Can we stop interest-rates falling and going negative?

This week has seen a development I have long-expected and forecast. That is that the establishment will respond to the next economic slow down with negative interest-rates. The rationale for that is in one sense simple as in most places interest-rates never went back up again and if they did by not much, Only yesterday I looked at my own country the UK where in the decade or so since the credit crunch the Bank of England has raised interest-rates by a net 0.25%. Not much is it? Last time around the only reason it did not cut interest-rates even lower it was because it feared that the creaking IT systems of the UK banks could not take it. As it was some mortgages ( mostly with Cheltenham & Gloucester if I recall correctly) went below 0% and were dealt with via capital repayments to stop a HAL 9000 style moment.

Of course more than a few central banks continue to have negative interest-rates as we look at Denmark, the Euro area, Japan, Sweden and Switzerland. The ECB may pause this morning to mull whether it will get its deposit rate ( -0.4%) back even to zero as it note German factory orders some 7% lower than the previous year in December. This brings us to the driver of the current situation which is the economic slow down we have been following and indeed predicting via the decline in money supply growth. That remains as a slow down and has not yet signalled an overall recession but none the less it has produced quite a change.

The San Francisco Fed

It is far from a coincidence that the San Francisco Fed has produced a paper on negative interest-rates this week. After all the overall Federal Reserve has put up the white flag on interest-rate increases as we wait to hear what was discussed when Chair Powell had dinner with President Trump on Monday night.  Anyway the paper seems to open with a statement of regret.

Traditionally, it has been assumed that nominal interest rates cannot fall below zero, known as the “lower bound.” Ever since 2008, researchers have debated how much monetary policy was constrained by this lower bound and how much it affected economic outcomes. To work around this constraint, the Federal Reserve turned to unconventional monetary policy tools such as forward guidance and large-scale asset purchases.

Also an admission that QE was driven by the belief that interest-rates could not go below zero. I cannot be too churlish about that because there was a time when I did not think so either at least on a sustained basis although it was around 20 years ago and before the full impact of the Japanese lost decade! I do not know if one of the drivers of this thought was fear of what negative interest-rates would do to the US banks but history has seen a potential revision.

In this Economic Letter, I consider whether pushing rates below zero would have improved economic outcomes in the United States in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

For a central banker the answer is clearly yes.

Model estimates suggest that reducing the effective lower bound for the federal funds rate to –0.75% would have reduced economic slack by as much as one-half at the trough of the recession and sped up the ensuing recovery. While the boost to the economy would have been negligible after 2014, inflation would have been higher throughout the recovery by about half a percentage point on average.

There are various points here. First the central banker assumption that higher inflation is a good thing whereas in reality the ordinary person is likely to be worse off via lower real wages. Next the interesting observation that it is a temporary gain. Finally there is a later reference to Switzerland which took interest-rates to -0.75% so we are left with the view that this paper might recommend even more negative rates if only someone else had been brave/silly enough to try them. It omits to point out that Switzerland has not escaped from this as it is still at -0.75%.

How does this work?

An old friend appears.

In the model, the output gap falls with the interest rate.

Ah so it works because we assume it will. What could go wrong? Whilst we are at the Outer Limits of fantasy why not throw in the kitchen sink.

However, expectations about the future path of the fed funds rate matter, including any Federal Reserve announcements about its path—known as forward guidance—as well as expectations about being at the zero lower bound.

I am not sure if that is chutzpah, ignorance or just simple Ivory Tower non-thinking. After all we have just had a Forward Guidance U-Turn so are we following the old or new versions and if so what was the cost of the change? Those who have fixed their mortgage expecting higher interest-rates for example. Whereas now Men at Work are being played.

It’s a mistake, it’s a mistake
It’s a mistake, it’s a mistake

Rather oddly the paper says that the output gap is pushed higher when the author must mean lower, But there is a bigger space oddity which is this.

According to these simulations, the negative lower bound would have reached its maximum effect in the first quarter of 2011. Setting the lower bound at –0.25% would have increased the output gap by 1.5 percentage points, while pushing the lower bound down further to –0.75% would have contributed an additional 0.4 percentage point to the output gap. This means that a rate of –0.25% would have done most of the job, and allowing it to drop further would have accomplished fewer additional benefits.

Let us subject that to a sense check because we know that the US Federal Reserve did cut its official interest-rate to 0% ( technically 0% to 0.25%) but that going a mere extra 0.25% would make much of a difference? From the previous peak the US had cut by 5% so would an extra 0.25% make any difference at all?

The IMF goes further

Here we go.

One option to break through the zero lower bound would be to phase out cash.

It wants to go as Madonna would put it, deeper and deeper.

To illustrate, suppose your bank announced a negative 3 percent interest rate on your bank deposit of 100 dollars today.

They need a tax or fine or cash to achieve this.

Suppose also that the central bank announced that cash-dollars would now become a separate currency that would depreciate against e-dollars by 3 percent per year. The conversion rate of cash-dollars into e-dollars would hence change from 1 to 0.97 over the year.


There is quite a bit to consider here but let me start with the concept of arrogance. This is because monetary policymakers have had the freedom over the past decade to do pretty much what they liked and if it had worked we would not be here would we? Yet like Jose Mourinho in the football transfer market they always want more, more, more. Actually I am being a little unfair on Jose as there was a time his policies brought plenty of success.

Combined with this is an obsessive clinging onto failed past concepts. The output gap has had a dreadful credit crunch yet here it is again. Next the idea that higher inflation is good has ( thank God) had a bad run too but central bankers confuse what is good for the banks with what is good for the rest of us. The reality that no country or economic area has gone into negative interest-rates and then recovered is simply ignored whereas so far they have all sung along with Muse.

Glaciers melting in the dead of night
And the superstars sucked into the super massive
Super massive black hole
Super massive black hole
Super massive black hole
Finally is the idea that those who do not worship at this particular monetary altar need to be punished. Just like in the novel 1984……

When will the ECB ease monetary policy again?

Sometimes life catches up with you really fast and we have seen another example of this in the last 24 hours, so let;s get straight to it.

Analysts at Deutsche Bank say European Central Bank’s Mario Draghi indicated the possibility of a one-off interest rate hike at his last press conference. With his next appearance due on Thursday, the president may choose to feed or quell that speculation. ( Bloomberg)

I found this so extraordinary that I suggested on social media that Deutsche Bank may have a bad interest-rate position it wants to get rid of. After all at the last press conference we were told this and the emphasis is mine.

Based on our regular economic and monetary analyses, we decided to keep the key ECB interest rates unchanged. We continue to expect them to remain at their present levels at least through the summer of 2019, and in any case for as long as necessary to ensure the continued sustained convergence of inflation to levels that are below, but close to, 2% over the medium term.

Now Forward Guidance by central banks is regularly wrong but it is invariably due to a cut in interest-rates after promising a rise rather than an actual rise. The latter seems restricted to currency collapses. So let us move onto the economic situation which has been heading south for a while now as the declining money supply data we have been tracking has been followed by a weakening economic situation.


This morning brought more worrying news from the economy of France from the Markit PMI business survey. It started well with the manufacturing PMI rising to 51.2 but then there was this.

Flash France Services Activity Index at 47.5 in January (49.0 in December), 59-month low.

So firmly in contraction territory as we look for more detail.

Private sector firms in France reported a further
contraction in output during the opening month of
2019. The latest decline was the fastest for over four
years, even quicker than the fall in protest-hit
December. The strong service sector that had
supported a weak manufacturing sector in the
second half 2018 declined at a faster rate in January.
Meanwhile, manufacturers recovered to register
broadly-unchanged production.

These numbers added to the official survey released only yesterday.

In January 2019, the balances of industrialists’ opinion on overall and foreign demand in the last three months have recovered above their long-term average – they had significantly dropped over the past year.

They record a manufacturing bounce too, but the general direction of travel is the same as the number for foreign demand has fallen from 21.8 at the opening of 2018 to 3.6 now and the number for global demand has fallen from 21.7 to 1.0 over the same timescale.

Perhaps we get an idea of a possible drop from wholesale trade.

The composite indicator has fallen back by five points compared to November 2018. At 99, it has fallen below its long-term average (100) for the first time since January 2017.

But in spite of a small nudge higher in services the total picture for France looks rather poor as we note that it looks as though it saw a contraction in December and that may well have got worse this month.


There was little solace to be found in the Euro area’s largest economy.

“The Germany PMI broke its recent run of
successive falls in January thanks to a stronger
increase in service sector business activity, but the
growth performance signalled by the index was still
one of the worst over the past four years.
“Worryingly for the outlook, the recent soft patch in
demand continued into the New Year.”

So some growth but not very much and I note Markit are nervous about this as they do not offer a suggestion of what level of GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) grow is likely from this. This of course adds to the flatlining we seem to have seen for the second half of 2018 as around 0.2% growth in the fourth quarter merely offset the 0.2% contraction seen in the third quarter.

Also the recovery promised by some for the manufacturing sector does not seem to have materialised.

Manufacturing fell into contraction in January as
the sector’s order book situation continued to
worsen, showing the steepest decline in incoming
new work since 2012.

The driving force was this.

Weakness in the auto industry was once again widely reported, as was a slowdown in demand from China.

Euro area

The central message here followed that of the two biggest Euro area economies we have already looked at. The decline in the composite PMI suggests on ongoing quarterly GDP growth rate of 0.1%. Added to it was the suggestion that the future is a lot less than bright.

New orders for goods fell for a fourth successive
month, declining at a rate not seen since April
2013, while inflows of new business in the service
sector slipped into decline for the first time since
July 2013


The target is just below 2% as an annual rate so we note this.

The euro area annual inflation rate was 1.6% in December 2018, down from 1.9% in November

Of course being central bankers they apparently need neither food nor energy so they like to focus on the inflation number without them which is either 1.1% or 1% depending exactly which bits you omit, But as you can see this is hardly the bedrock for an interest-rate rise which is reinforced by this from @fwred of Bank Pictet.

More bad news for the ECB. Our PMI price pressure gauge fell by the largest amount since mid-2011, to levels consistent with monetary easing along with activity indicators.


The situation has become increasingly awkward for Mario Draghi and the ECB as a slowing economy and lower inflation have been described by them as follows.

When you look at the economy, well, you still see the drivers of this recovery are still in place. Consumption continues to grow, basically supported by the increase in real disposable income, which, if I am not mistaken, is at the historical high since six years or something, and households’ wealth. Business investments continue to grow, residential investment, as I said in the IS [introductory statement] is robust. External demand has gone down but still grows.

Yet as we can see the reality is that economic growth looks like it has dropped from the around 0.7% of 2017 to more like 0.1% now. If we were not where we are with a deposit rate of -0.4% and monthly QE having only just ended they would be openly looking at an interest-rate cut or more QE.

Whilst we have been observing the slow down in the M1 money supply from just under 10% to 6.7% the ECB has lost itself in a world of “ongoing broad-based expansion”. It is not impossible we will see some liquidity easing today via a new TLTRO which would also help the Italian banks but we will have to see.

As to why there has been talk about an interest-rate rise well it is not for savers it is for the precious and the emphasis is mine.

As a result, reductions in
rates can end up having a similar effect as a flattening of the yield curve, as banks interest
revenue drops along with rates, but interest costs only adjust partially because of the zero
lower bound on retail deposits. In this situation, lowering rates below zero can pose a
threat to banks’ profitability. ( ECB November 2018)

Now we can’t have that can we?

Me on The Investing Channel


ECB monetary policy can inflate house prices at least….

Tomorrow the European Central Bank meets for what has become a crucial policy meeting. There is a lot for it to discuss on the economic front and let us open with an element of deja vu.

Bank Of Spain Governor De Cos: No Signs Of New Property Bubble In Spain – RTRS ( @LiveSquawk )

It is hard not to think of the “Never believe anything until it is officially denied” by the apocryphal prime minister Jim Hacker at this point. He is responding to this covered by El Pais yesterday.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is calling on Spain to monitor the price of real estate following a rebound of the property market after years of crisis. After analyzing late 2017 statistics, the global agency has detected early signs of “a slight overvaluation,” although it stressed that there is still nothing like a new housing bubble in Spain.

Here is a reminder of the state of play which is that Spain is a nation of home owners.

The IMF finds that house prices increased by around 15% between 2014 and 2017, but that sales are being driven by existing housing stock rather than new housing. Another change from pre-crisis days is that the home ownership rate has dropped from 80% to 77% as people increasingly turn to the rental market.

Let us bring the numbers up to date via INE from the end of last week.

The annual variation of the Housing Price Index (IPV) in the third quarter of 2018 increases four tenths and stands at 7.2%……The quarterly variation of the general IPV in the third quarter of 2018 is 2.2%.

The IMF seems to have missed that the pace of house price growth has picked up in Spain. Not only the 2.2% quarterly rise but the fact that the overall index set at 100 in 2015 is now at 120.5. Returning to the role of the ECB a typical mortgage rate (over 3 years) is 1.93%.


Last time around a housing boom and later bust in Spain was accompanied by one in Ireland so let us check in on yesterday’s official update.

Residential property prices increased by 8.4% nationally in the year to October. This compares with an increase of 8.5% in the year to September and an increase of 11.7% in the twelve months to October 2017.

As you can see the heat is on again and is heading towards levels which caused so much trouble last time around.

Overall, the national index is 17.6% lower than its highest level in 2007. Dublin residential property prices are 20.1% lower than their February 2007 peak, while residential property prices in the Rest of Ireland are 22.7% lower than their May 2007 peak.

Also they have got there rather quickly.

Property prices nationally have increased by 83.8% from their trough in early 2013. Dublin residential property prices have risen 98.0% from their February 2012 low, whilst residential property prices in the Rest of Ireland are 77.9% higher than at the trough, which was in May 2013.

Now that it has got the central banking holy grail of higher house prices the ECB seems to have, for some reason got cold feet about putting them in the consumer inflation index.

The ECB concludes that the integration of the OOH price index would deteriorate the current
frequency and timeliness of the HICP, and would introduce an asset element. Against this
background, it takes the view that the OOH price index is in practice not suitable for
integration into the official HICP.

It has turned into a classic bureaucratic move where you promise something have a committee formed to do it which concludes so sadly that it will not do it. The reasons stated were known all along.

Economic growth

Whilst house price developments will put a smile on the faces of Governing Council members other economic developments may wipe that smile away. One possible bright spot has gone a bit dark. From France24.


The Bank of France said the Eurozone’s second-biggest economy would eke out growth of only 0.2% in the three months to December, down from 0.4% in a previous estimate and from that rate in the third quarter.

“Services activity has slowed under the impact of the movement. Transport, the restaurant and auto repair sectors have gone backwards,” the bank said in its latest company survey.

The forecast is well short of the 0.8% that would be needed to meet the government’s 2018 growth target of 1.7%.

That was reinforced by the production and manufacturing data for October which was up on the month but 0.1% lower than a year ago. The growth shortfall will only make the next French problem worse. From Reuters.

Macron announced wage increases for the poorest workers and a tax cut for most pensioners on Monday to defuse discontent, leaving his government scrambling to come up with extra budget savings or risk blowing through the EU’s 3 percent of GDP limit.

That is especially awkward considering how vocal the French government had been about the Italian budget plans which in percentage terms was set to be a fair bit smaller.


The perennial under performer in economic terms seems to be in yet another “girlfriend in a coma” style phrase. From the latest monthly economic report.

In Italy, the GDP decreased marginally in the third quarter due to a contraction in both gross fixed investments and private consumption. On the contrary, the net exports contributed positively to growth.

The employment stabilized on past months levels recording a re-composition, which favored full time employees. Unemployment rate increased and was complemented by a reduction in inactive persons.

Italian inflation continued to be lower than the Eurozone average but the gap is closing.
In November, both the consumer confidence and the composite indicators decreased. The leading indicator stabilized on past months minimum values confirming the business cycle weakness.

There is a genuine danger of what some of the media have decided to call a technical recession. I get the point about it being within the margin of error and applaud their sudden conversion to this cause. But missing from this is the fact that this is an ongoing depression in Italy which shows not only no sign of ending but may be getting worse.


This will be a meeting of two halves. The awkward part is that after all the extraordinary monetary action involving negative interest-rates, QE and credit easing the Euro area economy has slowed from a quarterly growth rate of 0.7% to 0.2%. If we were not where we are the ECB would be discussing a stimulus programme. Except of course the plan is to announce the end to monthly QE bond purchases. Some places are suggesting a delay to future interest-rate increases as they catch up with my long-running view that Mario Draghi has no intention of raising them on his watch.

The second half will be the one emphasised which is that the ECB has hit its inflation target.

Euro area annual inflation is expected to be 2.0% in November 2018, down from 2.2% in October 2018, according to a flash estimate from Eurostat.

Okay not the 1.97% level defined by the previous President Jean-Claude Trichet but close enough. I wonder if any of the press corps will have the wit to ask about the U-Turn on including house prices in the inflation measure and whether that is because monetary policy can inflate house prices?






The world of negative interest-rates now has negative economic growth too

It was not that long ago that many of us “experts” in the interest-rate market felt that negative interest-rates could not be sustained. Back then the past Swiss example could be considered a tax – which remains a way of considering negative interest-rates – and the flicker in Japan was covered by it being Japan. Yesterday brought some fascinating news from the front line which has been in danger of being ignored in the current news flow.

Sweden’s GDP decreased by 0.2 percent in the third quarter of 2018, seasonally adjusted, compared with the second quarter of 2018. GDP increased by 1.6 percent, working-day adjusted, compared with the third quarter of 2017. ( Sweden Statistics).

Firstly let me reassure you that Sweden has no Brexit style plans. What it does have is negative interest-rates as this from the Riksbank shows.

Consequently, in line with the previous forecast, the Executive Board has decided to hold the repo rate unchanged at -0.50 per cent.

I bet they now regret opening their latest forward guidance report like this.

Since the Monetary Policy Report in September, economic developments have been largely as expected, both in Sweden and abroad.

In fact the Riksbank was expecting this.

The most recently published National Accounts paint a picture of  slightly weaker GDP growth in recent years. Nevertheless, the Riksbank deems that economic activity in Sweden has been and continues to be strong.

In fact it has been so nonplussed that it has already reached for the central banking playbook and wondered what is Swedish for Johnny Foreigner?

Riksbank Floden: Sees Increased Uncertainty In World Economy ( @LiveSquawk )

Those who have followed my analysis that central banks will delay moving out of extraordinary monetary policy and negative interest-rates and thus are in danger of being trapped, will have a wry smile at this.

The forecast for the repo rate is unchanged since
the monetary policy meeting in September and indicates that the repo rate will be raised by 0.25
percentage points either in December or in February. As with the first raise, monetary policy will also
subsequently be adjusted according to the prospects for inflation.

That’s the spirit! You keep interest-rates negative through a strong phase of economic growth then you raise them when you have a quarterly decline. Oh hang on. I am not being clever after the event here because a month or so before the Riksbank report on the 6th of September I pointed out this.

This is also true of Sweden because if we look at the narrow measure or M1 we see that an annual rate of growth of 10.5% in July 2017 was replaced with 6.3% this July. …..A similar but less volatile pattern can be seen from the broad money measure M3. That was growing at an annual rate of 8.3% in July 2015 as opposed to the 5.1% of this July.

Since then M1 has stabilised but M3 has fallen further and was 4.5% in October. In fact if you were looking for an area it might effect then it would be domestic consumption so lets take a look.

Household consumption expenditures decreased by 1.0 percent and government consumption expenditures remained unchanged, seasonally adjusted, compared with the previous quarter ( Sweden Statistics).

Time for page 2 of the central banking play book.

Riksbank’s Floden: Recent Data Since Latest Policy Meeting Have Been Disappointing -But There Were Some Temporary Effects In 3Q GDP Data,

Something else caught my eye and it was this.

 Exports grew by 0.3 percent and imports declined by 0.6 percent.

So foreign demand flattered the numbers in a rebuttal to the central banking play book. But if we look at the overall pattern then economics 101 has yet more to think about.

J curve R.I.P. (?) – In Sweden, 2018 is heading for the worst trade year ever. The Oct deficit was SEK8.4bn. One observation: J curve effect does not work and thus the exchange rate channel (on real economy) is partially broken.   ( Stefan Mullin)

So let’s see you have negative interest-rates to boost domestic demand which is falling and you look to drive the currency lower which does not seem to be helping trade. Oh and you plan to raise interest-rates into a monetary decline. What could go wrong?

As it is the end of the week let us have some humour albeit of the gallows variety from Forex Crunch yesterday.

Analysts at TD Securities suggest that their nowcast models point to a 0.6% q/q gain to Sweden’s GDP (mkt: 0.2% q/q on a wide range of estimates), which if materialised would leave TD (and likely the Riksbank) comfortable with a December rate hike


Let us start with a response from Nikolay Markov of Pictet Asset Management.

GDP growth plunged to its lowest pace since the introduction of negative rates in Q1 2015. There is no reason to panic as this is a temporary drop:

There are few things more likely to cause a panic than being told there is no reason for it. I also note he was not so kind to the Swedes. Let us investigate using Swiss Statistics.

Switzerland’s GDP fell by 0.2% in the 3rd quarter of 2018, after climbing by 0.7% in the previous quarter. The strong, continuous growth phase enjoyed by the Swiss economy for one and a half years was suddenly interrupted.

The change has seen annual growth dip from 3.5% to 2.4% so different to Sweden although there has been a fall in the growth of domestic consumption. Quite what a central bank with an interest-rate of -0.75% can do about falling domestic consumption is a moot point. A driver of the decline is a familiar one.

Value added in manufacturing dipped slightly (−0.6%);  Total exports of goods (−4.2%) also contracted substantially.

The official view is that is just a blip but it does require watching as I note this area still seems to be troubled as this from earlier shows.

How cold is ‘s auto market? Passenger car sales down 28% in first 3 weeks of Nov. Whole year drop “inevitable”. Car dealers’ inventory climbing and many of them making losses. Authority said bringing back purchase tax cut will not help much. ( @YuanTalks )

Just as a reminder the Swiss National Bank holds some 778.05 billion Swiss Francs of foreign currency investments as a result of its interventions to reduce the exchange-rate of the Swissy.


These developments add to those at some other members of the negative interest-rates club or what is called NIRP.

German economic growth has stalled. As the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) already reported in its first release of 14 November 2018, the gross domestic product (GDP) in the third quarter of 2018 was by 0.2% lower – upon price, seasonal and calendar adjustment – than in the second quarter of 2018.

And another part of discovering Japan.

Japan’s economy shrank in the third quarter as natural disasters hit spending and disrupted exports.

The economy contracted by an annualised 1.2% between July and September, preliminary figures showed. ( BBC )

As you can see we go to part three of the play book as the poor old weather takes another pounding. Quite what this has done to IMF News I am not sure as imagine how it would report such numbers for the UK?

has had an extended period of strong economic growth—GDP expected to rise by 1.1% in 2018.


Perhaps it has been discombobulated by a period when expansionary monetary policy has not only crunched to a halt but gone into reverse at least for a bit. But imagine you are a central banker right now wondering of this may go on and you will be starting it with interest-rates already negative. Or to use the old City phrase, how are you left?

Oh and hot off this morning’s press there is also this.

In the third quarter of 2018 the seasonally and calendar adjusted, chained volume measure of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decreased by 0.1 per cent to the previous quarter and increased by 0.7 per cent in comparison with the third quarter of 2017. ( Italy Statistics)


There as been a development in something predicted by us on here quite some time ago. So without further ado let me hand you over to The Japan Times.

Japan is considering transforming a helicopter destroyer into an aircraft carrier that can accommodate fighter jets, a government source said Tuesday,





Mario Draghi and the ECB prepare for a change of course next month

After a week where the UK has dominated the headlines it is time to switch to the Euro area.  This is for two reasons.  We receive the latest inflation data but also because a speech from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi has addressed an issue we have been watching as 2018 has developed. We have been waiting to see how he and it will respond to the economic slow down that is apparent. This is especially important as during the credit crunch era the ECB has not only been the first responder to any economic downturns it has also regularly found itself to be the only one. Thus it finds itself in a position whereby in terms of negative interest-rates ( deposit rate of -0.4%) and balance sheet ( still expanding at 15 billion Euros per month ) and credit easing still heavily deployed. Accordingly this sentence from Mario echoes what we have been discussing for quite a while.

The key issue at stake is as follows: are we witnessing a temporary “soft patch” or a more lasting deterioration in the growth outlook?

The latter would be somewhat devastating for the man who was ready to do “whatever it takes” to save the Euro as it would return us to discussions about its problems a major one of has been slow economic growth.

Some rhetoric

It seems to be a feature these days of official speeches that they open with what in basketball terms would be called a head fake. Prime Minister Theresa May did it yesterday with an opening sentence which could have been followed by a resignation and Mario opened with what could have been about “broad based” economic growth.

The euro area economy has now been growing for five years, and we expect the expansion to continue in the coming years.

Of course central bankers always expect the latter until there is no other choice. Indeed he confirms that line of thought later.

There is certainly no reason why the expansion in the euro area should abruptly come to an end.

As we move on we get an interesting perspective on the past as well as a comparison with the United States.

Since 1975 there have been five periods of rising GDP in the euro area. The average duration from trough to peak is 31 quarters, with GDP increasing by 21% over that period. The current expansion in the euro area, however, has lasted just 22 quarters and GDP is only around 10% above the trough. In contrast, the expansion in the United States has lasted 37 quarters, and GDP has risen by 21%.

The obvious point is whether you can use the Euro area as a concept before it even existed?! Added to that via the “convergence” promised by the Euro area founders economic growth should be better now than then, except of course we have seen plenty of divergence too. Also you might find it odd to be pointing out that the US has done better especially as the way it is put which reminds us that for all the extraordinary monetary action the Euro area has only grown by 10%. Even that relies on something of a swinging ball as of course he is comparing with the bottom of the dip rather than the past peak as otherwise the number would be a fair bit weaker. Mario is leaving a bit of a trap here, however, or to be more precise he thinks he is.

How have we got here?

First we open with two standard replies the first is that whilst any growth is permanent setbacks are temporary and the other fallback is to blame the weather.

The first is one-off factors, which have clearly played an important role in the underperformance of growth since the start of the year. In the first half of 2018, weather, sickness and industrial action affected output in a number of countries.

Actually that makes the third quarter look even worse as they had gone by then yet growth slowed. He is on safer ground here though.

Production slowed as carmakers tried to avoid building up inventory of untested models, which weighed heavily on economies with large automobile sectors, such as Germany. Indeed, the German economy actually contracted in the third quarter, removing at least 0.1 percentage points from quarterly euro area growth.

This is another marker being put down because it you are thinking that you might need to further expand monetary policy it is best to try to get the Germans onside and reminding them that they too have issues will help. Indeed for those who believe that ECB policy is essentially set for Germany it may be not far off a clincher.

There is something that may worry German car producers if they are followers of ECB euphemisms.

The latest data already show production normalising.

After all the ECB itself may not achieve that.


This paragraph is interesting on quite a few levels.

The second source of the slowdown has been weaker trade growth, which is broader-based. Net exports contributed 1.4 percentage points to euro area growth in 2017, while so far this year they have removed 0.2 percentage points. World trade growth decelerated from 5.2% in 2017 to 4.6% in the first half of this year.

Oddly Mario then converts a slow down in growth to this.

We are witnessing a long-term slowdown in world trade.

As we note the change in the impact of trade on the Euro area there are several factors in play. You could argue that 2017 was a victory for the “internal competitiveness” austerity model applied although when we get to the collective that is awkward as the Euro area runs a large surplus driven by Germany. From the point of view of the rest of the world they would like it to reduce although the preferable route would be for the Euro area ( Germany ) to import more.


Mario cheers rightly for this.

Over the past five years, employment has increased by 9.5 million people, rising by 2.6 million in Germany, 2.1 million in Spain, 1 million in France and 1 million in Italy.

I bet he enjoyed the last bit especially! But later there is a catch which provides food for thought.

 But since 2013 more than 70% of employment growth has come from those aged 55-74. This partly reflects the impact of past structural reforms, such as to pension systems.

Probably not the ECB pension though as we are reminded of “Us and Them” by Pink Floyd.

Forward he cried from the rear
And the front rank died
And the general sat
And the lines on the map
Moved from side to side.

Also whilst no doubt some of these women wanted to work there will be others who had no choice.

The share of women in work has also risen by more than 10 percentage points since the start of EMU to almost 60% – its highest level ever

Put another way this sentence below could fit into a section concerning the productivity crisis.

 In addition, countries that have implemented structural reforms have in general seen a rise in labour demand in recent years compared with the pre-crisis period. Germany, Portugal and Spain are all good examples.

There is a section on wages but Mario end up taking something of an each-way bet on this.

But in the light of the lags between wages and prices after a period of low inflation, patience and persistence in our monetary policy is still needed.

Money Supply and Credit

This is how central bankers report a sustained and considerable slow down in the money supply.

The cost of bank borrowing for firms fell to record lows in the first half of this year across all large euro area economies, while the growth of loans to firms stood at its highest rate since 2012. The growth rate of loans to households is also the strongest since 2012, with consumer credit now acting as the most dynamic component, reflecting the ongoing strength of consumption.

Also the emphasis below is mine and regular readers are permitted a wry smile.

Household net worth remains at solid levels on the back of rising house prices and is adding to continued consumption growth.


We are being warmed up for something of a change of course in case it is necessary.

When the Governing Council met in October, we confirmed our confidence in the economic outlook………….When the latest round of projections is available at our next meeting in December, we will be better placed to make a full assessment of the risks to growth and inflation.

As if they are not already thinking along those lines! The next bit is duo fold. It reminds us that the Euro area has abandoned fiscal policy but does have a kicker for the future.

To protect their households and firms from rising interest rates, high-debt countries should not increase their debt even further and all countries should respect the rules of the Union.

The kicker is perhaps a hint that there is a solution to that as well.

In conclusion, I want to emphasise how completing Economic and Monetary Union has become more urgent over time not less urgent – and not only for the economic reasoning that has always underpinned my remarks, but also to preserve our European construction………….more Europe is the answer.

There Mario leaps out of his apparent trap singing along to Luther Vandross.

I just don’t wanna stop
Oh my love, a million days in your arms
Is never too much (never too much, never too much, never too much)



What next for the War on Cash?

Yesterday we took a look at a country which seems to be happy heading for a post cash era. Sweden has seen nearly a halving of cash use in the past decade and the size of the change would be even larger if we factored in inflation and did the calculation in real terms. This is particularly significant as we remind ourselves that Sweden already has negative interest-rates, and as I pointed out yesterday there are roads ahead where it would cut them further from the current -0.5%. The reason why cash is an issue for negative interest-rates is that it offers 0%, and so there must be a “tipping point” where interest-rates go so negative that bank deposits switch to cash in enough size to create a bank run. Such a prospect has created terror in central banking halls and boardrooms and has been the main barrier to interest-rates being cut even lower than they have. In my own country the Bank of England was so terrified of the impact of lower interest-rates on the “precious” that it claimed 0.5% was a “lower bound”, even when other countries were below it. That had a different reason ( their creaking antiquated IT systems could not cope with 0%) but told us of their primary response function.

Cash in the USA

The Financial Times has taken a look at this and seems upset at the result.

Americans can’t quit cash

If we switch to the actual research which was undertaken by  the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta, Boston, Richmond, and San Francisco we see the following.

In October 2017, U.S. consumers each made on average 41.0 payments for the month . Thus, on average, an adult consumer made 1.3 payments per day. Notably, an average
of 40.2 percent of consumers per day reported making zero payments. Also in October 2017, U.S. consumers each made on average $3,418 worth of payments for
the month.

So after finding out how much as well as how often? We get to see via what method.

In October 2017, consumers paid mostly with cash (30.3 percent of payments), debit cards (26.2 percent), and credit cards (21.0 percent). These instruments accounted for three-quarters of the number of payments, but only about 40 percent of the total value of payments, because they tend to be used more for smaller-value payments. In contrast,
electronic payments accounted for 30.3 percent of the value of total payments but only 8.9 percent of the number
of payments. Checks, at 17.7 percent, continued to account for a relatively high percentage of the value of

As you can see cash remains king (queen) in volume terms but has faded in value terms. The bit that sticks out to me is the amount still accounted for by Checks ( cheques) as I am struggling to think of the last time that I used one. Also the comments section provides a reason as to why cash remains in use for small payments on such a large-scale in the US.

Americans carry cash for smaller transactions partly because their unstinting devotion to the $1 bill means it is much lighter.  I can carry round a bunch of 1s and 5s for coffee in the day at a fraction of the weight of the euros or pounds that would do the similar job in Europe. ( Saughton)

For those unaware UK coins are fairly heavy and the £1 and £2 coins get more use than you might expect as the Bank of England has had its struggles with getting £5 notes into general circulation. So suit and trouser pockets can take a bit of a pasting. If we continue in the same vein even the convenience of digital payments faces an apparent challenge.

Those of us still paying cash are standing in lines behind phonsters fumbling with their payment app. When it looks faster and easier I’ll switch. ( Proclone )

That may be because it does not work well.

The other main reason the US lags on electronic purchases is because the cashless infrastructure is atrocious. ( Saughton)

Also that it may be businesses rather than consumers which prefer cash.

Mom and pop stores and restaurants may require cash for any transaction, and almost all do for purchases under $10. Cheques for larger payments are also due to vendor requirement. That dynamic would be worth comparing to other markets instead of implying consumer preference. ( Pharmacy )

What about the Euro area?

I noted that the replies pointed out the way that cash remains prevalent in Germany (historical), Belgium ( tax-avoidance) and Austria ( see Germany) so let us take a look. From the European Central Bank or ECB.

The survey results show that in 2016 cash was the dominant payment instrument at POS. In terms of number, 79% of all transactions were carried out using cash,
amounting to 54% of the total value of all payments. Cards were the second most frequently used payment instrument at POS; 19% of all transactions were settled using a payment card. In terms of value, this amounts to 39% of the total value paid at POS. ( POS = Point Of Sale )

I doubt using geography as a method of analysis will surprise you much.

In terms of number of transactions, cash was most used in the southern euro area countries, as well as in Germany, Austria and Slovenia, where 80% or more of POS transactions were conducted with cash……… In
terms of value, the share of cash was highest in Greece, Cyprus and Malta (above 70%), while it was lowest in the Benelux countries, Estonia, France and Finland (at,
or below, 33%).

The ECB thinks it tells us this.

This seems to challenge the perception that
cash is rapidly being replaced by cashless means of payment.

It then goes further.

The study confirms that cash is not only used as a means of payment, but also as a store of value, with almost a quarter of consumers keeping some cash at home as a
precautionary reserve. It also shows that more people than often thought use high denomination banknotes; almost 20% of respondents reported having a €200 or
€500 banknote in their possession in the year before the survey was carried out.

This means that the ECB will find itself in opposition to more than a few of its population soon.

 It has decided to permanently stop producing the €500 banknote and to exclude it from the Europa series, taking into account concerns that this banknote could facilitate illicit activities. The issuance of the €500 will be stopped around the end of 2018, when the €100 and €200 banknotes of the Europa series are planned to be introduced,



Let us consider the relationship between the use of cash and financial crime. You may note that the ECB statement uses the word “could”. That as I pointed out back on the 5th of May 2016 is because the German Bundesbank thinks this.

There is scant concrete information on the extent to which cash is being used to facilitate illicit activity……… the volume of notes devoted to such transactions is unknown and would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to estimate.

So the ECB seems to be basing its policy on the rhetoric of Kenneth Rogoff who in a not entirely unrelated coincidence thinks that central banks will have to go even further into negative interest-rates next time around. Our Ken has been rather quite recently on the subject of cash equals crime. This may be because if we look above we see that Estonia has moved away from cash both relatively and absolutely and yet you will have had to have spent 2018 under a stone to have missed this.

Danske Bank Estonia has been revealed as the hub of a $234bn money laundering scheme involving Russian and Eastern European customers. ( Frances Coppola)

Perhaps the authorities were too busy checking on the 500 Euro notes and missed a crime that would have taken four of out five of the total Euro area circulation. Priorities eh?

There are levels I think where this will be come more urgent. I have suggested before that I think that around -2% would be the level where people might move away from banks on a larger scale. So far in terms of headline official rates the lowest is the -0.75% of Switzerland. Of course another problem area would be created if we saw bank bailins on any scale which may be a reason why so many bank share prices have struggled.

Me on Core Finance TV




How easily could the promises of an interest-rate rise from the Riksbank turn into another cut?

Today brings us to the country which on one measure has dipped into the world of negative interest-rates more than anyone else. This is the world of the Riksbank of Sweden which has this interest-rate on deposits with it.

The standing deposit facility means that the counterparty may have a positive balance on its account in RIX at the end of the day. The counterparty then receives interest calculated as the repo rate minus 0.75 percentage points. If this entails a negative interest rate, the counterparty pays interest to the Riksbank.

This is because the headline Repo rate is -0.5% meaning that the standing deposit facility is currently -1.25%.

For some time now, partly because as we will come to in a minute negative interest-rates have proved to be much longer lasting than promised or in official language been temporary, we have looked at the impact of this in cash and its availability. That has been in the news this week.

As cash use is declining rapidly, it is important that the Riksdag adopt a position on the issue of what constitutes legal tender in Sweden and its connection to the Swedish krona as a currency. Any legislation should be as technology-neutral as possible in order to also be applicable to any future means of payment issued by the Riksbank. ( Riksbank)

Sweden is a country which is in the van of those using electronic means of payment and if we look at the official figures the amount of money ( notes & coins) in circulation has been falling, at times sharply. The amount was 88 billion Kronor in 2013 and in subsequent years then has gone 80 billion, 77 billion, 65 billion and then 57 billion. The trend gets even clearer if we look back to 2008 the table suggests that the amount was around 107 billion. So we are left wondering if this year the amount will be half what it was in 2008.

However you spin it the situation is such that cash needs protection according to the Riksbank.

The Committee proposes a requirement that companies shall be able to deposit their daily cash takings in their bank accounts. The Riksbank wishes to go a step further even in this regard. Banks should also be obliged to ensure that private individuals can make deposits.

Of course some will think to quote Hamlet “”The lady doth protest too much, methinks”

The State of Play

According to the Riksbank things are going really rather well.

Economic activity in Sweden is strong and inflation is at the target of 2 per cent. Since the monetary policy decision in September, developments have for the most
part been as expected and the forecasts remain largely unchanged.

It hammers home the point even more later.

In Sweden, too, economic developments have been largely as expected and economic activity has been good for a long period of time……….. Inflation increased to
2.5 per cent in September, partly as a result of rapidly rising energy prices. Different measures of underlying inflation are lower and inflationary pressures are still assessed to be moderate. However, there are signs that inflationary pressures are rising and the conditions are good for inflation to remain close to the target of 2 per cent in the coming years.

I have given the full detail on the inflation situation because it highlights the mess that the Riksbank has put itself in. Inflation has gone above target and like so many central banks it is then keen to find any measure which gives a different but then trips over its own feet by telling us “inflationary pressures are rising”. So we have a tick in the box for an interest-rate rise.

Let us now look at the economic performance.

The labour market situation is expected to remain strong, even if GDP growth slows down going forward.

This is based on this from Sweden Statistics.

Sweden’s GDP increased by 0.8 percent in the second quarter of 2018, seasonally adjusted and compared with the first quarter of 2018. GDP increased by 2.5 percent, working-day adjusted and compared to the second quarter of 2017.

If we look back we see that GDP growth was 2.6% in 2014 then 4.5% in 2015 and then 2.7% in 2016. So the position has been strong for a while although the per capita (person) situation is not as strong as the population has risen by 2.3% over the same period.

Monetary Policy

If we note that the economy has been doing well and inflation is above target you would not expect this.

 the Executive Board has decided to hold the repo rate unchanged at -0.50 per cent.

There are two issues here the first is how it has arrived at a strong economy and inflation above target with interest-rates negative and the next is how doing something about this remains just around the corner.

the Executive Board assesses that it will soon be appropriate to start raising the repo rate at a slow pace. The forecast for the repo rate is unchanged since the monetary policy meeting in September and indicates that the repo rate will be raised by 0.25 percentage points either in December or February.

As an aside it used to be the case that central banks used to think that what is now called Forward Guidance was a bad idea. The Bundesbank of Germany was particularly enthusiastic about trying to act in an unexpected fashion. There is however a catch.

As you can see it has a 0% success rate with its interest-rate forecasts so whilst in theory it has a policy opposite to that of the Bundesbank in practice it has turned out to have even more surprises. Well unless you possess enough brains to figure out the game. Even more than the Bank of England it has attempted to get the changes provided by an interest-rate rise from promising it rather than delivering it. If there is a clearer case of the central banking boy (girl) who cried wold I do not know it.

Money Supply

You may not be surprised to read that money supply growth soared in response to  the negative interest-rates and QE of the Riksbank. In fact narrow money growth rate 15% at the opening of 2016 and broad money just failed to make double digit growth as it peaked at 9.9%. You might think if you look at the GDP growth data for the year that it was time to raise interest-rates but like the Bank of England when it had the chance the Riksbank apparently knew better.

Now we find something awkward for the recycled promise of an interest-rate rise. This is that in 2018 narrow money growth has fallen from 8.4% to 6.8% and broad money growth has fallen from 5.4% to 4.5% and as the 5.4% was a freak number if you look at the series as we had 6.4% through the spring. So looking at them in isolation you might be thinking of an easing. Oh hang on…..


The Riksbank changed course around 5 years ago and since then has mostly run a pro-cyclical monetary policy and reversed the conventional view on how to operate it. Regular readers will recall that was partly driven by Paul Krugman calling them “sado-monetarists” and they may also note that mentions of Mr. Krugman have noticeably faded. But they will also be aware that I have argued that negative interest-rates were described pretty accurately by Elvis Presley.

We’re caught in a trap
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much, baby

But as even supporters of the guidance are suggesting that there may only be one interest-rate rise I see trouble ahead. Monetary growth is plainly slowing and this week has brought news that such slowing in the Euro area is having an effect. The Bundesbank is worried about economic growth in Germany and this morning’s Markit business survey told us this.

The pace of Eurozone economic growth slipped
markedly lower in October, with the PMI setting the
scene for a disappointing end to the year.

So whilst two members of the Riksbank did vote for an interest-rate increase today I can see two scenarios increasing in probability. One is that they eventually do raise but then reverse quite quickly. Or more darkly that the next move is either another cut or easing in another form such as QE which would be the final confession that they are in as Coldplay put it.

And I lost my head
And thought of all the stupid things I said
Oh no what’s this
A spider web and I’m caught in the middle