.09% to 2.78%, followed by the five year maximum 70% and 85% LTV tiers, which have both decreased by 0.07% to 2.99% and 2.80% respectively. In fact, the only LTV tier to see a rate increase is the two year fixed at a maximum 65% LTV, which has increased by 0.01% to 2.03% from this time last month.

Oh and remember all the rhetoric from politicians after the credit crunch about there being no future for risky mortgage lending?

Since the beginning of this year, our analysis shows that the strongest rate competition appeared to take place at the maximum 95% LTV market, with lenders attempting to attract potential first-time buyers, which are considered the lifeblood of the mortgage and property market. As a result, the two year average fixed rate at this tier was driven down from 3.46% on 1 January to 3.24% by 16 May, where this rate has relatively remained unchanged since.

However those are averages which of course contain more than a few non-competitive offers. If we look further you can borrow at 1.33% from the Post Office for 2 years and at 1,67% from it for five years. These are remortgage rates with 40% equity.

Switching now to the driver of all this let me now point out that the two-year Gilt yield is 0.37% and the five-year is 0.3%. There are two perspectives on this of which the opening one is that the five-year fixed looks a worse deal in a relative comparison. However if we look back we see that it is five-year mortgage rates which have plunged. According to Statista the five-year mortgage rate was some 2% higher in June 2014 ( 3.69%) and apart from a small blip up when Bank Rate was raised to 0.75% has essentially been falling ever since. So five-year fixed rate mortgages are tactically bad but strategically good.

Just for clarity it is not the Gilt yields themselves that directly impact fixed-rate mortgages it is the swap rates that they influence. But with things as they are I expect the downwards pressure to remain.

What about a Bank Rate cut?

I am sure many of you thinking this so let me address it. As we stand UK Gilt yields are expecting two Bank Rate cuts of 0.25% so fixed-rate mortgages are already adjusting to that. Whereas in such a scenario variable-rate mortgages would fall and may well over the next couple of years be a better deal. Of course interest-rates could rise after October 31st should we Brexit on that date but we know that Bank of England Governor Carney cuts interest-rates with the speed of Usain Bolt but raises them at the speed of a tortoise which is hibernating. So only a real calamity would cause the latter. After all this is the world in which we now live.

Danish banks now buckling under the pressure of negative interest rates, with another lender announcing it will impose fees on large retail deposits. ( h/t Tracy Alloway)

Or indeed a world where the benchmark yield in Italy fell below 1% yesterday.

Just for clarity these are my opinions and not advice. Also there is the issue raised by Robert Pearson in the comments section about the banks having higher cost of funds limiting possible mortgage-rate falls.

The Outer Limits

Time for a reminder of something which has ignored the falls in Bank Rate and everything else. The Bank of England quoted interest-rate for credit cards is 20% and has risen in the credit crunch era.

What about the Mortgage Market?

We had figures earlier this week but today the Bank of England offered a wider view.

Net mortgage borrowing by households picked up in July, rising to £4.6 billion. While this was the strongest since March 2016, it reflected a fall in repayments rather than an increase in new lending. The annual growth rate remained at 3.2%, close to the level seen since 2016. Mortgage approvals for house purchase (an indicator for future lending) increased in July to 67,300. This was the strongest since July 2017, but remains within the very narrow range seen over the past two years.

The fall in repayments is curious and amounted to £900 million on a monthly basis and repeats what happened in June. It is dangerous to extrapolate too much from a couple of months but maybe some borrowing is going through this route or at current interest-rates some think it is not worth repaying.

Overall these are better numbers but not as strong as the UK Finance ones from Wednesday.

House Prices

In spite of the favourable situation provided by falling mortgage rates as we have just looked at and improving real wages house prices are not responding. From the Nationwide.

Annual house price growth remained below 1% for the ninth
month in a row in August, at 0.6%. While house price
growth has remained fairly stable, there have been mixed
signals from the property market in recent months.

In fact the unadjusted price fell by around £1600 on a monthly basis.

Unsecured Credit

The Bank of England slips this headline in for the copy and pasters.

Net consumer credit rose by £0.9 billion in July, broadly in line with the average seen over the past year.

But this represents this.

The annual growth rate of consumer credit remained at 5.5% in July, markedly lower than its peak of 10.9% in November 2016. This slowing reflects the weaker monthly lending flows over most of the past year.

Is there anything else growing at an annual rate of 5.5% in the UK? Perhaps the Bank of England is being wistful for the days when its Sledgehammer QE drove the annual rate of growth up to 10.9%. Also care is needed here about the slowing as much of it may simply reflect a slowing in car loans about which the Bank of England mostly keeps the data to itself ( I have asked).

Broad Money

If we look further ahead ( around 18 months) there was a glimmer of sunlight for the wider economy this morning.

Broad money (M4ex) is a measure of the total amount of money held by households, non-financial businesses (PNFC’s) and financial corporations that do not act to intermediate financial transactions (NIOFCs). In July, total money holdings rose by £18.9 billion, the largest monthly increase since May 2018. The increase on the month was driven by PNFCs, for which money held rose to £5.1 billion following a fall in June

The annual rate of growth is now 3.1% which is the best it has been since this time last year. M4 lending has also been picking up and is now 4.3% so there are some positive signs albeit from low levels.

Comment

We live in a curious world because let me add in another factor. The mortgage rates and yields we are discussing today are all strongly negative in real terms when we allow for inflation. Not only are Gilt real yields negative bit the ordinary person can borrow at negative real rates too if they have some equity. Not on a credit card though!

On current trends we may well get very low longer-term fixed-rate mortgages as presumably the ten-year fixed mortgage-rate will start to tumble too. In the uncertainty we face that could look very attractive I think. But again that is simply my opinion and not advice.

As for how low can they go? For the moment a base seems to have formed around the unwillingness/fear of banks on countries with negative interest-rates to actually impose this on the ordinary depositor. But we also know that our central planning overlords have several cunning plans in mind for this.

 

UK money supply data continues to suggest weak economic growth

This morning brings us the data which will tell us if the UK has joined the trend in July for monetary conditions to weaken. It comes after a day where monetary policy tightened from another source. The comments from the European Union Commissioner Michel Barnier saw the UK Pound £ rally by 1% against most currencies and by 1.5% versus the Japanese Yen. This was equivalent to a 0.25% Bank Rate rise or what it took the unreliable boyfriend some four years to muster up the courage to do. This reminds us that in terms of monetary policy it is exchange-rate moves that are often the bazooka these days with interest-rate moves being more of a pea shooter.

The banks

The official story has been one of supposedly tighter lending standards in this area. This comes on two fronts because if we look back there were the promises made by politicians and banks that the mistakes which helped create the credit crunch would not happen again. There have also been several moves by the Bank of England to tighten standards the latest of which was in June last year. From Mortgage Strategy.

The Bank of England has tightened mortgage affordability rules to prevent loosening underwriting standards, which it warns will cause some lenders to raise interest cover ratios……….the new rule says lenders should instead consider how borrowers would handle a 3 per cent increase in firms’ standard variable rates.

Yet on Monday the Financial Times reported this.

Britain’s banks and building societies are loosening lending standards and cutting fees to maintain growth, as competition and a weakening housing market squeeze profit margins. The number of mortgage deals where banks are willing to lend at least 90 per cent of the property value has increased by a fifth to 1,123 in the past six months alone, according to comparison website Moneyfacts.

We have noted such trends along the way and I note that below longer mortgage terms merit a mention.

Earlier this month, HSBC’s M&S Bank increased the maximum loan-to-value (LTV) on three of its mortgage products to 95 per cent, and extended the term it is willing to lend for to 35 years. In July, CYBG introduced a new 95 per cent LTV mortgage that also had a higher limit on how much it would lend relative to borrowers’ income.

Some are moving into more specialist or niche areas.

Andy Golding, chief executive of OneSavings, which sells mortgages under the Kent Reliance brand, said particularly aggressive risk-taking was happening in some more specialist markets such as “second-charge” mortgages, a second mortgage on the same property.

Intriguingly in something of a complete regulatory misfire new rules seem to have encouraged this.

New rules that force banks to separate retail and investment banking operations have also had an effect — analysts at UBS estimated that the changes left HSBC’s domestic business with around £60bn that could not be used by the rest of the group, encouraging it to expand its mortgage business and putting more pressure on competitors.

As to what I have already referred to as Mark Carney’s peashooter it is to some extent being bypassed.

Competition has forced companies to keep mortgage rates near historic lows even as their funding costs have risen. Competition has been encouraged by the growth of independent mortgage brokers, which has made it easier for borrowers to access a wider range of options.

UK Wealth

Perhaps the banks have drawn encouragement from reports like this which emerged from the Office for National Statistics yesterday. Apparently we are in the money.

The UK’s net worth rose by £492 billion from 2016 to £10.2 trillion in 2017 (Figure 1), which is an average of £155,000 per person in the UK.

The banks will no doubt have noted this approvingly.

Land was by far the largest contributor to the increase in net value, rising by £450 billion since 2016.

Good job they have managed to keep that sort of thing out of the inflation data! The apocryphal civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby would have an extra large glass of sherry for a job well done. Meanwhile first-time buyers face higher prices which in other spheres would be recorded as inflation.

The banks will be quite happy to cheer along with this as it provides backing for their mortgage loans.

In 2017, the UK’s net worth was estimated at £10.2 trillion; an average of £155,000 per person…….Land accounts for 51% of the UK’s net worth in 2016, higher than any other measured G7 country.

So a bit over £5 billion. Whilst this may make the banks happy there are more than a few problems with this. I have already pointed out that at least some of this is inflation rather than wealth gains. This is something that reflects my work about inflation measurement where I argue that it is to easy to book asset price rises as wealth gains when inflation has also come to the party. Next there is the issue of using marginal house prices for an average concept like wealth as if we tried to sell UK land lock stock and barrel the price would plainly be a fair bit lower. Also there are the problems with house price indices giving different answers which means that really such numbers should be taken with not just a pinch of salt but the whole cellar.

Today’s data

If we start with broad money growth then the outright fall seen in June was not repeated but annual growth remained at 3.4%. So we have not repeated the falls seen elsewhere in the world but the annual rate of growth is not inspiring. If we move to lending the picture looks better as it has been picking up with annual growth going 2.7%,3.1% and then 3.3% in the last 3 months.

We see from the mortgage data why the banks are trying to boost lending as otherwise it looks like it would be slip-sliding away.

Households borrowed an extra £3.2 billion secured against their homes in July. Net lending has been relatively stable over the past year or so, but this was the lowest monthly secured net lending since April 2017………The number of mortgages approved for house purchase fell a little in July, to 65,000, close to their average over the past six months.

Unsecured Credit

This has been a bugbear for a while and let me illustrate today by comparing the official presentation of such things with reality.

In July, the annual growth rate of consumer credit slowed a little to 8.5%. Within this, the annual growth rate of credit card lending was 8.9%, whilst the growth rate of other loans and advances was 8.2% – the lowest since March 2015.

The copy and paste crew have as presumably intended been reporting the number as if it is low. Indeed this sort of thing was encouraged by the Bank of England as this from LiveSquawk back in May shows.

Bank Of England’s Ramsden Says Weak Consumer Credit Data

It was growing at an annual rate of 8.8% at the time. So is 8.5% “very weak” Sir Dave?

If we return to reality we see that 8.5% compares with wages growth of 2.4% inflation on the highest measure is at 3.3% ( although care is needed here as Sir Dave is of course against RPI and its derivatives albeit that it is apparently good enough for his pension) and economic growth at 1.3% over the past year. So we see that in reality unsecured or consumer credit remains on quite a surge in spite of July seeing slower growth of £800 million. Putting it another way the growth remains extraordinarily high when we consider the way that one of the factors that has been driving it ( car sales) has fallen this year.

Comment

The good news is that the UK credit impulse did not weaken further in July and broad money lending improved a bit. The not so good news is that it was already weak meaning that the 0.5% GDP growth for the third quarter forecast by the NIESR looks like the peak of what it might be and we would be unlikely to maintain that in the fourth quarter. Perhaps the banks are feeling the weaker credit impulse and are responding via lower credit standards for mortgages.

Meanwhile unsecured credit is out of kilter with pretty much everything and must be posing its own risks as this has been sustained for several years now in spite of the official denials. If the banks have lowered credit standards for mortgages are you thinking what I am thinking? The reality is that it now amounts to £213.5 billion.

Also we should not forget business lending and regular readers will recall that the Funding for Lending Scheme from back in 2012 was supposed to boost lending to small businesses. How is that going?

The twelve-month growth rate of lending to SMEs was -0.2% in July; this growth rate has been at or below zero for the past four months.

For newer readers wondering about the past 6 years Bob Seeger and his Silver Bullet Band will help you out.

Cause you’re still the same
You’re still the same
Moving game to game
Some things never change
You’re still the same

 

The Netherlands house price boom is yet another form of bank bailout

It has been a while since we have taken a look at the economic situation in what some call Holland but is more accurately called the Netherlands. On a cold snowy morning in London – those of you in colder climes are probably laughing at the media panic over the cold snap expected this week – let us open with some good news. From Statistics Netherlands.

According to the first estimate conducted by Statistics Netherlands (CBS), which is based on currently available data, gross domestic product (GDP) posted a growth rate of 0.8 percent in Q4 2017 relative to Q3 2017. Growth is mainly due to an increase in exports. With the release of data on Q4, the annual growth rate over 2017 has become available as well. Last year, GDP rose by 3.1 percent, the highest growth in ten years.

Indeed the economic growth was something of a dream ticket for economists with exports and investments to the fore.

GDP was 2.9 percent up on Q4 2016. Growth was slightly smaller than in the previous three-quarters and is mainly due to higher exports and investments.

The trade development provides food for thought to those who remember this from 2015.

In a bid to boost trade links with Europe, on the back of the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative, the Port of Rotterdam has established a strategic partnership with the Bank of China,  (jpvlogistics )

The idea of Rotterdam being a hub for a latter-day Silk Road is obviously good for trade prospects although in terms of GDP care is needed as there is a real danger of double-counting as we have seen in the past.

Exports of goods and services grew by 5.5 percent in 2017……….Re-exports (i.e. exports of imported products) increased slightly more rapidly than the exports of Dutch products.

If we look back for some perspective we see that the Netherlands is not one of those places that have failed to recover from the credit crunch. Compared to 2009 GDP is at 112.7 which means that if we allow for the near 4% fall in that year it is 8/9% larger than the previous peak. Although of course annual economic growth of around 1% per annum is not a triumph and reflects the Euro area crisis that followed the credit crunch.

Labour Market

The economic growth is confirmed by this and provides a positive hint for the spring.

In January 2018, almost 8.7 million people in the Netherlands were in paid employment. The employed labour force (15 to 74-year-olds) has increased by 15 thousand on average in each of the past three months.

Unemployment is falling and in this area we can call the Netherlands a Germanic style economy.

There were 380 thousand unemployed in January, equivalent to 4.2 percent of the labour force. This stood at 4.4 percent one month previously………, youth unemployment is now at a lower level than before the economic crisis; last month, it stood at 7.4 percent of the labour force against 8.5 percent in November 2008.

After the good news comes something which is both familiar and troubling.

Wages increased by 1.5 percent in 2017 versus 1.8 percent in 2016. There was less difference between the increase rates of consumer prices and wages in 2017 than in the two preceding years.

Wage growth fell last year which of course is more mud in the eye for those who persist with “output gap” style economics meaning real wages only grew by 0.1%. 2016 was much better but driven by lower inflation mostly. So no real wage growth on any scale and certainly not back to the levels of the past. One thing that stands out is real wage falls from 2010 to 14 in the era of Euro area austerity.

House Prices

There were hints of activity in this area in the GDP numbers as we note where investment was booming.

In 2017, investments were up by 6 percent. Higher investments were mainly made in residential property.

Later I noted this.

and further recovery of the housing market.

So what is the state of play?

In January 2018, prices of owner-occupied houses (excluding new constructions) were on average 8.8 percent higher than in the same month last year. The price increase was the highest in 16 years. Since June 2013, the trend has been upward.

So much higher than wage growth which was 1.5% in 2017 and inflation so let us look deeper for some perspective.

House prices are currently still 2.0 percent below the record level of August 2008 and on average 24.8 percent higher than during the price dip in June 2013.

One way of looking at this is to add something to the famous Mario Draghi line of the summer of 2012 “Whatever it takes” ( to get Dutch house prices rising again). What it means though is that house prices have soared compared to real wages who only really moved higher in 2016 due ironically to lower consumer inflation. Tell that to a first time buyer!

Wealth Effects

This view has been neatly illustrated by Bloomberg today as whilst the numbers are for Denmark we see from the data above that they apply in principle to the Netherlands as well.

Danes have another reason to be happy: they’re richer than ever before………After more than half a decade of negative interest rates, rising property values in Denmark have left the average family with net assets of 1.9 million kroner ($314,000), according to the latest report on household wealth.

Er……

The last time Denmark enjoyed a similar boom was in 2006

If we switch back to the Netherlands its central bank published some research in January as to how it thinks house price growth has boosted domestic consumption.

From 2014 onwards, house prices have been steadily climbing again. The coefficient found for the Netherlands implies that some 40% of cumulative consumption growth since 2014 (i.e. around 6%) can be attributed to the increase in real house prices.

We can take the DNB research across national boundaries as well at least to some extent.

The first group comprises the Netherlands, Sweden, Ireland, Spain, the United States and the United Kingdom, and the second group includes Italy, France, Belgium, Austria and Portugal.

In economic theory such a boost comes from a permanent boost to house prices which is not quite what we saw pre credit crunch.

Between 2000 and 2008, average real house prices went up by 24% in the Netherlands. Between 2008 and 2014, as a result of the financial crisis, they went down again by 24%.

Debt

This is an issue in the Netherlands.

 As gross domestic product (GDP) rose more sharply than debts, the debt ratio (i.e. debt as a percentage of GDP) declined, to 218.8 percent. Although this is the lowest level since 2008, it is still far above the threshold of 133 percent which has been set by the European Commission.

If we look at household debt.

After a period of decline, household debts started rising as of September 2014, in particular the level of residential mortgage debt. The latter increased from 649 billioneuros at the end of September 2014 to 669 billion euros at the end of June 2017.

There is also this bit highlighted by the DNB last October.

Almost 55% of the aggregate Dutch mortgage debt consists of interest-only and investment-based mortgage loans, which do not involve any contractual repayments during the loan term. They must still be repaid when they expire, however. Such loans could cause frictions, for example if households are forced to sell their home at the end of the loan term.

Comment

There are a litany of issues here as we see another example of procyclical monetary policy where and ECB deposit rate of -0.4% and monthly QE meet economic growth of around 3%. This means that in spite of the fact that real wages have done little house prices have soared again. The problem with the wealth effects argument highlighted above is that much if not all of it is a wealth distribution and who gave the ECB authority to do this?

Those who own homes in a good location have it made. While other people – especially people who rent their homes and people with bought homes in less favorable locations – fall behind. ( NL Times)

Those who try to be first time buyers are hit hard but a type of inflation that does not appear in the CPI numbers.

The truth is that the biggest gainers collectively are the banks. Their asset base improves with higher house prices and current business improves as we see more mortgage borrowing both individually and from the business sector. We moved from explicit bank bailouts to stealth ones as we see so many similar moves around the world. Banks do not report that in bonus statements do they? This time is different until it isn’t when it immediately metamorphoses into nobody’s fault.

 

 

 

 

 

Can Britain solve its credit problems and debt addiction?

A long-standing feature of the UK economy has been a problem with credit. This has several features. A major one is our obsession with the housing market and the establishment view that the economy can best be boosted by pumping it up and claiming the higher house prices as higher wealth and evidence of economic well-being.

Figure 2 shows the value of land in 2016 is estimated to be £5.0 trillion, which is 51% of the total net worth of the UK. Land increased in value by £280 billion from 2015, a 5.9% increase. This is a notably smaller increase than in 2014 and 2015, when it increased by 15% and 10% respectively. Since the land underlying dwellings is a major contributor to the value of land, the House Price Index reflects this with house prices rising at a lower rate compared with 2014 and 2015.

So £5 trillion out of this.

The total net worth of the UK at the end of 2016 is estimated at £9.8 trillion, an increase of £803 billion from 2015 and the largest annual rise on record.

I hope you are all feeling much better off! If you are a home owner then this is rather likely to be the case.

The value of land has grown rapidly from 1995, increasing by 412% compared with an average increase of 211% in the assets overlying the land.

You may have noted the swerve here which is that we have switched from the value of houses to land which presumably sounds much more secure and safe. Also if we add the value of the houses back in then £1.77 trillion added to £5 trillion means the sector is £6.8 billion or so of UK national wealth and everything else is £3 billion. Even the most unobservant may start to wonder if that is a trifle unbalanced?!

Mortgage Debt

This is something which the Bank of England put a lot of effort into increasing back in the darker days of 2012 when there was talk of a “triple-dip” in the UK economy. As I pointed out above the traditional “remedy” is to do this to the housing market.

Pump it up when you don’t really need it.
Pump it up until you can feel it. ( Elvis Costello)

They were so keen on this that we got an official denial and the Funding for Lending Scheme was badged as something to boost small business lending something which has not gone well but more of that later. What it actually achieved was to boost net mortgage lending which then when positive and now is running at a net rate of around £3 billion per month. House prices were boosted across the UK although with widely varying impacts as London boomed but other areas struggled at least relatively. Thus we end up with a claimed asset value of £6.8 billion versus a mortgage debt of £1.37 billion. What could look safer?

The catch is that there are a litany of problems with this.

  1. The economy has been tilted towards the housing sector as we note Bank of England and government support ( Help To Buy) as well as ( capital gains) tax advantages. This has shifted resources to this sector.
  2. This would not look so good should house prices fall, what would the asset value and “wealth effects” be then?
  3. Those looking to enter the housing market or to trade up are not seeing a wealth increase but instead facing inflation. This is so worrying to the UK establishment they go to pretty much any effort to keep such inflation out of the official inflation numbers.

Accordingly we know that the Bank of England will be worried by this development at the beginning of the food chain for this area.

Mortgage approvals decreased in December (Table I), with falls for both house purchase and remortgaging approvals. House purchase approvals were the weakest since January 2015 and remortgaging approvals fell to 46,475, following strength in October and November. 

Unsecured Credit

This is something of an overflow area for UK credit. What I mean by this is that when the Bank of England gives the banks the green light to lend as evidenced by the Funding for Lending Scheme in the summer of 2012 or the Bank Rate cut and “Sledgehammer” QE of August 2016 this is the easiest area to expand. After all there is a flow of people into their branches or website wanting to borrow and saying yes is relatively simple. The tap gets turned on much more quickly than mortgage or business lending.

This how we found ourselves with unsecured credit running at an annual rate of around 10% per annum. The new feature this time around was the growth of borrowing for vehicle purchase via the growth of personal contract purchase and the like, so much so that very few people actually buy a car now.

 Over 86% of all private new car registrations in the UK were financed by FLA members.

Of course central bankers desperate to calm their fears about a possible recession were pleased at all the car buying but the ordinary person will be wondering what happens when the music stops? Actually according to the banking sector this is already taking place if you recall the survey the Bank of England published and of course the Financial Policy Committee is “vigilant”. This has led more than a few economists to tell us growth is over here. Meanwhile.

Consumer credit net lending was £1.5 billion in December, broadly in line with outturns during 2017 (Table J).  The annual growth rate ticked up to 9.5% in December. 

November was revised up from £1.4 billion to £1.5 billion as well. So we have growth of 9.5% with economic growth of around 2% and wages growth of a bit over 2%. What could go wrong?

The total for this category is now £207.1 billion.

Business Lending

Lending to smaller businesses was supposed to be the rationale for this and the official view was this.

The extension builds on the success of the FLS so far

The extension continued the rhetoric.

 to increase the incentive for banks to lend to small and medium‐sized enterprises (SMEs) both this year and next;

How is that going?

Lending to non-financial businesses fell by £1.0 billion in December (Table M).  Loans to small-and-medium sized enterprises fell by £0.4bn, the largest decline since December 2014. 

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here. But let me look at this from the point of the Bank of England. It opened the credit taps via credit easing in the summer of 2012 and added to it with the Term Funding Scheme in August 2016. This of course added to the Bank Rate cuts and QE bond buying. This was supposed to boost small business lending but in fact in spite of the economic growth we have had in recent years there has been very little of that. Indeed even the better numbers were below the economic growth rate and if anything new lending to smaller businesses is stagnant at best.

Meanwhile net mortgage lending was pushed into the positive zone and more latterly unsecured credit has been on quite a tear. So if the Bank of England was a centre forward taking a penalty kick it has not only missed the goal if we looked at the unsecured credit data it may even have cleared row Z and the stands. Or of course its true intentions were always different to what it has claimed.

 

 

 

The continuing surge in UK unsecured credit adds to Mark Carney’s woes

This week will be a significant one for Mark Carney and the Bank of England as we await their decision on UK interest-rates. Today brings us another brick in the wall in terms of factors which will influence them as we receive the latest money supply and unsecured credit data. On the latter the Bank of England has undergone something of a change because if we go back to January 2016 Governor Carney told us this.

This has not been a debt-fuelled recovery. Aggregate private credit growth is modest compared to pre-crisis conditions, and is just now coming into line with nominal GDP growth.

However if we step forwards to the 30th of November of that year the BBC was reporting this.

The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has given a warning about the high level of debt in UK households.

In particular he said that consumers were borrowing more on their credit cards and other unsecured debt.

Figures from the Bank this week showed that credit card lending is at a record level, up by £571m in the last month.

Overall unsecured debt – which includes overdrafts – is rising at its fastest pace for 11 years.

“We are going to remain vigilant around the issue, because we have seen this shift,” he told a press conference at the Bank.

The really awkward point about all this arrives if we note who was at the van of causing the problem. From the Bank of England on the 4th of August and the emphasis is mine

This package comprises: a 25 basis point cut in Bank Rate to 0.25%; a new Term Funding Scheme to reinforce the pass-through of the cut in Bank Rate; the purchase of up to £10 billion of UK corporate bonds; and an expansion of the asset purchase scheme for UK government bonds of £60 billion, taking the total stock of these asset purchases to £435 billion.

As so often it was something which was not a headline maker that was the main player here as the banks were given access to cheap central bank funding.

In order to mitigate this, the MPC is launching a Term Funding Scheme (TFS) that will provide funding for banks at interest rates close to Bank Rate. This monetary policy action should help reinforce the transmission of the reduction in Bank Rate to the real economy to ensure that households and firms benefit from the MPC’s actions.

A further smokescreen was provided by the claims about business lending which was unlikely to change materially and even to some extent mortgage lending as the Bank of England had pushed that higher a few years before. Thus a fair bit of the cheap funding was likely to head for the unsecured credit sector. So the problem the Bank of England has been warning about is a consequence of its own policies.

Today’s data

Credit continues to flow to the UK economy.

The net flow of sterling credit remained robust at £9.6 billion in September. Within this, lending to households has been growing steadily at around 4% per year.

The outlook for secured credit to households continues pretty much as before.

Mortgage approvals for house purchase fell slightly to 66,232 in September, close to their recent average .

But the worrying news for the Bank of England is this.

The annual growth rate of consumer credit has remained broadly unchanged since June, at around 10%. The flow was £1.6 billion in September, also close to its recent average

So contrary to what we have been told the flow of unsecured credit remains strong to the UK economy. There have been various claims that it has been slowing but so far each monthly update has kept the rate of annual growth around 10%. In addition this month has seen some upwards revisions to past data.

 

Business Lending

At the start of each new policy initiative we are invariably told that it is to boost business lending.

Large non-financial businesses made net repayments of £1.8 billion of loans in September (Table M), with manufacturing contributing the most to this movement.

From this we learn several things. Firstly some of the welcome boost seen in lending to manufacturing a couple of months or so ago has dissipated away. But if we look at the general picture there is no great sign of any surged. As it happens smaller businesses ( SMEs) had a better September borrowing some £400 million but this only raised the six month average to £100 million. The official response involves quoting a counterfactual world where lending to smaller businesses was even lower. Odd that they do not feel the for counterfactuals about unsecured credit don’t you think?

What about interest-rates?

If we look first at savings rates we see that the Bank of England thinks that new deposits will now get a bit over 1% ( 1.11%) driven by this.

Effective rates on new individual fixed-rate bonds between 1 and 2 year, and over 2 year maturity have increased by 16bps from 1.13% to 1.29% and 1.32% to 1.48%, respectively.

Of course this means that in real terms they are losing at a bit under 2% if you use the CPI inflation measure and a bit under 3% if you use the RPI. Meanwhile new mortgage rates remain below 2% ( 1.97%). Also “other loans” ( unsecured credit) have ignored the rhetoric of the Bank of England and got a bit cheaper as 7.54% in June has been replaced by 7.15% in September.

Comment

So we see that unsecured credit growth remained strong in the third quarter of 2017. This leaves us wondering if earlier this month the banks pulled the wool over the eyes of the Bank of England.

Lenders responding to the CCS reported that the availability of unsecured credit fell in both Q2 and Q3.

Indeed this morning’s upward revisions change the narrative somewhat for the sector below.

This decline was mainly due to weaker growth in lending for dealership car finance, although this continues be a key driver of consumer credit

Thus we see that the “unreliable boyfriend” will be finding it ever harder to be unreliable with economic growth nudging higher and unsecured credit continuing to surge especially with inflation above target. Perhaps he will concentrate on the weaker CBI surveys we have seen but there will be quite a debate going on this week in Threadneedle Street. Especially as the unsecured credit boom is something the Bank of England lit the blue touch-paper on.