The good news from lower UK inflation ( think real wages) may not last

Today brings the various UK inflation numbers into focus as we get the updates for consumer, producer and house prices. Already though the Bank of England has given its view on the general outlook.

Second, the most likely outlook is a further period of subdued growth, and hence a disinflationary backdrop
of a persistent – albeit modest – output gap.

That is from Michael Saunders who is giving a speech in Northern Ireland and we see him backing up the previously expressed view of UK inflation falling towards 1.25% in the early part of this year. It is sad though that he still uses the “output gap” that has worked so poorly even some ex-central bankers are being forced to admit it has been a failure. Here is the former Vice-President of the ECB ( European Central Bank) Vitor Constancio.

In “FED listens” events, they found that:..”there is more “slack” than the Fed had thought — more people who could still come into the labour force, particularly in poorer areas”. I am sure the same is true in Europe. Forget output gaps

If only those still in power would see the light and accept reality!

There is an irony in all of this as we note that whilst the Bank of England expects lower inflation it is presently trying to raise it and Micheal Saunders has another go.

Fourth, against this backdrop, it probably will be appropriate to maintain an expansionary monetary policy
stance and possibly to cut rates further, in order to reduce risks of a sustained undershoot of the 2% inflation
target. With limited monetary policy space, risk management considerations favour a relatively prompt and aggressive response to downside risks at present.

This is via the impact of their words on the value of the UK Pound £ and the way a lower value ( mostly via the role of the US Dollar in setting commodity prices) tends to raise subsequent inflation. You may note that the bi-polar view of monetary policy space continues to be in play as he joins Mark Carney’s statement that it is limited from last Wednesday which morphed into the equivalent of a Bank Rate cut of 2.5% as quickly as Thursday. What a difference a day made!

twenty four little hours
Brought the sun and the flowers where there use to be rain ( Dinah Washington )

If we complete the points made by Michael Saunders we see something of an obsession with output gap theory.

First, with softer global growth and high Brexit uncertainty, the UK economy has remained sluggish. The
slowdown has created a modest output gap, and there are signs that the labour market is turning.

Also something perhaps even sillier.

Third, the neutral level of interest rates may have fallen further over the last year or two, both in the UK and
externally.

Or, of course, it may not.

Consumer Inflation

The backdrop was worrying because US consumer inflation had risen yesterday and Euro area inflation had risen last week and that is before we get to this.

Also, Zimbabwe’s annual inflation rate (the one that is officially concealed) rose to 521% in December. ( Joseph Cotterill)

But the numbers were good possibly showing that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 1.3% in December 2019, down from 1.5% in November 2019.

There were two main factors at play and I wonder if any of you spotted this one?

Restaurants and hotels, where prices for overnight hotel accommodation fell by 7.5% between November and December 2019, compared with a rise of 0.9% between November and December 2018;

Also the next one may have affects elsewhere because the last time we saw a burst of this as we saw retail sales rise in response ( thank you ladies) which is against the present consensus.

Clothing and footwear, where the largest individual downward contributions came from women’s casual jackets and cardigans, where prices fell between November and December 2019 but rose between the same two months in 2018. There were also small individual downward contributions from formal trousers and formal skirts

Also if we continue to look wider we see a possible impact from the slow down in car sales.

There was also a smaller downward contribution from the purchase of vehicles where prices overall were little changed in 2019 but increased by 0.7% in 2018.

Let us move on but not without noting that the impact of the UK Pound £ is for once zero compared to the Euro as we have the same inflation rate.

Euro area annual inflation is expected to be 1.3% in December 2019,

What Happens Next?

There is still a slight downwards push but the impetus has gone.

The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process was negative 0.1% on the year to December 2019, up from negative 1.9% in November 2019.

Indeed if we switch to output prices we see that there are ongoing albeit small rises in play.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 0.9% on the year to December 2019, up from 0.5% in November 2019.

If we look to future influences we know that 70% of the input number comes from the £ and the oil price. As we stand at US $64.40 for a barrel of Brent Crude that is where it roughly was in mid-December so maybe not much influence. With the Bank of England engaging in open mouth operations against the £ it may come into play.

House Prices

There was a worrying change here.

UK average house prices increased by 2.2% over the year to November 2019, up from 1.3% in October 2019……Average house prices increased over the year in England to £251,000 (1.7%), Wales to £173,000 (7.8%), Scotland to £155,000 (3.5%) and Northern Ireland to £140,000 (4.0%).

This adds a little credibility to the Halifax 4% reading for December although we await the official December data. As to the breakdown we have observed parts of the Midlands leading the line in recent times.

The annual increase in England was driven by the West Midlands and North West…..The lowest annual growth rate was in the East of England (negative 0.7%) followed by London (positive 0.2%).

Although that is for just England so we should also look wider and whilst it looks an anomaly there was this.

House price growth in Wales increased by 7.8% over the year to November 2019, up from 3.6% in October 2019, with the average house price in Wales at £173,000.

Comment

There is some much needed good news in today’s report for real wage growth as we see inflation dip. However we need context because if we switch to the UK’s longest running measure of inflation there is a different story in play.

The all items RPI annual rate is 2.2%, unchanged from last month.

The difference neatly illustrates my major theme in this area.

Other housing components, which increased the RPI 12-month rate relative to the CPIH 12-month rate by 0.06 percentage points between November and December 2019. The effect came mainly from house depreciation.

As you can see our official statisticians are desperate to make everyone look at their widely ignored favourite measure called CPIH which I will cover in a moment. But for now we see that past house prices via depreciation are exerting an upwards pull on the RPI and November’s number suggests this may continue. Most will understand that for many house prices are a big deal but the fact that they usually pull inflation higher means the establishment has launched an increasingly desperate campaign to ignore them.

If we now cover the official CPIH measure it indulges in a fleet of fantasy by assuming that owners pay themselves rent and then includes this fantasy in its inflation reading. Even worse there have been problems in measuring rents so it may well be a fantasy squared should such a thing exist. Anyway the effort to reduce the inflation reading has backfired this month as CPIH is above CPI due to this.

In December 2019, the largest upward contribution to the CPIH 12-month inflation rate came from housing and household services. The division has provided the largest upward contribution since November 2018.

Oh well…..

The UK sees some welcome lower consumer,producer and even house price inflation

Today we complete a 3 day sweep which gives us most of the UK economic data with the update on inflation. Actually the concept of “theme days” has gone overboard with Monday for example giving us way too much information for it to be digested in one go. Of course the apocryphal civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby from Yes Prime Minister would regard this as a job well done. Actually in this instance they may be setting a smokescreen over good news as the UK inflation outlook looks good although of course the establishment does not share my view of lower house price growth.

The Pound

This has been in a better phase with the Bank of England recording this in its Minutes last week.

The sterling exchange rate index had increased by around 3% since the previous MPC meeting

If they followed their own past rule of thumb they would know that this is equivalent to a 0.75% Bank Rate rise or at least used to be. Then they might revise this a little.

Inflationary pressures are projected to lessen in the near term. CPI inflation remained at 1.7% in September
and is expected to decline to around 1¼% by the spring, owing to the temporary effect of falls in regulated
energy and water prices.

As you can see they have given the higher value of the UK Pound £ no credit at all for the projected fall in inflation which really is a case of wearing blinkers. The reality is that if we switch to the most significant rate for these purposes which is the US Dollar it has risen by around 8 cents to above US $1.28 since the beginning of September. Actually at the time of typing this it may be dragged lower by the Euro which is dicing with the 1.10 level versus the US Dollar but I doubt it will be reported like that.

For today’s purposes the stronger pound may not influence consumer inflation much but it should have an impact on the producer price series. This was already pulling things lower last month.

The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process was negative 2.8% on the year to September 2019, down from negative 0.9% in August 2019.

Oil Price

The picture here is more complex. We saw quite a rally in the early part of the year which peaked at around US $75 for Brent Crude in May. Then there was the Aramco attack in mid=September which saw it briefly exceed US $70. But now we are a bit below US $62 so there is little pressure here and if we add in the £ rally there should be some downwards pressure.

HS2 and Crossrail

If you are looking for signs of inflation let me hand you over to the BBC.

A draft copy of a review into the HS2 high-speed railway linking London and the North of England says it should be built, despite its rising cost.

The government-commissioned review, launched in August, will not be published until after the election.

It says the project might cost even more than its current price of £88bn.

According to Richard Wellings of the IEA it started at £34 billion. Indeed there also seems to be some sort of shrinkflation going on.

These include reducing the number of trains per hour from 18 to 14, which is in line with other high-speed networks around the world.

Here is the Guardian on Crossrail.

Crossrail will not open until at least 2021, incurring a further cost overrun that will take the total price of the London rail link to more than £18bn, Transport for London (TfL) has announced.

According to the Guardian it was originally budgeted at £14.8 billion.

If we link this to a different sphere this poses a problem for using low Gilt yields to borrow for infrastructure purposes. Because the projects get ever more expensive and in the case of HS2 look rather out of control, How one squares that circle I am not sure.

Today’s Data

This has seen some welcome news.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month inflation rate was 1.5% in October 2019, down from 1.7% in September 2019.

Both consumers and workers will welcome a slower rate of inflation and in fact there were outright falls in good prices.

The CPI all goods index is 105.6, down from 106.0 in September

The official explanation is that it was driven by this.

Housing and household services, where gas and electricity prices fell by 8.7% and 2.2%, respectively, between September and October 2019. This month’s downward movement partially reflected the response from energy providers to Ofgem’s six-month energy price cap, which came into effect from 1 October 2019……Furniture, household equipment and maintenance, where prices overall fell by 1.1% between September and October this year compared with a fall of 0.1% a year ago.

That is a little awkward as the official explanation majors on services when in fact it was good prices which fell outright. Oh dear! On the other side of the coin have any of you spotted this?

The only two standout items were women’s formal trousers and branded trainers.

Perhaps more are buying those new Nike running shoes which I believe are around £230 a pair.

There was an even bigger move in the RPI as it fell by 0.3% to 2.1% driven also by these factors.

Other housing components, which decreased the RPI 12-month rate relative to the CPIH 12-month rate by 0.05 percentage points between September and October 2019. The effect mainly came from house depreciation………Mortgage interest payments, which decreased the RPI 12-month rate by 0.08 percentage points between September and October 2019 but are excluded from the CPIH

Regular readers will know via the way I follow Gilt yields that I was pointing out we would see lower interest-rates on fixed-rate mortgages for a time. Oh and if you look at that last sentence it shows how laughable CPIH is as an inflation measure as it blithely confesses it ignores what are for many their largest payment of all.

House Prices

There was more good news here as well.

UK average house prices increased by 1.3% over the year to September 2019, unchanged from August 2019.

So as you can see we are seeing real wage growth of the order of 2% per annum in this area which is to be welcomed. Not quite ideal as I would like 0% house price growth to maximise the rate of gain without hurting anyone but much better than we have previously seen. As ever there are wide regional variations.

Average house prices increased over the year in England to £251,000 (1.0%), Wales to £164,000 (2.6%), Scotland to £155,000 (2.4%) and Northern Ireland to £140,000 (4.0%).London experienced the lowest annual growth rate (negative 0.4%), followed by the East of England (negative 0.2%).

Comment

The “inflation nation” which is the UK has shifted into a better phase and I for one would welcome a little bit of “Turning Japanese” in this area. However the infrastructure projects above suggest this is unlikely. But for now we not only have a better phase more seems to be on the horizon.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 0.8% on the year to October 2019, down from 1.2% in September 2019…..The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process was negative 5.1% on the year to October 2019, down from negative 3.0% in September 2019.

As I pointed out yesterday this will provide a boost for real wages and hence the economy. It seems a bit painful for our statisticians to admit a stronger £ is a factor but they do sort of get there eventually.

All else equal a stronger sterling effective exchange rate will lead to less expensive inputs of imported materials and fuels.

Meanwhile let me point out that inflation measurement is not easy as I note these which are from my local Tesco supermarket.

Box of 20 Jaffa Cakes £1

Box of 10 Jaffa Cakes £1.05

2 packets of Kettle Crisps £2

1 packet of Kettle Crisps £2.09

Other supermarkets are available…..

 

 

What has been the UK financial market response to the current crises?

At the moment it is clear that the UK is not only going to the polls today it is in the middle of a political crisis. Yet financial markets and the economy are not behaving as they did in the past and mostly this is a positive, although care is needed as we still in the wake of the credit crunch effect. You might think that the Bank of England would be on the case but these days it seems keen to deflect away from monetary policy.

We’ve published a report for people working in the general insurance sector. It’s on how to assess the financial impacts of climate change. We want to know what you think about it.

It seems to have appointed itself as an authority on climate change instead and personally I find that a bit concerning. After all it’s role is elsewhere.

The UK Gilt Market

For newer readers UK government bonds are called Gilts because it is short for Gilt-Edged from the days they were backed by Gold. Actually technically that is still true as we have some Gold but the edge is very thin these days! Sadly we managed to sell a fair bit of our reserves at what was pretty much the low in the modern era.

However at a time like this the media would normally be running headlines, like Gilt market plunges. We have quite a few possible reasons for one to happen right now and I have worked through many episodes where prices plunged and yields soared. If you like what is now called the “bond vigilantes” turned up and had market power. Also let me add a nuance which is that as I will explain in the UK Pound £ section part of the situation is true but not all.

In fact we are seeing exactly the reverse as the UK Gilt market has rallied and indeed has done so strongly. Our benchmark ten-year Gilt yield has dipped below 1% this morning. So if we go back to my subject of the 16th of this month this is rather curiously a risk-off move. Putting it another way the UK Gilt future has rallied some two and a half points since the lows of early this month and is around 129.5 as I type this.

So people can borrow cheaply again in institutional markets and that suggests we will see lower fixed-rate mortgages and business borrowing rates. The five-year yield is a signal for those and it has fallen from 0.95% on the sixth of this month to 0.75% now. So if this stays I expect a burst of lower mortgage-rates. Also a yield of 0.75% which is the same as Bank Rate is awkward for a Bank of England trying to gain traction with this.

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

Presently markets are pricing in an “ongoing tightening” of zero. Ironically that is due to expectations or fears depending on your point of view that it will undertake more QE style Gilt purchases adding to its current £435 billion.

The UK Pound

This has been in a weak run since the 3rd of this month when it rallied to US $1.317. Men At Work must have been singing “It’s a mistake” because it has been slip-sliding away ever since and is now at US $1.263. So we can open with by noting that as most commodity prices are in US Dollars then we are seeing some producer price inflation pressure to add to this reported yesterday.

The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process was 3.8% on the year to April 2019, up from 3.2% in March 2019.

Actually the reports I have received suggest that at least some of the selling has come from the Far East mostly versus the Yen. This is consistent with our fall from over 146 Yen to 139 Yen over the same time frame as above. However linking to the Gilt market that would usually in the past be accompanied by Gilt sales except if they have it has been singing along with Rod Stewart.

Them homesick blues and radical views
Haven’t left a mark on you, you wear it well.

Moving to the trade-weighted or effective exchange rate we are still a fair way above the October 2016 low and appear to be range trading if you look at the overall period. We are still up in 2019 as well but if we move to the more recent period we see that using the old Bank of England rule of thumb we have received the equivalent of a 1% Bank Rate cut. Make you think doesn’t it?

UK FTSE 100

This is a more curious beast these days via the number of companies in it that trade overseas and benefit form a lower value for the UK Pound. So until today it has pretty much sailed through the May storm. I say until today as it is down 100 points today but that is in percentage terms 1.3% which compares to a 1.9% fall for the German Dax index so it is probably very little to do with UK domestic issues. We can exclude some of the currency effect by moving to the FTSE 250 index but the truth is that over the May storm it has only fallen slightly until today’s “trade war” move.

However there is a more troubled sector and it is one of our themes, or the zombified banking sector. Let me illustrate via Barclays where I recall a friend be long shares during the crash and then suggesting selling on the bounce above £3. I am not writing that to be clever but to give some perspective on the current price of £1.48 which is down 3% today. During our May perspective it has been a case of what the Rolling Stones would call Tumbling Dice from the £1.65 of the third of this month. After all aren’t we supposed to have been in a decade long recovery?

It was only yesterday that I was nice to Royal Bank of Scotland but that £800 million dividend is not much compensation for a £2.13 share price when you invested at a fiver.

In Bank of England speak this is called being “resiliient”

Comment

As you can see we are seeing further ch-ch-changes. The clearest is the Gilt market which is rallying into events that used to cause falls and plunges. Overall the stock market does not seem that bothered either. So the headline writers have only the falling UK Pound and of course many of them still have singed fingers in this area, as for example the Financial Times is still short it five cents lower than here. The banks are an exception as “The Precious” seems to lack people willing to back it with their money, can anybody think why?

Returning to the Bank of England it has been doing some number crunching and its effort to explain the inflation data is welcome. Although the more thoughtful might wonder where house prices are? Also they may wonder if the days of football tickets in the inflation measure are marked?

Meanwhile the cost of watching football has rocketed. Over the same period the price of a match ticket has increased more than six times, or around 8% each year.

Also the new green central banking agenda might like to address why the price of a light bulb has gone up 140% since 2010?

One category that feels a little gory is home killed shoulder of lamb. Also I am a non-smoker but even I know they are not sold in eights or fifteens.

Me on The Investing Channel

 

 

 

 

Is it to be higher interest-rates from Mark Carney and the Bank of England?

Yesterday saw a swathe of news from the Bank of England and in particular its Governor Mark Carney who gave evidence to the Economic Affairs Committee of the House of Lords. That is the same body I gave evidence too over the Retail Prices Index and inflation measurement more generally. In some ways he was true to form but in more recent terms opened up a new front with this.

*CARNEY: MARKET PATH OF BOE RATES MAY NOT BE HIGH ENOUGH ( @SmithEconomics )

Although @fxmacro struggled to keep the online equivalent of a straight face.

CARNEY: MARKET PATH OF BOE RATES MAY NOT BE HIGH ENOUGH algos buying on this gibberish

If we start with the algorithm buying meme that is because some automated trades operate off headlines. Things have become much more advanced than in the days of what we used to call “Metal Mickey” ( after a children’s TV programme) trading on the LIFFE floor but the essence is the same. In this instance it and other buying saw the UK Pound £ rise by around half a cent.

Actually the UK Pound £ has been rising in 2019 as the effective exchange rate index has risen from 76.25 on January 3rd to more like 80 now meaning using the old Bank of England rule of thumb that monetary conditions have tightened by a bit more than a 0.5% Bank Rate rise. So it is initially curious to say the least to be hinting at interest-rate rises especially if we see the economic news.

Markit business survey

Governor Carney was speaking not long after the Markit Purchasing Manager’s Index or PMI survey for services had been released. This completed the set which told us this.

At 51.4 in February, up from 50.3 in January, the seasonally adjusted All Sector Output Index signalled a marginal expansion of UK private sector output.

So some growth but not much as they indicated here.

“The latest PMI surveys indicate that the UK economy
remained close to stagnation in February, despite a flurry
of activity in many sectors ahead of the UK’s scheduled
departure from the EU. The data suggest the economy is on
course to grow by just 0.1% in the first quarter.”

Putting it another way.

UK PMI charted against Bank of England policy decisions. PMI still deep in dovish territory.

So if we look at the evidence such as we have it the UK economy contracted in December by 0.2% and seems to be now growing at a quarterly rate of 0.1%. Whilst I have my doubts about PMIs ( think July 2016 if nothing else) the Bank of England relies on them. So it is hinting at interest-rate rises when two main signals are much more in line with interest-rate cuts. Of course this was familiar territory in 2016 when the promise of interest-rate rises faster than markets expect ( deja vu alert ) somehow morphed into not only an interest-rate cut but promises of another smaller one ( 0.1% or 0.15%). The former happened but the latter was dropped as it turned out that the Bank of England was reading the wrong set of tea leaves.

Has something changed?

Well definitely maybe as I note this from The Times.

A disorderly no-deal Brexit would be only half as damaging as the Bank of England warned three months ago, Mark Carney has said.

So what is the detail here?

In November the Bank said that after three years the economy would be between 4.75 per cent and 7.75 per cent smaller than under the prime minister’s plan if there was a hard Brexit.

Mr Carney, the Bank’s governor, told peers yesterday that contingency plans put in place would reduce the damage by 2 percentage points in the “disruptive” model or 3.5 percentage points in the worse “disorderly” one. Both scenarios assumed that there would be significant border frictions, a market crash and a sterling collapse on March 29.

So what has changed since November?

Britain has put in place temporary simplified procedures to reduce border checks and the government has secured six EU free-trade agreements worth about 4 per cent of UK trade. “That’s something, it’s not everything,” Mr Carney said. The Bank has also struck financial services deals with the EU. Brussels, too, has taken measures to reduce friction at the borders.

This is a really awkward subject for the Bank of England which keeps finding itself having to upgrade its forecasts for the post-EU leave vote world and now for versions of the world post Brexit. In the latter example I do have some sympathy as its work was more scenario than forecast but it is also true that it could have produced examples of how things might change if deals were struck. Also the way that Governor Carney has presented things has been in line with his own opinion and has led to accusations of being one-sided.

So maybe there is an influence here on his seeming enthusiasm for interest-rate rises although we do of course have the issue that in spite of claiming large amounts of enthusiasm over the past five years or so he has in net terms delivered the grand sum of one 0.25%.

Be Prepared

Much more satisfactory and an example of the Bank of England doing the right thing came from what may seem an arcane announcement.

The transactions will be facilitated by the activation of the standing swap line between the Bank of England and the European Central Bank as part of the existing international network of standing swap lines which provide an important tool for central banks in pursuit of their financial stability objectives.

The first weekly operation will be on 13 March and operations will run until further notice.

Actually the ECB makes it clearer as to what might happen.

Bank of England to obtain euro from the ECB in exchange for pound sterling.

Also as some may miss this then this is also true.

As part of the same agreement, the Eurosystem would stand ready to lend pound sterling to euro area banks, if the need arises.

So these arrangements provide a backstop for “the precious” otherwise known as the banking system. In terms of use it has mostly been European banks activating such lines usually to get US Dollars but there was a phase of requiring Swiss Francs. Also Japanese banks have needed US Dollars from time to time. There is an irony if we look at the present role of Ireland that the particular swap lines we are looking at today were brought in to help the Central Bank of Ireland if it needed UK Pounds.

Putting the wolf in charge of the chicken house

As the Bank of England is potentially the body that is most keen on eliminating cash so it can more easily introduce negative interest-rates today’s news which the media has latched onto is an example of gallows humour.

Sarah John, Chief Cashier, said: “We are committed to cash. Although its use is declining, many people, including vulnerable groups, still prefer to use cash. It is important that everybody has a choice about how they make payments.  The action we are announcing today will help to support cash as a viable means of payment for those who want to use it.”

The Bank is today announcing that it will convene relevant stakeholders to develop a new system for wholesale cash distribution that will support the UK in an environment of declining cash volumes.

Comment

There is a fair bit of uncertainty to say the least about what will happen in the UK as we move into April. Will we Brexit or not and if so in what form? The problem with the forecasts produced by the Bank of England are that many of the variables were unknown and some still are. We are left with the view that under Governor Carney it has been more than happy to push the establishment line which would chop another leg off the independence chair if you can find one. It is simply not its place to be cheered by one side of the debate and attacked by the other.

Moving to more technical issues I welcome the way that the FX swap lines are being made ready. Some of that is just for show as they could have been used anyway but it does no harm to show that you are prepared. As ever it is about the banks but for once the rest of us benefit too.

Lastly let me move onto a subject I spend much time on so will be brief. From the Financial Times.

UK must tackle RPI inflation reform, Mark Carney says

So he has been cracking on with it since 2013 then? Er no. I have been as regular readers will be aware but both the Financial Times and the Bank of England have stood in the way. Added to this is his suggestion that we only need one measure of consumer inflation when the ones for macroeconomics and the cost of living are really rather different due to the way the housing sector can disappear in the former like they are a Klingon battle cruiser in Star Trek.

Are the currency wars still raging?

One of the features of the post credit crunch era is that economies are less able to take further economic stress. This leads us straight into today’s topic which is the movements in exchange rates and the economic effects from that. Apart from dramatic headlines which mostly concentrate on falls ( rises are less headline grabbing I guess…) the media tends to step back from this. However the central banks have been playing the game for some time as so many want the “cheap hit” of a lower currency which is an implicit reason for so much monetary easing. The ( President ) Donald was on the case a couple of months ago. From the Financial Times.

“Every other country lives on devaluation,” said Mr Trump after meeting with US motor industry executives. “You look at what China’s doing, you look at what Japan has done over the years. They play the money market, they play the devaluation market and we sit there like a bunch of dummies.”

Actually the FT was on good form here as it pointed out that perhaps there were better examples elsewhere.

South Korea has a current account surplus of nearly 8 per cent of gross domestic product, according to the International Monetary Fund, compared with just 3 per cent for China and Japan. Taiwan, meanwhile, has a colossal surplus of 15 per cent of GDP while Singapore is even higher at 19 per cent.

Care is needed here as a balance of payments surplus on its own is not the only metric and we do know that both Japan and China have had policies to weaken their currencies in recent years. So the picture is complex but I note there seems to be a lot of it in the Far East.

Japan

Ironically in a way the Japanese yen has been strengthening again and has done so by 1% over the weekend as it as headed towards 110 versus the US Dollar. So the Abenomics push from 76 was initially successful as the Yen plunged but now it is back to where it was in September 2014. Also for perspective the Yen was so strong partly as a consequence of US monetary easing. Oh what a tangled web and that.

The Bank of Japan will be ruing the rise ( in Yen terms) from 115 in the middle of this month to 110.25 as I type this because it is already struggling with this from this morning’s minutes.

The year-on-year rate of change in the consumer price index (CPI) for all items less fresh food is around 0 percent, and is expected to gradually increase toward 2 percent, due in part to the upward pressure on general prices stemming from developments in commodity prices such as crude oil prices.

Even worse for the Bank of Japan and Abenomics – but not the Japanese worker and consumer – the price of crude oil has also been falling since these minutes were composed. Time for more of what is called “bold action”?

Germany

It is not that often on these lists because the currency manipulation move by Germany came via its membership of the Euro where it added itself to weaker currencies. But its record high trade surpluses provide a strong hint and the European Central Bank has provided both negative interest-rates and a massive expansion of its balance sheet as it has tried to weaken the Euro. So we see that an exchange-rate that strengthened as the the credit crunch hit to 1.56 versus the US Dollar is now at 1.086.

So the recent bounce may annoy both the ECB and Germany but it is quite small compared to what happened before this. Putting it another way if we compare to Japan then a Euro bought 148 year in November 2014 but only 120 now.

The UK

In different circumstances the UK might recently have been labelled a currency manipulator as the Pound £ fell. As ever Baron King of Lothbury seems keen on the idea as he hopes that one day his “rebalancing” mighty actually happen outside his own personal Ivory Tower. There is food for thought for our valiant Knight of the Garter in the fact that we were at US $2.08 when her bailed out Northern Rock and correct me if I am wrong but we have indeed rebalanced since, even more towards our services sector.

However it too has seen a bounce against the US Dollar in the last fortnight or so and at US £1.256 as I type this there are various consequences from this. Firstly the edge is taken off the inflationary burst should this continue especially of we allow for the lower oil price ( down 11.2% so far this quarter according to Amanda Cooper of Reuters). That is indeed welcome or rather will be if these conditions persist. A small hint of this came at the weekend. From the BBC.

Motorists will see an acceleration in fuel price cuts over the weekend as supermarkets take up to 2p off a litre of petrol and diesel.

Not everybody welcomes this as I note my sparring partner on BBC 4’s MoneyBox Tony Yates is again calling for higher inflation (targets). He will then “rescue” you from the lower living-standards he has just created….

The overall picture for the UK remains a lower currency post EU vote and it is equivalent to a 2.5% reduction in Bank Rate for those considering the economic effect. Meanwhile if I allow for today’s rise it is pretty much unchanged in 2017 in effective or trade-weighted terms. Not something in line with the media analysis is it?

South Africa

This has featured in the currency falling zone for a while now, if you recall I looked at how cheap property had become in foreign currencies. There had been a bounce but if we bring things right up to date there has been a hiccup this morning. From the FT.

The rand plunged almost 2 per cent in less than half an hour on Monday morning after the latest row between president Jacob Zuma and his finance minister Pravin Gordhan, only moments after it had risen to its highest level since July 2015.

Perhaps the air got a bit thin up there.

The rand has been the best-performing currency in the world over the last 12 months, strengthening more than 23 per cent against the dollar, but it has suffered a number of knock backs prompted by the president and finance minister’s battles.

Back to where it was in the late summer of 2015.

Bitcoin

If we look at the crypto-currency then there has been a lot of instability of late. At the start of this month it pushed towards US $1300 but this morning it fell to below US $940 and is US $991 as I type this. Not for widows and orphans…

Comment

There is much to consider here as we wonder if the US Dollar is merely catching its breath or whether it is perhaps a case of “buy the rumour and sell the fact”. Or perhaps facts as you can choose the election of the Donald and or a promised acceleration in the tightening of monetary policy by the US Federal Reserve. But we see an amelioration in world inflation should this persist which of course combines as it happens with a lower oil price.

So workers and consumers in many countries will welcome this new phase but the Bank of Japan will not. Maybe both Euro area workers and consumers and the ECB can as the former benefit whilst the latter can extend its monetary easing in 2017 and, ahem, over the elections. Whilst few currencies are stable these days the crypto one seems out of control right now.

UK inflation begins its rise whilst the Bank of England looks away

Today is in terms of statistics inflation day in the UK as we receive pretty much all of our inflation data in one burst. It did not use to be that way but the powers that be decided that it was better to have all the bad news in one go rather than have several days of high inflation being reported. As ever their sense of timing saw inflation actually go below target! However we will see the seeds of change today as I forecast back on the 2nd of March.

There is also the issue of the UK Pound £ which has been falling in 2016 against the US Dollar which is the currency the majority of commodities are priced in. It is down just over 9% on a year ago……….Also UK services inflation has been more persistent than in the Euro area and currently it matters little which measure you use.

I was expecting these two more domestic factors to add to the end of the impact of lower oil prices.

But whatever happens we are now unlikely to see a continuation of this reported by Eurostat in its consumer prices release….energy (annual rate) -8.0%, compared with -5.4% in January.

It fell to -3% on an annual basis yesterday and rose by 1% on a monthly basis.

Thus I was expecting this.

However from now they need to look a year or two ahead and after a few months of continued oil price disinflationary pressure we see an increasing chance of inflation rising.

Ch-ch-changes

What has happened since then has been the further fall in the UK Pound £ post the EU leave vote which will put more pressure on inflation. Regular readers will be aware that I expect a boost to inflation of the order of 1.5% from this impact although we do not know yet where the value of the UK Pound will settle. Many prices will take some time to change so we will not see their impact until 2017 but the area which changes quickly is petrol prices which have had a double whammy. Firstly the oil price has risen to US $52 per barrel and secondly the exchange-rate of the UK Pound has fallen quite a bit against the US Dollar and is now 20% lower than a year ago. So we see this.

The price of ULSP is 3.4p/litre higher, with the price of ULSD 3.6p/litre higher than the equivalent week in 2015.

Today’s numbers

As you can see from the points made above it was no great surprise when this was reported today.

The all items CPI annual rate is 1.0%, up from 0.6% in August…….The all items CPI is 101.1, up from 100.9 in August.

Actually it could have been more as I note that something I have been flagging all year had a slight dip.

The CPI all services index annual rate is 2.6%, down from 2.8% last month.

Interestingly a lot of the move was in clothing and footwear and I would be interested in readers views on this.

the upward effect came primarily from garments (in particular women’s outerwear), for which prices rose by 6.0% between August and September 2016, compared with a rise of 3.3% a year ago.

The only article which got cheaper for women was coats,everything else got more expensive.

What is in prospect?

We see that the producer price numbers are also suggesting a rise in inflation going forwards.

Factory gate prices (output prices) for goods produced by UK manufacturers rose 1.2% in the year to September 2016, compared with a rise of 0.9% in the year to August 2016.

This is the third month of rises in this indicator which previously registered a couple of years of declines. In turn it will be pushed higher by this.

The overall price of materials and fuels bought by UK manufacturers for processing (total input prices) rose 7.2% in the year to September 2016, compared with a rise of 7.8% in the year to August 2016.

So input prices will put upwards pressure on output prices and the largest riser was the price of imported metals which rose by over 19% on a year before. Also at this stage of the chain the value of the UK Pound is a major factor.

In trade weighted-terms, sterling depreciated by 14.4% in the year to September 2016.

Actually the main driver is of course the US Dollar but in this instance it had a similar decline.

What about the RPI?

Our old inflation measure which is still used for index-linked Gilts amongst other things did this in September.

Annual rate +2.0%, up from +1.8% last month

The version we used for inflation targeting edged quite close to its old target of 2.2%.

Annual rate +2.2%, up from +1.9% last month

This meant that the wide divergence between it and out new official measure of inflation continues.

The difference between the CPI and RPI unrounded annual rates in September 2016 was -1.08 percentage points, narrowing from -1.11 percentage points in August 2016.

In other words changing the inflation target by only 0.5% back in 2003 was a loosening of policy which many places which should know better simply ignore.

What about housing costs and house prices?

The main way the official UK inflation measure is kept low is by its exclusion of owner-occupied housing costs. This means that the numbers reported today are ignored.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 8.4% in the year to August 2016 (up from 8.0% in the year to July 2016), continuing the strong growth seen since the end of 2013.

There is an official version which includes such costs but as I argued from the beginning it is the equivalent of a chocolate teapot. This is because it uses rents and thereby end up with this.

The OOH component annual rate is 2.4%, unchanged from last month. ( OOH is Owner Occupied Housing )

The plan is for this to be our main measure of inflation although frankly such a recommendation did a lot of damage to the soon to be Sir Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Let me highlight yet another problem with the series which begs belief in many ways.

OOH currently accounts for 16.5% of the expenditure weight of CPIH. This compares with a weight of 19.5% in 2005.

There have been a lot of revising of such numbers which applies also to the imputed rent numbers which mean that no-one can even be sure what the past was from one year to the next. The Alice In Wonderland critique applies.

“How puzzling all these changes are! I’m never sure what I’m going to be, from one minute to another.”

Comment

We see that as pointed out in the spring UK consumer inflation is heading on an upwards path. There is statistical noise in the exact monthly numbers but the trend was already clear back then although we know now that it will go higher and be more sustained because of the additional impact of the lower UK Pound £. We will head towards 3% on the CPI and 4% on the RPI if things remain as they are.

The Bank of England should of course respond to this for two reasons. It is supposed to target annual CPI inflation of 2% and also because higher inflation will reduce and perhaps eliminate real wage growth and thus have a contractionary impact on the economy. In response to this we have been told this by Governor Carney. From the BBC.

Earlier, Mr Carney said that the Bank of England was willing to see an “overshoot” of its 2% inflation target if it meant supporting economic growth and protecting jobs.

Perhaps our dedicated follower of fashion has been listening to Janet Yellen of the US Federal Reserve. From MarketWatch.

Fed’s Yellen sees benefits in letting inflation exceed central bank’s 2% target

Benefits for who exactly? Certainly not workers or consumers….

Women’s Coats

Lucy Meakin of Bloomberg has given us a hint of a quality change here.

Possibly because this season most of them don’t have lining for some reason

Will this be seen as the sterling crisis of 2016?

Sometimes events overtake us to some extent and the recent move has been a further fall in the value of the UK Pound £. Whenever this happens then old fears come to the surface and in many ways they are right to because such events have a mostly bad track record for the UK economy. However some things have changed as in the past we either had a fixed exchange rate or elements of one which meant that a problem, usually with the balance of payments could very quickly become a crisis as it did in 1967. Ironically later statistical revisions told us that it was in fact not necessary. Oh well!

This morning has seen the media out in full force on the subject of a lower UK Pound. From the BBC.

The pound dipped to $1.2766 in early trading on Tuesday – its lowest level against the US dollar since 1985.

Sterling has fallen sharply for the past two days as traders look to the Conservative Party conference for Brexit details.

Also the Financial Times.

The pound has skidded to a new three-decade low against the dollar as fears grow of a “hard” Brexit and its potential impact on the UK economy…..The pound has dropped 0.5 per cent against the greenback so far this morning to $1.2776, its lowest level since 1985.

The FT even gives us two reasons why.

a decline that has reflected the sharp deterioration in the outlook for the UK economy as well as expectations of further easing from the Bank of England.

I will come to the Bank of England in a moment but “sharp deterioration” is an interesting phrase from an organisation which you think might have been taught some humility by economic events so far after the vote to leave the European Union in the UK.

What about the Bank of England?

It should in my view be having a serious rethink this morning about its actions as its proclaimed “sledgehammer” for its monetary policy has no doubt contributed to pushing the UK Pound lower. I pointed out on BBC Radio 4’s Money Box program just over a fortnight ago that the lower UK Pound’s effect on the UK economy would be a “bazooka” compared to their “pea shooter” but even so some of the dimmer members at the Bank of England have been unable to restrain themselves. It was only on Thursday that I quoted these words from Dame Nemat Shafik and the emphasis is mine.

the process of adjustment can sometimes be painful. That’s where monetary policy can help, and it seems likely to me that further monetary stimulus will be required at some point in order to help ensure that a slowdown in economic activity doesn’t turn into something more pernicious.

Such pronouncements could be from the film “Dumb and Dumber” when you have already eased policy and have seen a substantial fall in your currency. Especially when you admit that things so far have turned out better than you had expected.

Bank staff have revised up their forecast for the mature estimate of GDP growth in Q3 to 0.3% from 0.1% at the time of the August Inflation Report.

Should tomorrow’s services PMI (Purchasing Mangers Index) turn out to be as strong as the manufacturing one (55+) and the construction one this morning which saw  a return to growth another Forward Guidance embarrassment will likely be in play.

How much has the UK Pound fallen?

If we look to the effective or trade-weighted exchange-rate we see that as of last night’s close it had fallen to 76.7 which compares to 87.7 on the day before the EU leave vote and 90.4 on the last day of 2015. As ever we have fallen by more against some of which one must be the Japanese Yen and maybe even gained against one or two such as the Nigerian Naira but not many.

What is the economic impact of this?

Applying the old Bank of England rule of thumb gives us a monetary policy stimulus equivalent to a 3% Bank Rate cut since the vote and one of around 3.4% since 2016 began. However this is a boost to both inflation and economic growth or if you like nominal output. To get the real gain we need to know how much of it will be inflation. Back on the 19th of July I did some calculations.

If we look at the way that the UK economy is relatively more open than the Euro area and the fact that our fall was more against the US Dollar in which many commodities are priced I expect a larger impact on the annual rate of inflation than the Draghi Rule implies and estimate one of say 1%.

As we have fallen since then my estimate may now go as high as 1.5% for the boost to annual inflation. Many factors are of course in play here and as we look at the numbers now a price for Brent Crude Oil of over US $50 per barrel does not help when you are buying with depreciated UK Pounds!

By contrast the output boost is much harder to get a handle on. We do get some evidence as this from the Markit Manufacturing PMI shows.

The weak sterling exchange rate remained the prime growth engine, driving higher new orders from Asia, Europe, the USA and a number of emerging markets…..the weaker pound also bolstered export orders which increased at the steepest rate for 32 months.

There was also some evidence of this in last month’s services PMI release.

Companies linked greater demand to new clients, higher export business linked to the weak pound, higher domestic tourism and returning confidence following initial disruption related to the Brexit vote.

We of course await tomorrow’s update on what happened in September.

Comment

Let me return to my title and look at the issue of a sterling crisis. A real old-fashioned one in the style of 1967 cannot happen now as we do not have any element of a fixed exchange-rate. Whilst we can still have a balance of payments crisis the thresholds are much much higher now. Technically we have had a depreciation rather than a devaluation. If we compare to the depreciation which followed the collapse of the Northern Rock Building Society then not that either as the UK Pound fell from an effective exchange-rate of 105 in July 2007 to 77 in March 2010. Oddly a rather similar number to now. If we go back to 1992 the fall then was larger as well as we fell from 98 in July of that year to 81 in February 1993 as we first fell within our ERM ( Exchange Rate Mechanism ) band and then fell out of it completely.

Thus in terms of past sterling crises this is relatively small so far and of course events may change course or get worse. One factor that is at play here is the world economy which is showing some good signs as for example China rumbles on and we see in response changes in the commodity price pattern. But on the other hand there is the issue of why the Reserve Bank of India has today cut interest-rates from 6.25% to 6% meaning that @ReutersJamie can tell us this.

It’s only Oct 4, but India’s rate cut today means central banks have already eased policy more times this year (102) than last year (101).

According we wait to see if the next pattern will be more like 1992 (good) or 2007/09 (not so good). Here is some perspective from Macro Trends

http://www.macrotrends.net/2549/gbp-usd-historical-chart-data