The Brexit Breakfast saga

Yesterday saw quite an extraordinary missive from the offices of KPMG that combined economics and an insight into the apparent habits of staff at that organisation. It led to some debate and indeed some humour so let us take a look. From the Guardian.

Brexit breaks breakfast? Hard Brexit could mean hard luck for fry-up fans…….Shoppers would be forced to pay £3 more for a traditional British fry-up if the government fails to secure a trade deal with the EU, piling more pressure on already cash-strapped consumers.

That is a bit of a shock is it not as it implies such a breakfast would be £3 more each which seems rather extreme. Of course some products have risen in price already due to the lower value for the UK Pound £ as the UK imports quite a bit of the food it consumes.

Here is how Bloomberg released this.

The price attracted my attention so I enquired if they only ate in five-star hotels? It quickly turned out that I wasn’t the only one.

let’s just say I enjoyed a full English last week £7.50. Same price as a year ago at my same local coastal cafe. ( @mhewson_CMC )

 

Read this (and its comments) with your breakfast. £5 here at Totnes Waterside (  @RSR108 )

 

Tesco all you can eat £4,95 KPMG making a real dogs dinner of their analysis. No doubt you can get cheaper elsewhere ( @BarrattPeter )

The analysis stated that the ingredients came from the mid-range of a UK supermarket although some were not convinced.

“KPMG UK analysed the cost of mid-range ingredients of a fry-up from a leading UK supermarket” where…Fortnum and Mason??! ( @maximbroking )

I am not sure if the Guardian re wrote their article but anyway it now states that this was for a family breakfast, something missing from the original Bloomberg article. The debate then shifted to the choice of ingredients with the choice of olive oil to the fore.

Somewhere that cooks its breakfasts in a litre of olive oil? ( @dsquaredigest)

I have to confess I was beginning to feel a little queasy especially as it turned out that some might do this albeit if course we do not know what oil was used here.

I used to have a friend who did their fryups in about two inches depth of fat…utterly inedible! ( @MattBrookes3 )

There were some alternative suggestions for the use of olive oil.

You don’t cook in it, you barbarian. You wash down your meal with a couple of pints of it. ( @Birdyworld)

One Bloomberg journalist did appear willing to give it a go.

As I mulled the list I was curious about the addition of French butter to the list for two reasons as what I buy is mostly UK butter and of course French butter is usually unsalted giving a very different taste. I wasn’t the only one it would seem.

Welsh butter with mine please boyo ( @putt1ck )

 

I’m remain/internationalist but I always buy UK for my fry up, I don’t think these calcs will effect me? PS toss the oil, use butter! ( @LukeMcElligott )

Some took this a stage further.

I find Swiss organic grass-fed butter goes better with baked beans………but only ever fair-trade Himalayan Yak butter with my Japanese Kotoka Strawberry jam. Obviously, ( @WEAYL )

The issue of strawberry jam got a mention.

and who puts strawberry jam on their fry-up!? ( @ChrisB_IG )

Although hope springs eternal for one Bloomberg customer.

Bacon=NL,bread=local,Cherry vine tomato=Spain/NL/or Kent UK 😉 Strawberry jam= free with Bloomburg subscription (I would hope) ( @Svedenmacher )

We did discover someone keen on French butter albeit for a modern reason.

I often buy President butter, especially lately … to piss off the Brexiteers ;). ( @ClausVistensen )

Thus we found quite a bit of debate over the ingredients which then seemed to be reflected off Bloomberg Towers.

Also there’s no ketchup or hash browns. The moral of this story is don’t go for breakfast at KPMG ( @Lucy_meakin )

Considering the cost some were unhappy with the quality.

Funny looking sausage anyway. I think I’ll give it a miss. ( @PaulKingsley16 )

As ever some were hoping for a bright side to the issue.

Does anyone know if KPMG have vacancies for analysts economists researchers -will come out of retirement for their hourly Breakfast rates. ( @BarrattPeter)

Whereas the other side of the atlantic felt we needed to widen our perspective somewhat.

You Europeans are so dense. It’s the labor cost component of the typical Chinese household cook that’s driving up breakfast costs. ( @EquityTrader44 ).

Still it could all have been much worse. Imagine this for breakfast or anything really.

Another salvo in the war on cash

There is much to consider in the report on the gig economy by Matthew Taylor today but one bit in particular caught my eye.

The author of a government review into work practices would like to see an end to the “cash-in-hand economy”.

Matthew Taylor, whose report is out on Tuesday, said cash jobs such as window cleaning and decorating were worth up to £6bn a year, much of it untaxed.

Although he wants to present it as progress.

Mr Taylor also said he did not want to ban cash payments outright, but hoped, over time, the increasing popularity of transaction platforms such as PayPal and Worldpay would see a shift from cash-in-hand work.

“In a few years time as we move to a more cashless economy, self-employed people would be paid cashlessly – like your window cleaner. At the same time they can pay taxes and save for their pension,” he said.

This has many of the features of so-called blue sky thinking reports. In itself the cash in hand economy is hard to defend because tax is not paid and it is therefore unfair on those who pay taxes on income. However his effort to claim it would benefit the workers is risible “they can pay taxes and save for their pension.” From a magic money tree? Also it is hard not to think that the establishment wanted this review as part of an effort to raise more tax like the Chancellor’s attempt to increase National Insurance on the self-employed of a fee months ago. If they cannot make a relatively minor change without a fast U-Turn how exactly will they tax these workers?

But we have a theme of more tax being paid which will please the establishment and another feature these days which is of things being leaked before they are announced properly. Why not wait a few hours? It is all about expectations management which moves me to my  main point which is that the establishment seems ever more desperate to get rid of cash.

You would think that it is one of the barriers to them introducing negative interest-rates in the future……Oh hang on!

Comment

Economic life is often much more complicated than it first appears as for example we are on the road to more electronic payments. Over the past few years I have found myself paying for things with a card that would have been unthinkable before. Yet this is also true . From the Bank of England.

Despite speculation to the contrary, the number of banknotes in circulation is increasing. During 2016, growth in the value of Bank of England notes was 10%, double its average growth rate over the past decade.

Evidence of stockpiling?

As to the breakfast saga there are a few bits to consider. The first is the British obsession with a fry-up which goes in hot pursuit of our obsession with tea. Although apparently not the latter at KPMG who drink coffee. Next we have the click bait effort of claiming breakfast would cost £26.61 where even the family addition from the Guardian does not work unless you use all of the olive oil ( I am getting queasy again) and drink several gallons of coffee with slabs of butter.

Meanwhile there are issues one of which is a regular theme of mine which is that we import so much food in the UK and could do much better on that front. Some things we cannot grow (oranges) but some we can. Actually KPMG seems unaware of what we do produce as apparently we grow a lot of mushrooms. Of course we could end up paying higher tariffs for some products as we seem to have become rather dependent on Danish bacon. But for other products such as olive oil ( assuming you use it) Europe is not the only source and transport costs are often low.

Could the Bank of England step in with some Sledgehammer Breakfast QE?

 

The Swedish Riksbank is facing the consequences of its own policy

The Riksbank of Sweden meets today and announces its policy decision tomorrow morning. It is facing a period where its policy if out of kilter with pretty much everything. Long gone are the days when its policy members were called “sadomonetarists” by Paul Krugman of the New York Times. These days it is in the van of those expanding monetary policy as you can see from its last policy announcement.

The Executive Board has decided to hold the repo rate unchanged at −0.50 per cent and to extend the purchases of nominal government bonds by SEK 7.5 billion and the purchases of real government bonds by SEK 7.5 billion. At the end of 2017, the purchases will thus amount to a total of SEK 290 billion, excluding reinvestments. Until further notice, maturities and coupon payments will also be reinvested in the government bond portfolio.

It is using negative interest-rates and QE ( Quantitative Easing) which is putting the pedal close to the metal but is also what can be called pro cyclical as it is expanding into an expansion.

Swedish economic activity is good and is expected to strengthen further over the next few years

Actually if you take any notice of Forward Guidance they even upped their efforts.

The first repo-rate increase is now expected to be made in the middle of 2018. The repo rate path also reflects the fact that there is still a greater probability of the rate being cut than of it being raised in the near term.

They justified this on the grounds that they expected inflation to take longer to reach its target. This shows us a facet of central bank behaviour these days. If the economy slows they use it as an excuse to ease policy but if it is doing well they are then prone to switching to the inflation rate if it is below target in an example of cherry-picking.

What do they think now?

The mid-June business survey from the Riksbank could not be much more bullish.

The strong economic situation will continue in the months ahead……Export companies are encountering ever-stronger demand from abroad. Europe stands out in particular.

Oh and as a warning for an issue we will look at in a bit there was this.

Demand has been strong in the construction and property sectors in recent years and the development of housing construction in particular continues to be very strong.

Today’s manufacturing PMI from Swedbank looks strong as well.

Sweden Jun Manufacturing PMI 62.4 Vs. 58.8 In May

The Kronor

The conventional view is that all the monetary easing should have sent it lower but in fact it has not done an enormous amount in recent times. If we look back to June 2014 the KIX effective exchange-rate averaged 106.7 and last month it averaged 114.4. So a bit weaker ( confusingly higher is weaker on this index) but this must have been a disappointment to the Riksbank especially as it has strengthened since late 2016. As we have noted before 2017 has been a year where many exchange-rates seem to have simply ignored any flow effect from ongoing QE programs.

One conclusion is that the backwash of moves in the US Dollar and the Euro swamp most of Sweden’s apparent currency independence. Especially if we note that a fair bit of the monetary easing is simply keeping up with the Euro area Joneses.

Household Debt

It was hardly a surprise after reading the above that the June Financial Stability Report rather majored on this.

Households’ high and rising indebtedness form a serious threat to financial and macroeconomic stability……….Household indebtedness and housing prices are still rising, and indebtedness is also expected to rise in the period ahead. This entails major risks for the Swedish economy.

What will they do?

Further measures need to be introduced to increase the resilience of the household sector and reduce risks.

So they will raise interest-rates? Oh hang on.

Both measures to achieve a better balance between supply and demand on the housing market and tax reforms to reduce the willingness or ability of households to take on debt are required. Further macroprudential policy measures also need to be taken.

It is interesting these days how central bankers so often end up telling central bankers what to do! Also it is notable that the rise of macroprudential policies ignores they fact that such policies were abandoned in the past because they were more trouble than they were worth.

All this came with an ominous kicker.

The vulnerabilities in the Swedish banking system are linked to its size, concentration and interlinkage, as well as the banks’ large percentage of wholesale funding and their substantial exposures to the housing sector.

A decade into the credit crunch we note that the rhetoric of reform and progress so often faces a reality of “vulnerabilities” and these get worse as we peer deeper.

Liquidity risks arise partly as a result of Sweden having a large, cross-border banking sector with significant commitments in foreign currency.

If you take the two quotes together then you have the feeling that the TARDIS of Dr.Who has transported you back to 2006. Still we know that the interest and concentration of the Riksbank will be on this issue now as the “precious” may have troubles. Oh and they have a sense of humour too.

It is essential that the banks insure themselves

In reality the Swedish taxpayer is likely to find they have got the gig and this is very different to the usual Riksbank rhetoric on foreign-exchange intervention although if you think about it the result they want would be rather likely to say the least!

At the same time, it is necessary that the Riksbank has a sufficiently large foreign currency reserve if liquidity requirements should arise in foreign currency that the banks themselves are unable to manage.

At the end of last month and after the Report Sweden Statistics updated us further on the state of play.

In May, households’ housing loans amounted to SEK 2 977 billion. This is an increase of SEK 18 billion compared with the previous month and SEK 195 billion compared with the corresponding month last year. Housing loans thus had an annual growth rate of 7.1 percent in May,

Some ( obviously not central bankers ) might think that low mortgage rates are a major driver of this.

The average interest rate for housing loans for new agreements was 1.57 percent in May.

House Prices

The Real Estate Price Index was up by 2% in the first quarter of 2017 making it some 8% higher than a year before. Last year’s UBS Bubble index told us that Stockholm was leading the way.

The sharpest increase in the UBS Global Real Estate
Bubble Index in Europe over the last four quarters
was measured in Stockholm, followed by Munich,
London and Amsterdam

Comment

The Riksbank has in its own mind invented a new type of monetary theory where you expand policy into a boom. It so far has ignored the dangers of higher household debt and booming house prices. Being a first-time buyer in Stockholm looks as grim as being one in London. As to the announcement I am not expecting much change after Friday’s wages data showed a slowing. These days wage growth is the crucial number as we looked at last week.

Total average hourly wages for manual workers in April 2017 were SEK 165.80 excluding overtime pay and SEK 168.20 including overtime pay. These numbers reflects an increase increase of 1.7 percent and 1.8 percent compared
to April 2016. The average monthly salary for non-manual workers in April 2017 excluding variable supplements was SEK 38 420 while it was SEK 39 390 including variable supplements. These numbers reflects an increase of 1.5
percent and 1.7 percent compared to April 2016.

Bank of England

I see its staff have voted to strike as Mark Carney’s increasingly troubled reign as Governor continues. My advice to the staff is to keep away from the subject of performance related pay.

 

 

 

 

The ECB “taper” meets “To infinity! And beyond!”

Yesterday was central banker day when we heard from Mark Carney of the Bank of England, Mario Draghi of the ECB and Janet Yellen of the US Federal Reserve. I covered the woes of Governor Carney yesterday and note that even that keen supporter of him Bloomberg is now pointing out that he is losing the debate. As it happened Janet Yellen was also giving a speech in London and gave a huge hostage to fortune.

Yellen today: “Don’t see another crisis in our lifetimes” Yellen May 2016: “We Didn’t See The Financial Crisis Coming” ( @Stalingrad_Poor )

Let us hope she is in good health and if you really wanted to embarrass her you would look at what she was saying in 2007/08. However the most significant speech came at the best location as the ECB has decamped to its summer break, excuse me central banking forum, at the Portuguese resort of Sintra.

Mario Draghi

As President Draghi enjoyed his morning espresso before giving his keynote speech he will have let out a sigh of relief that it was not about banking supervision. After all the bailout of the Veneto Banks in Italy would have come up and people might have asked on whose watch as Governor of the Bank of Italy the problems built up? Even worse one of the young economists invited might have wondered why the legal infrastructure covering the Italian banking sector is nicknamed the “Draghi Laws”?

However even in the area of monetary policy there are problems to be faced as I pointed out on the 13th of March.

It too is in a zone where ch-ch-changes are ahead. I have written several times already explaining that with inflation pretty much on target and economic growth having improved its rate of expansion of its balance sheet looks far to high even at the 60 billion Euros a month due in April.

Indeed on the 26th of May I noted that Mario himself had implicitly admitted as much.

As a result, the euro area is now witnessing an increasingly solid recovery driven largely by a virtuous circle of employment and consumption, although underlying inflation pressures remain subdued. The convergence of credit conditions across countries has also contributed to the upswing becoming more broad-based across sectors and countries. Euro area GDP growth is currently 1.7%, and surveys point to continued resilience in the coming quarters.

That simply does not go with an official deposit rate of -0.4% and 60 billion Euros a month of Quantitative Easing. Policy is expansionary in what is in Euro area terms a boom.

This was the first problem that Mario faced which is how to bask in the success of economic growth whilst avoiding the obvious counterpoint that policy is now wrong. He did this partly by indulging in an international comparison.

since January 2015 – that is, following the announcement of the expanded asset purchase programme (APP) – GDP
has grown by 3.6% in the euro area. That is a higher growth rate than in same period following QE1 or QE2 in the United States, and a percentage point lower than the period after QE3. Employment in the euro area has also risen by more than four million since we announced the expanded APP, comparable with both QE2 and QE3 in the US, and considerably higher than QE1.

You may note that Mario is picking his own variables meaning that unemployment for example is omitted as are differences of timing and circumstance. But on this road we got the section which had an immediate impact on financial markets.

The threat of deflation is gone and reflationary forces are at play.

So we got an implicit admittal that policy is pro-cyclical or if you prefer wrong. A reduction in monthly QE purchases of 20 billion a month is dwarfed by the change in circumstances. But we have to be told something is happening so there was this.

This more favourable balance of risks has been already reflected in our monetary policy stance, via the adjustments we have made to our forward guidance.

You have my permission to laugh at this point! If he went out into the streets of Sintra I wonder how many would know who he is let alone be running their lives to the tune of his Forward Guidance!? Whilst his Forward Guidance has not been quite the disaster of Mark Carney the sentence below shows a misfire.

This illustrates that core inflation does not
always give us a clear reading of underlying inflation dynamics.

The truth is as I have argued all along that there was no deflation threat in terms of a downwards spiral for inflation because it was driven by this.

Oil-related base effects are also the main driver of the considerable volatility in headline inflation that we have seen, and will be seeing, in the euro area………. As a result, in the first quarter of 2017, oil-sensitive items  were still holding back core inflation.

I guess the many parts of the media which have copy and pasted the core inflation/deflation theme will be hoping that their readers have a bout of amnesia. Or to put it another way that Mario has set up a straw (wo)man below.

What is clear is that our monetary policy measures have been successful in avoiding a deflationary spiral and securing the anchoring of inflation expectations.

Actually if you look elsewhere in his speech you will see that if you consider all the effort put in that in fact his policies had a relatively minor impact.

Between 2016 and 2019 we estimate that our monetary policy will have lifted inflation by 1.7 percentage points,
cumulatively.

So it took a balance sheet of 4.2 trillion Euros ( and of course rising as this goes to 2019) to get that? You can look at the current flow of 60 billion a month which makes it look a little better but it is not a lot of bang for your Euro.

Market Movements

There was a clear response to the mention of the word “reflationary” as the Euro rose strongly. It rose above 1.13 to the US Dollar as it continued the stronger  phase we have been seeing in 2017 as it opened the year more like 1.04.  Also government bond yields rose although the media reports of “jumps” made me smile as I noted that the German ten-year yield was only 0.4% and the two-year was -0.57%! Remember when the ECB promised it was fixing the issue of demand for German bonds?

Comment

On the surface this is a triumph for Forward Guidance as Mario’s speech tightens monetary policy via higher bond yields and a higher value for the Euro on the foreign exchanges. Yet if we go back to March 2014 he himself pointed out the flaw in this.

Now, as a rule of thumb, each 10% permanent effective exchange rate appreciation lowers inflation by around 40 to 50 basis points.

You see the effective or trade-weighted index dipped to 93.5 in the middle of April but was 97.2 at yesterday’s close. If we note that Mario is not achieving his inflation target and may be moving away from it we get food for thought.

Euro area annual inflation was 1.4% in May 2017, down from 1.9% in April.

So as the markets assume what might be called “tapering” ( in terms of monthly QE purchases) or “normalisation” in terms of interest-rates we can look further ahead and wonder if “To infinity! And Beyond!” will win? After all if the economy slows later this year  and inflation remains below target ………

There are two intangible factors here. Firstly the path of inflation these days depends mostly in the price of crude oil. Secondly whilst I avoid politics like the plague it is true that we will find out more about what the ECB really intends once this years major elections are done and dusted as the word “independent” gets another modification in my financial lexicon for these times

 

Of Denmark its banks and negative interest-rates

The situation regarding negative interest-rates mostly acquires attention via the Euro or the Yen. If the media moves beyond that it then looks at Switzerland and maybe Sweden. But there is an outbreak of negative interest-rates in the Nordic countries if we note that we have already covered Sweden, Finland is in the Euro and the often ignored Denmark has this.

Effective from 8 January 2016, Danmarks Nationalbank’s ( DNB ) interest rate on certificates of deposit is increased by 0.10 percentage point to -0.65 per cent.

Actually Denmark is just about to reach five years of negative interest-rates as it was in July of 2012 that the certificate of deposit rate was cut to -0.2% although it has not quite been continuous as it there were a few months that it rose to the apparently giddy heights of 0.05%.

In case you are wondering why Denmark has done this then there are two possible answers. Geography offers one as we note that proximity to the Euro area is associated with ever lower and indeed negative interest-rates. Actually due to its exchange rate policy Denmark is just about as near to being in the Euro as it could be without actually being so.

Denmark maintains a fixed-exchange-rate policy vis-à-vis the euro area and participates in the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, ERM 2, at a central rate of 746.038 kroner per 100 euro with a fluctuation band of +/- 2.25 per cent.

Currently that involves an interest-rate that is -0.25% lower than in the Euro area but the margin does vary as for example when the interest-rate rose in 2014 when the DNB tried to guess what the ECB would do next and got it wrong.

A Problem

If we think of the Danish economy then we think of negative interest-rates being implemented due to weak economic growth. Well the DNB has had to face up to this.

However, the November revision stands out as an unusually large upward revision of the compilation of GDP level and
growth……… average annual GDP growth has now
been compiled at 1.3 per cent for the period 2010-
15, up from 0.8 per cent in the previous compilation.
GDP in volume terms is now 3.4 per cent higher in
2015 than previously compiled,

Ooops! As this begins before interest-rate went negative we have yet another question mark against highly activist monetary policy. The cause confirms a couple of the themes of this website.

new figures for Danish firms’ foreign
trading in which goods and services do not cross the
Danish border entailed substantial revisions

So the trade figures were wrong which is a generic statement across the world as they are both erratic and unreliable. Also such GDP shifts make suggestions like this from former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers look none too bright.

moving away from inflation targeting to something like nominal gross domestic product-level targeting would be a better idea.

In this situation he would be targeting a number which was later changed markedly, what could go wrong?

Also there is a problem for the DNB as we note that it has a negative interest-rate of -0.65% but faces an economy doing this.

heading towards a boom with output above the normal level of capacity utilisation……….The Danish economy is very close to its capacity limit.

Whatever happened to taking away the punchbowl as the party starts getting going?

Oh and below is an example of central banker speech not far off a sort of Comical Ali effort.

Despite the upward revision of GDP, Danmarks Nationalbank’s assessment of economic developments
since the financial crisis is basically unchanged.

The banks

This is of course “the precious” of the financial world which must be preserved at all costs according to central bankers. We were told that negative interest-rates would hurt the banks, how has that turned out? From Bloomberg.

Despite half a decade of negative interest rates, Denmark’s banks are making more money than ever before.

What does the DNB think?

Overall, the largest Danish banks achieved their
best ever performance in 2016, and their financial
statements for the 1st quarter of 2017 also recorded
sound profits…………In some areas, financial developments are similar to developments in the period up to the financial crisis in 2008, so there is every reason to watch out for
speed blindness.

Still no doubt the profits have gone towards making sure “this time is different”? Er, perhaps not.

On the other hand, the capital base has not increased notably since 2013, unlike in Norway and Sweden where the banks have higher capital adequacy.

What about house prices?

Both equity prices and prices of owner-occupied
homes have soared, as they did in the years prior to
the financial crisis.

Although the DNB is keen to emphasise a difference.

As then, prices of owner-occupied homes in Copenhagen have risen considerably, but with the difference that the price rises have not yet spread to the rest of Denmark to the same degree. The prices of rental properties have also increased and are back at the 2007 level immediately before
the financial crisis set in

It will have been relieved to note a dip in house price inflation to 4.2% at the end of 2016 although perhaps less keen on the fact that house prices are back to the levels which caused so much trouble pre credit crunch. Of course the banking sector will be happy with higher house prices as it improves their asset book whereas first-time buyers will be considerably less keen as prices move out of reach.

In spite of the efforts of the DNB I note that the Danes have in fact been reining in their borrowing. If we look at the negative interest-rate era we see that the household debt to GDP ratio has fallen from 135% to 120% showing that your average Dane is not entirely reassured by developments. A more sensible strategy than that employed by some of the smaller Danish banks who failed the more extreme version of the banking stress tests.

A Space Oddity

Politician’s the world over say the most ridiculous things and here is the Danish version.

Denmark should cut taxes to encourage people to work more, which would increase the supply of labour and help prevent the economy from overheating in 2018, Finance Minister Kristian Jensen said…

So we fix overheating by putting our foot on the accelerator?

Comment

If we look wider than we have so far today we see that international developments should be boosting the Danish economy in 2017. This mostly comes from the fact that the Euro area economy is having a better year which should boost the Danish trade figures if this from the Copenhagen News is any guide.

Denmark has been ranked seventh in the new edition of the World Competitiveness Yearbook for 2017, which has just published by the Swiss business school IMD.

But if we allow for the upwards revision to growth we see that monetary policy is extraordinarily expansionary for an economy which seems to be growing steadily ( 0.6% in Q1) . What would they do in a slow down?

We also learn a few things about negative interest-rates. Firstly the banking sector has done rather well out of them – presumably by a combination of raising margins and central bank protection as we have discussed on here frequently – and secondly they did not turn out to be temporary did they?

Yet as we see so often elsewhere some events do challenge the official statistics. From the Copenhagen Post.

Aarhus may be enjoying ample wind in its sails by being the European Capital of Culture this year, but not everything is jovial in the ‘City of Smiles’.

On average, the Danish aid organisation Kirkens Korshær has received 211 homeless every day in Aarhus from March 2016-March 2017, an increase of 42 percent compared to the previous year, where the figure was 159.

Portugal

Let me offer my deepest sympathies to all those affected by that dreadful forest fire yesterday.

What next for the world of negative interest-rates?

There were supposed to be two main general economic issues for 2017. The first was the return of inflation as the price of crude oil stopped being a strong disinflationary force. The second was that we would see a rise in interest-rates and bond yields as we saw an economic recovery combined with the aforementioned inflation. This was described as the “reflation” scenario and the financial trade based on it was to be short bonds. However we have seen a rise in inflation to above target in the UK and US and to just below it in the Euro area but the bond market and interest-rate move has been really rather different.

Negative Official Interest-Rates

Euro area

These are still around particularly in Europe where the main player is the European Central Bank. This plays out in three main areas as it has an official deposit rate of -0.4%, it also has its long-term refinancing operations where banks have been able to borrow out to the early 2020s at an interest-rate that can also be as low as -0.4% plus of course purchasing sovereign bonds at negative yields. So whilst the rate of monthly bond purchases has fallen to 60 billion Euros a month the envelope of negative interest-rates is still large in spite of the economic recovery described earlier this week by ECB President Draghi.

As a result, the euro area is now witnessing an increasingly solid recovery driven largely by a virtuous circle of employment and consumption, although underlying inflation pressures remain subdued. The convergence of credit conditions across countries has also contributed to the upswing becoming more broad-based across sectors and countries. Euro area GDP growth is currently 1.7%, and surveys point to continued resilience in the coming quarters.

Indeed the economic optimism was turned up another notch by the Markit PMI business surveys on Tuesday.

The PMI data indicate that eurozone growth remained impressively strong in May. Business activity is expanding at its fastest rate for six years so far in the second quarter, consistent with 0.6- 0.7% GDP growth. The consensus forecast of 0.4% second quarter growth could well prove overly pessimistic………

That is better than “resilience” I think.

Sweden

This is one of the high fortresses of negative interest-rates as you can see from the latest announcement.

The Executive Board decided to extend the purchases of government bonds by SEK 15 billion during the second half of 2017 and to hold the repo rate unchanged at −0.50 per cent. The repo rate is now not expected to be raised until mid-2018, which is slightly later than in the previous forecast.

As you can see a move away from the world of negative interest-rates seems to have moved further into the distance rather than get nearer. If you look at the economic situation then you may quite reasonably wonder what is going on here?

Swedish economic activity is good and is expected to strengthen further over the next few years. Confidence indicators show that households and companies are optimistic and demand for exports is strong. The economic upturn means that the demand for labour is still strong.

We do not have the numbers for the first quarter but we do know that GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) increased by 1% in the last quarter of 2016. If you read the statement below then it gets ever harder to justify the current official interest-rate.

Rising mortgage debt is a serious threat to Sweden’s economy while regulators need to introduce tougher measures to strengthen banks against future shocks, the central bank said in its semi-annual stability report, published on Wednesday………Swedish house prices have doubled over the last decade. Apartment prices have tripled. Household debt levels – in relation to disposable income – are among the highest in Europe.

Switzerland

The Swiss National Bank feels trapped by the pressure on the Swiss Franc.

The Swiss franc is still significantly overvalued. The negative interest rate and the SNB’s willingness to intervene in the foreign exchange market are necessary and appropriate to ease pressure on the Swiss franc. Negative interest has at least partially restored the traditional interest rate differential against other countries.

You may note that they are pointing the blame pretty much at the ECB and the Euro for the need to have an interest-rate of -0.75% ( strictly a range between -0.25% and -1.25%).

Denmark

As you can see Denmark’s Nationalbank has not moved this year either.

Effective from 8 January 2016, Danmarks Nationalbank’s interest rate on certificates of deposit is increased by 0.10 percentage point to -0.65 per cent.

The 2016 move left it a little exposed when the ECB cut again later than year but it remains firmly in negative interest-rate territory.

Japan

Until now we have been looking at issues surrounding the Euro both geographically and economically but we need to go a lot further east to see the -0.1% interest-rate of the Bank of Japan. Added to that is its policy of bond purchases where it aims to keep the ten-year yield at approximately 0%. So there is no great sign of a change here either.

 

The United States

Here of course we have seen an effort to move interest-rates to a move positive level but so far we have not seen that much and it has not been followed by any of the other major central banks. Indeed one central bank which is normally synchronised with it is the Bank of England but it cut interest-rates and expanded its balance sheet last August so it has headed in the opposite direction this time around.

This theme has been reflected in the US bond market where we saw a rise in yields when President Trump was elected but I note now that not much has happened since. The ten-year Treasury Note now yields around 2.25% which is pretty much where it was back then. We did see a rise to above 2.6% but that faded away as events moved on. Even the prospect of a beginning of an unwinding of all of the bond holdings of the Federal Reserve does not seem to have had much impact. That seems extraordinarily sanguine to me but there are two further factors which are at play. One is that investors do not believe this will happen on any great scale and also that there is no rule book or indeed much experience of how bond markets behave when a central bank looks for the exit.

How much?

There was a time when we were regularly updated on the size of the negative yielding bond universe whereas that has faded but there is this from Fitch Ratings in early March.

Rising long-term sovereign bond yields across the eurozone contributed to a decline in outstanding negative yielding sovereign debt to $8.6 trillion as of March 1 from $9.1 trillion near year-end 2016.

The fall such as it was seemed to be in longer dated maturities.

The total of negative-yielding sovereign debt with remaining maturities of greater than seven years fell significantly to $0.5 trillion as of Mar. 1 from over $2.6 trillion on June 27 2016.

Since then German bond yields have moved only a little so the general picture looks not to be much different.

Comment

I wanted to point out today the fact that whilst it feels like the economic world has moved on in 2017 in fact the negative interest-rate and yield story has changed a lot less than we might have thought. It has fallen out of the media spotlight and perceptions but it has remained as a large iceberg floating around.

One of my themes has been that we will find out more about the economic effects of negative interest-rates as more time passes. Accordingly I noted this from VoxEU yesterday.

Banks throughout the Eurozone are reluctant to cut retail deposit rates below zero, wary of possible client reactions

That has remained true as time has passed and it seems ever clearer that the banking sector is afraid of a type of deposit flight should they offer less than 0% on ordinary retail savings. That distinguishes it from institutional or pension markets where as we have discussed before there have been lots of negative yields and interest-rates. Also if we look at average deposit rates there remain quite large differences in the circumstances.

For example, the average rate on Belgian deposits has dropped to 0.03%. If Belgians took their money across the border, they could get almost ten times that in the Netherlands (0.28%). In France even, rates average 0.43%.

If we move to household borrowing rates we see that there are much wider discrepancies as we wonder if at this level we can in fact call this one monetary policy?

The Finns borrow against 1.8%, the Irish pay 3.6%

Some of the differences are down to different preferences but as the Irish borrowing is more likely to be secured ( mortgages) you might reasonably expect them to be paying less. Oh and as a final point as we move to borrowing we note that rates are a fair distance from the official ones meaning that the banks yet again have a pretty solid margin in their favour, which is somewhat contrary to what we keep being told.

Sweden expands monetary policy into an economic boom

Let us begin today with some good news which has emerged from the statistics office of Sweden.

Sweden’s GDP increased by 1.0 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016, seasonally adjusted and compared with the third quarter of 2016.

That is a fast rate of economic growth for a developed country in these times. Actually it would have always have been pretty good. If we move to the detail there was more good news.

Gross fixed capital formation increased by 0.9 percent. Exports increased by 1.8 percent and imports decreased by 0.2 percent.

So Investment and export-led growth which accompanied a rise in production.

Production of goods increased by 0.4 percent and service-producing industries grew by 1.4 percent.

Also it looks as though productivity increased as well as both the numbers below are lower than the 1% output growth.

Employment measured as the total number of hours worked increased by 0.3 percent seasonally adjusted, and the number of persons employed increased by 0.6 percent.

The annual figure is also good but it is plain that it was mostly driven by the last quarter of 2016.

The GDP increased by 2.3 percent, working-day adjusted and compared with the fourth quarter of 2015.

Inflation looks set to rise

One of the main factors in the outlook for inflation is the producer price series which tells us what is coming over the horizon but Sweden has a wider number which includes trade as well as production.

Domestic supply, that is, producer prices on the domestic and import markets together, increased 0.8 percent from December to January and 8.5 percent compared with January last year.

So a surge is on its way and the strongest part is coming from trade.

In the same period, prices on the export market and the import market increased 10.6 percent and 11.3 percent respectively. A part of the increase can be explained by the depreciation of the Swedish krona against other major currencies. On the domestic market, prices increased 5.8 percent in the same period.

So as I discussed only yesterday more generally inflation is on its way as 2017 progresses.

Inflation now

This was impacted in January by the sales season and by an adjustment to the basket of goods used which subtracted 0.1% and was therefore unusual in seeing a drop in the annual rate.

In January 2017, the inflation rate according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was 1.4 percent, down from 1.7 percent in December 2016. The CPI fell by 0.7 percent from December 2016 to January 2017.

However even with the drop we see that inflation seems set to move towards its target in 2017.

House Prices

Another sign of inflation can be seen from asset prices of which the clearest and most transparent is house prices so let us take a look.

Real estate prices for one- or two-dwelling buildings rose by almost 1 percent in the last three-month period, from November 2016 to January 2017, compared with the previous period, from August to October 2016. Prices rose by nearly 9 percent on an annual basis in the last three-month period, from November 2016 to January 2017,

In terms of actual prices those percentages mean this.

The average price at national level for one- or two-dwelling buildings in the period from November 2016 to January 2017 was SEK 2.85 million.

If we look for perspective I note that the index was set at 100 in 1980 and that in 2013 it was 554. We learn something from that but as we move on 2014 was 592 or 7% higher than 2015 was 656 or around 11% higher than a year before and 2016 was 711 or around 8% higher than a year before. So there has been plenty of inflation to be seen here and it must be a hard time to be either a first time buyer or someone looking for a larger property in Sweden right now.

Monetary Policy

There was a time that central bankers would respond to fast GDP growth combined with fast rises in house prices and rising inflation with an interest-rate rise so let us look at Riksbank policy.

Monetary policy therefore still needs to remain expansionary. The Executive Board of the Riksbank has decided to hold the repo rate at −0.50 per cent and there is still a greater probability that the rate will be cut than that it will be raised in the near term.

Oh and it is continuing to buy government bonds to add another stimulus to the economy.

The purchases of government bonds will continue for the first six months of 2017, as was decided in December.

That is getting to be a problem as this from The Local illustrates.

“We have had me as finance minister for two years, and we have had a surplus in public finances for two years,” Andersson said at a press conference. Overall, public finances have been strengthened by almost 40 billion kronor ($4.26 billion) compared to 2015,the authority said, with reduced sickness benefit and migration costs contributing to that.

As you can see there is not going to be a ready supply of government bonds to buy and the Riksbank must have created a false market already and is on its way to being a sort of Stockholm Whale in the Swedish government bond market.

Yet so entrenched is it in its views it feels the need to promise even more.

The Executive Board has also taken a decision to extend the mandate that facilitates a quick intervention on the foreign exchange market.

Let me use their own words as a critique of this.

In Sweden, the Riksbank’s expansionary monetary policy has contributed to high growth, falling unemployment, rising inflation and inflation expectations that are back at 2 per cent.

Now please look again at the policies they are enacting.

Comment

There is much to consider here from a central bank that was once accused of being “sado-monetarists” by Paul Krugman of the New York Times. These days they must be basking in his praise. Except there are a lot of questions to be answered here. Let me illustrate with another statistic from the monetary sector.

Households’ loans had a 6.7 percent annual rate of increase in the fourth quarter of 2016, which is 0.4 percentage points lower than in the third quarter.

So a fast rate as we note that it is slower than it was! So the monetary taps have been pretty much fully open. In terms of actual numbers here they are.

Households’ loans increased by SEK 56 billion in the fourth quarter of 2016 and amounted to SEK 3 729 billion at the end of the quarter. During the entire year of 2016, households’ loans increased by SEK 235 billion, which is SEK 6 billion more than the increase in 2015.

But here is the “rub” as Shakespeare would put it. How does it work that you have the monetary taps fully open when aggregate economic growth has not only been quite good but is also expected to be? If we go deeper how would they respond to any slow down or recession? The economy has got used to a type of junkie culture on an aggregate scale.

Mind you there is another perspective on this which we get if we look at the population numbers.

In 2016, the number of people listed in Sweden’s population register increased by 144 136, and at the end of the year the population figure was 9 995 153.

So up by 1.5% which means that in terms of per capita the GDP growth fades considerably and we see the fear of the Riksbank and why the ordinary Swede may wonder why things do not seem to be getting much better.

Measuring inflation

I note that the Swedes are abandoning a system the UK ONS is pressing for! I mentioned yesterday the way it wants to use rents for properties which are not rented well look at Sweden.

Cost development for owners of tenant-owned dwellings is currently represented by rental development in multi-dwelling buildings. The new measurement will consist of three main sub-indices – interest costs, the monthly fee for the tenant-owned apartment, and apartment repairs.

Charlotte Hogg

For those of you who are unaware Charlotte is the new Deputy Governor at the Bank of England for markets which includes QE. I will give my view of her woeful performance this morning in front of the Treasury Select Committee another time but for now here are some other views.

For the new DG Markets, Charlotte Hogg has a pretty shaky grasp of QE, transmission mechanism and market impact. ( h/t @moyeenislam )

 

Charlotte Hogg grew up in a moated country house, where evenings were spent debating Thatcherite privatisations  ( h/t @Ian_Fraser )

 

Charlotte Hogg says “didn’t know” what her banker brother did at Barclays before she asked him for a TSC questionnaire. Odd ( h’t @BenChu_ )

 

 

 

When will the Riksbank of Sweden cross it’s own Rubicon?

This week is posing more than a few questions for the pattern of world monetary policy and it is only Thursday morning. It is hard not to have a wry smile at my own country where the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney was busy talking the UK Pound £ down yesterday as well as performing a hand brake U-Turn and I believe a hand stand only to be well,Trumped later! We will have to see how that settles down as those selling the Pound ( Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank) have seen their stops fired off this morning and the Financial Times twitter feeds have stopped its regular mentions of its level.

However we are going to continue on what might be called our grand tour to Europe and pop over to the Kingdom of Sweden which of course is a familiar stopping point for me. The reason for that is the extraordinary monetary experiment which is taking place there which is approaching the zone where there should be ch-ch-changes. This morning they have updated us with their monetary policy minutes so let us take a look.

Riksbank

Policy is summarised below.

All of the Executive Board members assessed that it was now appropriate to hold the repo rate unchanged at –0.50 per cent and to reinvest maturities and coupon payments on the government bond portfolio until further notice…….Moreover, a majority of the Executive Board members considered that the risks to the upturn in inflation call for a continuation of the government bond purchases during the first half of 2017 and that they should be extended by SEK 30 billion, corresponding to SEK 15 billion in nominal bonds and SEK 15 billion in real bonds.

Newer readers will be beginning to see my interest as we see something of a full house of negative interest-rates, QE (Quantitative Easing) government bond purchases and an Operation Twist style reinvestment of maturing bonds. In short even Paul Krugman of the New York Times can call them “sadomonetarists” although of course my avoidance of politics means I can only rarely mention him these days although I suppose I can point out his current plan to boost the US economy by buying some bathroom fixtures.

So we see that the monetary pedal is close to the metal although it would seem that the Riksbank has dropped its threat/promise to intervene in foreign exchange markets. although we do have some Forward Guidance.

Increases in the repo rate are not expected to begin until the beginning of 2018.

Care is needed though as Riksbank Forward Guidance has had all the success of Forward Guidance from the Bank of England.

Inflation is on its way

This morning Sweden Statistics has told us this.

In December 2016, the inflation rate according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was 1.7 percent, up from 1.4 percent in November. The CPI rose by 0.5 percent from November to December 2016.

If you are wondering why well it is not a particular surprise.

mainly due to a rise in prices for transport services (9.1 percent), which contributed 0.3 percentage points.

There were other effects of the higher price of oil (package holidays were 4.8% more expensive) and the cost of food rose. So in terms of essential goods ( food and fuel) inflation is particularly rising although of course central bankers consider these to be non-core. If you try to allow for the initial effects of the official negative interest-rate then you see this.

The inflation rate according to the CPIF (CPI with a fixed interest rate) was 1.9 percent in December, up from 1.6 percent in November.

All this matters because this is badged as the modus operandi of the Riksbank.

More precisely, the Riksbank’s objective is to keep inflation around 2 per cent per year.

No doubt you are seeing the point which is that the level of consumer inflation is plainly on its way into that zone in 2017. Also you may note a difference from the ECB (European Central Bank) which aims to keep it just below 2%. So the Riksbank has an easier target and if you like has a little “wriggle” room.

House Prices

Extraordinary monetary policy is often accompanied by a rise in asset prices of which house prices are an example so let us examine today’s data.

Real estate prices for one- or two-dwelling buildings increased by almost 1 percent in the fourth quarter 2016, compared with the third quarter. Prices increased by almost 10 percent on an annual basis during the fourth quarter of 2016, compared with the same period last year.

A driving force in this is the availability of mortgage credit which of course is one of the objectives of the Riksbank. Central bankers love to “pump it up”.

The downturn was mainly due to housing loans, with an annual growth rate of 7.8 percent in November, which was a decrease of 0.1 percentage points compared with October.

It is revealing that an annual growth rate of 7.8% is a downturn isn’t it? If you want it in monetary terms here it is.

Housing loans amounted to SEK 2 882 billion in November, which is an increase of SEK 17 billion compared with the previous month and SEK 209 billion compared with the same month last year.

Also you may note as we have observed before that you can push the cost of mortgage credit lower but it then appears to find something of a floor. After all we cannot harm the “precious” can we?

The average interest rate for housing loans for new agreements was 1.57 percent in November, which means that it dropped compared with October, when it was 1.59 percent.

Comment

There is much to consider here but first let me give you a clear example of the alternative universe which is inhabited by central bankers and their ilk.

Another positive in November was food prices continuing to rise and surprise on the upside.

The only group that should be welcoming this is farmers! Everyone else will be disappointed in the rise of a commodity so essential that it is called “non-core” by central bankers.

If we move to monetary policy then there are echoes of the situation in the Czech Republic that I analysed on Tuesday as we see another country where inflation had a strong December. Oh and I did mention the Riksbank’s poor Forward Guidance performance didn’t I?

Inflation therefore continues to surprise on the downside,

Now they are in danger of being wrong-footed as they continue with negative interest-rates and more QE designed to push inflation higher just as it approaches its target. In my opinion they are rather like Julius Caesar when he crossed the Rubicon as not only is inflation rising but economic growth looks solid.

A growth rate of 3.4 per cent is expected this year, a tenth higher than in the October forecast. Growth for 2017 has been revised upwards by 0.4 percentage points to 2.4 per cent.

Also they expect that the performance of the Krona in 2016 will further boost inflation.

The impact of the exchange rate on inflation has also been analysed. The Swedish krona has recently been unexpectedly weak.

Thus we find ourselves arriving at one of my earliest topics which was and is how central banks will reverse the extraordinary monetary policies they have implemented or more simply what is their exit strategy? So far Life’s Been Good for Sweden and the Riksbank but Joe Walsh also has a warning.

I go to parties sometimes until four
It’s hard to leave when you can’t find the door