Manufacturing and Production help to drive UK GDP growth

Today brings us up to date with the latest monthly data on the UK economy. the problem with this is as I feared that the numbers are in practice rather erratic.

Monthly gross domestic product (GDP) growth was 0.5% in January 2019, as the economy rebounded from the negative growth seen in December 2018.

Actually December recorded a -0.4% GDP growth rate so if you take the figures literally there was quite a wild swing. More likely is that some industries do not conform to a regular monthly pattern in the way we have seen the UK pharmaceutical industry grow overall but with a boom and bust pattern on a monthly basis.

There are areas where we see two patterns at once in the UK economy. For example Tesco has produced good figures already this morning.

Tesco has reported a 28.8% rise in full-year pre-tax profits to £1.67bn with revenue at the supermarket rising 11.2% to £63.9bn ( Sky News)

On the other hand this week has already seen this.

Ailing department store chain Debenhams has been rescued by its lenders after falling into administration.

Three years ago, the 166-strong chain was worth £900m, compared with £20m as of this week. ( BBC News)

Sadly the BBC analysis seems to avoid this issue highlighted by the Financial Times.

Debenhams troubles stem partly from a period of private equity ownership at the start of the millennium, when CVC, Merrill Lynch and TPG sold off freehold property, added debts and paid themselves large dividends.

It looks a case of asset-stripping and greed followed by over expansion which was then hit by nimbler retailers and the switch to online sales. Without the asset-stripping it would be still with us. Meanwhile the BBC analysis concentrates on Mike Ashley who put up £150 million and offered an alternative. I am no great fan of his business model with its low wages and pressure on staff but he does at least have one.

Wages

Speaking of wages there are several strands in the news so let us start with the rather aptly named Mr. Conn.

The chief executive of Centrica, the owner of British Gas, received a 44% pay rise for 2018, despite a difficult year in which the company imposed two bill increases, warned on profits and announced thousands of job cuts.

Iain Conn received a total pay package worth £2.4m last year, up from £1.7m in 2017, according to Centrica’s annual report. His 2018 packet was bolstered by two bonuses, each worth £388,000.  ( The Guardian )

Yet on the other side of the ledger we see things like this. From The Guardian.

Waterstones staff told how they have had to back on food in order to afford rent as they travelled across the country to deliver a 9,300-signature petition to the chain’s London headquarters, calling for the introduction of a living wage.

Mind you we seem to be making progress in one area at least.

Golden goodbyes for public sector workers will be capped at £95,000 in a clamp down on excessive exit payments, the government has confirmed. ( City-AM)

Although I note that it is something planned rather than already done, so the modern-day version of Sir Humphrey Appleby will be doing his or her best to thwart this. Here is his description of the 7 point plan to deal with such matters.

This strategy has never failed us yet. Since our colleagues in the Treasury have already persuaded the Chancellor to spin the process out until 2008, we can be sure that, by then, there will be a new chancellor, a new prime minister and, quite possibly, a new government. At that point, the whole squalid business can be swept under the carpet. Until next time.

As for payoffs it is the ones for those at the top who are quite often switching jobs which need to stop as often it is merely a name change of their employer.

Today’s GDP data

This was good in the circumstances.

Monthly GDP growth was 0.2% in February 2019, after contracting by 0.3% in December 2018 and growing by 0.5% in January 2019. January growths for production, manufacturing, and construction have all been upwardly revised due to late survey returns.

As you can see December was revised up as was January although not enough in January to raise it by 0.1%. But it is an erratic series so let us step back for some perspective.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 0.3% in the three months to February 2019

Whilst we do not yet have the March data regular readers may recall that the first quarter in the UK ( and in the US at times) can be weak so this is better than it may first appear.

As ever services were in the van as we continue to rebalance in exactly the opposite direction to that proclaimed by the former Bank of England Governor Baron King of Lothbury.

The services sector was the largest contributor to rolling three-month growth, expanding by 0.4% in the three months to February 2019. The production sector had a small positive contribution, growing by 0.2%. However, the construction sector contracted by 0.6%, resulting in a small negative contribution to GDP growth.

Inside its structure this has been in the van.

The largest contributor to growth was computer programming, which has performed strongly in recent months.

Production

Thanks to the business live section of the Guardian for reproducing this from my twitter feed.

One possible hint is that production numbers for Italy and France earlier have been strongish, will the UK be the same?

It turned out that this was so.

Production output rose by 0.6% between January 2019 and February 2019; the manufacturing sector provided the largest upward contribution, rising by 0.9%, its second consecutive monthly rise……In February 2019, the monthly increase in manufacturing output was due to rises in 11 of the 13 subsectors and follows a 1.1% rise in January 2019; the largest upward contribution came from basic metals, which rose by 1.6%.

In the detail was something I noted earlier as pharmaceutical production was up by 2.5% in the last 3 months which put it 4.3% higher than a year ago in spite of a 0.1% fall in February.

But whilst this was a welcome development for February the overall picture has not been of cheer in the credit crunch era.

Production and manufacturing output have risen since then but remain 6.1% and 1.9% lower respectively for the three months to February 2019 than the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008.

Things have been singing along with The Beatles since late 2012.

I have to admit it’s getting better (Better)
It’s getting better

but overall we are left mulling the John Lennon counter at the end of this line.

A little better all the time (It can’t get no worse)

Comment

This morning’s numbers were strong in the circumstances and confirm again my theme that we are growing at around 0.3/4% per quarter. Yet again the prediction in the Sunday Times that there would be no growth turned out to be a reliable reverse indicator. Of course there are fears for March after the Markit PMI business survey so as ever we await more detail.

As to stockpiling this has become an awkward beast because I see it being put as the reason for the growth, although if so why did those claiming this not predict it. Anyway I have done a small online survey of what people have been stockpiling.

Okay inspired by and her stockpiling of Scottish water we have from paracetamol for her dad for scare stories and dog has been burying treats

Meanwhile one area which has been troubled for many years continues to rumble on.

The total trade deficit (goods and services) widened £5.5 billion in the three months to February 2019, as the trade in goods deficit widened £6.5 billion, partially offset by a £0.9 billion widening of the trade in services surplus.

Perhaps there was some stockpiling going on there although as any departure from the European Union seems to be at Northern Rail speed those stockpiling may now be wondering why they did it?

 

 

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How is it that even Germany needs an economic stimulus?

Sometimes we have an opportunity like the image of Janus with two heads to look at an event from two different perspectives. This morning’s trade data for Germany is an example of that. If we look at the overall theme of the Euro era then the way that Germany engineered a competitive devaluation by joining with weaker economies in a single currency has been a major factor in this.

According to provisional results of the Deutsche Bundesbank, the current account of the balance of payments showed a surplus of 16.3 billion euros in February 2019, which takes into account the balances of trade in goods including supplementary trade items (+19.1 billion euros), services (-1.1 billion euros), primary income (+6.2 billion euros) and secondary income (-7.9 billion euros). In February 2018, the German current account showed a surplus of 19.5 billion euros.

The large surplus which as you can see derives from its trade in goods feels like a permanent feature of economic life as it has been with us for so long. Also it is the bulk of the trade surplus of the Euro area which supports the value of the Euro although if we shift wider the Germany trade surplus is one of the imbalances which led to the credit crunch itself. So let us move on as we note an example of a currency devaluation/depreciation that has been quite a success for Germany.

What about now?

The theme of the last six months or so has shone a different perspective on this as the trade wars and economic slow down of late 2018 and so far this year has led to this.

Germany exported goods to the value of 108.8 billion euros and imported goods to the value of 90.9 billion euros in February 2019……After calendar and seasonal adjustment, exports were down 1.3% and imports 1.6% compared with January 2019.

We can add to that by looking at January and February together and if we do so on a quarterly basis then trade has reduced the German economy by a bit over a billion Euros. Compared to last year the net effect is a bit under four billion Euros.

One factor in this that is not getting much of an airing is the impact of the economic crisis in Turkey. If look at in from a Turkish perspective some 9% of imports come from Germany ( h/t Robin Brooks) and the slump will be impacting even though if we switch to a German view the relative influence is a lot lower.

Production

On Friday we were told this.

+0.7% on the previous month (price, seasonally and calendar adjusted)
-0.4% on the same month a year earlier (price and calendar adjusted)

There was an upwards revision to January and if we look back we see that the overall number peaked at 108.3 last May fell to 103.7 in November and was 105.2 in February if we use 2015 as our benchmark. So there has been a decline and we will find out more next month as March was a fair bit stronger than February last year.

Orders

These give us a potential guide to what is on its way and it does not look good.

Based on provisional data, the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) reports that price-adjusted new orders in manufacturing had decreased in February 2019 a seasonally and calendar adjusted 4.2% on the previous month……..-8.4% on the same month a year earlier (price and calendar adjusted).

If we switch to the index we see that at 110.2 last February was the peak so that is a partial explanation of why the annual fall is so large as for example March was 108.6. But it is also true that this February saw a large dip to the weakest in the series so far at 101. 2 which does not bide well.

Also you will no doubt not be surprised to read that a decline in foreign orders has led to this but you may that it is orders from within the Euro area that have fallen the most. The index here was 121.6 last February as opposed to 104.6 this.

Forecasts

On Thursday CNBC told us this.

Forecasts for German growth were revised significantly downwards in a ‘Joint Economic Forecast’ collated by several prominent German economic research institutes and published Thursday, with economists predicting a meager 0.8% this year.

This is more than one percentage point lower than a prediction for 1.9% made in a joint economic forecast in fall 2018.

Although they should be eating a slice of humble pie after that effort last autumn.

The private sector surveys conducted by Markit were a story of two halves.

Despite sustained strong growth in services business activity in March, the Composite Output Index slipped from a four-month high of 52.8 in February to 51.4, its lowest reading since June 2013. This reflected a marked fall in goods production – the steepest since July 2012.

In terms of absolute levels care is needed as this survey showed growth when the German economy contracted in the third quarter of last year. The change in March was driven by something that was eye-catching.

Manufacturing output fell markedly and at the fastest
rate since 2012, with the consumer goods sector joining
intermediate and capital goods producers in contraction.

Comment

A truism of the Euro era is that the ECB sets monetary policy for Germany rather than for the whole area. Whilst that has elements of truth to it the current debate at the ECB suggests that it is “The Precious” which takes centre stage.

A debate on whether to “tier” the negative interest rates that banks pay on the idle cash they park at the ECB is now underway, judging by recent ECB comments and the minutes from the March meeting. ( Reuters)

There is a German element here as we note a Deutsche Bank share price of 7.44 Euros which makes any potential capital raising look very expensive especially to existing shareholders.. Also those who bought the shares after the new hints of a merger with Commerzbank have joined existing shareholders in having singed fingers. Maybe this is why this has been floated earlier.

The next frontier for stimulus at the ECB should include stock purchases, BlackRock’s Rick Rieder says

Will he provide a list? I hope somebody at least pointed out that the Japanese experience of doing this has hardly been a triumph.

It all seems not a little desperate as we see that ECB policy remains very expansionary at least in terms of its Ivory Tower models. It’s ability to assist the German economy has the problem that it already holds some 511 billion of German bonds at a time when the total numbers are shrinking, so there are not so many to buy.

This from Friday suggests that should the German government so choose there is plenty of fiscal space.

According to provisional results of quarterly cash statistics, the core and extra budgets of the overall public budget – as defined in public finance statistics – recorded a financial surplus of 53.6 billion euros in 2018.

That is confirmed by so many of Germany’s bond having a negative yield illustrated by its benchmark ten-year yield being 0% as I type this.

The catch is provided by my junkie culture economics theme. Why after all the monetary stimulus does even Germany apparently need more? In addition if we have been “saved” by it why is the “speed limit” for economic growth now a mere 1.5%?

They can tell you what to do
But they’ll make a fool of you ( Talking Heads )

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Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank will soon be telling us bigger is best

The weekend just gone has seen a surge in speculation about a matter we have been expecting for some time. It is this issue of solving the problem of a bank that is too big to fail by making it even bigger! Why might this be? Well let us go back a little more than two years to February 2nd 2017.

The bank’s net loss narrowed to 1.89 billion euros in the three months through December, from a loss of 2.12 billion euros a year earlier. Analysts had expected a shortfall of 1.32 billion euros.

As I pointed out it was not supposed to be like that as the background for banking was good.

As I look at this there is the simple issue of yet another loss. After all the German economy is doing rather well with economic growth of 1.9% in 2016 and the unemployment rate falling to 5.9% with employment rising. So why can’t Deutsche Bank make any money?

It has continually blamed “legacy issues” but we find if we advance two years and a bit in time that it is still in something of a morass. Actually in terms of those willing to back its future with their money things look much worse as the share price in February 2017 was 16.6 Euros according to my monthly chart as opposed to the 7.85 Euros as I type this. So one option which is a(nother) rights issue faces the problem that to do any good existing shareholders would be diluted substantially.

What is happening?

From Reuters.

Berlin is so worried about the health of Deutsche Bank that it pushed for a merger with rival Commerzbank even though it could open up a huge financial shortfall, a German official told Reuters.

As we wonder how huge is “huge”? Let us remind ourselves that the German public finances are in strong shape. Germany is running a fiscal surplus and has been reducing its national debt in both absolute and relative terms. Indeed as the last relative number of 61% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) was for the third quarter of last year Germany may now qualify under the Maastricht Treaty rules. So it could borrow more to cover even a “huge” amount and as we stand can do so very cheaply with the ten-year bund yield a mere 0.07%.

I cannot say I have much faith in the explanation for the losses though as the QE bond buying of Mario Draghi and the ECB has created large profits for most European sovereign bondholders.

The German official said that any tie-up would likely result in a multi-billion-euro hole because a switch in bank ownership legally triggers a revaluation of assets such as government bonds.

They would be revalued at a market price which is typically lower than the one registered on the accounts. A second source, who is familiar with the talks, said they also expected a shortfall after the potential merger.

I think we will find it is other assets which will be causing the trouble and the explanation is something of a smokescreen. It also looks like there has been some “mark to fantasy” going on in the accounts which seems most likely to have taken place in illiquid bonds and derivatives.

As we continue our look don’t they mean 2008 (and maybe 2011/12) as well as 2016?

“In 2016 … Deutsche went to the brink,” said the first official. “They haven’t really got out of that hole…It’s legitimate to ask:… how dangerous is that with systematic relevance?”

This contrasts with the official rhetoric.

Deutsche Bank has said it is stable. Last month, as it announced a return to profit in 2018, its chief executive Christian Sewing said it was “on the right track” for growth and lower costs.

It would appear that Herr Sewing is unaware of the meaning of the phrase “the right track” provided by the Greek crisis where it led to people singing along to AC/DC.

I’m on the highway to hell
On the highway to hell
Highway to hell
I’m on the highway to hell.

Also as a reminder the IMF ( International Monetary Fund ) reported this back in the summer of 2016.

Among the G-SIBs, Deutsche Bank appears to be the most important net contributor to systemic risks, followed by HSBC (HSBA.L) and Credit Suisse (CSGN.S)………..The relative importance of Deutsche Bank underscores the importance of risk management, intense supervision of G-SIBs and the close monitoring of their cross-border exposures.

The story of the last decade is that the problems of Deutsche Bank have never really gone away and in fact have got worse when the economy got better. Should the present period of economic weakness continue then the heat will be not only be turned up a notch or two. As to the legality of all this then surely it should be blocked on competition grounds but when “the precious” is involved matters like that seem to disappear in a puff of smoke.

Meanwhile as Johannes Borgen pointed out at the end of last week maybe the ground has been tilled a little.

I have just realised that Germany passed a law to make redundancies easier for high earners. Those fat cat bankers at Deutsche must feel slightly nervous. How bad must the government want this deal, to make a law only to facilitate it…

The economy

This morning has brought more information on the ongoing economic slow down. From Germany Statistics.

 In January 2019, production in industry was down by 0.8% from the previous month on a price, seasonally and calendar adjusted basis and -3.3% on the same month a year earlier.

December was revised higher but in return January saw another fall meaning that the word temporary is being stretched again. As to the cause well here is a brake on things.

Automobile production fell by 9.2 percent on the month in January, separate data from the Economy Ministry showed. ( Reuters)

Also whilst the world economy will welcome a reduction in one of its imbalances the German one will be slowing because of this.

The foreign trade balance showed a surplus of 14.5 billion euros in January 2019. In January 2018, the surplus amounted to 17.2 billion euros.

According to BreakingTheNews this is hitting official forecasts.

Germany’s government lowered its gross domestic product (GDP) projections for the country in 2019 to 0.8%, Handelsblatt reported on Monday, quoting a confidential note sent by the Ministry of Finance.

Comment

This year has seen more than a few zombie banks return to the news like a financial version of hammer house of horror. We have seen Novo Banco ( Portugal) leaching from the state and a row of Italian banks as well as NordLB of Germany. But Deutsche Bank has returned and the situation is in many ways dominated by this from Reuters BreakingViews.

Lastly, how will a combined bank achieve a 10 percent return on its capital? Deutsche made a piddling 0.5 percent return in 2018 and Commerzbank a paltry 3.4 percent.

Putting it simply Deutsche Bank has not only lost its mojo it lacks any real form of business model. Commerzbank has made a little progress but only by escaping the supermassive black hole of investment banking as we note that a merger would bring it back within that area’s event horizon.

Or to put it another way it is hard to keep a straight face when this is presented as a way of helping with the issue of too big to fail

Deutsche Bank’s chairman Paul Achleitner is also an advocate for a merger that would create the eurozone’s second-largest bank with close to €1.9tn in assets. ( Financial Times)

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UK GDP had a relatively good second half of 2018 but a weak December

Today brings a raft of UK economic data as we look at economic growth ( GDP), trade, production (including manufacturing) and construction data. The good news is that we now take an extra fortnight or so to produce the numbers which are therefore more soundly based on actual rather than estimated numbers especially for the last month in the quarter. The not so good news is that I think that adding monthly GDP numbers adds as much confusion as it helps. Also we get too much on this day meaning that important points can be missed, which of course may be the point Yes Prime Minister style.

The scene has been set to some extent this morning by a speech from Luis de Guindos of the ECB.

Euro area data have been weaker than expected in recent months. In fact, industrial production growth fell in the second half of 2018 and the decline was widespread across sectors and most major economies. Business investment weakened. On the external side, euro area trade disappointed, with noticeable declines in net exports.

Whilst that is of course for the Euro area the UK has been affected as well by a change in direction for production. This is especially troubling as in January we were told this.

Production and manufacturing output have risen since then but remain 6.5% and 2.0% lower, respectively, in the three months to November 2018 than the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008.

It had looked like we might get back to the previous peak for manufacturing but like a Northern rail train things at best are delayed. Production has got nowhere near. There have been positive shifts in it as efficiencies mean we need less electricity production but even so it is not a happy picture.

Gilt Yields

Readers will be aware that I have been pointing out for a while how cheap it is for the UK government and taxpayers to borrow and a ten-year Gilt yield of 1.17% backs that up. A factor in this is the weak economic outlook and another is expectations of more bond buying from the Bank of England. The possibility of the later got more likely at the end of last week as rumours began to circulate of a U-Turn from the US Federal Reserve in this area. Or a possible firing up of what would be called QE4 and perhaps QE to infinity.

The Financial Times has caught up with this to some extent.

Investors’ waning expectations of future rises in interest rates are giving a lift to the UK government bond market.

They note that foreign buyers seem to have returned which is awkward for the FT’s cote view to say the least. Also as we look back to the retirement of Bill Gross his idea that UK Gilts were on a “bed of nitroglycerine” was about as successful as Chelsea’s defence yesterday.Anyway I think it steals the thunder from today’s Institute of Fiscal Studies report.

If the coming spending review is to end austerity Chancellor will need to find extra billions.

I am not saying we should borrow more simply that we could and that we seem keener on borrowing when it is more expensive. The IFS do refer to borrowing costs half way through their report but that relies on people reading that far. They also offered a little insight between economic growth and borrowing.

A downgrade of GDP of 0.5% would reduce annual GDP by around £10 billion and a rule-of-thumb suggests it would add between around £5 billion and £7 billion to the deficit.

Economic growth

The headline was not too bad but it did come with a worrying kicker.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) in volume terms was estimated to have increased by 0.2% between Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2018 and Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2018; the quarterly path of GDP through 2018 remains unrevised.

There were concerns about the third quarter being affected by a downwards revision to trade data but apparently not via the magic of the annual accounts. Bur even so it was far from a stellar year.

GDP growth was estimated to have slowed to 1.4% between 2017 and 2018, the weakest it has been since 2009…….Compared with the same quarter in the previous year, the UK economy is estimated to have grown by 1.3%.

We shifted even more to being a services economy as it on its own provided some 0.35% of GDP growth meaning that production and construction declined bring us back to 0.2%.

The worrying kicker was this.

Month-on-month gross domestic product (GDP) growth was 0.2% in October and November 2018. However, monthly growth contracted by 0.4% in December 2018 . The last time that services, production and construction all fell on the month was September 2012.

I have little faith in the specific accuracy of the monthly data but it does seem clear that there was a weakening in December and it was widespread. Even the services sector saw a decline ( -0.2%) and the production decline accelerated to -0.5%. Construction fell by 2.8% but that has been a series in which we have least faith of all.

Production

We learn from the monthly GDP data that steel and car production had weak December’s which helped lead to this.

Production output fell by 0.5% between November 2018 and December 2018; the manufacturing sector provided the largest downward contribution with a fall of 0.7%.

Although the detail in this section gives a different emphasis.

There is widespread weakness this month, with 9 of the 13 sub-sectors falling. Of these, pharmaceuticals, which can be highly volatile, provided the largest negative contribution, with a decrease of 4.2%. There was also a notable fall of 2.8% from the other manufacturing and repair sub-sector, where four of the five sub-industries fell due to the impact of weakness from large businesses (with employment greater than 150 persons on average).

We have learnt over time that the pharmaceutical sector swings around quite wildly ( although not as much as seemingly in Ireland last month) so that may swing back. Also production was pulled lower by the warmer weather but continuing that theme there is a chill wind blowing for this sector none the less.

If we switch to a wider perspective it seems that the worldwide economic slowing is leading to a few crutches being used.

 underpinned by strong nominal export growth of 18.9% within alcoholic beverages and tobacco products.

Comment

The theme here is of the good, the bad and the ugly. Where the good is the way that the UK outperformed its European peers in the second half of 2018 after underperforming in the first half. The bad is the decline in the quarterly economic growth rate from 0.6% to 0.2%. Lastly the ugly is the plunge in December assuming that the data is reliable. We were never likely to escape the chill economic winds blowing in the production sector and need to cross our fingers about the impact on services. My theme that we are ever more rebalancing towards services continues in spite of the rhetoric of former Bank of England Governor Baron King of Lothbury.

Meanwhile we continue to have a balance of payment deficit.

The total trade deficit widened £8.4 billion to £32.3 billion between 2017 and 2018, due mainly to a £7.2 billion increase in services imports.

Exactly how much is hard to say as I have little faith in the services estimates. But with economic growth as it is let me leave you with some presumably unintentional humour from the Bank of England.

The Committee judges 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.

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UK production falls but GDP is doing relatively well

Today brings us the latest official data on the UK economy as the monthly GDP number for November is announced. It comes from a weak international backdrop as we have been observing as Germany and France have already released weak numbers for that time period.

In November 2018, production in industry was down by 1.9% from the previous month on a price, seasonally and calendar adjusted basis ( Germany). In November 2018, output slipped back sharply in the manufacturing industry (−1.4% after +1.4% in October) as well as in the
whole industry (−1.3% after +1.3%)….Manufacturing output went down over the last three months (−1.0%), as well as in the whole industry (−0.9%).  ( France )

Just to add to the party this has just been released.

Italian Industrial Production (M/M) Nov: -1.60% (est -0.30% ; prev -0.10%) Italian Industrial Production WDA (Y/Y) Nov: -2.60% (est 0.40% ; prev 1.00%) (@LiveSquawk )

So the background is rather grim as the pattern for 2018 had been for a nudge higher in industrial production which is now replaced by a 2.6% year on year fall. Even a country which has been doing well like Spain has also reported a 1.5% monthly fall.

UK Production

In the circumstances described above the first response to the UK data was one of relief.

In November 2018, total production output fell by 0.4%, compared with October 2018, due to a fall of 0.3% in manufacturing, supported by falls of 1.1% electricity and gas and 1.3% in mining and quarrying. The monthly decrease in manufacturing output of 0.3% was due to 8 of the 13 sub-sectors falling; the largest downward contribution came from basic metals and metal products, falling by 3.6%.

Obviously one does not welcome falls but in relative terms those were good numbers. I have no idea how the consensus forecast was for a rise as you would need to be locked in a dark internet free cellar to think that in my opinion. However if we look for some perspective we have not escaped the global trend in this area.

In the three months to November 2018, total production output decreased by 0.9% compared with the same three months to November 2017; this is the weakest growth in total production output since November 2012 and the first time since October 2012 there has been widespread weakness across all four sectors.

If we go back to yesterday these numbers take us back to a period when the UK establishment changed tack in terms of economic policy. For example the Bank of England produced some credit easing via the Term Funding Scheme which reduced mortgage rates quite quickly by 1% and the government loosened the fiscal purse strings. Yet we are supposed to believe that the Bank of England currently plans to increase interest-rates.

If we look for causes one has become rather familiar and seems set to stay for a bit.

Providing the largest downward contribution was transport equipment, which fell by 1.1% due to a fall of 2.4% in motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers. The weakness was driven by the impact of shutdowns within this industry in October 2018 in addition to reduced production in November 2018.

Another factor has been the mild winter which has reduced electricity and gas output. In many ways this is a good thing as lower demand means that restrictions are unlikely but it reduces the output numbers. This also is something which has continued up until now.

There remains a chilling kicker to all of this, however. If this is another cyclical downturn then it will be from a level well below the previous peak or we are in the lost decade zone.

Production and manufacturing output have risen since then but remain 6.5% and 2.0% lower, respectively, in the three months to November 2018 than the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008.

UK GDP

The headline was good.

Monthly gross domestic product (GDP) growth was 0.2% in November 2018, following flat growth in September 2018 and growth of 0.1% in October 2018.

Actually I doubt anyone really believes that UK economic growth has been picking up over this period as we get a real life demonstration of why the numbers are a bad idea. They are simply too erratic. If we look deeper we get a better idea of the trajectory from this.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 0.3% in the three months to November 2018.

This gives us two themes of which the first is that in international terms with many of the main European economies flirting with recession that is a good performance. It is also true that we have not escaped the chill winds as growth has slowed since the summer. I spotted an interesting perspective the other day which suggested that the boom in areas like cars had the UK at a relative disadvantage to places like Germany and we may now be in a phase where the UK is stronger but that remains to be seen.

As so often the growth mostly came from the services sector.

The services sector rolling three-month growth to November 2018 was 0.3%. Professional and scientific activities was the largest contributor, with a contribution of 0.14 percentage points to gross domestic product (GDP) growth. Other notable contributors were information and communication, and human health activities.

Tucked away in there may be another good effort by the UK film industry so whilst “luvvies” may be annoying please be nice to them as they have been playing a blinder in economic terms recently.

Construction

There was also some good news from this sector.

Construction output recorded an all-time level high in November 2018 in the chained volume measure seasonally adjusted series; the month-on-month series grew by 0.6%, resulting in the total value of construction output exceeding £14 billion for the first time since monthly records began in 2010.

So it is now in line with my Nine Elms crane count which is now 40. But this series has been unreliable after problems with the deflator and the switching of companies between it and services. So make of it what you will.

Trade

The problem with these so-called theme days for UK statistics is that we get too much information and some bits like the trade figures get ignored. Of course that may be the plan as they continue to be in deficit!

The total trade deficit (goods and services) narrowed £0.2 billion to £7.9 billion in the three months to November 2018 as both goods and services exports each increased £0.1 billion more than their respective imports.

There is something else troubling about the data which emphasises my theme that we know much less than we should about services trade.

The total UK trade deficit (goods and services) widened £4.1 billion to £28.6 billion in the 12 months to November 2018. The widening of the trade deficit was due mainly to a £4.4 billion narrowing in the trade in services surplus; the goods deficit narrowed by a lesser £0.3 billion.

We were told that our trade position in services had improved but that has then been more quietly revised away. For newer readers I made the point to the Sir Charlie Bean review of economic statistics that our data in this area was woeful. But nothing seems to have changed.

Comment

We find ourselves at something off a turning point but not the one that the media and chattering classes have obsessed about. In terms of today’s data Brexit is still in the distance but the world economic slow down is happening and seems set to impact more over the winter and into the spring. We should be grateful I think that we have retained at least some economic growth momentum as others look like they have lost it but these sort of slow downs tend to sing along with Muse.

Into the supermassive
Supermassive black hole
Supermassive black hole
Supermassive black hole
Supermassive black hole

So let us cross our fingers.

Andy Murray

Sad news about his injuries today so let me wish him well for the future as he has been a great champion and it may be a very long time before we see his like again.

Podcast

This week provides some answers to questions I have been asked.

The outlook for the economy of Germany has plenty of dark clouds

Sometimes it is hard not to have a wry smile at the way events are reported. Especially as in this instance it has been a success for my style of analysis. If we take a look at the fastFT service we were told this yesterday.

German industrial production unexpectedly drops in November.

My immediate thought was as the German economy contracted by 0.2% in the third quarter we should not be surprised by declines. Fascinatingly the Financial Times went to the people who have not been expecting this for an analysis of the issue.

German data released over the past two days have painted a glum picture for how Europe’s biggest economy performed during the latter part of 2018. fastFT rounds up what economists and analysts have said about what is happening. Anxieties over global trade wars and political uncertainty in the eurozone have taken their toll, and Europe’s powerhouse is showing signs of fatigue. Questions of whether a recession is looming have also been raised, while many economists remain cautiously optimistic in their prognosis.

If we now switch to what we have been looking at I wrote this on December 7th about the situation.

If we look at the broad sweep Germany has responded to the Euro area monetary slow down as we would have expected. What is less clear is what happens next? This quarter has not so far show the bounce back you might expect except in one area.

So not only had there been an expected weakening of the economy but there had been at that point no clear sign of the promised bounce back. What we know in addition now is this which was released on January 3rd.

  • Annual growth rate of broad monetary aggregate M3 decreased to 3.7% in November 2018 from 3.9% in October
  • Annual growth rate of narrower monetary aggregate M1, comprising currency in circulation and overnight deposits, stood at 6.7% in November, compared with 6.8% in October

So another decline and if we look for a trend we would expect Euro area growth to continue to be weak and this time around that is being led by Germany. The link between monetary data and the economy is not precise enough for us to say Germany is in a recession but we can expect weak growth at best heading into the early months of 2019. The FT does to be fair give us a brief mention of the monetary data from Oxford Economics.

lending growth remaining robust

The problem with that which as it happens repeats the argument of Mario Draghi of the ECB is that it is a lagging indicator in my opinion as banks respond to the better economic news from 2017.

As these matters can be heated let me make it quite clear that I wish Germany no ill in fact quite the reverse but the money supply data has been clear and has worked so far. Frankly the way it is still being widely ignored suggests it is likely to continue to work.

This week’s data

Trade

This morning’s release started in conventional fashion as we got the opportunity to observe yet another trade surplus for Germany.

 Germany exported goods to the value of 116.3 billion euros and imported goods to the value of 95.7 billion euros in November 2018………The foreign trade balance showed a surplus of 20.5 billion euros in November 2018. In November 2017, the surplus amounted to 23.8 billion euros. In calendar and seasonally adjusted terms, the foreign trade balance recorded a surplus of 19.0 billion euros in November 2018.

In world terms an annual decline in Germany’s surplus is a good thing as it was one of the imbalances which set the ground for the credit crunch. But if we switch to looking at this on a monthly basis this leapt off the page at me about imports.

-1.6% on the previous month (calendar and seasonally adjusted)

A fall in imports is a sign of a weak economy as for example we saw substantial falls in Greece back in the day. There are caveats to this of which the biggest is that monthly trade data is inaccurate and erratic but such as the numbers are they post another warning. The other side of the balance sheet was more conventional in that with current trade issues one might expect this.

also reports that German exports in November 2018 remained nearly unchanged on November 2017.

Let us move on by noting that due to the way that Gross Domestic Product or GDP is calculated lower imports in isolation provide a boost before a “surprise” fall later as it filters through other parts.

Production

If we step back to Monday there was some troubling news on this front.

Based on provisional data, the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) reports that price-adjusted new orders in manufacturing had decreased in November 2018 a seasonally and calendar adjusted 1.0% on the previous month.

So not much sign of an improvement and it was hardly reassuring that geographically the issue was concentrated in the Euro area.

Domestic orders increased by 2.4% and foreign orders decreased by 3.2% in November 2018 on the previous month. New orders from the euro area were down 11.6%, new orders from other countries increased 2.3% compared to October 2018.

Then on Tuesday we got disappointing actual production numbers.

In November 2018, production in industry was down by 1.9% from the previous month on a price, seasonally and calendar adjusted basis according to provisional data of the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis). The revised figure shows a decrease of 0.8% (primary -0.5%) from October 2018.

So November has quite a fall and this was compared to an October number which had been revised lower. This meant that the annual picture looked really poor.

-4.7% on the same month a year earlier (price and calendar adjusted)

Business surveys

At then end of last week we were told this by the Markit PMI ( Purchasing Manager’s Index) at the end of last week.

December saw the Composite Output Index fall for the fourth month running to 51.6, down from 52.3 in
November and its lowest reading since June 2013.
The latest slowdown was led by the service sector, as the rate of manufacturing output growth strengthened for the first time in five months, albeit picking up only slightly and staying below that of services business activity.

The problem for Markit is that rather than leading events they are lagging them as they are recording declines after the economic contraction in the third quarter. If we took them literally then the economy would shrink by even more this quarter! Anyway they no seem to be on the case of the motor industry. From yesterday.

Latest data indicated a worsening downturn in the European autos sector at the end of 2018. Production of automobiles & parts fell for the third month running, and at the fastest rate since March 2013. New orders fell sharply, with new export business (including intra-European trade) declining at the fastest rate in six years.

Comment

The German economy found itself surrounded by dark clouds as 2018 developed and as I am typing this we have seen more worrying signs. From @YuanTalks.

It’s the FIRST YEARLY DROP in at least 20 years. Passenger car sales slumped 19% y/y in Dec 2018 to 2.26 mln vehicles.

Over 2018 as a whole car sales fell by 6% so we can see the issue is accelerating and there are obvious implications for German manufacturers. It has been accompanied by another generic sign of possible world economic weakness from @LiveSquawk.

Exclusive: Apple Cuts iPhone Production Plan By 10% – Nikkei

Suddenly there is a lot of concern over a German recession or as it is being described a technical recession. In case you were wondering that means a recession that is within the error range of the data which actually covers most of them! Because of these errors it is hard to say whether the German economy grew or contracted at the end of last year, as for example wage growth should support consumption. But what we can say is that the broad sweep from it to the like;y trend for the early part of 2019 is weak. Perhaps some growth but not much after all even 0.2% growth in the final quarter would mean flat growth for the second half of the year.

For those who think ECB policy is set for Germany this poses quite a problem as it has ended its monthly QE purchases just as things have deteriorated in a shocking sense of timing. But to my mind just as bad is the issue that my “junkie culture” theme that growth was dependent on the stimulus also gets a tick including something of a slap on the back from Mario Draghi who seems to have come round to at least part of my point of view.

I’ll be briefer than I would like to be, but certainly especially in some parts of this period of time, QE has been the only driver of this recovery.

According to Handelsblatt every little helps.

Germany has saved €368 billion in interest costs on its debt thanks to record low interest rates since the financial crisis in 2008, according to Bundesbank calculations. That’s more than 10% of annual GDP.

 

 

 

Trade revisions post a warning for UK GDP

This morning has shown us that the way that the UK government deals with the private-sector has issues. From Reuters.

Interserve Plc’s (L:IRV) shares sank almost 60 percent in value on Monday after the British outsourcing company announced a rescue plan that was likely to see a big part of its debt converted into new equity, potentially handing control of the company to its creditors.

Interserve, which employs 75,000 worldwide and has thousands of UK government contracts to clean hospitals and serve school meals, said on Sunday it would seek to cut its debt to 1.5 times core earnings in a plan it hopes to finalise early next year.

I am not sure that the next bit inspires much confidence either.

Interserve Chief Executive Debbie White reiterated that the company’s fundamentals were strong and that the debt reduction plan, first raised in a refinancing in April, had the support of 10 Downing Street.

This provokes echoes of this from January.

Carillion was liquidated after contract delays and a slump in business left it swamped by debt and pensions liabilities., triggering Britain’s biggest corporate failure in a decade and forced the government to step in to guarantee public services from school meals to road works.

If we switch to the Financial Times what could go wrong with this bit?

 after moving into areas in which it had no expertise, including waste from energy plants and probation services.

It is hard not to feel that this particular company is yet another zombie that will be kept alive as another failure will be too embarrassing for the establishment. The share price is understandably volatile but at the time of typing had halved to a bit over 12 pence. This compares to the around £5 as we moved into 2016.

Also according to the FT there is something of a queue forming behind it.

The crisis at Interserve is the latest to hit Britain’s troubled outsourcing sector, with Kier, Capita and Mitie also seeking to rebuild their balance sheets. Kier, another construction and support services company, launched a £264m emergency rescue rights issue last month as it warned that lenders were seeking to cut their exposure to the sector. Kier, which employs 20,000 in the UK, emphasised that it needed the “proceeds on the group’s balance sheet by December 31 . . . in light of tighter credit markets”. It said its debt had increased from £186m in June to £624m at the end of October.

I do not know about you but debt trebling in a few months is something that is in financial terms terrifying.

Monthly GDP

This morning brought the latest in the UK’s monthly GDP reports and the opening salvo was better than what we have seen recently.

Monthly growth rose to 0.1% in October 2018, following flat growth in August and September 2018.

If we look into the detail we see that yet again this was driven by the service sector which on its own produced 0.2% growth in October. Here is some detail on this.

The professional, scientific and technical activities sector made the largest contribution to the month-on-month growth, contributing 0.11 percentage points.

However as it outperformed total GDP growth there had to be issues elsewhere and we find the main one in the production sector.

In October 2018, total production output fell by 0.6%, compared with September 2018, due to a fall of 0.9% in manufacturing; this was partially offset by a 1.8% increase in mining and quarrying.

Whether that number will prove to be a general standard I do not know but we do know production in Germany fell by 0.5% in October as we looked at that only on Friday. As for more detail there is this.

The monthly decrease in manufacturing output of 0.9% was due mainly to weakness from transport equipment, falling by 3.2% and pharmaceutical products, falling by 5.0%; 5 of the 13 manufacturing subsectors increased.

Anyone who has been following the news will not be surprised to see the transport sector lower as for example there was a move to a 3 day week for at least one of the Jaguar Land Rover factories. Regular readers will be aware that the pharmaceutical sector has regular highs and lows and recently June was a high and October a low as we wait for a more general pattern to emerge.

Maybe there was also some food for thought for Interserve and the like here.

Construction output decreased by 0.2% in October 2018

Quarterly GDP

The performance was more solid than you might have expected from the monthly data.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 0.4% in the three months to October 2018.

In case you were wondering how this happened? Here is the explanation.

While the three most recent monthly growths were broadly flat, the lower level in the base period gives a comparatively strong rolling three-month growth rate.

If we move forwards to the detail we see something that is rather familiar,

Rolling three-month growth in the services sector was 0.3% in October 2018, contributing 0.23 percentage points to GDP growth.

But this time around it was using the words of Andrew Gold much less of a lonely boy.

The production and construction sectors also had positive contributions, with rolling three-month growths of 0.3% and 1.2%, respectively.

If we start with the construction sector then this time around we start to wonder how some of the outsourcing companies we looked at above seemed to have done so badly at a time of apparent boom? Moving on to production.

Rolling three-month growth in the production industries was 0.3%, while in manufacturing industries growth was flat. Production growth was driven by broad-based increases within the sector.

Peering into the transport sector we get a rather chilling reminder of the past.

Three-months on a year ago growth for manufacture of transport equipment was negative 0.9%, the lowest growth rate since November 2009.

Returning to services we get a reminder that the transport sector can pop up here too.

 with a softening in services sector growth mainly due to a fall in car sales.

On the other side of the coin there were these areas.

Accounting contributed 0.08 percentage points to headline GDP growth, while computer programming contributed 0.07 percentage points.

Comment

We see that considering the international outlook the data so far shows the UK to be doing relatively well. An example of a comparison was the Bank of France reducing its estimate for quarterly GDP growth to 0.2% this morning. Sticking with the official mantra we have slowed overall but saw a small rebound in October. So far so good.

Less reassuring is the simply woeful state of the outsourcing sector which looks a shambles. Also there was something troubling in the revisions and updates to the trade figures which included this.

Removing the effect of inflation, the total trade deficit widened £3.0 billion in the three months to October 2018.

So we did well to show any growth at all in October but there was more.

The total trade deficit widened £5.4 billion in the 12 months to October 2018 due mainly to a £5.1 billion narrowing in the trade in services surplus.

It is nice of our official statisticians to confirm my long-running theme that we have at best a patchy knowledge of what is going on in terms of services trade, but not in a good way in terms of direction. This especially impacted in the quarter just gone.

In Quarter 3 2018, the total trade balance was revised downwards by £6.9 billion, due mainly to exports, which were revised down £5.9 billion; imports were revised up by £1.0 billion.

The goods deficit was revised downwards by £3.1 billion in Quarter 3 2018 as exports of goods were revised downwards by £2.0 billion and imports revised upwards by £1.1 billion.

This would be a rather large factor pushing us from growth to contraction but for two factors. One may wash out to some extent in other parts of the national accounts.

A large component of the revision to trade in goods in the most recent quarter was revisions to unspecified goods (including non-monetary gold).

You would think that movements in gold would be easy to account for. Silly me! Also we now get into the geek section which is that trade is in the expenditure version of the national accounts and it is the output version which is officially assumed to be the correct one. So numbers which suggest the UK may have contracted in Q3 are likely to perhaps drag growth slightly lower to 0.5% or 0.4% on the grounds that you cannot ignore them entirely as we sing along to Genesis one more time.

Too many men, there’s too many people
Making too many problems
And not much love to go round
Can’t you see this is a land of confusion ?