Good to see UK wages rising faster than house prices

After yesterday’s employment and wages data we advance on the latest UK inflation and house price data today. If that seems the wrong way around then yes it did used to be the other way around. But it was decided that getting the wages numbers at 9:30 on a Wednesday did not give our parliamentarians time to use them at Prime Ministers Questions later in the day.

Moving on from that let me set the scene by pointing out that with a few exceptions inflation seems to be in retreat. When we consider the world of low and negative interest-rates in which we live then this is another fail for economics 101. Inflation should have been higher as we observe another gap between theory and reality. Mostly the issue comes from putting the world consumer in front of inflation as those are the numbers used whereas the monetary easing went into asset prices. I noted someone pointing out that Germany had very little house price inflation before 2010 yesterday and had a wry smile. But with the US S&P 500 index above 3000 it is also true that money went into equity prices although of course some of that is genuine growth. Also bond markets have been pumped up to extraordinary levels making final salary pensions and annuities eye-wateringly expensive.

So as we note that it is a narrow measure of inflation we are pointed towards we also note that it looks like it has been trending lower.

The US looks to be below target, the Euro area has got further away from it in spite of all the actions and the line for Japan shows complete failure in the main Abenomics objective. Oh and they should have put the Europe line in the middle as they mean 0.9% not -0.9%.

The UK Pound £

There is some currency driven inflation in play for the UK however as we are in the midst of a weak run. The recent decline started on the 3rd of May when the effective or trade-weighted index was at 79.8 as opposed to the latest 75.6. The main player here is the US Dollar due to the vast majority of commodities being price in it. The fall here over the same time period is from US $1.317 to US $1.24 as I type this. So slightly worse.

If we switch to the oil price we see that things have changed since last month. Here are our official statisticians from back then.

Brent futures were down to $61.33 a barrel and U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down to
$51.93.

Since then the decreases they were looking at have been increases with Brent Crude at US $64.60 and even more so with WTI at US $57.70. That will not feed into the  consumer inflation numbers today but will do so over time. So whilst there is not much inflation in the offing the UK is likely to see more mostly via a weak currency.

Today’s data

This was something to put a smile on the face of Bank of England Governor Mark Carney as he whiles away the time waiting for a phone call from the IMF.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 2.0% in June 2019, unchanged from May 2019.

So dead on target although the superficial theme of a type of summer lull ignores a fair bit of action under the surface.

The largest downward contributions to change in the 12-month rate between May and June 2019 came from motor fuels, accommodation services and electricity, gas and other fuels, with prices in each category falling between May and June 2019 compared with price rises between the same two months a year ago………The largest offsetting upward contributions to change came from clothing and food.

Just for clarity utility prices were unchanged as opposed to last year when gas and electricity prices were raised. The clothing picture is also more complex than presented as prices there still hint at trouble on the high street.

Clothing and footwear was the only broad group producing a downward contribution in June 2019, reflecting a fall in prices of 0.4% on the year.

Prices fell by less than earlier in the year.

Prospects

The immediate prospects are downwards.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 1.6% on the year to June 2019, down from 1.9% in May 2019.

So goods inflation should trend lower and that may hold sway for a bit.

The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process fell 0.3% on the year to June 2019, down from 1.4% in May 2019…….The annual rate of input inflation was negative for the first time since June 2016, driven by a large downward contribution from crude oil.

Thus we see the broad sweep of lower inflation that we looked at earlier via lower inflation expectations. The cautionary note is that due to the lower UK Pound we will see more inflation than elsewhere and in this instance also a higher oil price will affect us. We have a rough rule of thumb for how this is playing out if we look at the Euro area.

The euro area annual inflation rate was 1.3% in June 2019, up from 1.2% in May.

So 0.7% it is then…..

House Prices

Here is something that on national emoji day should be represented with a thumbs up and a smile.

Average house prices in the UK increased by 1.2% in the year to May 2019, down from 1.5% in April 2019 . Over the past three years, there has been a general slowdown in UK house price growth, driven mainly by a slowdown in the south and east of England.

The lowest annual growth was in London, where prices fell by 4.4% over the year to May 2019, down from a fall of 1.7% in April 2019 and the lowest annual rate in London since August 2009 when it was negative 7.0%.

We see that real wages are increasing by around 2% per annum compared to house prices which is very different to the general picture in the credit crunch era as Rupert Seggins reminds us.

The longer term picture. Average London house prices up 53% on January 2008 vs a UK average of 24%.

Also the house price falls in London which seem to be creating quite a scare on social media amongst the journalist fraternity are welcome. Prices in London are too high for the vast majority.

There is an irony in that for once, by fluke the woeful use of imputed rents does not affect the situation too much.

The OOH component annual rate is 1.2%, unchanged from last month.

Although we have another conceptual problem with it. That is the issue of rents usually rising with wages as the rise in both nominal and real wages are not impacting. This may be because the rent numbers are heavily lagged, I suspect that any impact takes around nine months and the full impact 18 but that is my opinion as we are not told.

Comment

We have had a couple of days of good data from the UK economy giving us a summer tinge. A fall in inflation would have been better but actually RPI fans did get one.

The all items RPI annual rate is 2.9%, down from 3.0% last month.

The gap between it and the other measures may trim a little over the next few months as the house price measure it uses ( depreciation) is lagged too. One clear improvement that could be made to it would be to put house prices in directly and I would look to increase the weight of it in the basket. Why? Well if we take the broad sweep using rent has owner occupied housing with a weight of around 17% in the basket whereas house prices in the two versions of it are weighted at 7-8%. So your average brick or window has twice the impact using rents which have lower inflation than house prices which generally have higher inflation.

 

 

 

Strong UK Retail Sales show that low inflation is good for everyone apart from retailers

Today has opened with a bit of a hangover from yesterday. The reason for that is that more than a few were caught out by this release in the afternoon. From Markit.

Flash U.S. Composite Output Index at 50.9 (53.0
in April). 36-month low.
▪ Flash U.S. Services Business Activity Index at
50.9 (53.0 in April). 39-month low.
▪ Flash U.S. Manufacturing PMI at 50.6 (52.6 in
April). 116-month low.
▪ Flash U.S. Manufacturing Output Index at 50.8
(52.7 in April). 35-month low.

Those hit the screens and impacted in two ways. Firstly the size of the drop and then a follow-up punch as they noted when 116 months ago was. The detail provided a further reminder of more troubled times.

The muted rise in output was attributed to softer
demand conditions and subdued growth of new
orders. The rise in new business in May was the
softest recorded since the series began in October
2009.

We were ready for this because back on the eighth of this month had noted this.

This is the clearest warning shot we have seen for the US economy. Outright falls in narrow money supply of this magnitude are rare on a monthly basis………Thus as we move through the autumn I now fear a US slow down and another month or so like this would make me fear a sharp slow down.

Moving back to the Markit PMI then they conclude this.

“A decline in the headline ‘flash’ PMI to its lowest for
three years pushes the survey data down to a level
historically consistent with GDP growing at an
annualised rate of just 1.2% in May. Worse may be
to come, as inflows of new business showed the
smallest rise seen this side of the global financial
crisis. Business confidence has meanwhile slumped
to its lowest since at least 2012, causing firms to
tighten their belts, notably in respect to hiring.”

So it looks like the impact of the “trade war” is now impacting the US economy and should it only grow at a quarterly rate of 0.3% it will have a knock-on effect for the rest of the world.

We got two fairly quick responses as bond markets rallied taking the US ten-year Treasury Note to 2.32% as I type this, or if you prefer it has further shifted to suggesting the next move in interest-rates is down. Also commodity prices fell with crude oil leading the pack with falls of 5% for some types and Brent Crude is now a bit over US $68. Dr. Copper has been diagnosing an issue for a while as the recent peak of US $2.99 on the 17th of April is replaced by us $2.69 now.

Fears of a slow down have had a by now familar response.

Thanks I think a 4% inflation target jointly announced by G3 central banks may be unlikely, but more powerful than worrying about asymmetrical targets or carefully calibrating inflation overshoots ( Former Bank of England policymaker Adam Posen)

Adam is seemingly convinced he can make us richer by er making us poorer. Also Olivier Blanchard is on the case and the emphasis is mine.

Blanchard and Tashiro, however, argue that, in the current economic environment in Japan, primary deficits may be needed for a long time, because they may be the best tool to sustain demand and output, alleviate the burden on monetary policy, and increase future output.

Last time Olivier Blanchard was involved in primary deficits the Greek economy collapsed. That is an odd feature of economics as who in the real world would rush to travel on a new plane by the 737 Max designers? Also these proposals fail my general critic which is why do we always need more stimulus? Surely it would be better to address why we need it as in a cure rather than ongoing treatment?

UK Retail Sales

These were strong again as we note below although it began with what in sporting terms would be called a head fake.

The quantity bought was flat (0.0%) in April 2019 when compared with the previous month, with growths in clothing, non-store retailing and fuel offset by falls in all other main sectors.

However this represented quite a surge on last year.

When compared with the previous year, the quantity bought in April 2019 increased by 5.2%, with growth across all sectors except household goods, which fell by 4.5%.

As you can see the numbers were strong and if we stockpiled anything ( after all many economists and much of the media claimed we were) then household goods seems an odd item. As to the more recent trend overall it has been strong too.

In contrast, from January 2019 to April 2019 the three-month on three-month index has shown strong growth…….In the three months to April 2019, the quantity of goods bought (volume) in retail sales increased by 1.8% when compared with the previous three months, with strong growth in non-store retailing, which reached a record high of 9.4%.

This brings one of my main themes into play as well as providing insight into an curious current episode. The theme that I established in January 2015 has worked again.

Both the amount spent and quantity bought in the retail industry showed growth of 5.5% and 5.2% respectively in April 2019 when compared with a year earlier.

What that shows us is that an inflation rate of 0.3% has led to strong retail sales growth one more time. That is more mud in the eye for inflation fanatics like Adam Posen who continue to prescribe more of it as a cure all for the economy. Actually there is so much evidence to the reverse now it is mud in both eyes. The low retail sales inflation we are seeing combined with annual wages growth of 3% or so means strong real wages growth in this area and therefore strong numbers.

Why are retailers doing so badly then?

This week has seen various problems for the retail sector. Here is the Guardian on Marks and Spencer.

Pretax profits were less than £85m – on sales of £10.4bn – after £440m of one-off costs, about half of which relate to the store closure programme………Marks & Spencer is stepping up its retreat from the high street by closing a further 20 of its full-line stores, which sell clothing and food under one roof.

Also the empire of Phillip Green has hit trouble this week or perhaps I should say more trouble, plus in a related piece of news Jamie Oliver’s restaurant chain bit the dust. So how can retail sales be so strong but retailing so week?

  • The low retail inflation number is good for consumers but must be squeezing retailers margins
  • “with strong growth in non-store retailing, which reached a record high of 9.4%.”

So not only are margins squeezed but we continue to shift online.

In April 2019, online retailing accounted for 18.7% of total retailing compared with 17.7% in April 2018, with an overall growth of 10.1% when compared with the same month a year earlier.

Or as Glen Frey put it.

The heat is on, on the street
Inside your head, on every beat
And the beat’s so loud, deep inside
The pressure’s high, just to stay alive
‘Cause the heat is on

Comment

As ever a lot is happening at once. We see more and more signs of a global slow down which to my mind should lead to us asking “how did I get here?”. Instead the same old crew repeat the same failed remedies and so rarely get questions. In the detail we may see something of a pivot towards the Euro area relative to the US as the monetary data has been better the last couple of months.

Returning to the UK we are likely to be grateful yet again for the UK consumer who seems to have inexhaustible desire and appetite. Of course it is not a free lunch as it poses questions for the trade figures. Also if we sum up the retail sector is reducing inflation but even with it we do not have that much economic growth. That no doubt explains why in spite of the rhetoric from Mark Carney and Forward Guidance from the Bank of England about higher interest-rates those trading UK Gilts do not believe it. That is because the UK two-year yield at 0.66% and the five-year yield at 0.72% are below his Bank Rate of 0.75% and suggesting cuts and not rises.

Also let me wish soon to be former PM Theresa May well as whatever one may think of her term it is nearly over and we all need to move on.

 

 

 

An economic tsunami is hitting Venezuela

Last night a 7.3 magnitude earthquake hit the nation of Venezuela that must feel like it has the four horsemen of the apocalypse on its case right now. Fortunately there does not seem to have been major damage but we cannot say that about the economic earthquake that has been hitting it in recent times. As ever I will do my best to avoid politics in what has become a politically charged area and merely point out that it is another case of a country being held up as an economic model and then seeing trouble hit just like we have seen with Turkey. However the problems here are on a much larger scale.

If we go back to the 7th of November 2013 then Mark Weisbot told us this in the Guardian.

Will those who cried wolf for so long finally see their dreams come true? Not likely.

But how can a government with more than $90bn in oil revenue end up with a balance-of-payments crisis? Well, the answer is: it can’t, and won’t. In 2012 Venezuela had $93.6bn in oil revenues, and total imports in the economy were $59.3bn……… This government is not going to run out of dollars.

Hyperinflation is also a very remote possibility.

And then perhaps the denouement.

Of course Venezuela is facing serious economic problems. But they are not the kind suffered by Greece or Spain, trapped in an arrangement in which macroeconomic policy is determined by people who have objectives that conflict with the country’s economic recovery.

With one bound it could be free.

Venezuela has sufficient reserves and foreign exchange earnings to do whatever it wants, including driving down the black market value of the dollar and eliminating most shortages.

Sadly for Venezuela that analysis has turned out to be a combination of wishful thinking and castles in the sky. Let us start with what should be the jewel in the crown which is oil production as I recall back in the day London Mayor Ken Livingstone planning a big oil deal with Venezuela. From the BBC in February 2007.

Ken Livingstone has signed an oil deal with Venezuela – providing cheap fuel for London’s buses and giving cut price travel for those on benefits.

Now we see very different times as Venezuela seems unable to get the oil out of the ground and to markets as oilprice.com reported on Monday.

Venezuela’s oil production continues to decline. In July, output fell to just 1.278 million barrels per day (mb/d), down 500,000 bpd from the fourth quarter of last year and down nearly 1 mb/d from two years ago. A growing number of analysts see output dipping below the 1-million-barrel-per-day mark by the end of 2018.

This is a big deal for an economy that was summarised like this by Forbes last November.

Venezuela’s oil available for export is at its lowest level since 1989. The lost revenue devastates: Oil sales are 50% of Venezuela’s GDP and 95% of its export revenue.

We can do a rough calculation as according to the Latin America Herald Tribune this is the price of oil there.

According to Venezuelan government figures, the average price in 2018 for Venezuela’s mix of heavy and medium crude for 2018 which Caracas now prices in Chinese Yuan is now $59.41.

So as a rough rule of thumb it has been losing some US $60 million a day so far  in 2018. Also I do not know about you but if your largest customer is US oil refineries then trying to price your oil in Yuan does not seem well thought out! Actually what we might call the potential loss is extraordinary as the Herald Tribune continues.

In 1998, the year prior to Hugo Chavez becoming president, Venezuela was producing 3.5 million bpd and had plans to increase that production go 6 to 8 million bpd by 2008.

There are two main consequences here as we note the impact on Venezuela itself which is highly deflationary and on the rest of us which is inflationary. This is because it is this lack of production which has helped drive oil prices higher as Venezuela is a long way short of its OPEC quota.

Money Money Money

There is plenty of this and in theory much more as Reuters hinted at on Friday.

Jittery Venezuelans on Friday rushed to shops and lined up at gas stations on concerns that a monetary overhaul to lop off five zeros from prices in response to hyperinflation could wreak financial havoc and make basic commerce impossible.

Sadly the website of the Central Bank of Venezuela cannot be reached so Bloomberg takes up the tale.

The official rate for the currency will go from about 285,000 per dollar to 6 million, a shock that officials tried to partly offset by raising the minimum wage 3,500 percent to the equivalent of just $30 a month……..The devaluation comes at the same time the government is redenominating the currency by lopping off five zeros and introducing new bills and a name change. So instead of the new minimum wage being 180 million strong bolivars, it will be 1,800 sovereign bolivars. Banks were closed and busy trying to adopt ATMs and online platforms to the new currency rules.

My financial lexicon for these times would of course have warned about any currency with “strong” in its title and the strong Bolivar has behaved as the novel 1984 would suggest. As to inflation please do not adjust your sets ( or screens).

One likely outcome is that inflation, which already was forecast to reach 1 million percent this year, will get fresh fuel from the measures. Prices are currently rising at an annualized rate of 108,000 percent, according to Bloomberg’s Café con Leche index.

If I was there I would only be able to help by providing an inflation index for prisoners as for quite some time it has been illegal to try to measure inflation. If we step back for a moment the numbers here do evoke images of Weimar Germany and the hyperinflation then.

In Venezuela, the old bolivar bills could be seen muddied and crumpled up on the street, so worthless that not even street beggars picked them up. ( Wall Street Journal).

Or to put it another way pictures of cash in wheelbarrows from back then have been replaced by pictures like this.

In theory the currency has backing but in practice we will have to wait and see.

Comment

What we are seeing here is the breakdown of basic economic concepts. Let us start with the simple concept of how to price things.

Many shopkeepers said they had no idea how much to charge customers ( WSJ)

This has a lot of consequences. Firstly how can they operate and sell anything? Basic concepts such as value of stock break down and the value of the business. So it is no surprise that many shops have shut. The concept of a price has broken down which means so has inflation.

Next there is the issue of what Abba called money,money money. As it too loses much meaning. For example the person quoted below in the Wall Street Journal has not been able to get cash for five months!

When Henrique Rosales got to the automated-teller machine on Tuesday to withdraw Venezuela’s new currency, he found it dispensed a maximum of 10 sovereign bolivars a day, the equivalent of 15 U.S. cents.

“This money is going to disappear out of my hands in no time,” said the 29-year-old waiter, who said he hasn’t seen cash in five months. He hasn’t been able to pay for bus fare and walks several miles a day from his hilltop slum to the seafood eatery where he works.

In such a situation the concept of a money supply breaks down as well as if we are in trouble with the cash or high-powered money element what about the rest? If we look at the UK we see that narrow money is about 3% and the other 97% we can summarise as bank lending. But how can banks in Venezuela lend right now? Do they even have the faintest idea what the bank is worth let alone whether it is wise to lend to the customer?

The truth is that numbers like GDP and the like become pretty much meaningless at a time like this as if we do not even have a price the whole theoretical structure breaks down. What we will see are toe factors at play. There must be an element of barter going on and probably a large one and irony of ironies a lot of transactions must be in US Dollars. Back at the height of the Ukraine crisis I pointed out that we needed a US Dollar money supply as well and let us bring things really up to date as we may well need to measure this too.

Cryptocurrency Dash is seeing a surge in new merchant sign-ups and wallet downloads in Venezuela as hyperinflation in the country runs wild………..”We are seeing tens of thousands of wallet downloads from the country each month,” Ryan Taylor, the CEO of the Dash Core Group, told Business Insider. “Earlier this year, Venezuela became our number two market even ahead of China and Russia, which are of course huge into cryptocurrency right now.” ( Business Insider)

At a time like this we perhaps get the clearest guide from other indicators.

Over the past three years about 3,000 Venezuelans have entered Colombia every day and the country has granted temporary residence to more than 800,000.

Peru says that last week alone, 20,000 Venezuelans entered the country. ( BBC)

Meanwhile the Economist Intelligence Unit does give us a clue as to a cause of the hyper inflation.

The government heavily relies on monetisation to fund its deficits,

Russia has similar inflation to the UK but interest-rates are ~8% higher

As a contrast to the Bank of England move or not at midday which I analysed yesterday let us look at developments at another point of the interest-rate cycle. To do this we need merely to look at Russia where this was announced this last Friday.

On 27 October 2017, the Bank of Russia Board of Directors decided to reduce the key rate by 25 bp to 8.25% per annum.

We learn various things here. Firstly even in this time of Zero Interest Rate Policy ( ZIRP) and indeed NIRP where N = Negative we see that there are countries where the trend has bypassed. Much of Africa has been too. I also note that 0.25% moves seem to be en vogue for which we in the UK should be grateful as I recall the Bank of England hinting at a 0.15% cut this time last year as its Forward Guidance shot itself in the foot. Returning to the Russian situation on the face of it the move looks a bit weak in the circumstances as frankly what is moving from 8.5% to 8.25% really going to achieve? Especially if we note this about inflation.

Annual inflation holds close to 4%. Estimates as of 23 October 2017 indicate that annual inflation is 2.7%. Its downward deviation against the forecast is driven mainly by temporary factors. In September, food prices showed stronger-than-expected annual price decline, on the back of larger supply of farm produce. This extra supply owes its origin to growing crop productivity and the shortage of warehouse facilities for long-term storage. The slowdown of inflation was also triggered by exchange rate movements.

Inflation is projected to be close to 3% by late 2017; going forward, as the temporary factors run their course, it will approach 4%.

So we see that the inflation situation currently has quite a few similarities with the UK as our inflation will also be close to 3% late this year and our inflation has a strong exchange rate influence as well. Yet interest-rates are around 8% different! Central bankers eh?

Let us look deeper.

Oil and Gas

This is a powerful player in the Russian economy and the recent rise in the oil price will put a smile on economic developments. In July an economic paper from the University of St. Petersburg put it like this.

In the first phase of the shock, the government’s income suddenly increases. In other words, the price rise enhances the real national income through the increase in the petroleum exports revenues. This might lead to the reinforcement of the national currency value (or foreign currency depreciation) in the exchange rate systems (fixed or managed floating systems). In the floating exchange rate system, the foreign exchange coming from the increase in the world oil prices would lead to the appreciation of the real exchange rate.

Actually the value of the Rouble and the oil price are correlated over time. If we look back to a nadir for oil prices back in early 2016 when the Brent Crude benchmark fell into the mid-30s in US Dollar terms then it took 75 Roubles to buy one US Dollar. If we skip forwards to today when Brent Crude is around US $60 we see that it takes only 58 Roubles to buy one US Dollar. They do not always move in lock step but over time there is usually a similar trend.

Thus we get to the conclusion that a higher oil price reduces Russian inflation. This does not mean that it does not raise domestic inflation as of course there will be familiar price rises from fuel costs which will trigger other price rises. But that there will be an offsetting move from a higher currency that usually is larger. Accordingly I find this from the Bank of Russia a little strange.

Inflation expectations remain elevated. Their decline has yet to become sustainable and consistent.

We are back to a timing issue as in you need to move ahead of events rather than waiting for them to happen and chasing them.

Impact on the Russian economy

The US Energy Information Authority published this on Tuesday.

Russia was the world’s largest producer of crude oil including lease condensate and the third-largest producer of petroleum and other liquids (after Saudi Arabia and the United States) in 2016, with average liquids production of 11.2 million barrels per day (b/d). Russia was the second-largest producer of dry natural gas in 2016 (second to the United States), producing an estimated 21 trillion cubic feet.

So a big deal which has this impact domestically.

 Russia’s economic growth is driven by energy exports, given its high oil and natural gas production. Oil and natural gas revenues accounted for 36% of Russia’s federal budget revenues in 2016.

Also it is the major export.

In 2016, Russia exported more than 5 million b/d of crude oil and condensate……..Russia also exports fairly sizeable volumes of oil products. According to Eastern Bloc Research, Russia exported about 1.3 million b/d of fuel oil and an additional 990,000 b/d of diesel in 2016. It exported smaller volumes of gasoline (120,000 b/d)[50] and liquefied petroleum gas (75,000 b/d) during the same year.

As to the impact on the overall economy it is not easy to be precise as Factosphere points out.

Experts estimate the share of Oil&Gas sector in the Russian GDP to vary from 15% to 20%, but that does not take into consideration effect of a number of related and supporting industries that depend on O&G sector performance (equipment producers, transportation, etc.). Therefore, the overall influence of the sector on the Russian economy and GDP shall be much higher.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here but if we stick with the inflation issue then with Brent Crude Oil around US $60 per barrel it seems unlikely that Russia will see much imported inflation generated. Quite possibly the reverse. We know that the Urals production is cheaper but the principle remains. Thus the difference between it and the UK in terms of inflation prospects hardly seems to justify an around 8% interest-rate gap.

There is one clear difference though which ironically would be seen as a success in the UK. From Trading Economics.

Real wages in Russia rose 2.6 percent year-on-year in September 2017, following a downwardly revised 2.4 percent gain in August and missing market expectations of 3.9 percent. Average nominal wages jumped 5.6 percent to RUB 37,520 while annual inflation rate slowed to 3 percent, the lowest since at least 1991.

So higher interest-rates yes but nothing like that much higher. The fun comes in figuring out how much the Bank of Russia and the Bank of England are wrong!

Meanwhile it seems set to be a relatively good year for the Russian economy and a nod from it to OPEC for its efforts in raising the crude oil price. Looking ahead there are of course issues as we mull the impact of having large resources on the wider economy or what became called the Dutch Disease. One of them is the transfer of resources and wealth or if you prefer the oligarch issue.

Currently there is also the issue of economic sanctions on Russia.

Me on Core Finance TV

http://www.corelondon.tv/bank-of-england-timing-mess/

Norway is apparently very happy but what about house prices?

Today we are taking a trip across the North Sea to what we are told is the happiest country on Earth. From the World Happiness Report.

Norway has jumped from 4th place in 2016 to 1st place this year, followed by Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland in a tightly packed bunch. All of the top four countries rank highly on all the main factors found to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance. Their averages are so close that small changes can re-order the rankings from year to year.

As I note that Finland is 5th this seems to be a Nordic thing although of course it does make one wonder about the criteria as well as how many copies of this were sold there by Pharrell.

Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

There are clear economic influences here as we note that Africa is apparently “waiting for happiness” and intriguingly China is like this.

People in China are no happier than 25 years ago

But returning to Norway there are clear economic influences at play.

Norway moves to the top of the ranking despite weaker oil prices. It is sometimes said that Norway achieves and maintains its high happiness not because of its oil wealth, but in spite of it. By choosing to produce its oil slowly, and investing the proceeds for the future rather than spending them in the present, Norway has insulated itself from the boom and bust cycle of many other resource-rich economies.

There is a mixture of fact and PR release there so let us look further at the Norwegian economy. Oh and being the top of any list these days poses a question.

Economic growth

This from the Norges Bank last week is not especially inspiring.

In 2016, mainland GDP in Norway grew at the slowest rate recorded since the financial crisis. Growth picked up a little between Q3 and Q4 as projected earlier.

Norway Statistics tells us this.

Continued weak growth Mainland Norway: Growth in the gross domestic product (GDP) for mainland Norway was 0.3 per cent in the 4th quarter of 2016, slightly up from the 3rd quarter.

The annual rate of growth was 1.1% and if we look into the detail there was something familiar for these times.

Consumption of goods increased by 0.6 per cent, after having mostly fallen since the 3rd quarter of 2015. Increased car purchases contributed to more than half of the rise in household consumption of goods.

A hint of easy monetary policy which these days often appears in the car sector. Also something else seems rather familiar.

The declining wage growth that we have seen in recent years will continue, and estimates for 2016 show that the average annual wage growth was 1.7 per cent.

If we return to the Norges Bank report we see that real wages have fallen.

The consumer price index (CPI) rose by 3.6% between 2015 and 2016, while consumer prices adjusted for tax changes and excluding energy products (CPI-ATE) rose by 3.0% in the same period.

A lot of the impact here has been from the oil and gas sector.

What about monetary policy then?

Here we go.

Norges Bank’s Executive Board has decided to keep the key policy rate unchanged at 0.5%. The Executive Board’s current assessment of the outlook suggests that the key policy rate will most likely remain at today’s level in the period ahead.

So like so many other central banks they ignore inflation being above its target ( which is 2.5%) and concentrate on economic growth.

In the wake of the decline in oil prices since summer 2014, the key policy rate in Norway has been reduced in several steps. Monetary policy is expansionary and supportive of structural adjustments in the Norwegian economy,

So far the oil price and industry has been a silent elephant in the room but if we defer that to later let us look at the dangers from low interest-rates which are domestic debt and house prices.

House Prices

Today’s data release tells us this.

On average, prices for new dwellings have increased by 10.4 per cent in the 4th quarter of 2016 compared to the same quarter in 2015…….Prices for existing flats, small houses and detached houses have increased by 15.9, 9.9 and 7.6 per cent respectively from the 4th quarter of 2015 to the 4th quarter of 2016.

If we look into the detail we see that the prices for flats ( multi dwelling apartments) are driving this move. Let us remind ourselves that this compares with wage growth of 1.7% and real wages which are falling and it comes on the back of previous rises. The flats index was at 80 in the first quarter of 2011 and has risen to approximately 117. If we look back for what has happened in the credit crunch are we see that house prices have doubled since 2005 ( to be precise the index is 199.3).

What about debt?

The Norges Bank puts it like this.

Persistently low interest rates may lead to financial system vulnerabilities. The rapid rise in house prices and growing debt burdens indicate that households are becoming more vulnerable. By taking into account the risk associated with very low interest rates, monetary policy can promote long-term economic stability.

That lest sentence is a contradiction in terms designed to fool the unwary I think. We see that borrowing was on the march.

Net incurrence of loans increased from NOK 167 billion to NOK 186 billion, while net investments in deposits decreased from NOK 65 billion to NOK 55 billion.

Debt growth was 5.6% in 2016 and that left the debt to income ratio at 2.35.  Back to the Norges Bank.

Growth in household debt accelerated through the latter half of 2016, and debt is still growing faster than household income. The rapid rise in house prices and growing debt burdens indicate that households are becoming more vulnerable.

The mortgage rate series at Norges Bank was at 3.98% as 2013 ended and 2.49% as 2016 ended so we can see the pattern although the low was 2.35% last August. It is not a surprise to see money supply growth be firm.

The twelve-month growth in the monetary aggregate M3 was 6.5 per cent to end-January, up from 5.4 per cent the previous month.

The debt situation for the government is rather unique. It does have some but if you put in the sovereign wealth fund then net financial assets must be around treble annual GDP.

Comment

If we look at the elephant in the room then the oil and gas sector accounts for around 22% of Norway’s economic output. If we add in the fishing industry then Norway is especially gifted in terms of natural resources. The catch in recent times has been the fall in the price of crude oil which sees the Brent benchmark just above US $51 per barrel as I type this. In terms of an annual comparison the price is higher and Norway is one of the countries which most welcomes that but it is a far cry from the US $100+ of a couple of years ro so ago. This has been picked up in the unemployment data where the unemployment rate headed towards 5%. It has now fallen to 4.4% but there are other worries here.

the seasonally-adjusted unemployment decreased by 0.4 percentage points, or 12 000 persons………the seasonally adjusted number of employed persons decreased by 22 000 persons from September to December.

Meanwhile the central banks eases and pumps up the housing market. Maybe us Brits have set a bad example but what must first-time buyers and the younger generation think of this as a strategy?

Let me leave you with something very Norwegian.

A total of 30 800 moose were shot during the hunting year 2016/2017; a decrease of 300 animals from the previous hunting year and a decrease of 22 per cent from the record hunting year 1999/2000.

 

What is the economic impact of a higher crude oil price?

One piece of economic news dominated all other yesterday and it was at least a change for the Trump and Brexit circuses to take something of a break. Instead we had the OPEC circus which finally came up with something. Of course we know that announcements are one thing and implementation another but there was an immediate impact on the crude oil price. From Reuters.

The price for Brent crude futures (LCOc1), the international benchmark for oil prices, jumped as much as 13 percent from below $50 on Wednesday and was at $52.10 per barrel at 0806 GMT, although traders pointed out that part of the jump was down to contract roll-over from January to February for Brent’s front-month futures.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures rose back above $50 briefly before easing to $49.63 a barrel at 0806 GMT, though still up 20 cents from its last settlement.

Volumes were very high too which makes a past futures traders heart lighter although of course we need to note that this is a result of yet more central planning.

The second front-month Brent crude futures contract, currently March 2017, traded a record 783,000 lots of 1,000 barrels each on Wednesday, worth around $39 billion and easily beating a previous record of just over 600,000 reached in September. That’s more than eight times actual daily global crude oil consumption.

Also as we note the influence at times of banks on commodity markets ( I believed their trading desks helped drive the last commodity price boom) maybe such high volumes are a warning signal too. But if this lasts we have the potential for a type of oil price shock as we have become used to relatively low oil prices. Also central banks may have to make yet another U-Turn as of course they may find that they push inflation above target as a higher oil price adds to all their interest-rate cuts and QE style bond buying.

Let us have a little light relief before we come to the analysis and look at this from February of this year. From Bloomberg.

Oil could drop below $20 a barrel as the search for a level that brings supply and demand back into balance makes prices even more volatile, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. predicted.

Oh well…

A higher oil price is good for us?

I made a note of this when I first saw it as it is the opposite of my view. I also note that it is Goldman Sachs again. From Bloomberg.

Higher oil prices would be a boon for the global economy, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Really! How so?

Pricey crude means economies such as Saudi Arabia take in more money than they can spend, which financial markets help distribute through the rest of the world, boosting asset values and consumer confidence, the bank’s analysts Jeff Currie and Mikhail Sprogis wrote in a Nov. 22 research note.

Apparently we can ignore the elephant in the room.

Forget the stagflation of the 1970s.

Here is the explanation.

“The difference between today and the 1970s is that oil creates global liquidity through a far more sophisticated financial system,” Currie and Sprogis wrote. “More sophisticated financial markets in the 2000s were able to transform this excess savings into greater global liquidity that increased asset values, lowered interest rates, and improved credit conditions that spanned the globe.”

Convinced? Me neither and it is hard to know where to start. One view is that the world economic expansion drove the oil price higher. Another is that greater global liquidity is an illusion as we see so many markets these days which seem to lack it. For example we are seeing more “flash crashes” like the one which happened to the UK Pound overnight a few weeks or so ago. This is of course in spite of the fact that central banks have been doing their best to create global liquidity and indeed cutting interest-rates.. Still if it created “increased asset values” the 0.01% who no doubt represent Goldman Sachs best clients will be pleased. As a final rebuttal this ignores the impact of lower oil prices on inflation and the key economic metric which is real wage growth.

Did the credit crunch never happen?

From 2001 to 2014, excess savings outside the U.S. grew to $7 trillion from $1 trillion as oil climbed, according to Currie and Sprogis. The savings helped drive up values of things like homes and financial assets and loosened credit markets for consumers.

I guess this is the economics version of all those strings of alternative universes in physics where Goldman Sachs is in another one to the rest of us, or simply taking us for well, Muppets.

They are not the only ones as the IMF got itself into quite a mess on this front back in February.

Persistently low oil prices complicate the conduct of monetary policy, risking further inroads by unanchored inflation expectations. What is more, the current episode of historically low oil prices could ignite a variety of dislocations including corporate and sovereign defaults, dislocations that can feed back into already jittery financial markets.

Are these “jittery financial markets” the same ones that Goldmans think are full of liquidity? Also you may note the obsession with central banks and monetary policy and yes asset values are in there as well.

Returning to Reality

There is an income and indeed wealth exchange between energy importers and exporters. For example Oxford Economics did some work which suggested that a US $30 fall in the oil price would boost GDP in Hong Kong by 1.5% but cut it in Norway by 1.3%. So we get an idea albeit with issues in the detail as I doubt the UK (0.8%) would get double the GDP benefit of Japan (0.4%) which of course is the largest energy importer in relative terms of the major economies. Oh and there are bigger negative effects with Russia at -5% of GDP and Saudi Arabia at -4%.

However the conclusion was this.

Lower oil prices should give a sizeable boost to world GDP in 2015 and 2016

There was a time (July 2015) when the IMF thought this as well.

Although oil price gains and losses across producers and consumers sum to zero, the net effect on global activity is positive. The reasons are twofold: simply put, the increase in spending by oil importers is likely to exceed the decline in spending by exporters, and lower production costs will stimulate supply in other sectors for which oil is an input…… the fall in oil prices should boost global growth by about ½ percentage point in 2015–16,

It would also produce a fall in inflation which will be welcome to those who are not central bankers.

Comment

Should the oil price remain higher it will reduce global economic growth and raise inflation. If we compare it with a year ago it is around 10 US Dollars higher but we also need to note that in December 2015 the oil price fell to the Mid US $30s so we need to do the same to prevent an inflationary effect. As I have been writing for some months now unless we see large oil price falls inflation is on it way back. We are of course nowhere near the US $108 that a Star Trek style tractor beam seemed to hold us at a while back. But as I note the rise in some metals prices ( Zinc and Lead in particular) commodity price rises are back in vogue. So there will be plenty of work for those economists who want higher inflation explaining how they are right be being wrong.

There will also be relative shifts as consumers will be poorer as real wages fall but say shops in Knightsbridge and the like seem set to see more Arab customers. Japan will be especially unhappy at a higher oil price. But US shale oil wildcatters might be the happiest of all right now and may even boost US manufacturing as well. In the UK there will be a likely boost for the Aberdeen area.

Me on TipTV Finance

“Outlook for RBS is dreadful”, says Shaun Richards – Not A Yes Man Economics

 

 

 

 

 

 

Venezuela plumbs the economic depths of hyper-inflation and depression

Over the lifespan of this website there has been an extremely sad story as I have detailed the economic depression in  Greece and the way that those supposedly helping have in many ways made it worse. Yet even it is being thrust aside as the worst economic case right now by the crisis which is enveloping Venezuela. No doubt you have read about the various shortages of which the lack of toilet rolls was the most publicised. Well according to France 24 the state of emergency which has been imposed has now led to shortages in an even more basic commodity food.

Lopez described herself as a former partisan of the socialist “revolution” started by late leader Hugo Chavez and continued by Maduro.

“Here in Guarenas there were revolutionary supporters. But now the people no longer want revolution — what they want is food,” she said.

“The people are going hungry. We are tired of lining up, of killing ourselves for just a carton of eggs or some bread,” she said.

The BBC reports that this situation has come about because of this.

With subsidised goods becoming increasingly scarce, many Venezuelans have been forced to queue for hours to get the essentials.

When a sought-after staple such as cornflour arrives at a supermarket, the word will spread quickly over social media and hundreds of people will queue to get it.

Apart from the hunger issue no economy can function if its citizens are having to spend so much time queuing for basic necessities. So what has gone wrong?

Inflation

The IMF reported on inflation in central America last week and opened with one of the drivers of it.

Falling global commodity prices and the normalization of monetary policy in the United States have contributed to widespread currency depreciations in Latin America…….Indeed, prices are on the rise in Latin America while they stagnate in the rest of the world.

Then it notes this.

two of the region’s largest economies—Venezuela and Argentina—have the highest inflation rates in the world

Actually whilst Argentina has a serious problem of its own Venezuela is on a different scale although for some reason the IMF does not show it on the chart below.

So how does inflation averaging some 122% in 2015 grab you? That is hyper-inflation in anybody’s language and it comes at a time when inflation is supposed to be dead. The IMF gives us a strong hint as to a major cause of it.

exchange rate pass-through remains larger than warranted.

The IMF cannot resist the central banking mantra of these times in spite of the calamity taking place in Venezuela.

rightly tolerating a temporary period of higher inflation that was outside their control.

Others have estimated the inflation rate to be even higher than the IMF calculations. Professor Steve Henke suggested it was 700% last August. Actually in January the IMF suggested it such a level had not happened it was on its way.

Inflation will surge to 720 percent in 2016 from 275 percent last year, according to a note published by the IMF’s Western Hemisphere Director, Alejandro Werner.

However you calculate it and indeed define it we are clearly seeing a case of hyper-inflation in Venezuela. I believe it is still illegal there to calculate inflation so if I was there I would be in jail. Oh and this from the Guardian in February indicates that even the falling oil price is not helping to reduce inflation.

Prices at the pump in Venezuela will jump as much as 6,086% for 95 octane gasoline, from 0.097 bolivars to 6 bolivars, or 1,300% for 91 octane as of Friday.

Economic Output

We fear the worst once we read things like this from the IMF.

Further declines in commodity prices have added to the marked downturn that began in global metals markets during 2011 and in oil markets during 2014………Foregone income varies according to the relative importance of commodities in the economy, being very large for Venezuela (about 17 percent of GDP),

So already we are describing a combination of hyper-inflation and an economic depression on a very severe scale. The current situation is described below.

Real GDP fell by about 6 percent in 2015, according to the central bank, and is expected to fall by an additional 8 percent in 2016.

Actually with inflation at such a high level such calculations must be very difficult to say the least. Some of this is due to an inability to invest and buy the equipment required.

Available foreign exchange has been mostly used to finance imports of basic goods, at the expense of intermediate and capital goods.

There is a correlation between the economic output decline and rises in unemployment which we can glean from this.

In Brazil and Venezuela, a one percentage point increase in growth lowers the unemployment rate by 0.2 percentage points; in Argentina the impact is about half as strong.

The detail for Venezuela is a -0.27 coefficient or last year and this are expected to increase the unemployment rate by a grim 3.8%. Employment peaked above 13 million and is expected to lose a million of that. Oh and if only the IMF had applied this line of thought to its activities in Greece.

But what matters more to the person on the street is how growth translates into jobs.

The Exchange-Rate

This is always a sign of trouble,trouble,trouble.

an increase in the parallel market exchange rate

We have seen in Ukraine for example how lack of confidence in the national currency can be described by one of Britney’s hits.

Don’t you know that you’re toxic

Not so long ago the disarray was highlighted by the fact that there were as many as four official exchange-rates! But in March there was a drop to two, except as the quote from Bloomberg below details there is an obvious problem.

The Dicom exchange rate will begin at 206 bolivars to the dollar and then “float” to meet market needs, Perez Abad told reporters Wednesday at the central bank. The primary exchange rate of 10 to the dollar will apply to essential imports, such as medicines.

There is, ahem, quite a gap between 10 and 206 don’t you think? That seems unlikely to be it as we note the need to “float” afterwards. Those of a nervous disposition might like to think of the calming hit by the Floaters before I reveal reality.

Float, float on (Come on, come on,
(Come on, baby, yeah, yeah)
Float on, float on (Ooh, ooh, baby)
Float, float, float on
Float on (Float with me), float on

According to dolartoday.com a single US Dollar will buy you some 1075.47 Bolivars. This no doubt makes the situation described by Forbes even worse.

The economic policies of Presidents Chavez and Maduro have combined to make the country’s banknotes worth less than they paper they’re printed on. Of course, this has been true for some time of the small notes: but reasonable calculations tell us that this is either true now or about to be true of the country’s largest bank note, the 100 Bolivar.

You may have read that this web is so tangled that Venezuela cannot afford to buy new bank notes as it imports them and the exchange rate has fallen so far. No sensible printer will be accepting an official exchange-rate a hundred times worse than the real one!

This is steps on a mantra for central bankers. You see they clean up from a concept called seignorage where they issue for example a £20 note which costs say 10 pence to prodice and hey presto! They have a £19.90 profit. Well not in Venezuela unless they produce larger denomination notes which of course takes us back to today’s theme of hyper-inflation. I guess if there is a lateral thinker there they could print some US Dollars like Zimbabwe has.

Comment

We are seeing the consequences of a hyper-inflationary shock in Venezuela. Back in the early days of this website I was regularly asked about hyper-inflation risks as QE style policies were fired up and I replied it required quite a list of policy errors to go wrong. Well Venezuela has had some bad luck with the oil price but it has made policy mistake after mistake including this one.

Fueled by the monetization of the large
fiscal deficit

Meanwhile next week in unrelated news Lord “talentless ascent” Turner will be granted the honour of a speech at the Bank of England on amongst other things his favourite topic of Helicopter Money. You will not have to look far online to find plenty of “experts” assuring you that it cannot go wrong. On a lighter note here is the “expert” Mark Weisbrot in the Guardian in 2013.

Sorry, Venezuela haters: this economy is not the Greece of Latin America

It is a feature of modern times how if you disagree with someone you become a “hater” is it not? I guess Taylor Swift has to take some responsibility here. But I am rather sad that a country with the largest reserves of crude oil is rewriting the text books on both hyper-inflation and Dutch-Disease.