Some welcome good news for the Euro area and ECB

A feature of the credit crunch era has been its ability to surprise. Mostly on the downside but not always. This week opened with concerns about the trade war situation and then saw a couple of bad news episodes about Germany.  From dw.com.

German business confidence fell more than expected during August, the Munich-based Ifo institute said on Monday. Ifo said its business confidence index — based on a survey of 9,000 firms — fell to 94.3 points this month from 95.7 points in July.

A deterioration was seen both in managers’ views of the current situation and in their predictions for the next six months.

The main driver of this was not a surprise.

Manufacturing: Satisfaction with the current situation declined to new lows, Ifo said, saying: “Not a ray of light was to be seen in any of Germany’s key industries.”

Then we got confirmation of past bad news.

In the second quarter of 2019, the real (price-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) was down 0.1% from the preceding quarter, after adjustment for seasonal and calendar variations…….Real GDP stagnated year on year. After calendar adjustment, GDP was up by 0.4% because the second quarter of 2019 had one working day less than the same quarter a year earlier.

There was also some further detail.

After seasonal and calendar adjustment,price-adjusted exports were down 1.3% from the preceding quarter, markedly more than imports (-0.3%).

Money Supply

However the downbeat news was reversed somewhat this morning as the ECB released this.

Annual growth rate of narrower monetary aggregate M1, comprising currency in circulation and overnight deposits, increased to 7.8% in July from 7.2% in June.

That changed the theme a bit as it was the best annual growth number since February last year. Not only that but it means that the growth rate has been picking up since the beginning of this year. This is the opposite of the mood music of 2019 where we have seen an economic slowing. It suggests that the outlook is not as grim as many now seem to be suggesting. Ironically they were often the same ones who forecast interest-rate increases in the Euro area this year.

There was good news from the broader measure as well.

Annual growth rate of broad monetary aggregate M3 increased to 5.2% in July 2019 from 4.5% in June.

Here too there has been an improving trend.

The annual growth rate of the broad monetary aggregate M3 increased to 5.2% in July 2019 from 4.5% in June, averaging 4.8% in the three months up to July.

We do get a breakdown of this.

The components of M3 showed the following developments. The annual growth rate of the narrower aggregate M1, which comprises currency in circulation and overnight deposits, increased to 7.8% in July from 7.2% in June. The annual growth rate of short-term deposits other than overnight deposits (M2-M1) increased to 0.1% in July from -0.1% in June. The annual growth rate of marketable instruments (M3-M2) was -1.2% in July, compared with -4.7% in June.

It is not surprising that much of the growth came straight from the M1 number but we see that the M2 component grew as well albeit not by much. The wider money supply is still struggling but even it is reducing more slowly. Indeed it turns out that this is really the M1 growth.

Looking at the components’ contributions to the annual growth rate of M3, the narrower aggregate M1 contributed 5.2 percentage points (up from 4.8 percentage points in June), short-term deposits other than overnight deposits (M2-M1) contributed 0.0 percentage point (as in the previous month) and marketable instruments (M3-M2) contributed -0.1 percentage point (up from -0.3 percentage point).

We can look at these numbers another way.

As a reflection of changes in the items on the monetary financial institution (MFI) consolidated balance sheet other than M3 (counterparts of M3), the annual growth rate of M3 in July 2019 can be broken down as follows: credit to the private sector contributed 3.2 percentage points (down from 3.3 percentage points in June), net external assets contributed 2.9 percentage points (up from 2.4 percentage points), credit to general government contributed -0.2 percentage point (down from -0.1 percentage point), longer-term financial liabilities contributed -1.1 percentage points (up from -1.2 percentage points), and the remaining counterparts of M3 contributed 0.3 percentage point (up from 0.0 percentage point).

This type of breakdown can be unreliable ( it went very wrong in the UK in the past) but the amount of growth from abroad worries some.

A change of tack

Vice President de Guidos spoke yesterday and perhaps tried to calm expectations down.

The echo chamber effect and the inherent noisiness of market signals are reasons why we need to take the expectations that are priced in financial markets with a pinch of salt. This means that we need to also rely on other sources of information to ensure that we conduct a robust monetary policy. The incoming macroeconomic data are one such source. As we keep stressing, our monetary policy is data dependent, not market dependent: indications from market expectations cannot replace our policy judgement.

Although I found this a little disturbing as there is a confession they have not done this before tucked away in it.

At the ECB, we are enhancing our toolkit for the communication with the general public in two ways – both by collecting more information about consumers, and by targeting some of our communication efforts more directly at the general public.

Comment

There are two lessons today I think. Firstly the domestic economic outlook in the Euro area is better than many may think. Not great but left to its own devices it would have some growth I think roughly at the rate we have seen so far this year. Also if the trade war calms down and the ECB eases it may end up with pro cyclical monetary policy. Ooops.

 

Is Germany the new sick man of Europe?

The last twelve months have seen quite a turn around in not only perceptions about the performance of the German economy but also the actual data. With the benefit of hindsight we see that there was a clear peak at the end of 2017 when after a year of strong economic growth ( 0.6% to 1.2% quarterly) the annual rate of Gross Domestic Product or GDP growth reached 3.4%. Then things changed and quarterly growth plunged to 0.1% as 2018 opened as quarterly growth fell to 0.1%.

Actually there was a warning sign back then because looking at my post from the 3rd of January 2018 I reported on the good news as it was then but also noted this.

Although there was an ominous tone to the latter part don’t you think?! We have also learnt to be nervous about economic all-time highs.

This was in response to this from the Markit PMI.

2017 was a record-breaking year for the German
manufacturing sector: the PMI posted an all-time
high in December, and the current 37-month
sequence of improving business conditions
surpassed the previous record set in the run up to
the financial crisis.

Actually back then we did not know how bad things were because the GDP numbers were wrong as the Bundesbank announced yesterday.

In the first quarter, growth consequently totalled 0.1% (down from 0.4%), while it amounted to 0.4% in the second quarter (after 0.5%).

So as you can see we have something else to add to the issues with GDP as in this instance it completely missed the turn in the German economy. The GDP data in fact misled us.

If we move forwards to April 25th last year we see the Bundesbank had seen something but blamed the poor old weather.

The Bundesbank expects the German economy’s boom to continue, although the Bank’s economists predict that the growth rate of gross domestic product might be distinctly lower in the first quarter of 2018 than in the preceding quarters.

The “boom to continue” then went in annual economic growth terms 2.3%, 2.1%, 1.1%, 0.6%,0.9% and most recently 0.4%.If we switch to the actual level it is not much of a boom to see GDP rise from 106.04 at the end of 2017 to 107.03 at the end of the second half of 2019.

Looking Ahead

The Bundesbank has changed its tone these days or if you prefer has been forced to change its tone so let us dip into yesterday’s monthly report.

“The domestic economy is still doing well; the weaknesses have so far been concentrated in industry and exports. International trade disputes and Brexit are important reasons behind this,” Mr Weidmann said.

As you can see its President has a good go at blaming Johnny Foreigner and in particular the UK. Actually the latter is somewhat contradicted by the report itself as it points out Germany has also benefited from the UK in 2019.

In particular, exports to the United Kingdom were weak in the second quarter. A contributing factor to this, according to the Bundesbank’s economists, was the original Brexit date scheduled for the end of March. This resulted in substantial stockpiling in the United Kingdom over the winter months. This led to a countermovement in the second quarter.

Actually the report itself does not seem entirely keen on the idea that it is all Johnny Foreigner’s fault either.

“Sales in construction and in the hotel and restaurant sector declined. Wholesale trade slid into the downturn afflicting industry”, the Bank’s economists write. Only retail trade as well as some other services sectors are likely to have provided positive momentum.

So it is more widespread than just trade.In fact if we look at the details below we see that it was the 0.4% growth in the first quarter which looks like the exception to the present trend.

Construction output declined steeply after posting a sharp increase during the first quarter due to favourable weather conditions. Meanwhile, the demand for cars, pent up by delivery bottlenecks last year, had largely been met at the start of 2019 and did not increase further in the second quarter.

Ominous in a way as we wonder if it might get the same treatment as the first quarter of 2018. But if we take the figures as we presently have them then GDP growth in the first half of this year has been a mere 0.3%. But they are not expecting much better and maybe worse.

Economic activity could decline slightly again in the current quarter, the economists suggest. There are, they write, no signs yet of an end to the downturn in industry, adding: “This could also gradually start to weigh on a number of services sectors.”

They also touch on an area which concerns others.

Leading labour market indicators painted a mixed picture. Industry further scaled back its hiring plans. By contrast, in the services sectors, except the wholesale and retail trade, and in construction, positive employment plans dominated.

Is the labour market turning? This morning’s numbers only really tell us what we already knew.

The year-on-year growth rate was slightly lower in the second quarter than in the first quarter of 2019 (+1.1%) and in the fourth quarter of 2018 (+1.3%).

Maybe we learn a little more here.

After seasonal adjustment, that is, after the elimination of the usual seasonal fluctuations, the number of persons in employment increased by 50,000, or 0.1%, in the second quarter of 2019 compared with the previous quarter.

That number looks a fair bit weaker.

Markit PMI

This has not had a good run and let me illustrate this with the latest update from the 5th of this month.

The combination of a deepening downturn in manufacturing output and slower service sector business activity growth saw the Composite Output Index register 50.9 in July, down from 52.6 in June and its lowest reading in just over six years.

Yes it shows a fall but it has continued to suggest growth for Germany and sometimes strong growth when in fact there was not much and then actual declines.

Comment

The situation here is revealing on quite a few levels. Let me start with one perspective which is ironically provided by ECB President Mario Draghi when he suggested his policies  ( negative interest-rates and QE) added 1.5% to GDP. That was for the Euro area overall but if we apply it to Germany we see that the boom fades a bit and more crucially the German economy started “slip-sliding away” as soon as the stimulus began to fade. That is rather a different story to the consensus that it is the southern European countries that have depended most on stimulus policies.

Next is the German economic model which relies on exports or if you prefer demand from abroad. We have seen a phase where this has been reduced at least partly due to the “trade war” but also I think that the issues with diesel engines which damaged the reputation of its car manufacturers hit too. Whatever the reason there is not a lot behind it in terms of domestic consumption.

The issue with domestic consumption gets deeper as we note that economic policy is sucking demand out of the economy. At the beginning of the year the finance ministry thought that the surplus would be 1.75% of GDP. That seems much less likely now as economic growth has faded but it is one of the reasons why we keep getting reports that Germany will provide a fiscal stimulus which reached 50 billion Euros yesterday. With all of its bond maturities showing negative yields it could easily do so and in fact would be paid to do it, but it still looks unlikely as I note the mention of a “deep recession” being required.

As to my question in some ways the answer is yes. But we need to take care as the domestic consumption problem was always there and once export growth comes back we return to something of a status quo. I also expect the ECB to act in September but on the other side who would expect Germany to be the economic version of a junkie desperate for a hit?

 

 

 

 

How long before the ECB and Federal Reserve ease monetary policy again?

Yesterday brought something of a change to the financial landscape and it is something that we both expected and to some extent feared. Let me illustrate by combining some tweets from Lisa Abramowicz of Bloomberg.

Biggest one-day drop in 10-year yields in almost a year…..Futures traders are now pricing in a 47% chance of a rate cut by January 2020, up from a 36% chance ahead of today’s 2pm Fed release……….More steepening on the long end of the U.S. yield curve as investors price in more inflation in decades to come, thanks to a dovish Fed. The gap between 30-year & 10-year U.S. yields is now the widest since late 2017.

I will come to the cause of this in a moment but if we stick with the event we see that the ten-year US Treasury Note now yields 2.5%. The Trump tax cuts were supposed to drive this higher as we note that it was 3.24% in early November last year. So this has turned into something of a debacle for the “bond vigilantes” who are supposed to drive bond markets lower and yields higher in fiscal expansions. They have been neutered yet again and it has happened like this if I had you over to the US Federal Reserve and its new apochryphal Chair one Donald Trump.

US Federal Reserve

First we got this on Wednesday night.

The Federal Reserve decided Wednesday to hold interest rates steady and indicated that no more hikes will be coming this year. ( CNBC)

No-one here would have been surprised by the puff of smoke that eliminated two interest-rate increases. Nor by the next bit.

The Committee intends to slow the reduction of its holdings of Treasury securities by reducing the cap on monthly redemptions from the current level of $30 billion to $15 billion beginning in May 2019. The Committee intends to conclude the reduction of its aggregate securities holdings in the System Open Market Account (SOMA) at the end of September 2019. ( Federal Reserve).

So as you can see what has become called Qualitative Tightening is on its way to fulfilling this description from Taylor Swift.

But we are never ever, ever, ever getting back together
Like, ever

More specifically it is being tapered in May and ended in September as we mull how soon we might see a return of what will no doubt be called QE4.

If we switch to the economic impact of this then the first is that it makes issuing debt cheaper for the US economy as the prices will be higher and yields lower. As President Trump is a fiscal expansionist that suits him. Also companies will be able to borrow more cheaply and mortgage rates will fall especially the fixed-rate ones. Here is Reuters illustrating my point.

Thirty-year mortgage rates averaged 4.28 percent in the week ended March 21, the lowest since 4.22 percent in the week of Feb. 1, 2018. This was below the 4.31 percent a week earlier, the mortgage finance agency said.

The average interest rate on 15-year mortgages fell 0.05 percentage point to 3.71 percent, the lowest since the Feb. 1, 2018 week.

Next week should be lower still.

Euro area

This morning has brought news which has caused a bit of a shock although not to regular readers here who recall this from the 27th of February.

The narrow money supply measure proved to be an accurate indicator for the Euro area economy in 2018 as the fall in its growth rate was followed by a fall in economic (GDP) growth. It gives us a guide to the next six months and the 0.4% fall in the annual rate of growth to 6.2% looks ominous.

The money supply numbers have worked really well as a leading indicator and better still are mostly ignored. Perhaps that is why so many were expecting a rebound this morning and instead saw this. From the Markit PMI business survey.

“The downturn in Germany’s manufacturing sector
has become more entrenched, with March’s flash
data showing accelerated declines in output, new
orders and exports……….the performance of the
manufacturing sector, which is now registering the
steepest rate of contraction since 2012.

The reading of 44.7 indicates a severe contraction in March and meant that overall we were told this.

Flash Germany PMI Composite Output Index at 51.5 (52.8 in Feb). 69-month low.

There is a problem with their numbers as we know the German economy shrank in the third quarter of last year and barely grew in the fourth, meaning that there should have been PMI readings below 50, but we do have a clear direction of travel.

If we combine this with a 48.7 Composite PMI from France then you get this.

The IHS Markit Eurozone Composite PMI® fell from
51.9 in February to 51.3 in March, according to the
preliminary ‘flash’ estimate. The March reading was
the third-lowest since November 2014, running only
marginally above the recent lows seen in December
and January.

Or if you prefer it expressed in terms of expected GDP growth.

The survey indicates that GDP likely rose by a modest 0.2% in the opening quarter, with a decline in manufacturing
output in the region of 0.5% being offset by an
expansion of service sector output of approximately
0.3%.

So they have finally caught up with what we have been expecting for a while now. Some care is needed here as the PMI surveys had a good start to the credit crunch era but more recent times have shown problems. The misfire in the UK in July 2016 and the Irish pharmaceutical cliff for example. However, central bankers do not think that and have much more faith in them so we can expect this morning’s release to have rather detonated at the Frankfurt tower of the ECB. It seems financial markets are already rushing to front-run their expected response from @fastFT.

German 10-year bond yield slips below zero for first time since 2016.

In itself a nudge below 0% is no different to any other other basis point drop mathematically but it is symbolic as the rise into positive territory was accompanied by the Euro area economic recovery. Indeed the bond market has rallied since that yield was 0.6% last May meaning that it has been much more on the case than mainstream economists which also warms the cockles of one former bond market trader.

More conceptually we are left wonder is the return to something last seen in October 2016 was sung about by Muse.

And the superstars sucked into the super massive
Super massive black hole
Super massive black hole
Super massive black hole

If we now switch to ECB policy it is fairly plain that the announcement of more liquidity for the banks ( LTTRO) will be followed by other easing. But what? The problem with lowering interest-rates is that the Deposit-Rate is already at -0.4%. Some central bankers think that moving different interest-rates by 0.1% or 0.2% would help which conveniently ignores the reality that vastly larger ones overall ( 4%-5%) have not worked.

So that leaves more bond buying or QE and beyond that perhaps purchases of equities and commercial property like in Japan.

Comment

I have been wondering for a while when we would see the return of monetary easing as a flow and this week is starting to look a candidate for the nexus point. It poses all sorts of questions especially for the many countries ( Denmark, Euro area, Japan, Sweden. and Switzerland) which arrive here with interest-rates already negative. It also leaves Mark Carney and the Bank of England in danger of another hand brake turn like in August 2016.

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

Although of course it could be worse as the Norges Bank of Norway may have had a false start.

Norges Bank’s Executive Board has decided to raise the policy rate by 0.25 percentage point to 1.0 percent:

But the real problem is that posed by Talking Heads because after the slashing of interest-rates and all the QE well let me hand you over to David Byrne.

And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?

 

Deutsche Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland continue their zombie bank march

We find ourselves in yet another version of banking Monday and let me immediately note an issue highlighted by moves at the UK’s main zombie bank which is Royal Bank of Scotland or RBS. From the BBC.

A UK payment processing firm that used to be owned by Royal Bank of Scotland has been sold in a deal worth $43bn (£32bn).
WorldPay has been bought by Florida-based Fidelity National Information Services (FIS) for $35bn in cash and shares, plus WorldPay’s debt.

FIS chief executive Gary Norcross said “scale matters in our rapidly changing industry”.

WorldPay was sold by RBS as a condition of the bank’s financial crisis bailout.

The value of the FIS purchase means Worldpay is worth about £8bn more than RBS.

Some perspective is provided by the way WorldPay is worth much more than RBS. It also means that if it has kept it UK taxpayers would have done a lot better as we see yet another shambles delivered by our political establishment.

This is from Finextra in August 2010.

RBS was told to sell off WorldPay – or Global Merchant Services – by the European competition authorities last year as a condition for joining the UK government’s asset protection scheme.

Meaning RBS got this.

Royal Bank of Scotland has inked a deal to sell just over 80% of its WorldPay payments processing unit to private equity firms Bain Capital and Advent International.

The agreement is for an enterprise value of up to £2.025 billion including a £200 million contingent consideration, with RBS keeping a 19.99% stake in the business.

As you can see whilst money was earnt at the time it was much, much less than would have been received today. Oh and the remaining part was sold in 2013. Seems inevitable really doesn’t it? We will never fully know whether the private equity owners of WorldPay drove it forwards or just surfed the wave nor whether RBS ownership would have held it back or worse. But we can see that as the UK and European establishment’s mixed the one part of the RBS business that has charged ahead and would have made a return for taxpayers was flogged off and the loss making dregs were kept. Also we know from experience that it will be nobody’s fault and could not possibly have been foreseen ( makes you wonder why anyone bought it…).

Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank

Reuters was on the case yesterday and they opening with something breathtaking.

Deutsche, the largest bank in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, emerged unscathed from the financial crash but later lost its footing.

Really? So the share price fall from 94 Euros to 24 Euros in eighteen months was a sort of unfortunate piece of timing! Or maybe not.

Deutsche and other European banks have taken longer to recover from the financial crisis, losing ground to stronger rivals from the United States.

Anyway as we expected last week the story continues to gain momentum.

Berlin wants a reliable national banking champion to support its export-led economy, known for cars and machine tools.

Deutsche Bank is hardly a champion and has been the opposite of reliable unless you are counting unexpected losses. But here is the Sunday news.

Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank confirmed on Sunday they were in talks about a merger, prompting labour union concerns about possible job losses and questions from analysts about the merits of a combination.

Germany’s two largest banks issued short statements after separate meetings of their management boards, a person with knowledge of the matter said, indicating a quickening of pace in the merger process, although both also warned that a deal was far from certain.

The choice of Commerzbank reminds me of the bit in the film Zulu when the Colour Sargeant Bourne answers the question why?

Because we are here lad. There’s nobody else, just us

Or as Reuters put it.

Other than Deutsche, Commerzbank is Germany’s only remaining big bank, after a series of mergers.

You would have thought that a series of mergers would have created other big banks as we already see signs of past trouble. Still why stop a plan which is performing badly? Also Commerzbank has its own issues.

Commerzbank, like Deutsche, has struggled to rebound, and German officials say it is vulnerable to a foreign takeover. If an international rival snapped it up, that would increase competition for Deutsche on its home turf.

Berlin also wants to keep Commerzbank’s speciality – the funding of medium-sized companies, the backbone of the economy – in German hands.

Problems

On the 11th I pointed out I was dubious about large losses in bond markets. But it would appear that the people we are regularly told are highly talented and worth large bonuses continue to do things like this.

Commerzbank, for example, has about 30.8 billion euros of debt securities such as Italian bonds that now have a value of 27.7 billion euros – a drop of 3.1 billion euros. A tie-up could crystallise this loss. Deutsche has such securities at market value in its accounts.

To make a loss in bond markets when they in general have seen surges and what the Black Eyed Peas would call “Boom!Boom! Boom!” is something else to look into. Also the government is caught in something of a spider’s web from it past actions concerning Commerzbank.

The government holds a 15 percent stake after bailing it out during the crisis, giving it an important voice.

If we move to the statement from Christian Sewing the CEO of Deutsche Bank we are left wondering “economic sense” for who?

What is also important to me is that we will only pursue options that make economic sense, building on the progress we made in 2018.

Comment

We are seeing ever more consequences of the zombie bank culture. In the UK the RBS saga has reminded us today that the rhetoric of the bailout which claimed that taxpayers would get their money back put a smokescreen over the reality that it involved selling what has turned out to be the most profitable part of it. That echoes as we note a bank worth less than half of what was poured into it. The “privatistaion of profits and socilaisation of losses” them gets turned up to 11 one more time.

Moving to the Deutsche Bank merger with Commerzbank let me open with the obvious issue that solving the Too Big To Fail or TBTF issue is not going to be done by making it even larger. They did manage a cosmetic name change to  G-Sifs or Globally Significant banks but that is it. Also arrows will be flying in the direction of Mario Draghi and the ECB about how its negative interest-rate policy has helped trap the banks in the zombie zone. They get help ( TLTRO is coming) in a liquidity sense but not in a solvency sense.

Also we are told the banks support the economy and yet this keeps turning up.

 A merger with Commerzbank would face opposition from unions, which expect as many as 30,000 jobs to be lost. And the combined bank would probably lose some business from German companies keen to diversify their sources of funding. ( Reuters)

For it to work we need plenty of smoke and mirrors as @jeuasommenulle points out.

Finally, an “amusing” one for the geeks: a very large part of the financials of the deal rely on the regulatory treatment of the negative goodwill the deal would generate (we’re possibly talking of 15-20bn€!)…….Positive goodwill is deducted from CET1, but negative isn’t – which does not make any sense if you ask me. Why is that ? Because when the CRR was drafted nobody thought of that so the wording is vague.

 

What happens when the Bank of Japan has bought everything?

It is time for another chapter of our Discovering Japan ( h/t Graham Parker and the Rumour) series and let us open by dipping into Japanese culture.

As spring approaches, the country’s weather forecasters face one of their biggest missions of the year: predicting exactly when the famed cherry blossoms will bloom.

The nation’s sakura (cherry blossom) season is feverishly anticipated by locals and visitors alike. Many tourists plan their entire trips around the blooms, and Japanese flock to parks in droves to enjoy the seasonal spectacle. ( Japan Times).

This is something which can be shared to some extent by users of Battersea Park as the Japanese Embassy financed an avenue of cherry blossom trees there in a nice touch of what is called cherry blossom diplomacy.

If we switch to financial news that will be considered good by the Bank of Japan, then we can see three factors at the moment. We can start with the equity market where the Nikkei 225 index has risen 126 points to 21,431 this morning. This means that the dip of the end of December is now only a bad dream for it as we recall that central banks love higher equity markets especially when in this case they have been buying it. Japan is a country that literally has a Plunge Protection Team as what has become called the Tokyo Whale makes equity purchases on down days.

If we switch to the currency then the Bank of Japan will be a lot happier than it was in mid-January. At that point markets had what we might call a yen for Yen and in a “flash rally” it went below 105 versus the US Dollar which rather suspiciously broke more than a few Japanese exporters currency hedges and to 132.5 versus the UK Pound £. As a central bank with an objective to weaken the yen under the Abenomics strategy this will have upset the Bank of Japan and it will be much happier with the 110.87 to the US Dollar as I type this. It would of course prefer an exchange rate over 120 as it managed for a while but with a summit due with President Trump that can be overlooked for now.

Next we can look at what is a strong candidate for the most rigged market on earth which is the Japanese Government Bond market. So far the Bank of Japan has purchased some 473,087,792.358,000 Yen’s worth of Japanese government securities in as near to monetary financing as a first world country has actually got. Whilst the pure definition of the treasury issuing debt to the central bank does not take place over time it starts to rather look like that in effect. Here is the current description.

yield curve control, in which the Bank seeks a decline in real interest rates by controlling short-term and long-term interest rates, has been placed at the core of the new policy framework.

This means that Japan can borrow effectively for nothing as its ten-year yield is -0.04% as I type this and therefore a lot of its debt is adding to the world total of negative yielding debt. Not all of it as the thirty-year yield is 0.58% but even that is very low and means that should it so choose Japan can borrow incredibly cheaply.

So Governor Kuroda can sleep soundly at night on these three grounds.

The economy

This is much less satisfactory as it shrank in the second half of last year as quarterly growth of 0.3% followed -0.7%. This meant that at the end of 2018 the annual rate of growth was zero or as their official statisticians put it. -0.0%. This is quite a slowing on the 2.4% recorded at the end of 2017 but if we take a broad sweep we see that all this monetary action of negative interest-rates and QQE doesn’t seem to be doing that much good. This theme will hardly be helped by this morning’s news.

The nation’s trade deficit for January grew from a year earlier with exports to China tumbling in their worst decline in three years, government data showed Wednesday.

Japan logged a trade deficit for the month of ¥1.41 trillion ($12.8 billion), 49.2 percent larger than a year before, the Finance Ministry said. ( Japan Times)

The January data is generally a weaker month due to the timing of the Chinese New Year but as you can see there has been a sharper impact this year as we get another perspective on the Chinese economic slow down.

But last month, “exports of products such as microchip-making devices that are not related to China’s New Year celebration fell, showing that Chinese companies’ spending on equipment and plants is falling,” Minami said.

Overall Japanese exports in January were 8.4% lower in January than in 2018 and this will be a further deduction from an already weak economic outlook. This adds to this from Reuters.

Data released on Monday showed core machinery orders, considered a leading indicator of capital expenditure, fell 0.1 percent month-on-month in December……

Highlighting bigger concerns about the external environment, however, was a 21.9 percent month-on-month slump in orders from overseas, the biggest fall since November 2007.

This had previously been a strong series but whilst domestic demand has continued foreign demand has not.

Demographics

We have looked at the consequences of an ageing and indeed shrinking population many times and here is a new perspective from the World Economic Foundation.

In 2018, there were 921,000 births and 1.37 million deaths, meaning Japan’s population fell by 448.000 people. That was its largest ever annual natural population decline.

The number of male workers in 2040 will fall by 7.11 million from 2017, while the number of working women will decrease by 5.75 million.

Or to add it all up.

As many as 12 million Japanese people may disappear from the country’s workforce by 2040, according to official estimates. That’s a fall of around 20%.

Comment

Let me open by advancing my theme that it would be better if Japan simply accepted reality rather than undertaking what are King Canute style actions. On this road it would accept that a shrinking and ageing population will have periods of economic decline in GDP terms.  In many ways Japan deals with its ageing population better than we do and it could also be a leader in terms of a shrinking one. This could be a route forwards for our planet too as fewer humans would place less of a strain on Japan’s limited natural resources. Also it does have a very large national debt but it is mostly domestically owned and would benefit from a national debate of how to deal with it rather than snake-oil efforts. Instead we get ever more financial action pushing for growth accompanied by threats and sanctions based on a green response to the growth.

Meanwhile the chorus is tuning up for “more,more,more” as this illustrates.

“If (currency moves) are having an impact on the economy and prices, and if we consider it necessary to achieve our price target, we’ll consider easing policy,” ( Governor Kuroda yesterday according to Reuters).

Mind you even past supporters of the extraordinary monetary policies are giving up or rather switching to fiscal policy.

Japan must ramp up fiscal spending with debt bank-rolled by the central bank, the Bank of Japan’s former deputy governor Kikuo Iwata said, a controversial proposal that highlights the BOJ’s challenge as it tries to reignite an economy after years of sub-par growth. ( Reuters)

It is not that he would not like to expand monetary policy more but he is unable to look beyond his “precious”

He said there are few tools left to ease monetary policy further as cutting already ultra-low interest rates could push some financial institutions into bankruptcy.

Where these people never get challenged is that they promise success each time but in a burst of collective amnesia their past failures seem to give them credibility rather than demotion. I guess that is what happens when you do what the establishment wants….

Also the financial media that pushed the story of last autumn that the Bank of Japan was reducing equity purchases should be red faced now. For the rest of us we need to be thinking if the Vapors were prescient all those years ago.

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

 

 

Economic growth in Germany converged with that in Italy in the latter part of 2018

As we arrive in the UK at “meaningful vote” day which seems about as likely to be true as a Bank of England “Super Thursday” actually being super the real economic news comes from the heart of the Euro area. So here it is.

According to first calculations of the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis), the price adjusted gross domestic product (GDP) was 1.5% higher in 2018 than in the previous year. The German economy thus grew the ninth year in a row, although growth has lost momentum. In the previous two years, the price adjusted GDP had increased by 2.2% each. A longer-term view shows that German economic growth in 2018 exceeded the average growth rate of the last ten years (+1.2%)……….As the calendar effect in 2018 was weak, the calendar-adjusted GDP growth rate was 1.5%, too ( German statistics office )

A little care if needed as these numbers are not yet seasonally adjusted. But we do have price-adjusted numbers have gone 2.2% (2016) then 2.5% (2017) and now 1.5%. This immediately reminds me of the words of European Central Bank President Mario Draghi at his last press conference.

 I’ll be briefer than I would like to be, but certainly especially in some parts of this period of time, QE has been the only driver of this recovery. There are lots of numbers that we can give about how it did change financing conditions in a way that – in many ways. But let’s not forget that interest rates had dramatically declined even before QE but they continued to do so after QE…….. We view this as – but I don’t think I’m the only one to be the crucial driver of the recovery in the eurozone. At the time, by the way, when also other drivers were not really – especially in the first part, there was no other source of growth in the real economy.

This comes to mind because if you take that view and now factor in the reduction in the monthly QE purchases and then their cessation in 2018 then the decline in GDP growth in Germany was sung about by Radiohead.

With no alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises
Silent, silent

In essence if we switch to the world of football then 2018 was a year of two halves for Germany because if we go back to half-time we were told this.

Compared with a year earlier, the price adjusted GDP rose 2.3% in the second quarter of 2018.

At that point economic growth seemed quite consistent at around 0.5% per quarter if we ignore the 1,1% surge in the first quarter of 2017. So Mario’s point is backed up by German economic growth heading south in the second half of 2018 which if we now look wider poses an implication for another part of his speech.

 Euro area real GDP increased by 0.2%, quarter on quarter, in the third quarter of 2018, following growth of 0.4% in the previous two quarters.

We do not have the final result for the second half of 2018 but the range seems set to be between -0.1% and 0.1%. Ironically it means that the quote below from the Italian economy minister is rather wrong.

*TRIA: EU TO FACE POTENTIAL COLLAPSE IF POLICIES FEED DIVERGENCE

As we stand the German economic performance has in fact converged with the Italian one.

Detail

There has been quite a slow down in domestic consumption because at the end of the second quarter we were told this.

Overall, domestic uses increased markedly by 0.9% compared with the first three months of the year.

Whereas now we are told this was the situation six months later.

Both household final consumption expenditure (+1.0%) and government final consumption expenditure (+1.1%) were up on the previous year. However, the growth rates were markedly lower than in the preceding three years.

That is not an exact comparison because investment is not in the latter and it has remained pretty strong but nonetheless there has been quite a fall in domestic consumption. Also investment has not turned out to be the golden weapon against an economic slowing.

Total price-adjusted gross fixed capital formation rose 4.8% year-on-year.

Also a usual strength for the economy was not on its best form.

German exports continued to increase on an annual average in 2018, though at a slower pace than in the previous years. Price-adjusted exports of goods and services were up 2.4% on 2017. There was a larger increase in imports (+3.4%) over the same period. Arithmetically, the balance of exports and imports had a slight downward effect on the German GDP growth (-0.2 percentage points).

In terms of the world economy that is a good thing as many have argued ( including me) that the German trade surplus is an imbalance if we look at the world economy. The catch is how you fix it and shrinking it in a period of economic weakness is far from ideal. Also another number went against the stereotype.

 For the first time in five years, short-term economic growth in industry was lower than in the services sector.

Lastly these are not precise numbers but output per head of productivity growth seems to have slowed to a crawl.

On an annual average in 2018, the economic performance in Germany was achieved by 44.8 million persons in employment whose place of employment was in Germany. According to first calculations, that was an increase of roughly 562,000 on the previous year. This 1.3% increase was mainly due to a rise in employment subject to social insurance.

1.5% is not much more than 1.3%.

Fiscal Policy

This is not getting much attention but you can argue that Germany has made the same mistake in 2017/18 that it made in 2010/11 in Greece albeit on a much smaller scale.

General government achieved a record surplus of 59.2 billion euros in 2018 (2017: 34.0 billion euros). At the end of the year, central, state and local government and social security funds recorded a surplus for the fifth time in a row, according to provisional calculations. Measured as a percentage of the gross domestic product at current prices, this was a 1.7% surplus ratio of general government for 2018.

It has contracted fiscal policy into an economic slow down and thereby added to it.

Comment

As these matters can get very heated on social media let me be clear I take no pleasure in Germany’s economic slow down. For a start it would be illogical as it will be a downward influence on the UK. But it has been a success for the monetary analysis I presented in 2018 as the fall in the money supply was both an accurate and timely indicator of what was about to happen next.

Official policy has seen a dreadful run however. I have dealt with fiscal policy above which has been contracted in a slow down but we also see that the level of monetary stimulus was reduced. Apart from the obvious failure implied by this there are other issues. The most fundamental is a point I have made many times about Euro area economic growth being a “junkie” style culture depending on the next stimulus hit. That has meant it has arrived at the next slow down with the official deposit rate still negative ( -0.4%) as I have long feared. Still I suppose it could be worse as the Riksbank of Sweden managed to raise interest-rates in this environment after not doing so when the economy was doing well.

Let me post a warning to avoid the Financial Times article today about UK Index-Linked Gilts. No doubt this will later be redacted but in the version I read the author was apparently unaware that the RPI inflation measure not CPI is used for them.

How will the house price boom in the Netherlands respond to an economic slow down?

It has been a while since we have gone Dutch and taken a look at the economic situation in the Netherlands. The first point to note is that it has followed the Euro area trend for lower growth.

According to the first estimate conducted by Statistics Netherlands (CBS) based on currently available data, gross domestic product (GDP) expanded by 0.2 percent in Q3 2018 relative to the previous quarter. The growth rate was the lowest in over two years. Growth in Q3 was due to increased household consumption and international trade.

There is a difference here in that it managed to find some growth in trade as opposed to Germany where a decline pushed it into contraction in the latest quarter.  But in essence we are seeing yet again a consequence of the slow down of the Euro area monetary data feeding into economic activity. In the case of the Netherlands this came from a high base.

According to the first estimate, GDP was 2.4 percent up on the same quarter in 2017. Growth was mainly due to higher consumption. Investments in fixed assets and international trade also contributed, but less than in the previous quarter.

So we see that annual growth remains strong for now at least and that there has been a consumption boom.

In Q3, consumers spent over 2 per cent more than in Q3 one year previously. For 18 quarters in a row, consumer spending has shown a year-on-year increase.

A driver of this will be the strong employment situation.

Between August and October 2018, the number of people aged 15 to 74 in paid employment grew by an average of 20 thousand per month. Total employment stood at more than 8.8 million in October. Unemployment declined by an average of 4 thousand per month to 337 thousand.

Statistics Netherlands is harsh relative to others as it counts up to the age 75 got these purposes. Also it looks like the underemployment situation has improved too.

 The total unused labour potential in Q3 2018 comprised nearly 1.1 million people. This was almost 1.3 million one year previously.

This is not leading to a trade problem though although part of the good performance is not in line with the times.

Statistics Netherlands (CBS) reports that the total volume of goods exports grew by 5.1 percent in October relative to October 2017. Relative growth was higher than in September. In October 2018, exports of transport equipment, metal products, machinery and appliances increased most notably. The volume of imports was 4.4 percent up on October 2017.

The Netherlands must be the only place where transport equipment sales are up. Also not so many have trade volumes up right now. In terms of context we do need to note this though.

On balance, the Netherlands enjoys a goods trade surplus, i.e. exports exceeding imports. Re-exports play a significant role in the Dutch goods trade surplus. In 2016, approximately 36 percent of the surplus was caused by re-exports.

Looking Ahead

Yesterday the central bank the De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB) gave us its view.

While the economic boom is sustained, growth of the Dutch economy will slightly decelerate in the next few years. Growth in gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated at 2.5% for 2018, followed by 1.7% in 2019 and 2020.

Unlike in some Euro area countries that does qualify as a boom in these times. If we look back we see that since the 99.9 of the second quarter of 2013 GDP has risen to 112.2 where 2010=100. That also tells us that the Netherlands was pulled back by the Euro area crisis which preceded that.

The next bit is rather more uncomfortable, however.

Despite slightly lower growth figures, the Dutch economy will be running at full steam in the years ahead, with actual output exceeding its potential. Unemployment is set to remain very low. Households should benefit from a pick-up in wage growth, which will boost real disposable income in 2019 and 2020

It looks good but how is 1.7% growth “full steam” compared to this?

GDP growth peaked at 3.0% in 2017  and is estimated at 2.5% for 2018.

This is because central banks like to travel in a pack as we observe what is now their way of spinning their rather depressing view of our future.

It will recede to 1.7% in both projection years 2019 and 2020, approximating potential growth of around 1.6%, with the output gap widening from 0.3% in 2017 to 1.0% in 2018.

Sadly they never get pressed on this. After all they have interfered in so much of economic life with in this instance enormous QE and negative interest-rates but they seem to get a free pass on the issue of economic growth now being regarded as being likely to be lower than before. Even when Mario Draghi opens both the door and the window.

but certainly especially in some parts of this period of time, QE has been the only driver of this recovery.

Also even the slower growth future relies on something which has to now be in doubt.

In 2018, gross remuneration per employee in the business sector is set to regain momentum, growing by 2.3%. Our projections show that it will be 3.0% in 2019 and 3.8% in 2020, assuming the usual wage-price dynamics.

The emphasis was mine to highlight that no matter how often the output gap theory fails it comes back to life. No silver bullet seems to be pure enough to kill this vampire! Whereas if we continue to see an economic slow down then after a lag wage growth will presumably slow too rather than continue to pick-up. Although it would appear that should something like that happen an excuse is in place, what is Dutch for Johnny Foreigner please?

An alternative scenario featuring a downward correction in international financial markets sees the growth rate for emerging market economies – including China – deteriorate. This also affects the Dutch economy due to increasing risk aversion, slowing global growth and reduced confidence. Compared with our projections, this could send annual GDP growth 0.4 percentage points lower on average in 2019-2020.

House Prices

This will be on the video screens at the DNB and ECB Christmas parties,

In September 2018, prices of owner-occupied dwellings (excluding new constructions) were on average 9.3 percent higher than in the same month last year. The price increase was the same as in the previous month. This is according to the price index of owner-occupied dwellings, a joint publication by Statistics Netherlands (CBS) and the Land Registry Office (Kadaster).

This will raise a cheer and then boos.

House prices reached a record high in August 2008 and subsequently started to decline, reaching a low in June 2013.

Before the party really gets going again!

In May 2018, the price index of owner-occupied dwellings exceeded the record level of August 2008 for the first time; prices continued to rise and are at their highest level since the start of this price index in 1995. Compared to the low in June 2013, house prices were up by over 32 percent on average in September 2018.

Or in twitter terms 🍾👍

Comment

The economic going has been good in the Netherlands. Well unless you are a first-time house buyer watching prices accelerate away from you. But now even it must be wondering what 2019 will bring and how much of an economic slow down it will see? Just a continuation of the 0.2% quarterly economic growth just seen will tighten things up a bit and that happens with negative interest-rates and a ten-year bond yield of only 0.4%.

Yet some continue to churn out the line that interest-rates are going to be raised in the Euro area. I just do not get it.