What has happened to the UK consumer?

One of the apparent certainties of economic life is that the British consumer will take the advice of the Pools winner from many years ago and “Spend! Spend! Spend!”. This has led to another feature of our economic life because it seems to have been forgotten by many economists but before the credit crunch there were calculations that out marginal propensity to import from this was of the order of 40%. So there was a clear link to the trade deficit as well. Oh and for millennials reading this the Pools was gambling before there was a lottery, mostly in my experience by older people as for example my grandfather did but my father did not.

However last month provided a counterpoint to such certainty as the slowing in growth that we saw in the latter part of 2019 turned into something more.

In the three months to December 2019, the quantity bought in retail sales decreased by 1.0% when compared with the previous three months……..The quantity bought in December 2019 fell by 0.6% when compared with the previous month; the fifth consecutive month of no growth.

There was still some annual growth just not much of it ( 0.9%). This led to some sill headlines across the media as they used the British Retail Consortium claim that we had seen the worst year since 1995 for retail sales as click bait. That ignored the fact that its numbers are invariably much weaker than the official ones suggesting it id wedded to the bricks and mortar style retail sales which we know is troubled and not enough of the online world. Indeed there was far less reporting of this month’s effort from the BRC as the equivalent of tourists saw fewer easy pickings.

On a Total basis, sales increased by 0.4% in January, against an increase of 2.2% in January 2019. This is above both the 3-month and 12-month average declines of 0.4% and 0.2% respectively.

So weaker than last year but up and should it continue would end the decline in the averages. Actually we now know that the BRC was confused in this area as the inflation numbers did not pick this up.

We have to remember, this semi-positive performance will also be the result of aggressive discounts and consumers’ preoccupation with bagging a bargain.

Labour Market

This brings a contrasting theme as it should be supporting retail sales just as growth has faded away.

Between October to December 2018 and October to December 2019, the level of employment increased by 336,000 (or 1.0%) to a record high of 32.93 million.

There was also some real wage growth over the year just not as much as reported.

In the year to December 2019, nominal total pay (not adjusted for change in prices) grew by 2.9% to £544. Nominal regular pay grew by 3.2% to £512 over the same period. The recorded growth rates show that wage growth is decelerating.

Sadly many places fell for the real regular wages are back to the pre crisis peak spinning of our official statisticians as they cherry-picked from the very top of the tree. But even using more realistic inflation measures than the official imputed rent driven CPIH we still had some real wage growth.

Payment Protection Insurance

I have long argued this has been like a form of QE for the consumer and retail sales so this caught my eye earlier.

The bill for PPI claims in 2019 would be about £2.5bn, but Lloyds said no further provisions were needed as it had already set aside enough money.

It brings the total paid out by Lloyds over the mis-selling saga to £21.9bn. ( BBC )

Today’s Data

As suggested above we had a better month in January.

Retail volumes increased by 0.9% in January 2020, recovering from the falls in the previous two months; the increase was mainly because of moderate growth in both food stores (1.7%) and non-food stores (1.3%).

Actually if we look into the detail the underlying position is stronger and I am pleased to report that my main theme in this area was clearly in play.

Fuel saw a large fall of 5.7% in the quantity bought in January 2020 when compared with December 2019, which coincides with a rise in fuel prices of 2.3 pence per litre between December and January.

For newer readers I first wrote on the 29th of January 2015 that lower inflation boosted retail sales growth which you may note is not only true but the opposite of what central bankers keep telling us. I was involved in a debate with Danske Bank yesterday on this subject and in the end they agreed with me although that last sentence!

Higher than expected inflation makes people worse off, as it means people’s real wage growth is not as high as expected. That is why stable and predictable inflation is so important. Whether the target is 0%, 1% or 2% is less important.

Anyway returning to the data we see a corollary of my theme which is that higher prices should led to lower consumption which seems to be in play. It is probably also true that we are seeing the impact of the switch towards electric vehicles.

Perspective

The better number for January although it may not initially look like it helped the three month average.

In the three months to January 2020, both the amount spent and the quantity bought in the retail industry fell by 0.5% and 0.8% respectively when compared with the previous three months.

This is because November and December were so weak that even a better January was unlikely to fix it. The Underlying index was 108.5 in October then went 107.7 and 107.1 before now rising to 108.1. The index was set at 100 in 2016 so we see this area has seen more growth than others.

On an annual basis we have some growth just not very much of it.

When compared with a year earlier, both measures reported growth at 2.1% for the amount spent and 0.8% for the quantity bought.

Comment

Today gives an opportunity to look at how economics applies in real world events. Having just lost all readers from the Ivory Towers let me apologise to anyone who was disturbed by any screaming from them! They may have just have been able to laugh off the idea that higher inflation is bad but the next bit is too much. You see we have a favourable employment situation especially with real wage growth being added to employment growth but we are losing two factors.

The first is the impact of the PPI claim repayment money which looks as though much of it went straight to the retail sales bottom line. Next there is this from the Bank of England.

The annual growth rate of consumer credit rose to 6.1% in December, having ticked down to 5.9% in November. The growth rate for consumer credit has been close to this level since May 2019. Prior to this it had fallen steadily from an average of 10.3% in 2017.

Whilst it is still the fastest growing area of the economy I can think of my point is that growth has slowed and that seems to be affecting retail sales. A particular area must be what is going on with car sales and a few months back the Bank of England said that but since then it has decided that silence is golden on this subject. For fans of official denials there was of course this from Governor Carney back in the day.

This is not a debt fuelled expansion

 

The campaign against the UK Retail Price Index carries on

This week brought some disappointing news for the Bank of England. If we go back to Monday we were told this.

LONDON (Reuters) – British households’ expectations for inflation over the next 12 months rose to 2.8% in July from 2.6% in June, according to a survey from U.S. investment bank Citi and pollsters YouGov.

Longer-term inflation expectations rose to 3.4% from 3.3% in June, the Citi/YouGov survey of 2,011 adults showed.

“Rising inflation expectations should … support hawks at the (Bank of England),” Citi economists Christian Schulz and Ann O’Kelly said.

There are two problems there for the Bank of England. The first is that expectations imply that people think that inflation is above the 2% target and has been so. This is an implied defeat for the enormous effort that it and other parts of the UK establishment have put it getting our official statisticians have put into getting the Imputed Rent driven CPIH as the headline inflation measure.

Even worse the measure of future expectations has risen. This shows two factors at play. One is rhetoric as we are subjected to a media barrage about future falls in the UK Pound £ exchange rate. The other is the reality that the UK Pound £ has been in a weak phase and in inflation terms this is best represented by the rate against the US Dollar because it is the currency in which nearly all commodities are priced. Whilst it is relatively stable this morning at US $1.2060. Whereas if we go back a bit over 3 months to the early part of May we see that it was some 11 cents higher. Over the past year it is some 5.5% lower so we can see that there is some commodity price pressure on the cards so well done to the ordinary person surveyed for inflation expectations.

Producer Price Inflation

We can find out what is coming down the inflation pipeline from these numbers.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 1.8% on the year to July 2019, up from 1.6% in June 2019…….The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process was 1.3% on the year to July 2019, up from 0.3% in June 2019.

This is a change as the previous overall trend was for both input and output inflation to be falling. The main area is a little awkward so let us look at it.

On the month, crude oil provided the largest positive contribution of 0.30 percentage points with monthly growth of 1.8%. This is a 9.3 percentage points increase following negative growth of 7.5% in June 2019.

This is because the lower UK Pound has been a constant influence but the oil price has been ebbing and flowing to some extent mirroring the tweets of President Trump on the trade war. For example yesterday it rose 3/4% as he announced delays in planned tariffs on China. So the outlook with Brent Crude around US $61 per barrel is for it to have a small disinflationary impact looking ahead but the trend may change with one tweet.

Also do any of you have thoughts on this? The subject is on my mind anyway after last Friday’s power cut in Battersea.

This growth was mainly driven by electricity production and distribution, which increased 20.1% on the year to July 2019, the highest the rate has been since records began in 2009.

Consumer Inflation

Here the situation looks calm on the surface but there are two serious problems below it.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 2.1% in July 2019, increasing from 2.0% in June 2019.

In a world where US President Trump describes a 0.3% monthly and 1.8% annual increase like this I am not sure where this puts us!

Prices not up, no inflation.

Anyway if we return to the UK we see that a problem I have warned about before is back.

The largest upward contribution (of 0.08 percentage points) to change in the CPIH 12-month rate came from recreation and culture. Within this group, the largest effect came from games, toys and hobbies (in particular from computer games and consoles) where prices overall rose by 8.4% between June and July 2019 compared with a rise of 4.1% between the same two months a year ago.

Here is the confession that we are blundering in the dark here.

Price movements for these items can often be relatively large depending on the composition of bestseller charts and the upward contribution between the latest two months follows a downward contribution, from computer games purchased online and games consoles, between May and June 2019.

This matters because it highlights a systemic problem. A similar problem is in play with fashion clothing. Rather than doing something about it the UK establishment has been using the latter problem as a tool for beating the Retail Price Index with. Rather than research and reflection we get rhetoric.

Retail Price Index

Speaking of the RPI the annual rate fell to 2.8% which is partially good news for rail passengers because the rate at which regulated fares rise will be that. At east it is below the rate of wages increases. But there is a problem here too.

An error has been identified in the Retail Prices Index (RPI) in 2019, caused by an issue with the 2017 to 2018 Living Costs and Food Survey (LCF)dataset, which is used to produce the weights underpinning the RPI.

Indicative estimates show that if the corrected LCF dataset had been used to calculate the 2019 RPI weights, it would have led to an upward revision of 0.1 percentage points to the published RPI annual growth rate in March 2019, from 2.4% as currently published to 2.5% and a downward revision of 0.1 percentage points to the June 2019 rate, from 2.9% as currently published to 2.8%. No other month’s annual growth rates have been affected.

It is a good job that large amounts of financial contracts do not depend on this, Oh wait! But these numbers also matter in themselves.

House Prices

There was some excellent news here.

Average house prices in the UK increased by 0.9% in the year to June 2019, unchanged from May 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 2.7% over the year to June 2019, less than the 3.1% fall in May 2019. Average house prices in London have now been falling over the year each month since March 2018.

With wage growth at 3.7% finally houses are on average becoming more affordable. As the London numbers highlight there are regional disparities though. On the other side of the coin house prices in Wales rose by 4.4%.

Comment

I have a couple of serious points to make so let me start with some humour courtesy of The Guardian.

City economists had forecast CPI to fall to 1.9% – instead, it’s now over the Bank’s target of 2%.

The unexpected rise could pile pressure on Threadneedle Street to raise interest rates, even as economic growth falters…

Meanwhile the problems with how we measure inflation in the UK pile up as computer game are added to the problems with fashion clothing. Yet the UK Statistics Authority and the ONS have instead spent their time joining the establishment campaign against the RPI. Please do not misunderstand me as I have a lot of sympathy with the ordinary statisticians who in my experience are doing their best, but it was hard not to have a wry smile this morning at us getting the numbers wrong and creating their worst nightmare a “discontinuity”.

If we look wider we see that there are problems elsewhere as the changes to package holiday prices showed in Germany and in the wider Euro area inflation data. That will impact the GDP numbers via the deflator. Ironically with an RPI style inflation measure or perhaps based on the new HII/HCI the UK could be in good shape here.

Let me give another perspective by quoting Paul Johnson of the IFS in Prospect Magazine from February.

A version of it, CPIH, takes account of owner occupiers’ housing costs and is the one that the statisticians would like us to use. But it is of relatively recent vintage and hasn’t really caught on yet.

He seems to have forgotten that it was the Johnson Review ( yes him) that recommended this in 2016.

ONS should move towards making CPIH its main measure of inflation. In the meantime, the CPI should continue to be the main measure of inflation.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

The Bank of England reveals it is an inflation creator rather than targeter

Yesterday Bank of England Governor Mark Carney spoke at the ECB summer conference in sunny Sintra Portugal. Tucked away in a speech mostly about the Euro was a reference to the problems the Bank of England has had with inflation as you can see below.

While the euro area has continued to experience ‘divine
coincidence’ the UK has not (Chart 1). In the euro area, inflation has averaged half a point below target,
reflecting in part the drag from persistent slack in the labour market. In contrast, UK inflation has been above
target, averaging 2.3%, during a period where the economy was operating well below potential.

Over such a period that is quite a difference and for the moment I will simply point out that he has no idea about the “potential” of the UK economy as his speech later inadvertently reveals. But let us move on to his explanation.

That reflects the inflationary impacts of two large exchange rate depreciations and weak productivity that have
offset a major positive shock to labour supply. This has created tensions between short-term output and
inflation stabilisation in the UK that have not been evident in other major economic regions.

Missing from his explanation is the way that expectations of easier policy from the Bank of England helped drive both “large exchange rate depreciations”. The 2007/08 one pre dates his tenure at the Bank of England but the post EU Leave vote one was on his watch. I still come across people who think he pumped £500 billion into the UK economy on the following morning rather than getting the ammunition locker ready. But he did cut interest-rates ( after promising to raise them) and pour money into the UK Gilt Market with £60 billion of Sledgehammer QE purchases.

So rather than something which just happened he and the Bank of England gave it a good shove and that is before we add in that he planned even more including a cut to a Bank Rate of 0.1% that November. That did not happen because it rapidly became apparent that the Bank of England had completely misread the UK economic situation. But by then the damage had been done to the UK Pound which was pushed lower than it would otherwise have done.

We get an implicit confirmation of that from this.

Since 2013, the MPC’s remit has explicitly recognised that there are circumstances in which bringing inflation
back to target too quickly could cause undesirable volatility in output and employment.

In other words in a world where inflation is lower than before  it is no longer an inflation targeter and instead mostly targets GDP. Actually we get a confession of this and a confirmation of a point I have made many times on here as we note this bit.

Indeed, on the basis of this past behaviour in the great moderation, the MPC would have raised interest rates by 2 to 3 percentage points between August 2013 and the end of 2014.

Due to the international environment with the Euro area heading for negative interest-rates that would have been to much, But we could have say moved from 0.5% to 1.5% as I have regularly argued and would have put ourselves on a better path. Oh and I did say that Governor Carney has no idea of the potential of the UK economy, so here that is in his own words.

What we – and others – learnt as the recovery progressed was that the UK economy had substantially more
spare capacity than previously thought.

UK Inflation

It is hard not to have a wry smile at UK inflation being bang on target after noting the above.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 2.0% in May 2019, down from 2.1% in April 2019.

Tucked away in the detail was something which should be no surprise if we note the state of play in the car industry.

there were also smaller downward contributions from the purchase of vehicles (second-hand and new cars).

The other factor was lower transport costs as air fares fell mostly due to the Easter timing effect and the cost of diesel in particular rose more slowly than last year. On the other side of the coin was something which has become very volatile and thus a problem for our statisticians.

Price movements for computer games can often be relatively large depending on the composition of bestseller charts.

Looking for future trend we see what looks like a relatively benign situation.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 1.8% on the year to May 2019, down from 2.1% in April 2019.

There had been worries about the input inflation rate which picked up last time around but the oil price seems to have come to the rescue for now at least.

Petroleum provided the largest downward contribution to the change in the annual rate of output inflation. The annual rate of input inflation fell 3.2 percentage points in May 2019, driven by a large downward contribution to the change in the rate from crude oil.

Welcome news from house prices

If we switch to this area we see that the slow down in the annual rate of growth continues.

Average house prices in the UK increased by 1.4% in the year to April 2019, down from 1.6% in March 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 1.2% over the year to April 2019, up from a fall of 2.5% in March 2019.

I am pleased to see that as the best form of help for prospective buyers is for wage growth ( currently around 3%) to exceed house price growth. There is a lot of ground to be gained but at least we are making a start.

There is an irony here as I note that for once this will be similar to the number for rents that are being imputed as the inflation measure for owner-occupiers. Yes for newer readers you do have that right as the official CPIH inflation measure assumes that those who by definition do not pay rent rush out and act as if they do.

Private rental prices paid by tenants in the UK rose by 1.3% in the 12 months to May 2019, up from 1.2% in April 2019.

The problem for CPIH is that we have had an extraordinary house price boom without it picking anything up, so this is an anomaly and is unlikely to last.

Comment

There is a sort of irony in UK inflation being on target in spite of the fact that the Bank of England has mostly lost interest in it. The credit crunch era has seen other examples of this sort of thing which echoes when the Belgian economy did rather well when it had no government. We might well be better off if we sent the Monetary Policy Committee on a long holiday.

At the moment there have been quite a few welcome developments in this area. Because wage growth is positive compared to both CPI inflation and house prices after sustained periods of falls. Some caution is required as the RPI is still running at an annual rate of growth of 3% but we are in sunnier climes.There are troubles in other areas as the lower car prices highlight so we need to grab what we can.

Let me finish with a thank you to the Guardian for quoting me in their business live blog and for providing some humour.

Today’s drop in inflation means there’s no chance of the Bank of England raising interest rates on Thursday, say City economists.

Where have those people been in the credit crunch era?

 

 

 

Good to see UK wages rising much faster than house prices at last

Today feels like spring has sprung and I hope it is doing the same for you, or at least those of you also in the Northern Hemisphere. The economic situation looks that way too at least initially as China has reported annual GDP growth of 6.4% for the first quarter of 2019. However the industrial production data has gone in terms of annual rates 5.8%,5.9%,5.4%,5.7%, 5.3% and now 8.7% in March which is the highest rate for four and a half years. Or as C+C Music Factory put it.

Things that make you go, hmm
Things that make you go, hmm
Things that make you go, hmm, hey
Things that make you go, hmm, hmm, hmm

In the UK we await the latest inflation data and we do so after another in a sequence of better wage growth figures. In its Minutes from the 20th of March the Bank of England looked at prospects like this.

Twelve-month CPI inflation had risen slightly in February to 1.9%, in line with Bank staff’s expectations
immediately prior to the release, and slightly above the February Inflation Report forecast. The near-term path
for CPI inflation was expected to be a touch higher than at the time of the Committee’s previous meeting,
though remaining close to the 2% target over the coming months. This partly reflected a 6% increase in sterling
spot oil prices, and the announcement by Ofgem on 7 February of an increase in the caps for standard variable
and pre-payment tariffs, from April, which had been somewhat larger than expected.

I do like the idea of claiming you got things right just before the release, oh dear! Also it is not their fault but the price cap for domestic energy rather backfired and frankly looks a bit of a mess. It will impact on the figures we will get in a month.

Prospects

Let us open with the oil prices mentioned by the Bank of England as the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil has reached US $72 this morning. So a higher oil price has arrived although we need context as it was here this time last year. The rise has been taking place since it nearly touched US $50 pre-Christmas. Putting this into context we see that petrol prices rose by around 2 pence per litre in March and diesel by around 1.5. So this will be compared with this from last year.

When considering the price of petrol between February and March 2019, it may be useful to note that the average price of petrol fell by 1.6 pence per litre between February and March 2018, to stand at 119.2 pence per litre as measured in the CPIH.

Just for context the price now is a penny or so higher but the monthly picture is of past falls now being replaced by a rise. Also just in case you had wondered about the impact here it is.

A 1 pence change on average in the cost of a litre of motor fuel contributes approximately 0.02 percentage points to the 1-month change in the CPIH.

If we now switch to the US Dollar exchange rate ( as the vast majority of commodities are priced in dollars) we see several different patterns. Recently not much has changed as I think traders just yawn at Brexit news although we have seen a rise since it dipped below US $1.25 in the middle of December. Although if we look back we are around 9% lower than a year ago because if I recall correctly that was the period when Bank of England Governor Mark Carney was busy U-Turning and talking down the pound.

So in summary we can expect some upwards nudges on producer prices which will in subsequent months feed onto the consumer price data. Added to that is if we look East a potential impact from what has been happening in China to pig farming.

Chinese pork prices are expected to jump more than 70 percent from the previous year in the second half of 2019, an agriculture ministry official said on Wednesday………China, which accounts for about half of global pork output, is struggling to contain an outbreak of deadly African swine fever, which has spread rapidly through the country’s hog herd.

That is likely to have an impact here as China offers higher prices for alternative sources of supply. So bad news for us in inflation terms but good news for pig farmers.

Today’s Data

I would like to start with something very welcome and indeed something we have been waiting for on here for ages.

Average house prices in the UK increased by 0.6% in the year to February 2019, down from 1.7% in January 2019 . This is the lowest annual rate since September 2012 when it was 0.4%. Over the past two years, there has been a slowdown in UK house price growth, driven mainly by a slowdown in the south and east of England.

This means that if we look at yesterday’s wage growth data then any continuation of this will mean that real wages in housing terms are rising at around 3% per annum. There is a very long way to go but at least we are on our way.

The driving force is this and on behalf of three of my friends in particular let me welcome it.

The lowest annual growth was in London, where prices fell by 3.8% over the year to February 2019, down from a decrease of 2.2% in January 2019. This was followed by the South East where prices fell 1.8% over the year.

As they try to make their way in the Battersea area prices are way out of reach of even what would be regarded as good salaries such that they are looking at a 25% shared appreciation deal as the peak. Hopefully if we get some more falls they will be able to average down by raising  to 50% and so on but that is as Paul Simon would say.

Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance
Everybody thinks it’s true

One development which raises a wry smile is that house price inflation is now below rental inflation.

Private rental prices paid by tenants in the UK rose by 1.2% in the 12 months to March 2019, up from 1.1% in February 2019……..London private rental prices rose by 0.5% in the 12 months to March 2019, up from 0.2% in February 2019.

What that tells us is not as clear as you might think because the numbers are lagged. Our statisticians keep the exact lag a secret but I believe it to be around nine months. So whilst we would expect rents to be pulled higher by the better nominal and real wage data the official rental series will not be showing that until the end of the year

Comment

The development of real wages in housing terms is very welcome. Of course the Bank of England will be in a tizzy about wealth effects but like so often they are mostly for the few who actually sell or look to add to their mortgage as opposed to the many who might like to buy but are presently priced out. Also existing owners have in general had a long good run. Those who can think back as far as last Thursday might like to mull how house price targeting would be going right now?

Moving to consumer inflation then not a lot happened with the only move of note being RPI inflation nudging down to 2.4%. The effects I described above were in there but an erratic item popped up and the emphasis is mine.

Within this group, the largest downward effect came from games, toys and hobbies, particularly computer games

If a new game or two comes in we will swing the other way.

Looking further up the line I have to confess this was a surprise with the higher oil price in play.

The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process was 3.7% on the year to March 2019, down from 4.0% in February 2019.

So again a swing the other way seems likely to be in play for this month.

Meanwhile,what does the ordinary person think? It is not the best of news for either the Bank of England or our official statisticians.

Question 1: Asked to give the current rate of inflation, respondents gave a median answer of 2.9%, compared to 3.1% in November.

Question 2a: Median expectations of the rate of inflation over the coming year were 3.2%, remaining the same as in November.

Are UK house prices finally falling? It is very good news if so

One of the reasons that inflation measurement matters was highlighted yesterday mostly unwittingly I think, If we look at the subject of real wages in the UK we were told this.

Including bonuses, average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain were estimated to have increased by 3.4%, before adjusting for inflation, and by 1.5%, after adjusting for inflation, compared with a year earlier.

Whereas Andrew Baldwin kindly crunched the numbers using other inflation measures for us.

Using any other deflator one gets lower real wage growth: 1.3% with the CPI, 1.2% with the RPIJ, 0.6% with the RPI

So we have growth but there is a lot of debate about how much? As it happens CPI and RPIJ have moved more in line with the official CPIH measure but we have seen spells where it has been much wider. This issue does change how you see the credit crunch which I can illustrate with a tweet from former Bank of England policymaker Danny Blanchflower.

and still real wage growth 5% below feb 2008 levels….

That is from the official data series which has been switched to CPIH which makes real wage growth look better than it really is. Intriguingly as I pointed out the way the influence of Imputed Rents the former Bank of England policymaker replied with this.

Ok but doesn’t the harmonized E.U. measure do what you want?

To which I replied.

Nope as the inflation measure you used to target ignores owner occupied housing entirely. They are usually just around the corner from putting it in…..

Perhaps he had forgotten. But it does reveal how this importance of this matter gets overlooked. Also Danny was keen to emphasise the role of hedonics which reminded me of this report from the annual review of US consumer inflation.

From February 2018 to February 2019, the price of lettuce increased 14.5 percent while television prices decreased 16.8 percent. This compared to an increase of 1.5 percent for all consumer items over that period.

Anybody else reminded of this famous phrase.?

I cannot eat an I-Pad

 

Inflation Trends

If we look back a year the UK trade weighted index for the Pound £ is little changed however that hides a fall followed by a rally. Thus from the low of mid-December at 76 it has risen to 79.5 putting a brake on the economy equivalent to more than a 0.75% Bank Rate rise. Makes you think doesn’t it about all the hand wringing from the Bank of England over any 0.25% rise. However if we switch to the US Dollar whilst we have been rallying over a similar time frame we are nearly 9 cents lower than the US $1.41 of this time last year.

We find also that the oil price is not far from where it was a year ago with the current US $ 66/67 for Brent Crude being a couple of dollars lower than a year ago. However we did see a fall followed by a rise from just over fifty dollars on Christmas Eve so there will be some upwards pressure as this is reflected first in producer and next in consumer prices.

Today’s Data

Let me change my usual pattern and start with something I have been hoping for and doing so for a while.

Average house prices in the UK increased by 1.7% in the year to January 2019, down from 2.2% in December 2018 . This is the lowest annual rate since June 2013 when it was 1.5%. Over the past two and a half years, there has been a slowdown in UK house price growth, driven mainly by a slowdown in the south and east of England.

Maybe it’s because I’m Londoner that I especially welcome this bit.

The lowest annual growth was in London, where prices fell by 1.6% over the year to January 2019, down from a decrease of 0.7% in December 2018. This was followed by the East of England where prices fell 0.2% over the year.

I have some friends trying to buy at the moment and wish then well. It is symbolic of the times that a couple who both have professional jobs can only afford a shared appreciation property ( for readers from abroad they only “own” say 2/3rds). Switching back to the national numbers we see that with wage growth in January at 3.7% then over the past year there has been real wage growth of 2% in this area. This is a welcome move after many years of losses.

Also the more up to date numbers from LSL Acadata hint at more good news to come.

Prices edged up for the third consecutive month in February, rising 0.5% to take the average value of a home in England and Wales to £302,435. A spike in prices early last year, however, means prices are down 0.5% compared to this time last year.

 

Producer Prices

These numbers are beginning to pick-up the higher oil price.

The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process increased to 3.7% on the year to February 2019, up from 2.6% in January 2019…..Crude oil provided the largest upward contribution to the change in the annual rate of input inflation.

Over the next month or too this will also give the output number a push albeit a smaller one.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 2.2% on the year to February 2019, up from 2.1% in January 2019.

 

Consumer Inflation

This was a mixed month for our measures as shown below.

The all items CPI annual rate is 1.9%, up from 1.8% in January…….The all items RPI annual rate is 2.5%, unchanged from last month……The all items CPIH annual rate is 1.8%, unchanged from last month.

The drivers were an upwards pull from apparel and transport offset by rises in recreation and culture mostly computer games and food and drink. Intriguingly one of the falls came from an area which has proved very difficult to measure.

The effect came from a
range of products but most noticeably from footwear, particularly women’s footwear.

Have any readers noticed this?

As to why CPIH continues to be the lowest measure it is because of the impact of Imputed Rents via the use of Rental Equivalence.

The OOH component annual rate is 1.1%, unchanged from last month.

This is very different to the United States where the official inflation measure shows that it is such matters ( they call it OER) which has pulled the inflation numbers higher.

Comment

It is genuinely pleasing to be able to report that real wages are outpacing house prices by a decent amount and even more so that this may increase, if we move from slower house price inflation to actual falls. I have been hoping for a long time that first-time buyers might get some actual help from this route rather than being helped to borrow ever more.

Of course this will not be welcome in Threadneedle Street where at the emergency COBRA meeting Bank of England Governor Mark Carney will be ruing the negative wealth effects and chewing his fingernails. I would not want to be the underling bringing him these numbers. But returning to happier news we may for once be seeing the beginning of an actual positive rebalancing of the UK economy as real wages make house prices ( a little) more affordable.

 

 

 

 

 

The fall in the price of crude oil is a welcome development for UK inflation

One of the problems of official statistics is that we have to wait to get them. Of course numbers have to be collected, collated and checked and in the case of inflation data it does not take that long. After all we receive October’s data today. But yesterday saw some ch-ch-changes which will impact heavily on future producer price trends as you can see below.

Oil traders’ worries over record supplies arriving in Asia just as the outlook for its key growth economies weakens have pulled down global crude benchmarks by a quarter since early October. Ship-tracking data shows a record of more than 22 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil hitting Asia’s main markets in November, up around 15 percent since January 2017, and an increase of nearly 5 percent since the start of this year.

Not only is supply higher but there are issues over likely demand.

China, Asia’s biggest economy, may see its first fall in car sales on record in 2018 as consumption is stifled amid a trade war between Washington and Beijing.

In Japan, the economy contracted in the third quarter, hit by natural disasters but also by a decline in exports amid the rising protectionism that is starting to take its toll on global trade.

And in India, a plunging rupee has resulted in surging import costs, including for oil, stifling purchases in one of Asia’s biggest emerging markets. India’s car sales are also set to register a fall this year.

You may note along the way that this is a bad year for the car industry as we add India to the list of countries with lower demand. But as we now look forwards supply seems to be higher partly because the restrictions on Iran are nor as severe as expected and demand lower. Does that add up to the around 7% fall in crude oil benchmarks yesterday? Well it does if we allow for the fact that it seems the market has been manipulated again.

Hedge funds and other speculative money have swiftly changed from the long to the short side.

When the bank trading desks mostly withdrew from punting this market it would seem all they did was replace others. Of course OPEC is the official rigger of this market but its effort last weekend did not cut any mustard. So we advance with Brent Crude Oil around US $66 per barrel and before we move on let us take a moment for some humour.

As recently as September and October, leading oil traders and analysts were forecasting oil prices of $90 or even $100 a barrel by year-end.

Leading or lagging?

The UK Pound £

This can be and indeed often is a powerful influence except right now as the film Snatch put it, “All bets are off!” This is because it will be bounced around in the short-term ( and who knows about the long-term) by what we might call Brexit Bingo Bongo. Personally I think the deal was done weeks and maybe months ago and that in Yes Prime Minister style the Armistice celebrations gave a perfect opportunity to settle how it would be presented to us plebs. For those who have not seen Yes Prime Minister its point was such meetings are perfect because everybody thinks you are doing something else. The issue was whether it could be got through Parliament which for now is unknown hence the likely volatility.

Producer Prices

These are the official guide to what is coming down the inflation pipeline.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 3.3% on the year to October 2018, up from 3.1% in September 2018. The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process slowed to 10.0% on the year to October 2018, from 10.5% in September 2018.

Except if we now bring in what we discussed above you can see the issue at play.

Petroleum and crude oil provided the largest contribution to both the annual and monthly rates of inflation for output and input inflation respectively.

They bounce the input number around and also impact on the output series.

The monthly rate of output inflation was 0.3%, with the largest upward contribution from petroleum products (0.14 percentage points). The monthly growth for petroleum products rose by 0.5 percentage points to 2.0% in October 2018.

Actually the impact is higher than that because if we look at another influence which is chemical and pharmaceutical products they too are influenced by energy costs and the price of oil. So next month will see quite a swing the other way if oil price remain where they are. We have had a 2018 where oil prices have been well above their 2017 equivalent whereas now they are not far from level ( ~3% higher).

Inflation now

We saw a series of the same old song.

The all items CPI annual rate is 2.4%, unchanged from last month……..The all items RPI annual rate is 3.3%, unchanged from last month.

This was helped by something especially welcome to all but central bankers who of course do not partake in any non-core activities.

Food prices remain little changed since the start of 2018 and fell by 0.1% between September and October 2018 compared with a rise of 0.5% between the same
two months a year ago.

Happy days in particular if you are a fan of yoghurt and cheese. The other factor was something which an inflation geek like me will be zeroing in on.

Clothing and footwear, where prices fell between September and October 2018 but rose between
the same two months a year ago.

There is an issue of timing as we are in the Taylor Swift zone of “trouble,trouble,trouble” on that front but this area is a big issue in the inflation measurement debate. Let me look at this from a new perspective presented by Sarah O’Connor of the FT.

Online fast-fashion brands have enjoyed success catering to what Boohoo calls the “aspirational thrift” of young millennials. They sell clothes that are often made close to home so that they can be produced more quickly in response to customer trends. “Our recent evidence hearing raised alarm bells about the fast-growing online-only retail sector,” said Mary Creagh, the committee’s chair. “Low-quality £5 dresses aimed at young people are said to be made by workers on illegally low wages and are discarded almost instantly, causing mountains of non-recycled waste to pile up.”

This is a direct view on the area of fast and often disposable fashion which is one of the problem areas of UK inflation measurement. There are issues here of poverty wages and recycling. But the inability of our official statisticians to keep up with this area is a large component of the gap between CPI and RPI, otherwise known as the “formula effect”.

Comment

The fall in the price of crude oil is a very welcome development for the trajectory of UK inflation. Should it be sustained then we may yet see UK inflation fall back to its target of 2% per annum. For example the price of fuel at the pump is some 10 pence per litre higher than a year ago for petrol and 14 pence per litre higher than a year ago for diesel, so the drop is not in the price yet. That may rule out an influence for November’s figures but we could see an impact in December. Other prices will be influenced too although probably not domestic energy costs which for other reasons only seem to go up. But as we looked at yesterday the development would be good for real wages where we scrabble for every decimal point.

Meanwhile I have left the “most comprehensive” measure of inflation to last which is what it deserves. This is because the CPIH measure ignores a well understood and real price – what you pay for a house – which is rising at an annual rate of 3.5% and replaces it with Imputed Rents which are never paid to get this.

The OOH component annual rate is 1.1%, up from 1.0% last month.

But I do not need to go on because the body that has pushed for this which is Her Majesty’s Treasury which plans to save a fortune by using it may be having second thoughts if it’s media output is any guide.