Where next for interest-rates and bond yields?

2021 has opened by reminding us that the world has become increasingly bi-polar.Perhaps I should refine that to the human world. Prospects for interest-rates are doing that as well and let me give you an example of one trend.

Government bond #yield keeping higher: 10 year German #Bund yield at -0.48%, 10 year UK Treasury #Gilt yield at 0.32% and 10 year US #Treasury yield at 1.15%. (@CIMBank_News)

The player here is the United States. I noted yesterday the impact of higher US bond yields on the price of Gold and in the meantime the ten-year has nudged higher to 1.15%. Part of this has been caused by the way that the prospects for Yield Curve Control ( essentially more QE bond buying) have collided with this.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Reserve could begin to trim its monthly asset purchases this year if distribution of coronavirus vaccines boosts the economy as expected, Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic said on Monday in what amounted to a bullish outlook for the coming months.

As you can see they have been talking bond yields higher just as they were expected to be heading in the opposite direction. So much for Forward Guidance! This is more like a car crash as we wait for the handbrake turn. Just to add to the land of confusion there was also this.

In separate comments, Chicago Fed President Charles Evans also said policymakers were poised to push bond-buying in either direction – adding more if the economy seems to need it but also open to cutting back if the recovery and vaccines gain traction. ( Reuters)

On a technical level this just reminds us how useless Forward Guidance is. We have seen central bankers and their acolytes push it as a policy tool but right now they are pulling in every direction. How can anyone take guidance from this.

Mr and Mrs Market have decided to push bond yields higher and see if they break.Those who remember what was called the Taoer Tantrum and the climb down of the US Federal Reserve in the face of pressure from President Trump will no doubt be thinking when they climb down. Such thoughts are no doubt behind the rise in bond yields because so far QE has been an example of the genius of the song Hotel California.

“Relax”, said the night man
“We are programmed to receive
You can check out any time you like
But you can never leave”

Negative Interest-Rates

On the other side of the coin is the negative interest-rate enthusiast of the Bank of England Silvana Tenreyro. Yesterday she gave a speech setting out her views on them.

Financial-market channels appear to be unimpeded under negative rates, and some may even be
stronger than usual.
 While pass-through to household deposit rates can be constrained near zero, pass-through appears
to be less constrained for corporate deposit rates, which may stimulate spending by firms.
 There is strong evidence of transmission into looser bank lending conditions, even if this is
somewhat constrained relative to ‘normal’.
 There is no clear evidence that negative rates have reduced bank profits overall, and a number of
studies find positive impacts, once you take into account the boost to the economy.
 Taking these points together, the evidence suggests that negative rates can provide significant
stimulus.

Let us examine these in detail. Her view on the financial market channel is really rather extraordinary, so let us take a look in more detail. The emphasis is mine.

For example, estimates from the Bank’s suite of models suggest that financial market channels – operating via the exchange rate, firms’ cost of capital and households’
financial wealth – account for a third to two thirds of the total medium-term impact on output from Bank Rate
changes, and a half to three quarters of the impact on inflation.

Yes we are back to wealth effects again with no addressing of the issuing for younger people of how they will have to buy more expensive assets is inflation for them.We look at this usually in terms of housing. Also if firms cost of capital responded to Bank Rate in the manner hinted at we would not have had the Funding for Lending and Term Funding Schemes. 

Next is the issue of corporate deposit rates which “may” stimulate corporate spending. Well after the years of evidence now about the impact of negative interest-rates in the Euro area then if you can only say “may” it means the answer is no. Although Silvana keeps plugging away at this.

This suggests one aspect of the banking channel of negative rates which could be more powerful than usual.

How bank lending can be both “looser” and “somewhat constrained” speaks for itself so I will leave that there.

Next comes the issue of the banks. The issue her is one of profitability or rather lack of. Her Silvana finds herself trapped between her theories and real world examples where people are backing their views with their money.

Interestingly, a number of studies48 – though not all49 – find that bank equities tend to fall after policy rate
cuts below zero are announced. That seems at odds with the more sanguine results on bank profitability.

Revealingly she decides that she is right and they are wrong.

One interpretation is that financial markets initially focussed on net interest income, but did not initially
account for the indirect boost to profits from negative rates arising from improvements in other sources of
income.

Indeed they have been wrong for quite some time according to her. It would be too cruel to look at the Italian banking sector so let us go to the benchmark for the Euro area banking sector which is Deutsche Bank. Back in 2015 there were two occasions when its share price approached 29 Euros whereas now it is 9.57 Euros. If we take out the Covid-19 pandemic then we see it does not change much as in February last year it was 10.2 Euros. So the share price has plunged over the era of negative interest-rates and bond yields because markets have failed for over five years to spot the “improvements in other sources of income.” Come to think of it the accountants and auditors have missed it as well!

We seem to be entering something of an alternative universe here.

And I have previously highlighted that in the UK interest rates affect inflation more quickly than in the past.

The ECB in fact published some work a few years back suggesting the reverse. I can only think that Silvana has misunderstood what happened in the summer of 2016.

Also we already have negative UK bond yields in the UK at the shorter maturities mostly due to all the QE bond buying she does not think is that important.Meanwhile that influences the increasing number of fixed-rate mortgages. On that road Bank Rate is ever less important which she seems to miss.

Comment

There are several contexts here so let me set out my view. There is a clear asymmetry between how central bankers regard interest-rate rises and cuts. The former are a vague wish and the latter are a clear desire often implemented via panic. Indeed interest-rate rises are often reversed ( the UK is an example of this ) and the new scenario is lower. For example the Bank of England told us the “lower bound” for UK interest-rates was 0.5% whereas Bank Rate is presently 0.1%. In a sane world we would be projecting interest-rate increases but in the insane one we inhabit any further economic weakness will see more cuts.

Next comes the issue of negative interest-rates which so far have been singing along with Muse.

Super massive black hole
Super massive black hole
Super massive black hole
(Super massive black hole)

The main place that has implemented them which is the Euro area is still there. In fact last year it cut again, although contrary to the Tenreyro rhetoric it only cut by 0.1% showing it sees risks. If negative rates had the impact claimed surely things would have got better and interest-rates could have been raised or at least returned to zero? The Riksbank in Sweden has raised back to 0% but that only illustrates the issue. It cut into negative territory in a boom and ended up so unsure about it all that it raised interest-rates in a bust. If they worked surely Sweden would have them now?

 

What happens when mortgage interest-rates fall to 0%?

A feature of the credit crunch era has been the way that in the end monetary policy has come down to two things. Pumping up the housing market and house prices in particular ( The Wealth Effects! The Wealth Effects!) and more recently financing government borrowing. Both conveniently support The Precious via the way that asset prices are driven higher in this instance house and bond prices. There has been news on that front this week from Denmark.

The country with the longest history of negative central bank rates is offering homeowners 20-year loans at a fixed interest rate of zero.

Customers at the Danish home-finance unit of Nordea Bank Abp can, as of Tuesday, get the mortgages, which will carry a lower coupon than benchmark U.S. 10-year Treasuries. ( Bloomberg)

For newer readers who may be wondering why Denmark? Well Bloomberg gets to that as well.

Denmark stands out in a global context as the country to have lived with negative central bank rates longer than any other. Back in 2012, policy makers drove their main rate below zero to defend the krone’s peg to the euro. Since then, Danish homeowners have enjoyed continuous slides in borrowing costs.

So in the round we return to part of yesterday’s theme as the monetary push from the European Central Bank is the same as a super massive black hole which via the pegged exchange rate sucks Denmark along with it. This led it down an odd road back last March.

Effective from 20 March 2020, Danmarks Nationalbank’s interest rate on certificates of deposit is increased by 0.15 percentage point. The monetary policy spread to the euro area is thereby narrowed from -0.25 to -0.10 percentage points, remaining lower than the rate in the euro area. In the context of Denmark’s fixed exchange rate policy, the interest rate increase follows Danmarks Nationalbank’s sale of foreign exchange in the market. ( Nationalbanken)

The increase to -0.6% came about because of pressure on the Kroner.

 it was caused by Danish institutional investors selling kroner in response to a decline in the value of their foreign
assets.

There is now something of a swerve because in the past an increase in the official interest-rate would raise mortgage rates but as central banks learnt early in the credit crunch the world was spun on its axis a bit.

Homeowners have increased their fixed-rate mortgage loans significantly in recent years. During the
last 12 months, new fixed-rate mortgage loans of kr.
134.7 billion have been disbursed.

That was from the Nationalbanken at the end of last September and there is more below.

More than half of the Danish homeowners’ total
mortgage loans of kr. 1,712 billion is now again with
a fixed interest rate, more precisely kr. 856.6 billion.
The last time fixed-rate loans accounted for more
than half of the loans, was in 2009. The lowest level
was in 2012 with just 31.5 per cent.

So we see that the interest-rate cut into the icy world of negative rates back in 2012 probably had an impact because of the predominance of variable rates back then, but now for the reason below fixed-rates have become more popular.

The appetite for fixed-rate loans has increased in line
with the declining interest rate, differentiated administration fees, and the narrowed gap to the variable
interest rate.

The actual market

If we go to Finance Denmark we see that whilst interest-rates have been trending lower there is still quite a gap between short and long ones. For example the short bond mortgage rate is -0.55% and the long bond mortgage rate is 0.94%. But the gap has been narrowing as the long bond rate was over 3% in 2015 whereas the short one went negative then.

What about mortgage borrowing?

This has done this according to the Nationalbanken.

The Danes’ total mortgage debt has grown by 4.0
per cent in the past year, and the debt has increased
in 91 of 98 municipalities. The largest lending growth
is in Glostrup with 7.3 per cent.

The borrowing rise in new terms will be higher because some have chosen to repay more.

In the last four quarters, households have increased
the repayments on their mortgage loans by kr. 998
on average per borrowed million……..The Danes have repaid kr. 6.0 billion on fixed-rate loans in 3rd quarter 2020, while the repayments on variable-rate loans were kr. 4.4 billion……… They have so far repaid kr. 30.8 billion in
2020.

So as so often we see two different behaviours. Some are borrowing more but others are using this as an opportunity to repay. So greed and fear are co-existing.

House Prices

The official data gives us a clue but not a lot more. The latest reading is for the second quarter of last year and it was rising ever since it was set at 100 in 2015 to 120.4.We can set another benchmark I guess as the index had fallen to 85.7 as 2012 began and Denmark prepared for negative interest-rates.

There is a monthly price index for single family houses which showed at annual rate of increase of 4.6% in September which is quite a rise from the -0.2% of March as the pandemic hit.

As to the overall situation prices are now much higher than September 2016 when the central bank announced this.

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – A housing bubble is looming in Copenhagen, inflated by Denmark’s record-low interest rates, the central bank said on Wednesday.

Comment

There are other issues here and those of you with a sense of deja vu may be thinking of June 14th 2016.

Hans Peter Christensen got some unusual news when he opened his most recent mortgage statement. His quarterly interest payment was negative 249 Danish kroner…. Realkrdit Denmark, one of the nation’s largest home lenders, provided 758 borrowers with negative interest-rates last year.

That is when we on here first covered negative mortgage rates in Denmark. Or maybe you are thinking of August 2019 and this?

In the world’s biggest covered-bond market, a Danish bank says it’s now ready to sell 10-year mortgage-backed notes at a negative coupon for the first time

Actually I noted this back then.

Since then things have taken a further step as Nordea has started offering some mortgage bonds for twenty years at 0%,

So we can say that whilst we need care as there are often admin fees on mortgages which mean the headlines are misleading that 0% mortgage rates lead to higher house prices. They are also associated with more debt.

However, over the past four decades,
debt has increased significantly faster than incomes
and today accounts for 260 per cent of the disposable
income of Danish households ( Nationalbanken)

Whilst some are repaying as we observed earlier others seem much less keen.

At the end of 3rd
quarter of 2020, 59.8 per cent of the variable-rate
loans are, however, interests-only.

Also they borrow for a long time in the mortgage market.

Long remaining maturity is a particular characteristic
on Danes’ mortgage debt. At the end of the 3rd
quarter of 2020, the remaining maturity of 59.9 per
cent of all Danes’ mortgage debt was between 25
and 30 years. Approximately half of the outstanding
debt is in the form of 30-year loans disbursed within
the past year, either as new loans or as refinancing
of existing loans to new loans with 30-year maturities. ( Nationalbankem)

I remember another country which went down that road as we mull whether Denmark is catching the vapors.

I’m turning Japanese
I think I’m turning Japanese
I really think so

 

Could the US economy contract at the opening of 2021?

The US is in a rather awkward interregnum period between Presidents which is more noticeable at times of change. One way of looking at this is through the plans for another fiscal stimulus. Back on the 5th of November we looked at the plans of the now President elect Biden.

Vice President Biden has proposed a wide
range of changes to the tax code and government spending. In total, he is calling for $4.1 trillion in tax increases and an additional $7.3 trillion in government spending over the next decade.

So a US $3.2 trillion boost was the plan back then and it had the advantage that President Trump has been a fan of fiscal policy and the Federal Reserve was happy to oil the wheels.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell called Tuesday for continued aggressive fiscal and monetary stimulus for an economic recovery that he said still has “a long way to go.”

Noting progress made in job creation, goods consumption and business formation, among other areas, Powell said that now would be the wrong time for policymakers to take their foot off the gas. ( CNBC on the 6th of October).

So on the surface everyone was singing along with David Bowie.

Fashion, turn to the left
Fashion, turn to the right
Ooh fashion
We are the goon squad and we’re coming to town
Beep-beep, beep-beep

The Deal

From the New York Times yesterday.

WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders on Sunday reached a hard-fought agreement on a $900 billion stimulus package that would send immediate aid to Americans and businesses to help them cope with the economic devastation of the pandemic and fund the distribution of vaccines.

As you can see that is almost a PR release a theme which continues here.

While the plan is roughly half the size of the $2.2 trillion stimulus law enacted in March, it is one of the largest relief packages in modern history.

The agreement also meant they could stop doing this which was frankly embarrassing. From CNBC on Friday.

JUST IN: House passes two-day funding bill to prevent government shutdown

As to the details here is the New York Times again.

Although text was not immediately available, the agreement was expected to provide $600 stimulus payments to millions of American adults earning up to $75,000. It would revive lapsed supplemental federal unemployment benefits at $300 a week for 11 weeks — setting both at half the amount provided by the original stimulus law.

That makes you wonder what people have been doing in the meantime and I guess the pictures of long queues at US food banks have given us at least a partial answer. There is help for businesses too.

The measure would also provide more than $284 billion for businesses and revive the Paycheck Protection Program, a popular federal loan program for small businesses that lapsed over the summer. …….The agreement is also expected to provide billions of dollars for testing, tracing and vaccine distribution, as well as $82 billion for colleges and schools, $13 billion in increased nutrition assistance, $7 billion for broadband access and $25 billion in rental assistance.

The Precious! The Precious!

Whilst all this was going on the US Federal Reserve was able to focus on its main priority.

In light of the ongoing economic uncertainty and to preserve the strength of the banking sector, the Board is extending the current restrictions on distributions, with modifications. For the first quarter of 2021, both dividends and share repurchases will be limited to an amount based on income over the past year. If a firm does not earn income, it will not be able to pay a dividend or make repurchases.

Sounds as if they are being tough doesn’t it? But then there was this via CNBC.

JPMorgan Chase, the largest U.S. bank by assets, announced in the minutes after the Fed’s test results that its board had approved a new share repurchase program of $30 billion starting in 2021.

Bank share prices joined the new party.

Bank stocks rose across the board in after-hours trading with JPMorgan up 5.3%, Goldman Sachs up 4.4% and Wells Fargo up 3.5%.

House Prices

We are kind of staying with the banks again as we note a consequence of all the Federal Reserve easing. From CNBC.

Mortgage rates set yet another record low last week — the 15th this year and the second record in as many weeks…….

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) decreased to 2.85% from 2.90%, with points decreasing to 0.33 from 0.35 (including the origination fee) for loans with a  20% down payment.

Which has led to this.

As prices rise, home equity multiplies. In the past year, homeowners with mortgages, representing about 63% of all properties, have seen their equity increase by 10.8%, according to CoreLogic.

That equates to a collective $1 trillion in gained equity, or an average $17,000 per homeowner, the largest equity gain in more than six years.

Bond Market

There has been quite a change from the 3.15% of the benchmark ten-year yield to the 0.9% as I type this. This has been a road accompanied by a balance sheet expanded to US $7.3 trillion including over US $4.6 trillion of government bonds ( US Treasuries). That seems set to continue for the forseeable future.

In addition, the Federal Reserve will continue to increase its holdings of Treasury securities by at least $80 billion per month and of agency mortgage-backed securities by at least $40 billion per month until substantial further progress has been made toward the Committee’s maximum employment and price stability goals.

US Dollar

I though I would add it to the list as maybe we are seeing a change. What I mean by that is the US Federal Reserve has been pursuing a policy of benign neglect towards the US Dollar and it had been weakening. For example the broad index hit 123.6 in April but in November was 114.4.

But driven by the new Covid variant in the UK it has rallied over the weekend by 1% versus the Euro and by 2% versus the UK Pound. Although there is an undercut which is that it seems the UK has detected it in scale first because it tests much more in this way that others. So there may well be a catch up elsewhere…..

Comment

So far I have mostly noted the financial world. So let us now look at what is called main street where we have already noted the food bank issue and can now add in this.

New US unemployment claims for the week that ended Saturday totaled 885,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the highest reading in 14 weeks. ( Business Insider)

So a signal of another downturn heading in the opposite direction to the current consensus as show below.

The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the fourth quarter of 2020 is 11.1 percent on December 17, up from 11.0 percent on December 16.  ( Atlanta Fed)

I am not sure how they got to that number even when things looked better. But with the Covid pandemic apparently worsening I fear for the first quarter of next year. Could we see another contraction? From @Covid19tracking on Friday.

Our daily update is published. States reported 1.9 million tests, 242k cases, 3,438 deaths, and 114k people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the US. Both case and hospitalization counts from today are all-time highs.

Podcast

 

 

 

The rise and rise of negative interest-rates

This week is ending with a topic that has become something of a hardy perennial in these times. By these times I mean the way that the Covid-19 pandemic has added to the credit crunch. An example has been provided this morning by Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey.

BoE’s Bailey: As You Go Towards Zero And Into Negative Territory, Academic Research Says Impact Of Structure Of Banking System On Transmission Tends To Increase Most Countries That Have Used Negative Rates Have Not Used Them For Retail Deposits ( @LiveSquawk)

This has reminded markets again about the Bank of England looking at negative interest-rates which as an aside is none too bright at a time when the UK Pound is seeing pressure. Perhaps he has gone native early and started the old tactic of talking it lower. But on the subject of negative interest-rates he is both reinforcing a point made by some of his colleagues and disagreeing with them. The agreement is with this bit from Michael Saunders on the

In my view, there may be some modest scope to cut Bank Rate further but, if we do, it may be preferable to move in relatively small steps.

The disagreement has been over the impact on banks with both Michael Saunders and Silvana Tenreyro claiming they can help them a view which I consider to be evidence free. It is also contradicted by this from the Saunders speech.

For example, if the TFS (or TFSME) interest rate is
below Bank Rate, then banks could borrow funds at the (lower) TFS rate and earn the (higher) interest rate
on reserves. This subsidy for banks would come at the BoE’s expense.

Firstly nice of him to confirm my point that such policies are indeed a bank subsidy. But why so banks need a different interest-rate to everyone else especially if they are unaffected.

But the clear message here has been the development of the effective lower bound or ELB. I still recall Governor Carney telling us this.

The Bank of England’s website says that the “effective lower bound” for the interest rate it sets, Bank Rate, is the current rate of 0.5%.

This is the level, according to the Bank, “below which it cannot be set” – the lowest practicable official interest rate. ( BBC March 2015)

Of course that became 0.1% when we cut to 0.1% and Governor Carney had previously contradicted his own rhetoric by cutting to 0.25% after the EU Leave vote. Well now according to Michael Saunders it has got lower again.

As discussed above, I suspect the ELB is probably somewhat below zero, but there is uncertainty around this. With this uncertainty, it may be preferable to make any further rate cuts in relatively small steps, less than the normal 25bp increments.

So 0.5% became 0.1% ( after they cut to 0.25%) and now it is somewhere below 0%. Were it not so serious this would be a comedy version of central banking 101. The other ridiculous part was claiming it was 0.5% when only across The Channel the ECB had cut below 0%.

The road below zero has been littered with official denials, although the record remains with Governor Kuroda of the Bank of Japan who imposed negative interest-rates only 8 days or a Beatles week after denying any such intention in the Japanese parliament.

Yesterday

We did not get an ECB interest-rate cut partly because they had reined back on that and partly because it looks as though there was some dissension in the camp.

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde brokered a difficult compromise this week to secure backing for a new pandemic-fighting package of measures, but her battle to convince sceptics among her colleagues and investors has only just begun.

Her claim that she had ended dissension has gone the way of well many of her other claims. But there was a nuance to the interest-rate debate as she simultaneously said down and then up.

She starts by saying “we are enlarging the volume of lending that can be obtained at those rates” And then says “we are slightly changing the reference period…. to make it a little more challenging” Seems at cross purposes… ( @LorcanRK)

It has turned out that there has been some potential tightening here, but I would not worry about it too much as once they realise it will hurt The Precious! The Precious! it will be changed. The interest-rate of -1% remains but how much of that banks can access has potentially been reduced.

I would not worry about this too much as once somebody points out to Christine Lagarde that she has made another mistake this will be reversed.

Bond Yields

We can continue the theme of mistakes by President Lagarde as someone was keen in the ECB messaging to make sure there would not be another “we are not here to close bond spreads” debacle.

We will conduct our purchases under the PEPP to preserve favourable financing conditions over this extended period. We will purchase flexibly according to market conditions and with a view to preventing a tightening of financing conditions that is inconsistent with countering the downward impact of the pandemic on the projected path of inflation. In addition, the flexibility of purchases over time, across asset classes and among jurisdictions will continue to support the smooth transmission of monetary policy.

This was a subplot to the main event in this area.

Second, we decided to increase the envelope of the pandemic emergency purchase programme (PEPP) by €500 billion to a total of €1,850 billion. We also extended the horizon for net purchases under the PEPP to at least the end of March 2022.

We can now move to what The Frenchman in the Matrix series of films would call cause and effect.

And BOOM!

The 10-year Spanish bond yield turned negative for the first time ever. Still somewhat of a national embarrassment that Portugal went there first, I suppose. ( @fwred)

Fred has rather stolen my thunder about what had happened in anticipation of the move.

Yesterday Portugal joined the euro zone’s growing pool of negative yields as 10-year YTM dropped to -0.1% for the first time in history.

 

Comment

As I have been typing this there has been a reminder of old times for me and well you can see for yourselves.

Money Markets Assign 65% Probability Of 10 Bps Bank Of England Interest Rate Cut By March 2021 Vs 16% At Start Of Month ( @LiveSquawk)

It is hard not to laugh as a cut of 0.1% after cuts approaching 5% would do what exactly? But it would appear that for rate cuts central bankers keep singing along with the Average White Band.

Let’s go ’round again
Maybe we’ll turn back the hands of time
Let’s go ’round again
One more time (One more time)
One more time (One more time)

In terms of the UK we do already have negative interest-rates as both the two-year ( -0.14%) and the five-year yields ( -0.11%) are already there and as a real world issue they feed into mortgage rates because so many are at a fixed rate these days.

In terms of the world well it is arriving right now in a land down under.

An auction of three-month Australian notes on Thursday saw an average yield of 0.01%, with buyers who bid most aggressively at the sale receiving a yield of minus 0.01%. ( Bloomberg)

Adding in time to this.

 

UK house prices continue to boom

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck the UK one of my first thoughts was that we would finally see some house price falls. A sharp economic decline accompanied by lower employment and real wages seemed set to drive that. This is how I summarised the state of play on March 30th.

I have been contacted by various people over the past few days with different stories but a common theme which is that previously viable and successful businesses are either over or in a lot of trouble. They will hardly be buying. Even more so are those who rent a property as I have been told about rent reductions too if the tenant has been reliable just to keep a stream of income. Now this is personal experience and to some extent anecdote but it paints a picture I think. Those doing well making medical equipment for example are unlikely to have any time to themselves let alone think about property.

At the time the only way looked down to misquote Yazz, and yet this morning we find The Halifax reporting this.

House price growth on strongest run since 2004

I guess that comes under unexpected headlines of 2020 which has turned out to be a very contrary year, to say the least, The detail of The Halifax report is below.

House prices rose by more than 1% in November, adding almost £3,000 to the cost of a typical UK home.
At just over £253,000, the average property price has risen by more than £15,000 since June. In percentage terms that equates to 6.5% – the strongest five-monthly gain since 2004.

They are cherry-picking their measure as a five-monthly gain is hardly a metric but nonetheless it is quite a surge in the circumstances. Also the picture remains the same if we return to more conventional metrics.

On a monthly basis, house prices in November were 1.2% higher than in October
In the latest quarter (September to November) house prices were 3.8% higher than in the
preceding three months (June to August)
House prices in November were 7.6% higher than in the same month a year earlier – the
strongest growth since June 2016

So we have the strongest growth since the Leave vote which itself was supposed to bring house prices lower. Remember the official forecast?

House prices could take an 18% hit over the next two years and there will be an “economic shock” that will increase the cost of mortgages if the UK votes to leave the EU,George Osborne has warned.

The chancellor said he would publish an official analysis next week saying house prices would be lower by at least 10% and up to 18% compared with what is expected if Britain remains in the EU ( The Guardian)

If we look at the official series house prices were on average just under £213,000 in June 2016 and as of September were £244,513. So he must have been expecting quite a boom on top of that! No doubt the official excuse will be the counterfactual although they may struggle to find someone to say it without laughing aloud.

Looking ahead the picture looks bright too.

Mortgage approvals rose in October to the highest level seen in 13 years. The latest Bank of England
figures show the number of mortgages approved to finance house purchases rose by 6% to 97,532. Year-on-year, the October figure was 51% above October 2019.

We had looked at those numbers on the 30th of November.

What has caused this?

Let me open with a different factor which gets underplayed and it is the furlough scheme. Back in January there had been announcements but it was not expected to be as large nor lasting so long.

The Job Retention Scheme launched on 20 April. By midnight on 15 November there were a total of:

9.6m jobs furloughed

1.2m employers furloughing

Total claimed £43bn

The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme opened on 17 August. By midnight on 15 November there were a total of:

2.4m claims

£5.9bn claimed

Much of it will have gone to people who badly need it but some have been able to save ( partly because more than a few opportunities to spend money have been unavailable) and we have seen the consequence in both the GDP numbers and the money supply ones. From November 30th.

Households’ deposits increased by the largest amount since May in October (£12.3 billion). This follows a £6.6 billion increase in deposits in September, and an average flow between March and June of £17.4 billion a month.

This is a leakage if you can call it that which has also flowed into the housing market.

Next up is the Stamp Duty cut although if we look at it in isolation buyers are in fact worse off.

 It is interesting to note that the stamp duty saving of £2,500 on a home costing £250,000 is now far outweighed by the average increase in property prices since July.

We have seen before that such changes are used as a way to borrow more so that the house price change becomes a multiple of the tax cut.

Last but not least has been the role of the Bank of England which has changed since I posted this on the 30th March.

Over recent weeks, the MPC has reduced Bank Rate by 65 basis points, from 0.75% to 0.1%, and introduced a Term Funding scheme with additional incentives for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (TFSME). It has also announced an increase in the stock of asset purchases, financed by the issuance of central bank reserves, by £200 billion to a total of £645 billion.

Whereas as of the end of last week the £645 billion had become £716 billion and rising ( there will be another £1.473 billion today,tomorrow and Wednesday). The new planned total is £895 billion or £875 billion of UK government bonds or Gilts plus the completed £20 billion of Corporate Bonds. I say planned because so far the Bank of England attitude has been to sing along to Luther Vandross.

Oh, my love
A million days in your arms is never too much
I just don’t wanna stop
Too much, never too much, never too much, never too much

You may note the Term Funding Scheme got a boost and surprise, surprise it was badged as being for smaller businesses. Readers have asked me in the past if even this goes into the housing market. Well of £211.1 billion as of the end of October some £78.1 billion is in the Real Estate, professional services and support activities category.

Comment

In addition to this being quite extraordinary there is another context. This comes from the fact we are using marginal prices for an average at a time of lower volumes. One group as I have been reminded today will be excluded from this because they cannot sell as at reasonable price and sometimes at any price.

I wonder how they’re accounting for the mostly below average cladding affected flats that are now out of the equation as they cannot be sold. ( @BCLMacro )

The Bank of England view was expressed by its Chief Economist Andy Haldane in the summer of 2016. Note how what is inflation for first-time buters and those trading up is described as a wealth increase.

Finally, let’s look at household wealth. As with employment, the headline gains here have been impressive,
with aggregate net wealth increasing by almost £3 trillion since 2009. Chart 9 breaks down these wealth
gains by asset type – pensions, property, financial, physical. This suggests these gains have come
principally from rises in property and pension wealth. In other words, the gains have been skewed towards
those in society who own their own home or who have sizable pension pots.

That theme has continued with the plan to gerrymander the Retail Prices Index by excluding from 2030 its use of house prices and mortgage interest-rates and replacing them with fantasy rents. They assume if you own your own home you pay rent to yourself and this adds to the issue of the fact they have struggled to measure rents which are paid accurately.

So far they have kept this house of cards going but there are hints of trouble and they come from something I noted at the end of last month. This is that mortgage rates have begun to rise. Not by much if you have a large deposit but if you have a small one you have seen quite a change. If we look at the 2-year fixed-rate data from the Bank of England this morning we see that a 5% deposit will get you a mortgage rate of 4.1% rather than the 3% of a year ago. So for all the hype about lower interest-rates we see yet another example of a higher one.

Podcast

 

 

The UK house price boom is facing higher mortgage rates

This morning will have brought sounds of high excitement and smiles to the Bank of England. It would have been too early to raid its excellent wine cellar but a liveried flunkey will have brought its best coffee to Governor Andrew Bailey as he peruses the latest news from the Halifax on UK house prices.

The average UK house price now tops a quarter of a million pounds (£250,547) for the first time in history, as annual
house price inflation rose to 7.5% in October, its highest rate since mid-2016. Underlying the pace of recent price
growth in the market is the 5.3% gain over the past four months, the strongest since 2006.

Governor Bailey will no doubt issue a satisfied smile and may mimic the end of the television series Frasier which had an “I did that” at the end. He may even be pleased that he has helped to do this without getting a mention from the Halifax.

This level of price inflation is underpinned by unusually high levels of demand, with latest industry figures showing
home-buyer mortgage approvals at their highest level since 2007, as transaction levels continue to be supercharged
by pent-up demand as a result of the spring/summer lockdown, as well as the Chancellor’s waiver on stamp duty for properties up to £500,000.

I find the “pent-up demand” bit curious as surely there will also have been pent-up supply? Bur we do see signs of a an active market.

HMRC Monthly property transactions data shows a fifth consecutive monthly rise in UK home sales
in September. UK seasonally adjusted residential transactions in September 2020 were 98,010 – up by
21.3% from August. The latest quarterly transactions (July-September 2020) were approximately 63.6%
higher than the preceding three months (April-June 2020). Year on year, transactions were 0.7% lower than
September 2019 (2.4% higher on a non seasonally adjusted basis). (Source: HMRC, seasonally-adjusted
figures)

Although I do note that whilst we have seen high rates of monthly growth it only brings us back to around what were last years levels. The picture on mortgage approvals is more clear-cut.

Mortgage approvals rose in September to the highest level seen in 13 years. The latest Bank of England figures show the number of mortgages approved to finance house purchases, rose by 7% from August to 91,454, down from a rise of 27% reported in August. Year-on-year, the September figure was 39% above September 2019.

Monetary Policy

We can now switch to what I call the Talking Heads question. From Once In A Lifetime.

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, “Well… how did I get here?”

The Bank of England’s role in us getting here started with the interest-rate cuts in response to the credit crunch. Then as they realised how interest-rates actually worked they added on bond buying in the form of what is called QE to reduce longer-term interest-rates too. It is easy to forget now but this did not do the trick for house prices so in the summer of 2012 we got what the then Chancellor George Osborne called credit easing. This was the Funding for Lending Scheme where the Bank of England channeled cheap cash ( Bank Rate was 0.5%) to the banks so that they did not have to indulge in the no doubt tiresome business of competing for depositors.

This was a crucial change in 2 respects. The first is access to funds at Bank Rate but in many ways more crucial is the access to large amounts of funds. So a quantity issue. This allowed banks to reduce mortgage-rates and I recall pointing out that mortgage-rates fell by 0.9% quite quickly and the Bank of England later claimed they fell by up to 2%.

Bringing this up to now we have the Term Funding Scheme operating that role and in its original form it has supplied £70.6 billion and the new pandemic era version has supplied some £49.6 billion. So as you can see the Bank of England keeps the banks supplied with cash and these days it can get it as cheap as the present Bank Rate of 0.1%. On this road we see that the cut in Bank Rate is not especially significant in itself these days but comes more into play via the Term Funding Scheme.

Next as more people moved to mortgages with fixed interest-rates ( around 92% of new mortgages last time I checked) QE also came back into play as an influence on mortgage rates via its impact on UK bond or Gilt yields. So this part of yesterday’s announcement matters.

The Committee voted unanimously for the Bank of England to continue with the existing programme of £100 billion of UK government bond purchases, financed by the issuance of central bank reserves, and also for the Bank of England to increase the target stock of purchased UK government bonds by an additional £150 billion, financed by the issuance of central bank reserves, to take the total stock of government bond purchases to £875 billion.

There are issues with the stock but for our purposes today in looking at the mortgage market it is the flow ( presently £4.4 billion a week) that matters. It has helped keep my proxy for fixed-rates, which is the five-year bond yield negative since mid June now apart from one brief flicker. As I type this it is -0.06%.

Comment

So the theme starts singing along with Steve Winwood for house prices.

I’ll be back in the high life again
All the doors I closed one time will open up again

However all the government and Bank of England pumping has the problem that it means that they are ever more socially distanced from wages and earnings. So many are on 80% wages from the furlough scheme and real wages have been falling. There has to be some sort of reckoning here in the end. As well there are signs that the pumping system is creaking.

As you can see mortgage rates for those with lower amounts of equity or if you prefer high loan to value numbers have risen quite sharply. So the heat is on especially for those with only 5% equity where they have gone above 4% which really rather contradicts all the official rhetoric of low interest-rates.  So I see trouble ahead which to be frank I welcome. I do not wish anyone ill in financial terms but we do need lower house prices to help first-time buyers.

Meanwhile something I have long warned about looks to have come true this week.

The Bank of England is investigating a potential leak of Thursday’s QE announcement ( @fergalob)

I do like the description of it being in The Sun as a “potential leak”……

Why I still expect UK house prices to fall

This morning has brought another example that to quote Todd Terry “there’s something going on” in the UK housing market. Of course there is an enormous amount of government and Bank of England support but even so we are seeing a curious development.

House prices rebound further to reach record
high, challenging affordability.

That is from the Halifax earlier who are the latest to report on this trend where the initial effect of the Covid-19 pandemic has been not only to raise recorded house prices, but to give the rate of growth quite a shove. Indeed prices rose by nearly as much this August on its own as in the year to last August.

“House prices continued to beat expectations in August, with prices again rising sharply, up by 1.6% on a
monthly basis. Annual growth now stands at 5.2%, its strongest level since late 2016, with the average
price of a property tipping over £245,000 for the first time on record.”

I would not spend to much time on the average price per see as each house price index has its own way of calculating that. But the push higher in prices is unmistakable as we look for the causes.

“A surge in market activity has driven up house prices through the post-lockdown summer period, fuelled
by the release of pent-up demand, a strong desire amongst some buyers to move to bigger properties, and
of course the temporary cut to stamp duty.”

I think maybe the stamp duty cut should come first, but the desire for larger properties is intriguing. That may well b a euphemism for wanting a garden which after the lock down is no surprise, but at these prices how is it being afforded? Wanting if one thing, be able to afford it is another.

Bank of England

It’s combination of interest-rate cuts. QE bond buying, and credit easing has led to this.

The mortgage market showed more signs of recovery in July, but remained weak in comparison to pre-Covid. On net, households borrowed an additional £2.7 billion secured on their homes. This was higher than the £2.4 billion in June but below the average of £4.2 billion in the six months to February 2020. The increase on the month reflected a slight increase in gross borrowing to £17.4 billion in July, below the pre-Covid February level of £23.7 billion and consistent with the recent weakness in mortgage approvals.

As you can see it has got things on the move but both gross and net levels of activity are lower and especially the gross one. That may well be a lock down feature as there are lags in the process.  But if the approvals numbers are any guide they are on their way

The number of mortgages approvals for house purchase continued recovering in July, reaching 66,300, up from 39,900 in June. Approvals are now 10% below the February level of 73,700 (Chart 3), but more than seven times higher than the trough of 9,300 in May.

Michael Saunders

It seems that the Monetary Policy Committee may have further plans for the housing market.

Looking forward, I suspect that risks lie on the side of a slower recovery over the next year or two
and a longer period of excess supply than the forecast in the August MPR. If these risks develop,
then some further monetary loosening may be needed in order to support the economy and prevent
a persistent undershoot of the 2% inflation target. ( MPR = Monetary Policy Report )

Seeing as interest-rates are already at their Lower Bound and we are seeing QE bond buying as for example there will be another £1.473 billion today. it does make you wonder what more he intends? Although in a more off the cuff moment he did say this.

Review of negative rates is not finished: Not theologically oppsed to neg rates. ( ForexFlow)

He seems genuinely confused and frankly if he and his colleagues were wrong in August they are likely to be wrong in September as well! Oh and is this an official denial?

But I wouldn’t get too carried away by this prospect of money-fuelled inflation pressures.

He did however get one thing right about the money supply.

In other words, the crisis has lifted the demand for money
– the amount of deposits that households and businesses would like to hold – as well as the rise in the
supply of money described above.

That is a mention of money demand which is more of an influence on broad money than supply a lot of the time. Sadly though he fumbled the ball here.

All this has been backed up by the BoE’s asset purchase programme, which (to the extent that bonds have
been bought from the non-bank private sector) acts directly to boost broad money growth.

It acts directly on narrow money growth and affects broad money growth via that.

Another credit crunch

Poor old Michael Saunders needs to get out a bit more as this shows.

And, thanks to the marked rise in their capital ratios during the last decade, banks have been much better
placed than previously to meet that demand for credit.

Meanwhile back in the real world there is this.

Barclays has lowered its loan to income multiples to a maximum of 4.49 times income.

This applies to all LTVs, loan sizes and income scenarios except for where an LTV is greater than 90 per cent and joint income of the household is equal to or below £50,000, and where the debt to income ratio is equal to or above 20 per cent.

In these two cases the income multiple has been lowered to 4 times salary. ( Mortgage Strategy)

There has been a reduction in supply of higher risk mortgages and such is it that one bank is making an offer for only 2 days to avoid being swamped with demand.

Accord Mortgages is relaunching it’s 90 per cent deals for first-time buyers for two days only next week. ( Mortgage Strategy)

Also according to Mortgage Strategy some mortgage rates saw a large weekly rise.

At 90 per cent LTV the rate flew upward by 32 basis points, taking the average rate from 3.22 per cent to 3.54 per cent…….Despite the overall average rate dropping for three-year fixes there was one large movement upwards within – at 90 per cent LTV the average rate grew from 3.26 per cent to 3.55 per cent.

Comment

If we start with the last section which is something of a credit crunch for low equity or if you prefer high risk mortgages then that is something which can turn the house price trend. I would imagine there will be some strongly worded letters being sent from the Governor of the Bank of England Andrew Bailey to the heads of the banks over this. But on present trends this and its likely accompaniment which is surveyors reducing estimated values will turn the market. Indeed even the Halifax is btacing itself for falls.

“Rising house prices contrast with the adverse impact of the pandemic on household earnings and with
most economic commentators believing that unemployment will continue to rise, we do expect greater
downward pressure on house prices in the medium-term.”

What can the Bank of England do? Short of actually buying houses for people there is really only one more thing. Cut interest-rates into negative territory and offer even more than the current £113 billion from the Term Funding Scheme ( to save the banks the inconvenience of needing those pesky depositors and savers). Then look on in “shock” as the money misses smaller businesses as it floods the mortgage market. But these days the extra push gets smaller because it keeps pulling the same lever.

Also can HM Treasury now put stamp duty back up without torpedoing the market?

Podcast

 

Another survey says UK House Prices are rising

This morning there will have been scenes at the Bank of England. Indeed there will have been jostling amongst the staff as they rush to be the one who presents the morning meeting. Whoever grabbed the gig will be facing a Governor who has a wide beaming smile as his mind anticipates raiding the well-stocked wine cellar later. Perhaps the cake trolley will be filled with everyone’s favourites as well. What will cause such happiness?

Sharp increase in July pushes house prices to
highest ever levels ( Halifax )

Unwitting passers-by may hear a murmur which sounds like “The Wealth Effects! The Wealth Effects!” because that is exactly what it is. This mentality has seeped its way through the UK establishment now as the Deputy National Statistician Jonathan Athow parroted such a line during a recent online conference on how he plans to neuter the Retail Price Index.

What are the numbers?

The Halifax reported quite a surge last month.

Following four months of decline, average house prices in July experienced their greatest month on month
increase this year, up 1.6% from June and comfortably offsetting losses in 2020. The average house price
in July is the highest it has ever been since the Halifax House Price Index began, 3.8% higher than a year
ago.

If we look at levels we get a context to the house price boom the UK has seen in recent decades as we note that an index set at 100 in 1992 was at 416.6 in July. Putting that another way the average price is now £241,604. Care is needed with such averages because they vary between different organisations quite a but partly because as you can see the numbers come in for some torture.

The standardised average price is calculated using the HPI’s mix adjusted methodology………The standardised index is seasonally adjusted using the U.S. Bureau of the Census X-11 moving-average method based on a rolling 84-month series. Each month, the seasonally adjusted figure for the same month a year ago and last month’s figure are subject to revision.

84 months!

Why?

As we switch to the question posed by Carly Simon we are told this.

The latest data adds to the emerging view that the market is experiencing a surprising spike post lockdown. As pent-up demand from the period of lockdown is released into a largely open housing market, a low supply of available homes is helping to exert upwards pressure on house prices. Supported by the government’s initiative of a significant cut in stamp duty, and evidence from households and agents
suggesting that confidence is currently growing, the immediate future for the housing market looks brighter
than many might have expected three months ago.

So we see that the Stamp Duty cut is in play so once the Chancellor has completed this morning’s round of media interviews he will receive a call from Governor Andrew Bailey to say “Well played sir!”. I have to confess that this bit has me a little bemused.

that confidence is currently growing

That is hard to square with the wave of job and pay cuts we are seeing.

Mortgages

We looked at the approvals data last week but there is also the data from the tax register.

Monthly property transactions data shows a rise in UK home sales in June. UK seasonally
adjusted residential transactions in June 2020 were 63,250 – up by 31.7% from May following the lifting
of COVID-19 lockdown measures. Quarter-on-quarter transactions were approximately 47% lower than
quarter one 2020. (Source: HMRC, seasonally-adjusted figures)

I find it odd that so many organisations continue with seasonal adjustment at a time when we are not acting as usual. But we have to suspect higher numbers again in July if we also note the trends below.

Results from the latest (June 2020) RICS Residential Market Survey point to a recovery emerging
across the market, with indicators on buyer demand, sales and new listings rallying following the
lockdown related falls. New buyer demand has moved to a net balance of +61% (compared to -7% and
-94% in April and May respectively). New instructions also rose firmly to a net balance of +42%
(compared with -22% in May). Newly agreed sales net balance has moved into positive territory for the
first time since February, with a net balance of +43% (from -34% in May)

Care is needed as that is a sentiment index with spin in play and maybe as much as the Pakistan cricket team which has picked two spinners.

If we switch to mortgage rates then the Bank of England tells us this.

The effective rates on new and outstanding mortgages were little changed in June. New mortgage rates were 1.77%, an increase of 3 basis points on the month, while the interest rate on the stock of mortgage loans was 2.16%, unchanged from May and 0.2 percentage points lower than in February.

As you can see the rate for new mortgages is quite a bit below that on the existing stock meaning that a combination of new draw downs and remortgaging is pulling the overall position lower.

Bringing this up to date we have a story of two halves where remortgages remain at extraordinary low levels but the first time buyer has to pay quite a bit more.

This week has seen several rate increases for mortgages, particularly at higher loan-to-values (LTV). Halifax, TSB, Skipton Building Society, Virgin Money and Nationwide Building Society all increased their rates during the week on 85% LTV mortgages. HSBC increased its rates on 90% LTV mortgages, but they remain among the top rates for those with a smaller mortgage deposit. ( Moneyfacts )

The organisations above may well be getting a phone call from Governor Bailey along these lines.

Whose side are you on, son?

Don’t you love your country?

Then how about getting with the program? Why don’t you jump on the team and come on in for the big win?

( Full Metal Jacket)

Indeed the whole Monetary Policy Committee seems to have mortgage rate news on speed dial.

The Committee discussed the various factors affecting the price of new mortgage lending.

They also took some time to applaud themselves.

But other factors had been pushing in the opposite direction, such that it was possible that, in the absence of the MPC’s policy action, mortgage rates would have risen somewhat at all LTV ratios.

Comment

So we see a rather surprising development which backs up what we looked at on the 29th of July from Zoopla. I think we are seeing a bit of delayed action or if you prefer something which is in fact in the ( often derided) rational expectations models where prices can rise to prepare for a larger fall.

Why? Well in the short term the efforts of the government looked at above and the Bank of England via its new Term Funding Scheme ( over £21 billion now) can work. So we have lower costs and continued pressure on mortgage rates, But as time passes the higher levels of unemployment and wages cuts have to come into play in my opinion.

Meanwhile at the upper end of New York.

Two years after selling a three-storey penthouse for $59 million, one of the most expensive sales in Manhattan at the time, the developer of a luxury building on the High Line in Manhattan has steeply discounted the remaining four apartments, with the price of one full-floor unit overlooking the elevated park dropping by more than 50%.

The units at The Getty Residences in Chelsea, designed by architect Peter Marino, had been on the market for the last three years.

The units range from a 3,312-square-foot, three-bedroom, 3 1/2-bathroom that had its price cut about 42% to $9.4 million to a 3,816-square-foot, three-bedroom, 3 1/2-bathroom apartment with a balcony dropping 43% to $13.8 million.  ( Forbes )

 

 

Where next for UK house prices?

This week has opened in what by recent standards is a relatively calm fashion. Well unless you are involved in the crude oil market as prices have taken another dive. That does link to the chaos in the airline industry where Easyjet has just grounded all its fleet. Although that is partly symbolic as the lack of aircraft noise over South West London in the morning now gives a clear handle on how many were probably flying anyway. So let us take a dip in the Bank of England’s favourite swimming pool which is UK house prices.

Bank of England

It has acted in emergency fashion twice this month and the state of play is as shown below.

Over recent weeks, the MPC has reduced Bank Rate by 65 basis points, from 0.75% to 0.1%, and introduced a Term Funding scheme with additional incentives for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (TFSME). It has also announced an increase in the stock of asset purchases, financed by the issuance of central bank reserves, by £200 billion to a total of £645 billion.

If we look for potential effects then the opening salvo of an interest-rate cut has much less impact than it used to as whilst there are of course variable-rate mortgages out there the new mortgage market has been dominated by fixed-rates for a while now. The next item the TFSME is more significant as both its fore-runners did lead to lower mortgage-rates. Also the original TFS and its predecessor the Funding for Lending Scheme or FLS lead to more money being made available to the mortgage market. This helped net UK mortgage lending to go from being negative to being of the order of £4 billion a month in recent times. The details are below.

When interest rates are low, it is likely to be difficult for some banks and building societies to reduce deposit rates much further, which in turn could limit their ability to cut their lending rates.  In order to mitigate these pressures and maximise the effectiveness of monetary policy, the TFSME will, over the next 12 months, offer four-year funding of at least 10% of participants’ stock of real economy lending at interest rates at, or very close to, Bank Rate. Additional funding will be available for banks that increase lending, especially to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

We have seen this sort of hype about lending to smaller businesses before so let me give you this morning;s numbers.

In net terms, UK businesses borrowed no extra funds from banks in February, and the annual growth rate of bank lending to UK businesses remained at 0.8%. Within this, the growth rate of borrowing from SMEs picked up to 0.7%, whilst borrowing from large businesses remained at 0.9%.

It is quite unusual for it to be that good and has often been in the other direction.

In theory the extra bond purchases (QE) should boost the market although it is not that simple because if the original ones had worked as intended we would not have seen the FLS in the summer of 2012.

Today’s Data

It is hard not to have a wry smile at this.

Mortgage approvals for house purchase (an indicator for future lending) had continued to rise in February, reaching 73,500 . This took the series to its highest since January 2014, significantly stronger than in recent years. Approvals for remortgage also rose on the month to 53,400. Net mortgage borrowing by households – which lags approvals – was £4.0 billion in February, close to the £4.1 billion average seen over the past six months. The annual growth rate for mortgage borrowing picked up to 3.5%.

As you can see the previous measures to boost smaller business lending have had far more effect on mortgage approvals and lending. Also there is another perspective as we note the market apparently picking up into where we are now.

In terms of mortgage rates in February the Bank of England told us this.

Effective rates on new secured loans to individuals decreased 4bps to 1.81%.

So mortgages were getting slightly cheaper and the effective rate for the whole stock is now 2.36%.

The Banks

There is a two-way swing here. Help was offered in terms of a three-month payment holiday which buys time for those unable to pay although in the end they will still have to pay but for new loans we have quite a different situation. From The Guardian on Thursday.

Halifax, the UK’s biggest mortgage lender, has withdrawn the majority of the mortgages it sells through brokers, including all first-time buyer loans, citing a lack of “processing resource”.

In a message sent to mortgage brokers this morning, Halifax said it would no longer offer any mortgages with a “loan-to-value” (LTV) of more than 60%. In other words, only buyers able to put down a 40% deposit will qualify for a loan.

Other lenders have followed and as Mortgage Strategy points out below there are other issues for them and prospective buyers.

Mortgage lenders are in talks with ministers over putting the housing market in lockdown and transactions on hold, according to reports.

Lenders have been withdrawing products and restricting loan-to-values as they are unable to get valuers to do face-to-face inspections.

Property transactions are failing because some home owners in the chain are in isolation and unable to move house or complete on purchases.

Removals firms have been advised by their trade body not to operate, leaving movers in limbo.

So in fact even if the banks were keen to lend there are plenty of issues with the practicalities.

Comment

The next issue for the market is that frankly a lot of people are now short of this.

Money talks, mmm-hmm-hmm, money talks
Dirty cash I want you, dirty cash I need you, woh-oh
Money talks, money talks
Dirty cash I want you, dirty cash I need you, woh-oh ( The Adventures of Stevie V )

I have been contacted by various people over the past few days with different stories but a common theme which is that previously viable and successful businesses are either over or in a lot of trouble. They will hardly be buying. Even more so are those who rent a property as I have been told about rent reductions too if the tenant has been reliable just to keep a stream of income. Now this is personal experience and to some extent anecdote but it paints a picture I think. Those doing well making medical equipment for example are unlikely to have any time to themselves let alone think about property.

Thus we are looking at a deep freeze.

Ice ice baby
Ice ice baby
All right stop ( Vanilla Ice)

Whereas for house prices I can only see this for now.

Oh, baby
I, I, I, I’m fallin’
I, I, I, I’m fallin’
Fall

Podcast

Unsecured credit and mortgage lending market will be the winners after the Bank of England move

Today has arrived with an event we have been expecting but the timing was a few days early. Those walking past the Bank of England building in Threadneedle Street early this morning may have got a warning from the opening of Stingray being played on the wi-fi stream.

Stand by for action!

Anything can happen in the next 30 minutes

Before the equity and Gilt markets opened it announced this.

At its special meeting ending on 10 March 2020, the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voted unanimously to reduce Bank Rate by 50 basis points to 0.25%. …..The reduction in Bank Rate will help to support business and consumer confidence at a difficult time, to bolster the cash flows of businesses and households, and to reduce the cost, and to improve the availability, of finance.

So we see that yesterday morning’s equity market falls put the Bank of England into a state of panic. We also see why the UK Pound £ was weak on the foreign exchanges late yesterday as the news seems to have leaked giving some an early wire. The “improvement” announced by Governor Carney of voting the night before should be scrapped. But as we look at the statement the “help to” suggests a lack of conviction and was followed by this.

When interest rates are low, it is likely to be difficult for some banks and building societies to reduce deposit rates much further, which in turn could limit their ability to cut their lending rates.  In order to mitigate these pressures and maximise the effectiveness of monetary policy, the TFSME will, over the next 12 months, offer four-year funding of at least 5% of participants’ stock of real economy lending at interest rates at, or very close to, Bank Rate. Additional funding will be available for banks that increase lending, especially to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Experience from the Term Funding Scheme launched in 2016 suggests that the TFSME could provide in excess of £100 billion in term funding.

Okay the first sentence covers a lot of ground. Firstly it implicitly agrees with our theme that banks struggle to reduce interest-rates for ordinary depositors as we approach 0%, we have seen this in places with negative interest-rates. That also means that there is an opportunity to give the banks known under the code phrase “The Precious! The Precious!” at the Bank of England yet another subsidy estimated at the order of £100 billion.

Term Funding Scheme

We have had one of these before as it was initially introduced the last time the Bank of England panicked back in August 2016. It too like its predecessor the Funding for Lending Scheme was badged as being for small and medium-sized businesses but the change of name to the acronym TFSME gives us the clearest clue as to its success. after all successes like Coca-Cola keep the same name whereas leaky nuclear reprocessing plants like Windscale get called Sellafield.

So let me go through the scheme firstly with the Bank of England rhetoric and secondly with what happened last time.

help reinforce the transmission of the reduction in Bank Rate to the real economy to ensure that businesses and households benefit from the MPC’s actions;

Mortgage rates fell to record lows providing yet another boost to house prices, building companies and estate agents.

provide participants with a cost-effective source of funding to support additional lending to the real economy, providing insurance against adverse conditions in bank funding markets;

Unsecured lending went through the roof going on a surge that has continued as can you think of anything else in the economy growing at 6% per annum? You do not need to take my word for it as the Bank of England cake trolley will not be going near whoever wrote this in the latest Money and Credit report.

The annual growth rate of consumer credit (credit used by consumers to buy goods and services) remained at 6.1% in January. The growth rate has been around this level since May 2019, having fallen steadily from a peak of 10.9% in late 2016.

Let me now give you the numbers for business borrowing. Now the FLS and the first TFS are now flowing anymore but the numbers are in fact better than hat we sometimes saw when they were.

Within this, the growth rate of borrowing from large businesses and SMEs fell to 0.9% and 0.5% respectively.

Oh and in line with the dictum that old soldiers never die they just fade away if you look at the Bank of England balance sheet the Term Funding Scheme still amounts to £107 billion.

Numbers bingo!

We can see this from two perspectives as a rather furious soon to be Governor of the Bank of England Andrew Bailey was given this to announce.

The release of the countercyclical capital buffer will support up to £190 billion of bank lending to businesses. That is equivalent to 13 times banks’ net lending to businesses in 2019.

Once I had stopped laughing at the ridiculousness of this number I had two main thoughts. Firstly I guess he had to announce something as he had been robbed of rewarding the government with an interest-rate cut later this month. But next remember how we keep being told how we have more secure and indeed “resilient” banks? That seems to have morphed into this.

To support further the ability of banks to supply the credit needed to bridge a potentially challenging period, the Financial Policy Committee (FPC) has reduced the UK countercyclical capital buffer rate to 0% of banks’ exposures to UK borrowers with immediate effect.  The rate had been 1% and had been due to reach 2% by December 2020.

So yet another disaster for Forward Guidance! It actively misleads…

Comment

After all the Forward Guidance from Bank of England Governor Mark Carney about higher interest-rates he is going to leave them lower ( 0.25%) than when he started ( 0.5%). That about sums up his term in office as those like the Financial Times who called him a “rock star” Governor hope we have shirt memories. Also I have had many debates on social media with supporters of the claims that the Bank of England is politically independent. After an interest-rate cut to record lows on UK Budget Day I suspect they will be very quiet today. After all even Yes Prime Minister did not go quite that far! Indeed the Governor confirmed it in his press conference.

“We have coordinated our moves with the Chancellor in the Budget”

Actually there was also a Dr.Who style vibe going on as we had two Governors at one press conference.

More fundamentally there is the issue that interest-rate cuts at these levels may even make things worse. I am afraid our central planners have little nous and imagination and go for grand public gestures rather than real action. After all if you are short on staff because they are quarantined due to the Corona Virus what use is 0.5% off your borrowing costs? The latter of course assumes the banks pass it on.

As to ammunition left well the present Governor has established the lower bound for them at 0.1% ( hoping we will forget he previously claimed it was 0.5% before cutting below it). Will that survive him? It is hard to say because the real issue here is not you or I ot even business it is “The Precious” who they fear cannot take lower rates. That is the real reason for all the Term Funding Schemes and the like. However Monday did bring a curiosity as the Bank of England bought a Gilt with a yield of -0.025% so maybe it is considering plunging below zero.

Meanwhile there was something else curious today and the PR office of the Bank of England in an unusual turn may be grateful to me for pointing it out, But this was the sort of thing that used to make it cut interest-rates.

Gross domestic product (GDP) showed no growth in January 2020……The economy continued to show no growth overall in the latest three months.

No-one but the most credulous ( Professors of economics and those hoping to or previously having worked at the Bank of England) will believe that was the cause but it is a curious turn of events.

Meanwhile let us look at the term of Mark Carney via some music. Remember when he mentioned Jake Bugg? Well he would hope we would think of today’s move as this.

But that’s what happens
When it’s you who’s standing in the path of a lightning bolt

Whereas most will be humming The Smiths.

Panic on the streets of London
Panic on the streets of Birmingham
I wonder to myself
Could life ever be sane again?