Even better than expected UK GDP seems unlikely to stop the Bank of England cutting interest-rates

Today brings the UK back into focus as we have what is called a theme day with data across a wide range of economic influences such as production, manufacturing,services ,construction. trade and most of all GDP ( Gross Domestic Product). Yes it is too many in one go and monthly GDP has already demonstrated a track record of being erratic but that has not deterred our official statisticians. But before we get to that the Bank of England has continued its campaign to talk the UK Pound £ lower over the weekend. Here is the Financial Times from yesterday.

An influential member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee has said he would vote for a cut in interest rates later this month if key data do not show a bounce in the economy following the December general election.

Have you guessed who it is? I have to say I would be far from sure as my view is that the other 8 members of the monetary policy committee or MPC exist to say “I agree with Mark (Carney)”. Mind you the Financial Times does love to flatter the establishment as we note that my theme that the other 8 members serve little or no useful purpose these days gets another tick in the box. Anyway here it is.

Gertjan Vlieghe, an external MPC member, said his view on whether to keep waiting for an economic revival or vote to lower rates from 0.75 per cent to 0.5 per cent would depend on survey data released towards the end of January.

That does not rule out a move this month as the meeting is at the end of it with the announcement on the 30th although of course they vote on the evening before. For “live” meetings this so-called improvement by Governor Carney is a really bad idea which has been reinforced recently by the news that hedge funds were receiving an “early wire” during press conferences.

We then get more of an explanation.

“Personally I think it’s been a close call, therefore it doesn’t take much data to swing it one way or the other and the next few [MPC] meetings are absolutely live,” he told the Financial Times. “I really need to see an imminent and significant improvement in the UK data to justify waiting a little bit longer.”

You might think that after the post EU leave vote debacle when it mistakenly rushed to cut interest-rates because of the surveys  the Bank of England might steer clear of relying on them so much.

We will get a lot of information as soon as the end of January,” said Mr Vlieghe. ““We’ll get a lot of business and some household surveys that cleanly relate to the period after the election, so that will give us an initial read as to how people are responding.”

We do get a slightly odd section which suggests that someone at the Financial Times has actually believed all the Forward Guidance mumbo-jumbo.

Financial markets are not currently pricing any movement in rates above the current 0.75 per cent over the next five years.

If you look at the five and two year Gilt yields in a broad sweep they have been suggesting a cut for some months now as regular readers will be aware.

Of course the media keep fooling for this as they get their moment in the headlines as we recall this from Dharshini David of the BBC last May.

Today the Bank of England’s Governor admitted to me that rates are likely to rise faster than the markets expect. So when can we expect the first move? My analysis for 

She fell for the promises of the unreliable boyfriend hook line and sinker and in response has blocked me on Twitter.

Forward Guidance

It is hard not to have a wry smile at the Bank of England moves as the basic data has turned out better than expected. Let is open with today’s main number.

Rolling three-month growth was 0.1% in November 2019, down from an upwardly revised 0.2% in October.

Not much I admit but in the circumstances any growth is okay. Also that sentence is both true and misleading because October was originally reported as 0% but there have been ch-ch-changes since.

The UK economy grew slightly more strongly in September and October than was previously estimated, with later data painting a healthier picture.

We previously were told that both 3 monthly and monthly growth were 0% whereas now they are 0.2% and 0.1% respectively. So we are ahead of where we thought we were in spite of this.

Monthly gross domestic product (GDP) fell by 0.3% in November 2019, driven by falls in both services and production. This followed growth of 0.1% in both September and October 2019.

The monthly numbers are unreliable and are showing hints of a downwards bias as explained below.

However, both September and October 2019 have been revised up by 0.2 and 0.1 percentage points respectively, giving extra strength to the most recent rolling three-month estimate. The revisions to September were predominantly driven by new construction data, whereas October’s revisions were driven by new data in services and production.

It is good that the numbers are improved but the truth is that the variation is presently too high for them to be useful.

As to upwards surprises well the GDP number reinforces one from later on last week.

The latest survey of UK Chief Financial Officers shows an
unprecedented rise in business sentiment. The fourth quarter survey took place in the wake of the UK general election, between 13th December and 6th January. Confidence has seen the largest increase in the 11-year history of the survey taking it to its highest
ever level. ( Deloittes )

Manufacturing

If we look for the other side of the coin there is this from this morning.

The monthly decrease of 1.7% in manufacturing output was because of downward contributions from 10 of the 13 subsectors; led by notable falls from transport equipment (3.4%), chemicals and chemical products (4.7%) and food, beverages and tobacco (1.8%).

The November data meant that the last 3 months were poor too.

 compared with the three months to August 2019; this was led by manufacturing output, which fell by 0.8%.

If we look into the detail of the November data there is more than a little hope that it was driven lower by factors which we have got used to and in the latter case has been doing well overall.

the motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers industry (6.1%), which was impacted by factory shutdowns during November 2019…….widespread weakness from chemicals and chemical products (4.7%), following on from the impact of maintenance and shutdowns.

But the reason I have pointed this out is not only to show the other side of the coin but because this area is seeing quite a severe depression.

Manufacturing output in the UK remained 2.9% lower for the three months to November 2019 than the pre-downturn peak for the three months to March 2008.

It looked for a while that we might escape it but the impact of the trade war left our fingers grasping at air as we now face this.

Additionally, the current three-monthly rolling index level is the lowest since July 2017.

Comment

Regular readers will be aware that I thought the Bank of England was readying itself for an interest-rate cut last year. Now with its usual impeccable timing it seems to be forming up as a group just as the economic news shows a hint or two of being brighter. In addition to the data above this months Markit PMI showed an improvement as well albeit to somewhere around flatlining. The Deloittes survey was potentially especially revelant as it relates to business investment which has been weak and thus could have a spell of “catch up” now the political  and Brexit element looks clearer. As ironically Gerthan Vlieghe pointed out.

His main expectation was that the UK outlook would improve because there was a reduction in no-deal Brexit risks, plans for increased public spending and better news about a stabilised global economy.

But there is more to it than this as there is the fundamental issue of whether another 0.25% cut will make any difference. Having watched the latest prequel to the Alien(s) series of films over the weekend I am reminded of the words of the little girl Newt.

It won’t make any difference.

If we look at the weakest sector manufacturing all the interest-rate cuts we have seen have not turned things around and prevented a depression. Indeed if we look to Germany as we did only last week even an official interest-rate of -0.5% has not shielded its sector from the present trade war.

Podcast

What is the purpose of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England?

This week has been one where we have found ourselves observing and analysing the both the reality and the consequences of the global economic slow down. Yesterday gave us an opportunity to peer into the mind of a Bank of England policymaker and first Gertjan Vlieghe was keen to establish why he is paid the big bucks.

When the global economy is doing well, the UK usually tends to do well too. When the global economy is
sluggish, the UK economy tends to be sluggish too.

Thanks for that Gertjan! Next comes something that has been an issue since the credit crunch hit which has been the issue of what David Bowie called ch-ch-changes.

We are in a period of unusual uncertainty around the economic outlook.
There is a tendency to say every quarter that things are more uncertain than before, and of course that
cannot always be true. It must be that sometimes uncertainty is less than it was before.

Now put yourself in Gertjan’s shoes as someone who has been consistently wrong and has turned it into something of an art form. The future must be terrifying to someone like that and indeed it is.

Setting monetary policy requires making decisions even when the outlook is uncertain.

Actually the outlook is always uncertain especially if we look back for Gertjan and his colleagues.

The Forward Guidance Lie

Here is Gertjan making his case.

Rather, we need to respond to news about the economy as
we receive it, in a systematic and predictable way that agents in the economy can factor into their decisions.

There are several problems with this. Firstly how many people even take notice of the Bank of England. Secondly that situation will have only have been made worse by the way that the Forward Guidance has not only been wrong it has been deeply misleading, For example in August 2016 after more than two years of hints and promises about a Bank Rate rise Gerthan voted instead for a Bank Rate cut and £60 billion of Sledgehammer QE. So those who had taken the Forward Guidance advice and for example remortgaged into a fixed-rate were materially disadvantaged.

Not content with that Gertjan seems on the road to doing it again. So let us remind ourselves of the official view.

The Committee judges that, were the economy to develop broadly in line with its Inflation Report projections, an ongoing tightening of monetary policy over the forecast period, at a gradual pace and to a limited extent, would be appropriate to return inflation sustainably to the 2% target at a conventional horizon.

Yet Gertjan has got cold feet again.

I will discuss what news we have had about the economy in recent quarters, and how that has changed my
thinking about the appropriate path of monetary policy.

Why do I have a feeling of deja vu? Here is the old Vlieghe.

When I first spoke about the future path of Bank Rate a year ago, I thought one to two quarter point hikes per
year in Bank Rate was the most likely central case

Here is the new Vlieghe.

On the assumption that global growth does not slow materially further than it has so far, that the path to Brexit
involves a lengthy transition period in line with the government’s stated objectives, that pay growth continues
around its recent pace, and that we start to see some evidence of pay growth leading to upward consumer
price pressure, a path of Bank Rate that involves around one quarter point hike per year seems a reasonable
central case.

As you can see Gertjan is trying to present himself in the manner of an engineer perhaps fine tuning an aircraft wing design. The first problem is that last time he tried this his aircraft crashed on take-off as a promised Bank Rate rise turned into a cut. Next comes the issue of why you would raise Bank Rate once a year? After all it would feel like forever before anything materially changed. Five years of it would get Bank Rate to only 2%!

The reality is that if we look at his view of a slowing world economy it is hard to believe that he wants to raise interest-rates at all. Also as his speech is very downbeat about Brexit as the Bank of England consistently is then it is hard not to mull what he told the Evening Standard back in April 2016.

“Theoretically, I think interest rates could go a little bit negative.”

Even that was an odd phrase as of course quite a few countries had them including the country where he was born. Anyway here is my immediate response on twitter to his speech.

Shorter Gertjan Vlieghe : Can I vote for a Bank Rate cut yet please Governor?

If we step back and look at the overall Bank of England picture we see that the Monetary Policy Committee is becoming an increasing waste of time. We are paying eight people to say “I agree with Mark” and flatter the Governor’s ego.

Retail Sales

Here Gertjan Vlieghe had almost impeccable timing.

Domestic growth has slowed somewhat more than expected, especially around the turn of the year.

Just in time for this official release today about UK Retail Sales.

Year-on-year growth in the quantity bought in January 2019 was 4.2%, the highest since December 2016; while year-on-year average store prices slowed to 0.4%, the lowest price increase since November 2016.

Those figures confirm my theme that lower inflation leads to better consumption data via higher real wages. This is a very awkward issue for the Bank of England as it wants to push the 0.4% inflation above up to 2% in what would be a clear policy error.

In the three months to January 2019, the quantity bought increased by 0.7% when compared with the previous three months.The monthly growth rate in the quantity bought increased by 1.0% in January 2019, following a decline of 0.7% in December 2018.

A good January has pulled the quarterly numbers higher and the driving force is show below.

The quantity bought in textile, clothing and footwear stores showed strong year-on-year growth at 5.5% as stores took advantage of the January sales, with a year-on-year price fall of 0.9%.

Comment

This speech just highlights what a mess the situation has become at the Bank of England. A policymaker gives a speech talking about interest-rate rises whilst the meat of the speech outlines a situation more suited to interest-rate cuts. The economy is smaller due to Brexit morphs into world economic slow down and yet Gertjan apparently thinks we are silly enough to believe he intends to raise interest-rates. Even in a Brexit deal scenario he doesn’t seem to have even convinced himself.

If a transition period is successfully negotiated, and a near term “no deal” scenario is therefore avoided, I
would expect the exchange rate to appreciate somewhat. The degree of future monetary tightening will in
part depend on how large this appreciation is.

Also 2018 taught us how useful the money supply data can be in predicting economic events and yet they have been ignored by Gertjan as we see a reason why he is groping in the dark all the time. That brings me to my point for today which is that the Bank of England has become one big echo chamber with a lack of diversity in any respect but most importantly in views. External members are supposed to bring a fresh outlook but this has failed for some time now. So it would be simpler if we saved the other eight salaries and let Governor Carney set interest-rates as really all they are doing is saying “I agree with Mark”. After all even the Bank of Japan with its culture of face manages to produce some dissent these days.

 

 

The 0.0001% take the reins at the Bank of England

Yesterday was a rather extraordinary day in the life of the Bank of England which had a Back to the Future feel about it. The Bank of England has not had a person with a peerage at the helm since the period 1944-66 yet there was the equivalent of what is called in cricket ” a future England captain” in front of the Treasury Select Committee who is the daughter and hence I believe second in line to be whatever the daughter of both a Viscount and a Baroness becomes. This was of course Charlotte Hogg who was described by the Guardian thus.

Friends say the 42-year-old was destined for greatness from birth, but say she inherited a “stunning intellect” along with her establishment surname.

I am not sure I would want friends like that and the City slang for being well off or “minted” needs to be replaced with moated in this respect.

Charlotte Hogg grew up in a grade-II-listed moated country house where evenings were spent debating Thatcherite privatisations, economic policy and even European agriculture with whichever leading member of the cabinet had popped round for supper.

Twitter has its own way of covering such things.

Charlotte Hogg’s Family Tree needs to have a whole chapter to itself in Debrett’s… ( h/t @CoxeyLoxey )

If we move to what took place then one of my rules of thumb was in play. This goes as follows. If an establishment figure is reported as intelligent then the number of times that happens the more I subtract from their expected intelligence. In the way that Oliver Letwin went from a man with a “great brain” to one stuffing important papers in rubbish bins. I note therefore how often Charlotte is described as intelligent in the Guardian article.

QE

This section started badly when Charlotte was accused of misrepresenting changes in inequality as wealth inequality has risen since 2007. She was referred to the 2012 Bank of England paper on this and seemed vague about it. It got worse when Charlotte was quizzed on issues of how QE might ever be reversed which is supposed to be part of her remit as Deputy Governor for markets, her answer of “I do think that is quite a long way off in the future” got the reply that such an answer was not good enough.

There was a bit which was even worse and here it is.

Andrew Tyrie ” On balance do you think we would be better off unwinding it or letting it run off?”

Charlotte Hogg ” I don’t see the distinction between the two to be honest”

So apparently there is no difference between unwinding our holdings in  Gilts and letting them mature. So in the extreme case of the longest held by the Bank of England which matures in 2068 pretty much anybody can see the difference in unwinding it today and letting it run to 2068. Andrew Tyrie then suggested that the advice of the Debt Management Office or DMO might be sought presumably hoping that they would have a better grasp of the subject.

This was of course a tacit admittal that the Bank of England has no intention at all of unwinding any of it QE bond holdings which sat rather oddly with this statement from Miss Hogg.

Bank of England’s Hogg says is not alive and well at the . I think all MPC members agree on that. ( Andy Bruce of Reuters )

Also she does not appear to think that this from her written statement has anything to do with the prices and yields in the UK Gilt market.

Having been £85bn at the end of 2006, the total assets on the Bank’s balance sheet are now worth £519bn. The largest item is a £481bn loan to the Asset Purchase Facility – the vehicle through which gilt purchases, corporate bond purchases and TFS lending have been executed on behalf of the MPC.

If Charlotte actually believes what she says then I look forwards to her voting against any more QE which must be pointless as apparently Gilt prices and yields would be unaffected if it stopped.

Today’s data

This morning’s money supply data was another in a series which poses questions for Bank of England policy. The broad measure of the money supply rose by 7% and the lending measure by 5.6% so if we say the economy is growing at around 2% that leaves 5% unaccounted for which is likely to turn up in the inflation numbers sooner or later if UK economic history is any guide.

Also credit seems to be flowing if we look at the mortgage sector.

Lending secured on dwellings rose by £3.4 billion in January. Gross lending and repayments both increased and were above their recent averages .  Approvals of loans secured on dwellings for house purchase increased for the fourth consecutive month and, at 69,928, were the highest since February 2016.

It seems that the boom in unsecured credit is continuing.

The net flow of consumer credit was £1.4 billion in January . The twelve-month growth rate ticked down to 10.3%.

We are regularly told that the monetary policy easing and bank subsidy efforts like the Term funding Scheme are to get credit flowing to smaller businesses, so how is that going?

Loans to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) decreased by £0.2 billion.

Now there seems to be quite a contrast in the response of household borrowing especially of the unsecured kind and business lending does their not? The former has pushed higher since these policies began in the summer of 2013 and some of it has surged whereas the latter has mostly fallen. Or to put it another way only the latter will see the use of the word counterfactual.

The Bank of England has of course been claiming that it saved the UK economy with its August moves so we should be seeing a benefit in small business lending except the growth rate in the last 4 months has gone, -0.2%,0.1, -0.3%,-0.2%.

Comment

So far the UK economy has done pretty well after the EU leave vote which of course is awkward in itself for a Bank of England which predicted an immediate downturn. Of course it was even worse for the Forward Guidance of Governor Carney who predicted an interest-rate rise in such circumstances as recently as January 2016 and then cut them. However so far so good as the Manufacturing PMI business survey told us today.

The survey is signalling quarterly manufacturing output growth close to the 1.5% mark so far in the opening quarter which, if achieved, would be one of the best performances over the past seven years.

The rub in Shakesperian terms will come later in 2017 from this.

“On the price front, input costs and output charges are still rising at near survey record rates. However, the recent easing in both suggests that the impact of the weak sterling exchange rate on prices is starting to subside, providing welcome respite with regards to pipeline inflationary pressures.

But of course by easing the Bank of England made this worse and not better. The reason it did so is that it has a Governor who even those who support him are thinking he appoints people who are “Friends of Mark” which of course I have labelled for some time as “Carney’s Cronies”. The saddest part is that the welcome introduction of more women to the Bank of England has been affected by this as there are plenty of intelligent capable women around. The point of having nine members of the Monetary Policy Committee is to benefit from different views not have them ruled like the nine Nazgul in The Lord of the Rings.