UK wage growth picks up but so does unemployment

Today brings us up to date or rather more up to date on the official average earnings or wages data for the UK. So far it has not really picked up the optimism shown by private-sector surveys like this on Monday from Markit.

In particular, latest data indicated one of the fastest
rises in income from employment in the nine-year
survey history (exceeded only by the upturn
reported in July 2016).

That looks good until we note that those nine years have been ones of relative struggle especially for real wages. Also if we look back to the summer of 2016 for the apparent wages boom we see that on the official rolling three-month measure wages growth peaked at 2.7% as autumn turned to winter. So not a great amount to write home about.

Also at least some of the pick-up was due to the rise in the National Living Wage which has welcome features but of course wage rise by diktat is different to wage rise by choice.

People aged 25-34 were the most likely to report an
increase in their earnings. This provides a signal
that pay rises ahead of changes to the National
Living Wage threshold had helped to boost the
income from employment index in March.

However the Markit summary was very upbeat.

The strength of the survey’s employment figures in
March is an advance signal that wage pressures
are starting to build. While higher salary payments
will help offset sharply rising living costs faced by
consumers, it also adds to the likelihood of
additional interest rate rises in 2018.

So in their view the Bank of England is targeting wage rises rather than the CPI measure of inflation it claims that it is. In which case no wonder Bank Rate is still at its “emergency” 0.5% level. This morning has seen some support for this in the markets as short sterling futures ( an old stomping ground of mine) have been falling as for example the June 2019 contract has fallen 0.05 to 98.74. Also open interest has done this.

the ICE Three Month Short Sterling Futures contract achieved two consecutive open interest records of 3,896,252 contracts on 16 March 2018 and 3,867,976 contracts on 15 March 2018. The previous open interest record was 3,801,867 contracts set in July 2007.

So people have placed their bets so to speak and as this contracts run ahead they are forecasting a Bank Rate of 1% in a year and a bit. Of course if they were always right life would be a lot simpler than it is.

Retail

A possible troubling consequence of this has popped up the news this morning. From the Financial Times.

Trouble on the UK high street: Carpetright, Mothercare and Moss Bros all report strains

As retail is a low payer in relative terms are the rises in the NLW something which has put it under further strain? Of course there are plenty of other factors but in a complicated world something good could also be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Employment

Intriguingly the Markit survey was bullish on this front too.

At the same time, UK households are the least
gloomy about their job security for at least nine
years, which provides a further indication of tight
domestic labour market conditions.

This of course contradicts the last set of official data which hinted at a turn in the long-running improvement in employment. Ironically the official data with its swing in employment growth will have helped the recent renaissance in productivity growth which you will recall started more of less about when the Office for Budget Responsibility downgraded forecasts for it.

NHS pay rise

There has been quite a bit of speculation on this front today with the BBC reporting this.

More than a million NHS staff, including nurses, porters and paramedics, could expect average pay increases of over 6% over three years, the BBC understands.

The deal, expected to be formally agreed by unions and ministers later, could cost as much as £4bn.

If approved, workers in England could see their pay increase almost immediately.

The deal is tiered – with the lowest paid getting the biggest annual rises.

Although as we have noted before the position is much more complex than it may look.

Last year, half of staff received rises worth between 3% and 4% on top of the 1% annual pay rise.

Public sector pay seems to have been rising anyway as the 1.4% of the end of 2016 gets replaced with the 2% of the end of 2017.

Today’s data

There was finally some better news for wages growth which backed up the Markit survey.

Latest estimates show that average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain in nominal terms (that is, not adjusted for price inflation) increased by 2.6% excluding bonuses, and by 2.8% including bonuses, compared with a year earlier.

This means that the official view on the real wage picture is this although I have to object to the way that an inflation index depending on fantasy numbers ( Imputed Rent) or CPIH is used here.

Between November 2016 to January 2017 and November 2017 to January 2018, in real terms (that is, adjusted for consumer price inflation), regular pay for employees in Great Britain fell by 0.2% while total pay for employees in Great Britain was unchanged.

If we look back we see that past months have been revised higher so that the last report was 2.7% and not the 2.5% reported back then. So we see that real wages look set to move back into positive territory and may already have done so using the CPI style inflation measures but not the RPI measure the establishment so dislikes.

In addition the employment situation continued to improve.

There were 32.25 million people in work, 168,000 more than for August to October 2017 and 402,000 more than for a year earlier.The employment rate (the proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 who were in work) was 75.3%, higher than for a year earlier (74.6%) and the joint highest since comparable records began in 1971.

Whereas unemployment provided first good and then not so good news.

The unemployment rate (the proportion of those in work plus those unemployed, that were unemployed) was 4.3%, down from 4.7% for a year earlier and the joint lowest since 1975.

However the labour force must have grown as we are also told this.

There were 1.45 million unemployed people (people not in work but seeking and available to work), 24,000 more than for August to October 2017 but 127,000 fewer than for a year earlier.

Comment

Let me type the next bit using a part of my keyboard that is used so little it is covered with dust. There may be some evidence that the Bank of England view on wages may be at least partially correct. Care is needed as you see if the past had not been revised higher then January would have looked really good whereas now the overall sequence is a little better. Thin pickings maybe but when you record is as bad as theirs any port in a storm is welcome.

Also we see that employment has continued to rise as we observe a double whammy of better news. Ironically I guess that may bring back a flicker of productivity worries as we mull a falling unemployment rate but rising unemployment. Maybe the short sterling futures market was ahead of the game although of course it is relying on an unreliable boyfriend to back up his promises.

Meanwhile let me give you my regular reminder that the average earnings numbers ignore firms of less than 20 employees which means that for it the 4.78 million self-employed disappear into a black hole.

 

 

 

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The UK has seen no real wage growth since 2005

Today we find ourselves addressing two parts of the UK economic situation as for some reason we get official data on the public finances and the labour market which of course means wages. The latter subject is something the Bank of England has assured us is about to pick up. Here is the report from its Business Agents from last week.

The survey indicated that companies expected an average pay settlement rate of 3.1% in 2018, compared with 2.6% in 2017 . The 2017 outturn was higher than the 2.2% that had
been expected in last year’s survey, reflecting larger
settlements across a broad range of sectors. The increases in pay settlements in 2018 are also expected to be broad-based,with only the construction sector expecting pay settlements in 2018 to be the same as in 2017.

This would be good news if true because as the inflationary impact of the lower UK Pound £ fades and in fact is replaced by a higher level against the US Dollar (approximately 15 cents on a year ago) we can hope for an end to falling real wages and some rises. It would be nice to see wages rise as well as inflation dipping.

Although the rises come from something which is both good and bad.

The biggest expected increase in pay settlements is seen in
consumer services. That is because many firms in this sector will have to increase pay to meet the National Living Wage (NLW). Companies also reported an increased tendency to pay above the NLW, due to competitive pressures.

Whilst it is welcome that the lower paid get a boost this is not the same as businesses choosing to pay more because conditions are good so we will need to see how this plays out. Some responses were not what might be hoped.

However, many firms were planning to limit management pay increases to 1%–2% in order to hold down their overall pay settlement.

Today’s data

There was little sign of the Bank’s forecasted improvement in the numbers.

Between October to December 2016 and October to December 2017, in nominal terms, total pay increased by 2.5%, unchanged compared with the growth rate between September to November 2016 and September to November 2017…….average total pay (including bonuses) for employees in Great Britain was £512 per week before tax and other deductions from pay, up from £498 per week for a year earlier

There was an increase in regular pay from 2.3% to 2.5% which many places are reporting as a rise in wages but overall what was given in regular pay increases was taken back from bonuses. It is hard to know what to make of the single month figures for December which showed a rise in private-sector wage growth to 3% which might be evidence for the Bank of England case until we notice that it was 3.1% in September and 3.2% in June in an erratic series.

As for real wages we are told this.

Comparing the three months to December 2017 with the same period in 2016, real AWE (total pay) fell by 0.3%, 0.1 percentage points more than the three months to November 2017.

Those who prefer their inflation index not to have made up or Imputed Rents in it will think that real wages have fallen by more like 0.5/6% and those who follow the Retail Price Index more like 1.5%. If you want a longer-term perspective there is plenty of food for thought here.

Looking at longer-term movements, average total pay for employees in Great Britain in nominal terms increased from £376 per week in January 2005 to £512 per week in December 2017; an increase of 36.1%. Over the same period, the Consumer Prices Index including owner occupiers’ housing costs (CPIH) increased by 34.1%.

Getting quite tight back to 2005 now isn’t it? In that time people have completed school seen children grow up and so on. Indeed if you use what was until recently the inflation measure favoured by the UK establishment ( CPI) your wages have not risen at all and if in spite of the barrage of official propaganda against it you still like the RPI it tells you real wages have fallen by 11%.

Those differences are why I spend so much time and effort on inflation measures as the impact is material and official moves always seem to have the same (lower) result whereas rel life is to say the least much more nuanced.

Productivity

There was good news on this front announced this morning.

Output per hour – Office for National Statistics’ (ONS’s) main measure of labour productivity – increased by 0.8% in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2017. This follows a 0.9% increase in the previous quarter (July to Sept) 2017 .

Well good news for nearly everyone.

The main reason for lowering our GDP forecast since March is a significant downward revision to potential productivity growth, reflecting a reassessment of the post-crisis weakness and the hypotheses to explain it.

Yes that was the Office for Budget Responsibility or OBR in another stunning success for my first rule of OBR club. They are a reverse indicator of nearly Dennis Gartman style proportions.

Speaking of seers one may have had a wry smile earlier at this.

Oil, coal, gas and non-fossil fuels will each account for a quarter of the energy mix by 2040, leading to increased competition across fuels, says BP’s chief economist Spencer Dale. ( h/t @sarasjolin )

Yes the same Spencer Dale who could not see beyond the end of his nose when Chief Economist at the Bank of England can now see all the way to 2040 it is claimed. We get some perspective by the fact he went to BP as presumably he was not considered good enough for the OBR which is a terrifying thought if you think about it.

There is a kicker to the good productivity news and it is something that I have pointed out before. There is something of an admittal here.

Growth in Quarter 4 was the result of a 0.5% increase in gross value added (GVA) (using the preliminary gross domestic product (GDP) estimate) accompanied by a 0.3% fall in total hours worked (using the latest Labour Force Survey data).

So some of it was related to this.

There were 1.47 million unemployed people (people not in work but seeking and available to work), 46,000 more than for July to September 2017 but 123,000 fewer than for a year earlier.

Some of the employment growth has come from the quantity numbers from the labour market not being quite so good. Some of the quantity surge which has seen record employment and plummets in unemployment depressed measured productivity and now a flicker the other way has raised it.

Comment

The opening salvo today is for those who think things are not as good as we are assured which is that since 2005 we have had very little ( CPIH), no ( CPI) or -11% (RPI) real wage growth in the UK. We should gain ground later this year but for now we continue slip-sliding away. If we had known this back then more of us would have been singing along with Natalie Imbruglia.

I shiver, I shiver,
Cos I shiver, I just break up when I’m near you it all gets out of hand
Yes I shiver I get bent up there’s no way that I know you’ll understand

Meanwhile we see productivity rise but wonder if it is because there is less work in terms of hours worked and maybe employment? These days things are rarely clear-cut as with GDP growth and productivity picking up in quarterly terms things look good. But on the side of the coin there has been a nudge higher in unemployment and this.

Self-assessed Income Tax and Capital Gains Tax receipts (combined) were £18.4 billion in January 2018, which is £0.9 billion less than in January 2017.

Confused? You will be! As we were told by the comedy series Soap. Also I have to confess that this troubles me.

and a share buyback of up to £1 billion ( Lloyds bank)

How quickly the theme changes from needs more capital to less.

 

 

How does UK employment rise but hours worked fall?

This week has brought with it news of a surge in UK wages but sadly for the rest of us it is only for one person. From the Guardian.

Sánchez’s four-and-a-half-year contract ties him to United until the summer of 2022. It is understood his salary is closer to a basic £300,000 a week than the reported £500,000. This means he is, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the club’s highest remunerated player.

We are of course looking at the wages of Alexis Sanchez which are supposed to be too high even for Manchester City but not for their neighbours. Actually if we add in the agent of Alexis Sanchez and any other hangers-on we do at least have more than one person benefiting from this. Whatever you might think of the economics of premiership football and it is easy to make a case for it being more inflated than even the modern era football itself it is providing a boost for the UK economy as this from the BBC this week highlights.

Manchester United have topped the table of the world’s 20 richest football clubs for the second year in a row, and 10th time overall, says Deloitte…….Manchester United’s €676m revenues were boosted by €44.5m from Uefa after winning the Europa League against Ajax…..There were a record 10 English Premier League clubs in the top 20. The number in the top 30 was up from 12 to 14.

Maybe it is the performance so far this season influencing me but I was surprised by this part.

Southampton are the only debutant in the top 20 after broadcast revenues soared.

That makes you wonder why they are always selling players doesn’t it?

Changes over time

According to the Resolution Foundation there has been something going on and it started well before the credit crunch hit.

A change in working hours is driving this change, but there are two factors at play. The first is the large increase in the number of male employees working part-time, which has risen from 8.1 per cent in 1997 to 11.7 per cent in 2017. The second driver of the ‘hollowing out’ of male pay over the last two decades is the reduction in average hours worked by the lower-paid (in terms of hourly pay) – over and above the shifting balance between full-time and part-time working. The average number of hours worked by full-time men earning around two-thirds of male median hourly earnings fell from 44.3 hours in 1997 to 42.2 hours in 2016. At the same time hours worked increased for higher paid men. As a result of this change lower-paid men no longer work more hours than their higher-paid counterparts.

As we mull the illogic in those who are at the bottom end of the pay spectrum working fewer hours we are left wondering one more time how much underemployment there is.

 Among part-time employees in the bottom fifth of the male weekly earnings distribution, 27 per cent would like full-time work compared to 8 per cent of those in the top fifth. Under-employment (people wanting more hours) is also concentrated amongst lower earners.

Sadly the official UK data releases tell us much less about underemployment than we would like to know.

Pressure pressure

We get regular reports of pay pressure but this so far has not filtered into the headline official data. An example of this was provided by The Independent yesterday.

The FMB, in its quarterly report on the state of the industry, found that companies are particularly struggling to recruit bricklayers and carpenters. Demand for skilled plumbers, electricians and plasterers is also outstripping supply……As a result of the skills gap, the FMB said that wages are rising sharply for skilled tradespeople.

So there is evidence for some wage pressure in that sector which must be awkward for a news source which regularly assures us immigration does not affect wages. “Without skilled labour from the EU, the skills shortages we face would be considerably worse” seems to tell a different story.

What was especially interesting about the CBI ( Confederation of British Industry) manufacturing survey yesterday was the absence of a mention of wage pressure.

Employment grew at the fastest pace since July 2014 over the last three months, with further growth expected next quarter. However, skill shortages are high on firms’ agendas, with the number of firms citing skilled labour as a factor likely to limit output over the next three months the highest for more than four decades.

Today’s data

What we saw was a continuation of what over the past few years has been a strength of the UK economy.

For September to November 2017, there were 32.21 million people in work, 102,000 more than for June to August 2017 and 415,000 more than for a year earlier.

The previous concerns over new employment/ work being part-time ( and hence likely to be lower paid) has reduced considerably as you can see.

The annual increase in the number of people in employment (415,000) was mainly due to more people in full-time employment (401,000).

Yet if we switch to wages we see little sign of change in yet another disappointment for the Bank of England with its “output gap” style thinking.

Between September to November 2016 and September to November 2017, in nominal terms, regular pay increased by 2.4%, little changed compared with the growth rate between August to October 2016 and August to October 2017 (2.3%)……….Between September to November 2016 and September to November 2017, in nominal terms, total pay increased by 2.5%, unchanged.

This means that the picture for real wages was pretty much unchanged as well with a small fall if you use the official CPIH series but something which is over 1% per annum higher if you use the Retail Price Index or RPI.

We get a different perspective if we look at hours worked as you can see below.

Between June to August 2017 and September to November 2017, total hours worked per week decreased by 4.9 million to 1.03 billion..

Only a small fall but much more significant if we remind ourselves that an extra 102,000 people were contributing to the hours worked. We will have to see how this plays out because one version could argue that underemployment is rising the other is that as the economy is growing we are improving productivity and thus should (hopefully) see higher wages going forwards. I suppose as this is the credit crunch era we should not be too amazed if we end up seeing elements of both! At least we will not be like Reuters who always present good UK economic news like this.

 The number of people in work in Britain surged unexpectedly in the three months to November

Comment

If we look at the recent UK economic experience we see that there have been gains since around 2012 particularly in employment. Yet to the chagrin of economics 101 the wage growth so confidently predicted by it 101 is still missing and we have moderate wage growth and falling real wages with employment at record highs. Maybe a partial reason is that many individual experiences are different to the collective as seen by averages as this from Sarah Connor in the Financial Times hints at.

When I hear about “continuous change”, I think of the husband of a woman I interviewed last year: a British man who lost his job more than a decade ago after the car factory where he worked closed down. Since then, he has been hired and made redundant 10 times. Is he resilient and willing to learn? Yes. Has it been enough? No.

Perhaps the official surveys miss his like in the same way that the official wages data still shamefully excludes the self-employed and small-size employers. That omission has got worse as the number of self-employed has grown in recent years and now totals 4.77 million. Somehow on that road we find ourselves noting that real wages are still some 6% below the previous peak.

average total pay (including bonuses) for employees in Great Britain was £489 per week before tax and other deductions from pay, £33 lower than the pre-downturn peak of £522 per week recorded for February 2008

Maybe another factor is another even longer-term trend seen by the UK economy.

Looking at a longer-term comparison, between June 1978 (when comparable records began) and September 2017: the proportion of jobs accounted for by the manufacturing and mining and quarrying sectors fell from 26.4% to 7.8%…….the proportion of jobs accounted for by the services sector increased from 63.2% to 83.4%.

 

 

 

 

Was the UK productivity crisis just an illusion?

This morning has brought fascinating news confirming one of the main themes of this website and indeed my work. I regularly point out that there are more than a few problems with converting economic theory to practical measurement. It is also true that economic statistics are quoted in the media and elsewhere to an accuracy they simply do not possess of which the clearest example is the quoting of quarterly economic growth or GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) figures to an accuracy of 0.1%. Strangely the official statisticians in my country the UK seem to want to exacerbate this problem by producing monthly GDP reports when there are such issues with the quarterly ones. After all the initial or preliminary quarterly report only contains around 40% of the final data set so producing monthly reports seems more like flying on a wing and a prayer to me.

However there is a positive here which is work from the Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence has shown a way we can do better and on that road we find that as we have suspected on here the group Imagination were rather prescient about some official data.

Could it be that it’s just an illusion
Putting me back in all this confusion
Could it be that it’s just an illusion now?

The Telecoms Problem

The issue here is summed up quite simply by the sentence below.

The telecommunications services industry has experienced very large technological progress in the past decades, as measured by technological output metrics. However, the industry’s economic output statistics do not appear to reflect this.

As that sinks in we realise that there is quite a problem here. After all if there is an area where there has been technological progress telecommunications is where it has been. I realise that I am spoilt being a Londoner in terms of signal strength but for example pretty much everywhere you these days there are people connecting online via their smartphones. Or in another form the Uber business model pretty much relies on people being connected online and my part of town became for a while like a science fiction film with so many people staring at phones checking where their taxi had got to. Another variation of this has been increases in broadband speeds and falls in price as I recall being a customer of AOL Silver providing a grand speed of 256k! Hard to believe now that I was paying £17 a month for that isn’t it?

There is a business context to this as at the turn of the century I was looking at having some trading systems connected to my flat. It seems like another universe now that BT wanted £6000 to connect up and at least £1000 a month for something which now would cost say £50 a month and probably less.

Yet as the authors of the paper point out this is how it has been officially recorded.

Between 2010 and 2015, for example, data usage in the UK expanded by around 900% but real Gross Value Added (GVA) for the industry fell by 4%.

Gross Domestic Product

It looks as though this has been underestimated over the period in question.

there has been an exponential growth in the quantity of data transmitted via telecommunications networks (both fibre and wireless) in recent years. Intuitively, this huge gain in achieved data transmission performance at the same or declining cost should represent a significant gain in output, irrespective of the content transmitted by the data, or the price charged for this content.

There are two issues here. Firstly the explicit one which is that output from this sector has been underestimated and thus GDP will be higher once it is properly recalculated. Next is the implicit one that we need to check other sectors as whilst they may not be affected as much there may be impacts.

Inflation

This is the crux of the matter. Here we find that two of my themes get backing and the major one that economic advancement can come from lower prices has a shattering effect on central banking methodology. Advancement via lower prices makes a 2% inflation target look out of touch and those arguing for an increase to be somewhere far far away, to coin a phrase from reality. Next there is the issue of deflators, which is how inflation is measured for GDP, and it is something of a mess. The particular issue here is that GDP in this sector has been too low because recorded telecoms inflation has been too high. In fact way too high.

Our findings indicate that the current deflator is upward biased and that telecommunications services
prices could have fallen between 35% and 90% between 2010 and 2015, considerably more than the current deflator,

This is a specific problem but in fact there are more than a few issues with the deflators in the national accounts. The worst sector is the one for government which seems to me to be an outright fantasy. This is not a criticism of the individual statisticians who no doubt do their best but an observation that in reality we have no real way of measuring it mostly because we have no output measure for more than a few government sectors.

Productivity

I have regularly argued that it is very likely we have miss measured productivity and therefore the crisis will to some extent fade away. We have today seen at least a partial confirmation of this highlighted by this from the Financial Times last March.

Telecoms accounts for only 1.8 per cent of the economy but official data suggest it is responsible for nearly a fifth of the economy-wide productivity slowdown.

It now appears that the productivity problem in this sector was because output was recorded incorrectly ( too low) because inflation via the deflators was too high.

If we go back to the peak headlines where for example the Bank of England argued we were some 19% below where we would have been projecting pre crisis trends we are left wondering how much is due to miss measurement?

Comment

There is a lot to consider here as we see yet again that our economic concepts may be fine in theory but are much more difficult in practice. This is especially true in the services sector where the output is usually intangible as opposed to the tangible output of the goods sector. That is especially awkward when the services sector is heading for 4/5 ths of your economic output as it is in the UK.  The analysis in the paper referred too highlights this in one simple section which shows that in the period in question telecoms revenues fell by 10% which in essence led to the falling output and productivity conclusion in UK GDP. But data transmission rose by a factor of ten strongly challenging the falling output conclusion. Another way of looking at that is the existence of a wide range of business and services such as WhatsApp or Kik.

It is a mistake I think to just take the data numbers as issues such as allowing for quality and what is called hedonics have problems. I still recall being at a Public Meeting on the subject of inflation measurement and a questioner from the floor  pointed out that his grandmother particularly liked one apple ( Cox’s Pippin) and if they were not available would not buy apples as opposed to in economic theory where she would automatically switch to a different variety. Thus I would agree with the research paper that the middle way of modifying the inflation measure by 35% rather than 90% is sensible but it comes with a crucial kicker. This is that whilst the numbers are now more realistic and should be much more realistic we should have a slice of humble pie and realise that they are if you will forgive the capitals an ESTIMATE as opposed to the holy grail.

For those who wish to read the paper I have put a link below.

https://www.escoe.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/ESCoE-DP-2017-04.pdf

Me on Core Finance TV

http://www.corelondon.tv/inflation-rising-falling/

 

 

 

 

UK productivity rises as real wages and employment fall

After yesterday’s inflation paradox where we in the UK were told it was rising ( CPI), falling ( RPI) and also staying the same ( CPIH) there has been a couple of bits of good news. First not only for inflation prospects but the prospect of having reliable heating this winter and for the latter Italy will be even more grateful after having to declare a state of emergency. From Reuters.

All main arteries that supply neighbouring countries from Austria’s main gas pipeline hub were back online before midnight after a deadly explosion there shut it down on Tuesday, the co-head of Gas Connect Austria said on ORF Radio on Wednesday.

Also looking ahead UK consumers can expect lower water bills as the regulator has announced this already today.

Our initial view of the cost of capital – based on market evidence – is 3.4% (on a real CPIH basis). In RPI terms it is 2.4%, which is a reduction of 1.3% from the 2014 price review. The effect of this change alone should lower bills of an average water and wastewater customer by about £15 to £25.

It is hard not to have a wry smile in that they are in line with the UK establishment by using CPIH but also reference RPI! Oh and whilst the news is welcome we should not ignore the fact that Ofwat has looked the other way as UK water bills have risen year after year.

Real Wages

Whilst the news above is welcome sadly inflation has been higher than wage growth in the credit crunch era as shown by the chart below.

The one area where a little cheer is provided is clothing. They do not compare with house prices so let me help out. Yesterday’s data release is very unwieldy but if we pick the middle of 2007 as June the house price index was 97.7 and as of October this year it was 117.4. Plenty of food for thought there as against nominal wages may be not so bad but there is a catch which is that we are comparing to the previous peak. Of course the picture in terms of real wages is worse as they have fallen.

As to the more recent trend then housing costs are depressing real wages still. The establishment try to hide this as we see here.

Owner occupiers’ housing costs (OOH) in the UK under the rental equivalence approach have grown by 1.9% in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2017 compared with the corresponding quarter of the previous year.

In their fantasy world ( remember they use Imputed Rents which are never paid) you might think that housing costs are rising more slowly than other inflation. But if you switch to actual and real prices of which house prices are one then you get this.

OOH according to the net acquisitions approach have grown by 3.9% in Quarter 3 2017 compared with the corresponding quarter of the previous year.

As you can see the impact of housing costs on the ordinary person’s budget over the past year looks very different if you use real numbers as opposed to made up ones from the fake news registry. On this road the UK real wages situation looks different as a rough calculation shows that CPIH would have been 3.1% just like CPI in October.

The end of “overtime”?

Just for clarity this in the UK involves working beyond your contracted hours and the state of play according to the Resolution Foundation is this.

The typical premium has gone from over 25 per cent in the 1990s to under 15 per cent today. Only one in five workers now get traditional time and a half rates. Most women get absolutely no pay premium at all, possibly because they are more likely to work in sectors without unions.

We can see that as time has passed the reduction in the premium for overtime has put downwards pressure on pay measures. The scale of the issue is shown here.

This is a big deal because a lot of us do paid overtime – 2.6 million people do over 1 billion hours of it a year (and that’s before we even start on the 1.5bn hours of unpaid overtime). Men and those doing manufacturing or transport jobs are most likely to be doing some, but amongst those that do overtime it is a bigger deal financially for part timers and women.

So it has a solid impact which if we look at the trends has negative. The problem is what to do about it? Invariably the Resolution Foundation aligns itself with the central planners but sadly I doubt we can simply wish the problem away by legislation. After all we have an employment success story and some of that seems likely to be due to lower wages at the margin. You could argue employers are being more efficient in allocating hours and work which is a good thing. However it is an alloyed good thing as this time period is one where we have seen the growth of zero hours contracts which presumably have taken up some of the slack. Some types of work ( most of my career for example) are defined around performing tasks not how long it takes to do them so perhaps this definition of work has expanded. More research is welcome though especially into why women seem much less likely to benefit from overtime.

Today’s data

There was slightly better news on wages driven mostly by higher bonuses.

Latest estimates show that average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain in nominal terms (that is, not adjusted for price inflation) increased by 2.5% including bonuses and by 2.3% excluding bonuses, compared with a year earlier.

Still a fair way below the hopes and expectations of the Bank of England and this is what it does to real wages.

In the three months to October 2017, real earnings decreased by 0.2% (including bonuses) and by 0.4% (excluding bonuses) compared with a year earlier.

That is using the CPIH measure so if you want it with house prices add around 0.3% to the decline.

Adding to the welcome news was another fall in unemployment.

There were 1.43 million unemployed people (people not in work but seeking and available to work), 26,000 fewer than for May to July 2017 and 182,000 fewer than for a year earlier.

However for perhaps the first time there is a hint of a change ( 2 months data now) in what up until now has been an employment success story.

The UK employment rate fell by 0.2 percentage points to 75.1% in the three months to October 2017 compared with the previous quarter.The level of employment fell by 50,000 for men and by 6,000 for women.

Comment

We see a complex picture in today’s data. Wage growth is up on a three monthly basis but this is not because October was an especially good month ( 2.3%) it was that July which dropped out of the data was a particularly weak one (1.7%). Ironically the weaker employment data may offer a little hope as rising output with lower employment will be good for the productivity data and this is confirmed by the hours worked numbers.

Between May to July 2017 and August to October 2017, total hours worked per week decreased by 5.9 million to 1.03 billion.

However on the other side of the coin the employment data is simultaneously troubling as the success saga has at best reached a soggy patch. Mostly it seems that it was the self-employed who saw a change.

 The employment level decreased by 50,000 for men and by 6,000 for women………..The total number of self-employed decreased by 41,000 in the three months to October 2017 compared with the three previous months.

 

What does the Bank of England think about UK wage growth prospects?

A sense of perspective can give us also a direction of travel so here is this from Sir Jon Cunliffe of the Bank of England yesterday.

The unemployment rate in the UK today is 4.3%. The last time it was that low was 1975 – the year I
graduated from university.
That year, average wages grew by 24%. 42 years later, with unemployment at the same level, whole
economy average weekly earnings grew by 2.2%

Oh and just as a reminder as Sir Jon omitted this bit the wage rises were not a sign of economic triumph as inflation ( measured by the Retail Price Index or RPI) rose to 26.9% in August of that year. Also this is an innovative way of describing a period when RPI inflation went over 5% for a while as the Bank of England sat on its hands.

 energy price inflation between 2010 to 2013;

Actually innovative ( for newer readers this word was twisted in the Irish banking crisis and now in my financial lexicon for this times has an ominous portent to it) move was to claim this.

That is why the Bank of England has a clear primary objective of price stability and a forward-looking inflation
targeting remit. We have an objective to support the government’s economic policy but it is a secondary
objective and subject to the first.

The truth is that it is the other way around as the inflation surge in 2011 that I pointed out earlier or the current phase where the Bank of England cut Bank Rate and expanded QE into an inflation target overshoot proves. In terms of Yes Prime Minister being willing to state things like that would be a qualification for a knighthood or as it described it a K. Indeed another potential qualification for a K might be to write and say this.

Central bank credibility is crucial to anchoring inflation expectations………. Arguably we are only now discovering the impact at very low levels of unemployment of the Bank of England’s credibility as an inflation anchor.

Apparently it is doing this right now while inflation is overshooting! Quite how this triumph fits with the credit crunch era is another fantasy which skips reality.

Wage Growth

There is reality expressed here.

Equally strikingly, that 2.2% is about the same rate of wage growth as in 2011 when unemployment rose
above 8% for the first time since the mid-1990s. Over the following 6 years unemployment has fallen quickly
and continuously but nominal pay growth has largely remained bound between 1 and 3%.

If you think this through logically then this is a basis for my argument that rather than aiming for an inflation rate of 2% per annum you should go lower and then we should find some real wage growth. Also it is sad to see a policymaker skip what are the major issues and causes of what is happening.

I noted above that changes in the world of work have very possibly changed the pricing power of labour and
workers’ appetite for risk (i.e. job insecurity). This is in itself a large area of current debate and I do not want
here to go into these in great detail.

The theme seems to be why look at relevant issues when you can continue to chew over the continuing failure of the Phillips Curve which gets pages and pages as opposed to this one paragraph below.

Some of these important changes in the structure of the labour market, such as the rise in self-employment
and decline in union membership, predated the financial crisis. Others, like the rise in temporary work and
zero hours contracts, are more recent. Technology – and the rise of the gig economy – has further
increased what my colleague Andy Haldane has called the ‘divisibility’ of labour.

Real Wages

It is simply astonishing that a man who voted for the monetary policy easing in August 2016 ignores its role in this.

Inflation is currently above target as a result of the post referendum depreciation of sterling and forecast, for
that reason, to remain so over the next three years.

I find it odd that they forecast the fall in the Pound will keep inflation above target for the next three years because as I explained yesterday the major effects are pretty much behind us now. The inflation Forward Guidance gets odder and indeed somewhat bizarre when you read this.

Domestically generated inflation pressure, however, appears low……..Bank staff calculations suggest that adjusted for this effect indicators of domestic inflation pressure are below levels consistent with the 2% target.

Oh and those who had to make calculations back when inflation was just below 27% are permitted a wry smile at this description of 4% inflation ( using the RPI index).

Measuring domestically generated
inflation when externally generated inflation pressure is high, as at present, is not straightforward.

The general Bank of England view is that wage growth is about to pick up and of course that has been true for years now but specifically it is based around this.

3 month on 3 month annualised AWE growth for regular pay is 2.9%.

As ever central bankers are cherry-picking the data as individuals will care most about total pay. However Sir Jon is less convinced by thoughts of a rise in wages although whilst he does not put it this way they are likely to be supported by lower inflation.

there is in my view a not immaterial risk that the
trade-off is not as it currently appears and that domestic inflation pressure will undershoot the Committee’s
collective expectation.

Today’s Data

This was another disappointing day for the Forward Guidance of the Bank of England.

Between July to September 2016 and July to September 2017, in nominal terms, both regular pay and total pay increased by 2.2%, little changed compared with the growth rates between June to August 2016 and June to August 2017.

This meant that real wages did this and for fans of the RPI subtract around 1%.

Latest estimates show that average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain in real terms (that is, adjusted for price inflation) fell by 0.4% including bonuses, and fell by 0.5% excluding bonuses, compared with a year earlier.

Comment

There is fair bit to consider here. In my view the views of the Bank of England are driven mostly by an attempt to avoid having to say that the monetary policy easing of August 2016 was a mistake. The majority in favour of this month’s Bank Rate rise do so by optimism on the wages front although of course there is a weakness there as we currently have fallen real wages. Sir Jon Cunliffe avoids it by thinking that inflation will be weak looking ahead.It remains a shame that whatever their views they continue to persist in their beliefs around the Phillips Curve. Sometimes I wonder what it would take for them to abandon it and put it in the recycling bin?

There was a hopeful sign in today’s data which is summarised below.

*U.K. 3Q OUTPUT PER HOUR RISES 0.9% Q/Q, FASTEST SINCE 2Q 2011 ( h/t @stewhampton)

Economics is not called the dismal science for nothing as we note a possible trajectory change as there were fewer hours worked  ( and indeed a 14000 fall in employment). But we have been looking for a productivity rise and this is one of the first signs of it and any continuation would be welcome. Also my first rule of OBR Club may well be in play as of course it ( and the Bank of England) have just downgraded the UK productivity outlook. Sometimes you really couldn’t make it up!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The diversity of modern employment has left the official data behind

Today has opened with the subject of wages and pay in the news ahead of the official data on the subject. The particular issue is described by the Financial Times below.

 

It was Mr Hammond’s predecessor, George Osborne, who first imposed pay restraint on the public sector back in 2011-12, as part of the then coalition government’s efforts to balance the state’s books after the financial crisis. He initially announced a salary freeze, and later a 1 per cent cap on pay rises.

This slipped out of the news when inflation was low but has returned as it has risen and another factor is that a minority government is much less likely to enforce such a policy than a majority one. The actual changes announced so far are below.

 

The government announced on Tuesday that prison officers will be given a 1.7 per cent pay increase, while the police will receive a one-off 1 per cent bonus on top of their 1 per cent rise. The settlement for the prison service is in line with an independent pay review body’s recommendations. The deal for the police is somewhat less generous than the 2 per cent recommended by another pay review body.

So far the changes seem to be fiddling at the edges but those who have read or watched the Dambusters story will know that a small crack can turn into a flood of water. It seems unlikely that teachers and nurses for example will not get such deals although I also note that the new regime remains below inflation.

As to the debate over wages in the public and private sectors the Institute for Fiscal Studies offered some perspective in May.

 

Public sector pay rose compared to private sector pay during and after the 2008 recession, as private sector earnings fell sharply in real terms. Public pay restraint since 2011 has led to the difference between public and private sector pay returning to its pre-crisis level.

Of course not everyone has suffered as salaries for Members of Parliament have risen from £65,768 in April 2010 when an “independent” body was appointed to £76,011thia April.

House Prices

One of the features of using a national average is that some do better and some do worse. On that vein there is this from the Yorkshire Building Society.

However, homes in 54% of local authority areas – including Edinburgh, Birmingham, Peterborough, Leeds and Harrogate – are more affordable now than they were before the financial crash due to wages increasing at a higher rate than property values over this period.

This leads to this conclusion.

At a national level, since September 2007 affordability has improved by 0.6% in Britain overall, by 18.9% in Scotland, 17.2% in Wales but has worsened by 3.3% in England.

My challenge to their calculations come from the fact that they use earnings which have of course risen as opposed to real earnings which have fallen in the credit crunch era. But it is a reminder that in some places house prices have fallen. For example if the “Burnley Lara” Jimmy Anderson was to buy a place back home with the earnings created by over 500 test wickets he would see an average house price of £77,629 as opposed to £94,174 back in 2007.

Oh and as you click on their site they announce their lowest mortgage rate of all time which is 0.89% variable for two years. I also note that it is only variable down to 0% as perhaps they too fear what the Bank of England might do in the future.

Also this morning’s data release reminds us that official UK earnings data ignores the increasing numbers of self-employed.

self-employed people increased by 88,000 to 4.85 million (15.1% of all people in work)

The UK employment miracle

It is easy to forget that the numbers below would have been seen by economists as some sort of economic miracle pre credit crunch.

For May to July 2017, 75.3% of people aged from 16 to 64 were in work, the highest employment rate since comparable records began in 1971…..For May to July 2017, there were 32.14 million people in work, 181,000 more than for February to April 2017 and 379,000 more than for a year earlier.

Some of this is likely due to changes in the state pension age for women but there is also a rise apart from that.  The overall picture is completed by the unemployment numbers.

The unemployment rate (the proportion of those in work plus those unemployed, that were unemployed) was 4.3%, down from 4.9% for a year earlier and the lowest since 1975…….There were 1.46 million unemployed people (people not in work but seeking and available to work), 75,000 fewer than for February to April 2017 and 175,000 fewer than for a year earlier.

The good news does leave us with several conundrums however. For example if the situation is so good ( employment rising when it is already high) why is economic activity growth weak? Or to put it another way why do we have low and sometimes no productivity growth? Last time around when we had a dichotomy between the quantity labour data and GDP it was the labour market which was the leading indicator but of course we do not know that looking ahead from now.

Average Earnings

These continued recent trends.

Between May to July 2016 and May to July 2017, in nominal terms, both regular pay and total pay increased by 2.1%, the same as the growth rates between April to June 2016 and April to June 2017.

There was a cautionary note in that if we look at the data for July alone there was a fall in bonus payments particularly to the finance sector so there is a possible slow down in pay on the way. However those numbers are erratic as we saw the same in April and then a bounce back.

Moving onto real wages we get something of a confirmation of my critique of the Yorkshire Building Society analysis above.

average total pay (including bonuses) for employees in Great Britain was £487 per week before tax and other deductions from pay, £35 lower than the pre-downturn peak of £522 per week recorded for February 2008 (2015 prices).

If we look at the annual rate of fall it is around 0.4% if you use the official inflation data which has switched to CPIH but around 1% higher if you use the Retail Prices Index.

Comment

This month has brought us a reminder that the credit crunch has affected people in many different ways. There was something of an economic aphorism that recessions were 80/20 in that for 80% not much changed but for 20% it did but these days more are affected. For example there are increasing numbers of self-employed about whose wages we know little. No doubt some are doing well but I fear for others. If we move to house prices some are seeing what are increasingly unaffordable values whilst others have seen price falls.

National statistics have been caused difficulties by this as for example depending on the survey used the base level is 10 employees or 20 depending on the survey. This was less of a problem when the economy moved in a more aggregate fashion but now assuming that is a mistake in my view. It also misses out ever more people.

I know the tweet below is from the United States but it covers a few of my themes including if you look closely an improvement apparently related to a methodology change.

Oh and the increases in 2015/16 came mostly as a result of the lower inflation central bankers tell us are bad for us.