The Jackson Hole symposium should embace lower inflation

Later this week the world’s central banks will gather at the economics symposium of the US Kansas Federal Reserve at Jackson Hole in Wyoming. The description can be found below.

The 2017 Economic Symposium, “Fostering a Dynamic Global Economy,” will take place Aug. 24-26, 2017.  (The program will be available at 6 p.m., MT, Aug. 24, 2017).

It is appropriate that they do not yet know the program as the world’s central bankers find themselves at a variety of crossroads which they are approaching from different directions. It is also true that after all their expansionary monetary policy and “masters ( and mistresses) of the universe” activities over the last decade or so they now approach one of the most difficult decisions which is how to exit these programs. For some this will simply mean a slowing of the expansion. This all looks very different to when a speech on Forward Guidance was eagerly lapped up by a receptive audience and quickly became policy in many countries. After all Open Mouth Operations make a central banker feel both loved and important as we all hang on every word. Oh and there is a clear irony in the title of “Fostering a Dynamic Global Economy” for a group of people whose propping up of many zombie banks has led to anything but. That is of course assuming anyone knows what the phrase means in practice!

The inflation issue

The issue here is highlighted by this from Bloomberg today.

The world’s top central bankers head to Jackson Hole amid growing unease about low inflation.

Of course central bankers and those in the media subject to their brainwashing program may think this but the ordinary worker and consumer will be relieved. Should any of the central bankers suffer from stomach problems no doubt they will be delighted to discover this from CNBC.

Hikma Pharmaceuticals Plc’s U.S. subsidiary has raised the price of a common diarrhea drug by more than 400 percent and is charging more for five other medicines as well, the Financial Times reported on Sunday……The average wholesale price of a 60 ml bottle of liquid Atropine-Diphenoxylate, a common diarrhea drug also known as Lomotil, went from about $16 a bottle to $84, the FT reported.

Central banker heaven apparently and what needs looking into in my opinion is the clear examples of price gouging we see from time to time. Also more mundane products are seeing price rises. From Mining.com last week.

The iron ore price is now trading up a whopping 43% from its 2017 lows struck just two months ago.

According to Yuan Talks the Dalian futures contract rose 6.6% today before price limits kicked in. It is not alone as the Nikkei Asian Review points out.

Three-month zinc futures were at their highest level in 10 years, at about $3,100 per ton, rising 26% over the same period.
Aluminum also rose 10% over the same period.

So as well as raising a smile on the face of the heads of the central banks of Canada and Australia there are hints of some commodity inflation about. This provides a counterpoint to the concerns about low inflation which in the Euro area and the US is not that far below especially when we allow for the margin of error.

Does QE lead to inflation?

Some care is needed here as of course we have seen waves of asset price inflation across a wide range of countries. But of course the statistical policy across most of the world is to avoid measuring that in consumer inflation. Then it can be presented as growth which for some it is but not for example for first time buyers. However one of the building blocks of economics 101 is that QE ( Quantitative Easing) leads to inflation. Yet the enormous programs in the US and the ongoing one in the Euro area have not got consumer inflation back to target and the leader of the pack in this regard Japan has 0% inflation. After all the money involved has it simply led to price shifts? That is especially awkward for Ivory Tower theorists as they are not supposed to be able to happen with ~0% inflation so I guess they sent their spouse out to fill up the car as the petrol/diesel price fell.

More deeply whilst the initial effect of QE should have some inflationary implications is there something in it such as the support of a zombie business culture that means inflation the fades. It could of course be something outside of the monetary environment such as changing demographics involving ageing populations. Perhaps it was those two factors which broke the Phillips Curve.

As to future prospects there are two issues at play. The US Federal Reserve will start next month on an exit road which I remember suggesting for the Bank of England in City-AM some 4 years ago. If you do not want QE to become a permanent feature of the economic landscape you have to start somewhere. The issue for the ECB is getting more complex mostly driven by the fiscal conservatism of Germany which means that a supply crunch is looming as it faces the prospect of running out of German bonds to buy.

Currency Wars

There are two specific dangers here which relate to timing ( during thin summer markets) and the fact that markets hang on every central banking word. Eyes will be on the Euro because it has been strong in 2017 and in particular since mid April when it did not quite touch 93 on its effective ( trade-weighted) index as opposed to the 98.7 the ECB calculated it at on Friday. It has put another squeeze on the poor battered UK Pound £ but of more international seriousness is yet another example of a problem for economics 101 as interest-rate rises should have the US Dollar rising. Of course there is a timing issue as the US Dollar previously rose anticipating this and maybe more, but from the point of Mario Draghi and the ECB there is the fear that cutting the rate of QE further might make the Euro rally even more. Although one might note that in spite of the swings and roundabouts along the way the Euro at 98.7 is not far away from where it all began.

The Bank of Japan is also facing a yen rallying against the US Dollar and this morning it briefly rose into the 108s versus the US Dollar. Whilst it is lower than this time last year the trend seemed to change a few months back and the Yen has been stronger again.

Comment

It is hard not to have a wry smile at a group of people who via Forward Guidance and Open Mouth Operations have encouraged markets to hang on their every word now trying to downplay this. If you create junkies then you face the choice between cold turkey or a gradual wind down. Even worse you face the prospect of still feeding addiction number one when a need for number two arises as sooner or later an economic slow down will be along. Or creating fears about low inflation when the “lost decades” of Japan has shown that the world does not in fact end.

If we move onto the concept of a total eclipse then I am jealous of those in the United States today. From Scientific American.

Someone said that it is like suddenly being in some sort of CGI of another world or maybe like a drug-induced hallucination that feels (and is) totally real.

No they have not switched to central banking analysis but if the excellent BBC 4 documentary ”  do we really need the moon?” is any guide we should enjoy solar eclipses whilst we still have them. Meanwhile of course there is Bonnie Tyler.

I don’t know what to do and I’m always in the dark
We’re living in a powder keg and giving off sparks.

 

 

 

 

What is the state of play in the UK car loan market?

One of the features of the last few years has been the boom in car finance in the UK. This has led to a subsequent rise in car sales leading to something of a boom for the UK automotive sector.  the rate of annual UK car registrations dipped to below 2 million in 2011 and much of 2012 but then accelerated such that the SMMT ( Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) reported this in January last year.

UK new car registrations for 2015 beat 2.6 million units for the first time, sealing four years of consecutive growth. The market has posted increases in all bar one of the past 46 months ………Overall, the market rose 6.3% in 2015 to 2,633,503 units – exceeding forecast and outperforming the last record year in 2003 when 2,579,050 new cars left the UK’s showrooms.

So volumes surged as we note the official explanation of why.

Buyers took advantage of attractive finance deals and low inflation to secure some of the most innovative, high tech and fuel efficient vehicles ever produced.

The “attractive finance deals” attracts my attention as it feeds into one of my themes. This is that the Bank of England loosened up credit availability with its Funding for Lending Scheme in the summer of 2013. This flowed into the mortgage market but increasingly looks as if it flowed into the car finance market as well leading to what are described as “attractive finance deals”. This was added to by the Term Funding Scheme ( £80.4 billion and rising) of last August when the Bank of England wanted a “Sledgehammer” of support for lending. We know from past experience that such actions lead to the funds going to all sorts of places that no doubt will be officially denied, or disintermediation. But the car finance industry has exploded to now be 86% of the new car market. Of course the Bank will also describe itself as being “vigilant” about credit risks.

Bank Underground

This is the blog of the staff of the Bank of England rather than the London Underground station to which I commuted for quite a few years. They point out that the car market is now slowing.

Private demand for new cars slowed in 2016 (Chart 2). New car registrations spiked higher in 2017 Q1 — mostly due to changes in vehicle excise duty — but fell back sharply thereafter. The Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) forecasts registrations declining by 2½% in 2017 and by a further 4% in 2018.

I know that this is being described as a consequence of the EU leave vote but whilst the fall in real wages may have added to it a fall was on its way for a saturated market. How many cars can we all drive on what are often very congested roads? Also the bit about “high-tech” I quoted from the SMMT last January has not worn the passage of time well. Although to be fair the emissions cheating software on many diesels was indeed high-tech. The consequence of that episode has also affected the market as I am sure some are waiting to see if the diesel scrappage scheme that was promised actually appears.

So we had a monetary effort to create a Keynesian effect which is that what was badged as “credit easing” did what it says on the tin. Car manufacturers and others used it to offer loans and contracts which shifted car demand forwards. But the catch is what happened next? The future is supposed to be ready for us to pick up that poor battered can which was kicked forwards but increasingly it does not turn out like that.

What about the finance market?

According to the Bank of England it has responded and below is one of the changes.

Providers are increasingly retailing contracts where consumers have no option to purchase the car at the end.  This avoids some risks associated with voluntary terminations, but it creates new risks around resale value.

Are they avoiding a problem now being creating one at the end of the contract? Anyway that issue is added to by the familiar response of a credit market to signs of trouble which can be described as “extend and pretend”

finance providers have responded by lengthening loan terms and increasing balloon payments rather than upping monthly repayments.

Actually there are a variety of efforts going on in addition to lengthening the loan term.

Manufacturers typically set the GMFV ( Guaranteed Minimum Future Value) at around 90% of the projected second-hand value at the end of the contract, in order to build a safety margin into their calculations. Tweaking the proportion can have a material impact on the cost of car finance. Switching the GMFV from 90% to 95% would likely reduce the consumer’s monthly payment.

Reducing the safety margin at the first sign of trouble is of course covered by one of the Nutty Boys biggest hits.

Madness, they call it Madness

Also there is a switch to PCH or Personal Contract Hire finance where the consumer does not have the option to buy the car. This is presumably to avoid what for them will be a worrying development.

So-called voluntary terminations are increasing, and usually result in losses to the finance houses.

However this comes with quite a price.

Greater use of PCH has certain risks attached for car finance houses. The primary risk inherent in PCP finance (ie the car’s uncertain market value when returned at the end of the contract) is at least as great under PCH. And a business model of increasingly relying on volatile and lower-margin wholesale markets to sell cars adds to the risk.

Oh and when all else fails there is of course ouvert price cuts.

Manufacturers often vary the amount of cash support to car dealers in order to meet sales targets — sometimes referred to as variable marketing programmes….. Our intelligence suggests that dealership incentives have increased over the past year.

So my financial lexicon for these times needs to add “cash support” and “dealership incentives” to its definition of price cuts. As it happens an advert for SEAT came on the radio as I was typing this I looked up the details. This is for an Ibiza SE.

One year’s Free Insurance (from 18 yrs)^

  • £1,500 deposit contribution**
  • 5.9% APR Representative**
  • Plus an extra £500 off when you take a test drive*

Comment

It is hard not to look across the Atlantic and see increasingly worrying signs about the car loans market. There are differences as for example the falling car prices seen in the consumer inflation data are not really being repeated in the UK so far. I checked the July data earlier this week and whilst used car prices fell by 1.1% new car prices rose by 1.3% although of course we wonder if the new offers are reflected in that? However the move towards “extend and pretend” and the use of the word “innovative” is troubling as we know where that mostly ends up. Or if you prefer here is it via the Bank of England private coded language.

That is partly because car manufacturers and their finance houses are increasingly stimulating private demand by offering cheaper (and new) forms of car finance. As amounts of consumer credit increase, so do the risks to the finance providers. Most car finance is provided by non-banks, which are not subject to prudential regulation in the way that banks are. These developments make the industry increasingly vulnerable  to shocks.

Barca

My deepest sympathies go out to those caught up in the terrorist attacks in and around Barcelona yesterday.

 

 

 

The ECB faces the problem of what to do next?

Later this month ECB President Mario Draghi will talk at the Jackson Hole monetary conference with speculation suggesting he will hint at the next moves of the ECB ( European Central Bank). For the moment it is in something of a summer lull in policy making terms although of course past decisions carry on and markets move. Whilst there is increasing talk about the US equity market being becalmed others take the opportunity of the holiday period to make their move.

The Euro

This is a market which has been on the move in recent weeks and months as we have seen a strengthening of the Euro. It has pushed the UK Pound £ back to below 1.11 after the downbeat Inflation Report of the Bank of England last week saw a weakening of the £.  More important has been the move against the US Dollar where the Euro has rallied to above 1.18 accompanied on its way by a wave of reversals of view from banks who were previously predicting parity such as my old employer Deutsche Bank. If we switch to the effective or trade weighted index we see that since mid April it has risen from the low 93s at which it spent much of the early part of 2017 to 99.16 yesterday.

So there has been a tightening of monetary policy via this route as we see in particular an anti inflationary impact from the rise against the US Dollar because of the way that commodities are usually priced in it. I note that I have not been the only person mulling this.

Such thoughts are based on the “Draghi Rule” from March 2014.

Now, as a rule of thumb, each 10% permanent effective exchange rate appreciation lowers inflation by around 40 to 50 basis points

Some think the effect is stronger but let us move on noting that whilst the Euro area consumer and worker will welcome this the ECB is more split. Yes there is a tightening of policy without it making an explicit move but on the other side of the coin it is already below its inflation target.

Monetary policy

Rather oddly the ECB choose to tweet a reminder of this yesterday.

In the euro area, the European Central Bank’s most important decision in this respect normally relates to the key interest rates…….In times of prolonged low inflation and low interest rates, central banks may also adopt non-standard monetary policy measures, such as asset purchase programmes.

Perhaps the summer habit of handing over social media feeds to interns has spread to the ECB as the main conversation is about this.

Public sector assets cumulatively purchased and settled as at 04/08/2017 €1,670,986 (31/07/2017: €1,658,988) mln

It continues to chomp away on Euro area government debt for which governments should be grateful as of course it lowers debt costs. Intriguingly there has been a shift towards French and Italian debt. Some of this is no doubt due to the fact that for example in the case of German sovereign debt it is running short of debt to buy. But I have wondered in the past as to whether Mario Draghi might find a way of helping out the problems of the Italian banks and his own association with them.

is the main story this month the overweighting of purchases of rising again to +2.3% in July (+1.8% in June) ( h/t @liukzilla ).

With rumours of yet more heavy losses at Monte Paschi perhaps the Italian banks are taking profits on Italian bonds ( BTPs) and selling to the ECB. Although of course it is also true that it is rare for there to be a shortage of Italian bonds to buy!.

Also much less publicised are the other ongoing QE programmes. For example Mario Draghi made a big deal of this and yet in terms of scale it has been relatively minor.

Asset-backed securities cumulatively purchased and settled as at 04/08/2017 €24,719 (31/07/2017: €24,661)

Also where would a central bank be these days without a subsidy for the banks?

Covered bonds cumulatively purchased and settled as at 04/08/2017 €225,580 (31/07/2017: €225,040) mln

 

This gets very little publicity for two reasons. We start with it not being understood as two versions of it had been tried well before some claimed the ECB had started QE and secondly I wonder if the fact that the banks are of course large spenders on advertising influences the media.

Before we move on I should mention for completeness that 103.4 billion has been spent on corporate bonds. This leaves us with two thoughts. The opening one is that general industry seems to be about half as important as the banks followed by the fact that such schemes have anesthetized us to some extent to the very large numbers and scale of all of this.

QE and the exchange rate

The economics 101 view was that QE would lead to exchange rate falls. Yet as we have noted above the current stock of QE and the extra 60 billion Euros a month of purchases by the ECB have been accompanied for a while by a static-ish Euro and since the spring by a rising one. Thus the picture is more nuanced. You could for example that on a trade weighted basis the Euro is back where it began.

My opinion is that there is an expectations effect where ahead of the anticipated move the currency falls. This is awkward as it means you have an effect in period T-1 from something in period T .Usually the announcement itself leads to a sharp fall but in the case of the Euro it was only around 3 months later it bottomed and slowly edged higher until recently when the speed of the rise increased. So we see that the main player is human expectations and to some extent emotions rather than a formula where X of QE leads to Y currency fall. Thus we see falls from the anticipation and announcement but that’s mostly it. As opposed to the continuous falls suggested by the Ivory Towers.

As ever the picture is complex as we do not know what would have happened otherwise and it is not unreasonable to argue there is some upwards pressure on the Euro from news like this. From Destatis in Germany this morning.

In calendar and seasonally adjusted terms, the foreign trade balance recorded a surplus of 21.2 billion euros in June 2017.

Comment

There is plenty of good news around for the ECB.

Compared with the same quarter of the previous year, seasonally adjusted GDP rose by 2.1% in the euro area ……The euro area (EA19) seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was 9.1% in June 2017, down from 9.2% in May 2017 and down from 10.1% in June 2016.

So whilst we can debate its role in this the news is better and the summer espresso’s and glasses of Chianti for President Draghi will be taken with more of a smile. But there is something of a self-inflicted wound by aiming at an annual inflation target of 2% and in particular specifying 1.97% as the former ECB President Trichet did. Because with inflation at 1.3% there are expectations of continued easing into what by credit crunch era standards is most certainly a boom. Personally I would welcome it being low.

Let me sweep up a subject I have left until last which is the official deposit rate of -0.4% as I note that we have become rather used to the concept of negative interest-rates as well as yields. If I was on the ECB I would be more than keen to get that back to 0% for a start. Otherwise what does it do when the boom fades or the next recession turns up? In reality we all suspect that such moves will have to wait until the election season is over but the rub as Shakespeare would put it is that if we allow for a monetary policy lag of 18 months then we are looking at 2019/20. Does anybody have much of a clue as to what things will be like then?

 

The problems of the boy who keeps crying wolf

Yesterday saw the policy announcement of the Bank of England with quite a few familiar traits on display. However we did see something rather familiar in the press conference from its Governor Mark Carney.

The Committee judges that, given the assumptions underlying its projections, including the closure of drawdown period of the TFS and the recent prudential decisions of the FPC and PRA, some tightening of monetary policy would be required in order to achieve a sustainable
return of inflation to target.

Yes he is giving us Forward Guidance about an interest-rate rise again. In fact there was more of this later.

Specifically, if the economy follows a path broadly consistent with the August central projection, then monetary policy could need to be tightened by a somewhat greater extent over the forecast period than the path implied by the yield curve underlying those projections.

Yep not only is he promising an interest-rate rise but he is suggesting that there will be several of them. Actually that is more hype than substance because you see even if you look out to the ten-year Gilt yield you only get to 1.16% and the five-year is only 0.54% so exceeding that is really rather easy. Also as I have pointed out before Governor Carney covers all the bases by contradicting himself in the same speech.

Any increases in Bank Rate would be expected to be at a gradual pace and to a limited extent

So more suddenly becomes less or something like that.

Just like deja vu all over again

If we follow the advice of Kylie and step back in time to the Mansion House speech of 2014 we heard this from Governor Carney.

This has implications for the timing, pace and degree of Bank Rate increases.

There’s already great speculation about the exact timing of the first rate hike and this decision is becoming more balanced.

It could happen sooner than markets currently expect.

The print on the screen does not convey how this was received as such statements are taken as being from a coded language especially if you add in this bit.

Growth has been much stronger and unemployment has fallen much faster than either we or anyone else expected at last year’s Mansion House dinner.

Markets heard that growth had been better and that the Bank of England was planning a Bank Rate rise in the near future followed by a series of them. Tucked away was something which has become ever more familiar.

 we expect that eventual increases in Bank Rate will be gradual and limited

Although to be fair this bit was kind of right.

The MPC has rightly stressed that the timing of the first Bank Rate increase is less important than the path thereafter

Indeed the first Bank Rate increase was so unimportant it never took place.

Ben Broadbent

he has reinforced the new Forward Guidance this morning. Here is the Financial Times view of what he said on BBC Radio 5 live.

“There may be some possibility for interest rates to go up a little,” said Mr Broadbent.

It sounds as though Deputy Governor Broadbent is hardly convinced. This is in spite of the fact he repeated a line from the Governor that is so extraordinary the press corps should be ashamed they did not challenge it.

adding the economy was now better placed to withstand its first interest rate rise since the financial crisis…….Speaking to BBC radio, Mr Broadbent said the UK was able to handle a rate rise “a little bit” better as the economy is still growing, unemployment is at a more than 40-year low, and wages are forecast to rise.

Sadly for Ben he is acting like the absent-minded professor he so resembles. After all on that score he should have raised interest-rates last summer when growth was a fair bit higher than now.Sadly for Ben he voted to cut them! In addition to this there is a much more fundamental point which is if we are in better shape for rate rises why do we have one which is below the 0.5% that was supposed to be an emergency rate and of course was called the “lower bound” by Governor Carney?

Forecasting failures

These are in addition to the Forward Guidance debacle but if we look at the labour market we see a major cause. Although he tried to cover it in a form of Brexit wrap there was something very familiar yesterday from Governor Carney. From the Guardian.

 

We are picking up across the country that there is an element of Brexit uncertainty that is affecting wage bargaining.
Some firms, potentially a material number of firms, are less willing to give bigger pay rises given it’s not as clear what their market access will be over the next few years.

Actually the Bank of England has been over optimistic on wages time and time again including before more than a few really believed there would be a Brexit vote. This is linked to its forecasting failures on the quantity labour market numbers. Remember phase one of Forward Guidance where an unemployment rate of 7% was considered significant? That lasted about six months as the rate in a welcome move quickly dropped below it. This meant that the Ivory Tower theorists at the Bank of England immediately plugged this into their creaking antiquated models and decided that wages would rise in response. They didn’t and history since has involved the equivalent of any of us pressing repeat on our MP3 players or I-pods. As we get according to the Four Tops.

It’s the same old song
But with a different meaning

Number Crunching

This was reported across the media with what would have been described in the Yes Minister stories and TV series as the “utmost seriousness”. From the BBC.

It edged this year’s growth forecast down to 1.7% from its previous forecast of 1.9% made in May. It also cut its forecast for 2018 from 1.7% to 1.6%.

Now does anybody actually believe that the Bank of England can forecast GDP growth to 0.1%? For a start GDP in truth cannot be measured to that form of accuracy but an organisation which as I explained earlier has continuously got both wages and unemployment wrong should be near the bottom of the list as something we should rely on.

Comment

There is something else to consider about Governor Carney. I have suggested in the past that in the end Bank of England Governors have a sort of fall back position which involves a lower level for the UK Pound £. What happened after his announcements yesterday?

Sterling is now trading at just €1.106, down from €1.20 this morning, as traders respond to the Bank of England’s downgraded forecasts for growth and wages…..The pound has also dropped further against the US dollar to $1.3127, more than a cent below this morning’s eight-month high.

They got a bit excited with the Euro rate which of course had been just below 1.12 and not 1.20 but the principle of a Bank of England talking down the Pound has yet another tick in any measurement column. Somewhere Baron King of Lothbury would no doubt have been heard to chuckle. There is a particular irony in this with Deputy Governor Broadbent telling Radio 5 listeners this earlier.

BoE Broadbent: Faster Inflation Fuelled By Pound Weakness ( h/t @LiveSquawk )

Oh and I did say this was on permanent repeat.

BoE Broadbent: Expects UK Wage Growth To Pick Up In Coming Years ( h/t @LiveSquawk )

 

Oh and as someone pointed out in yesterdays comments there has been yet another Forward Guidance failure. If you look back to the first quote there is a mention of the TFS which regular readers will recognise as the Term Funding Scheme. Here are the relevant excerpts from the letter from Governor Carney to Chancellor Hammond.

I noted when the TFS was announced that total drawings would be determined by actual usage of the scheme, and could reach £100bn………. Consistent with this, I am requesting that you authorise an increase in the total size of the APF of £15bn to £560bn, in order to accommodate expected usage of the TFS by the end of the drawdown period.

Who could have possibly expected that the banks would want more of a subsidy?! Oh and the disinformation goes on as apparently they need more of it because of a “stronger economy”.

Also this seems to be something of a boys club again as my title suggests. We have had something of what Yes Minister might call a “woman overboard” problem at the Bank of England.

 

 

 

What evidence is there for a bond market bubble?

There is a saying that even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut. I am left wondering about this as I note that the former Chair of the US Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan has posted a warning about bond markets. From Bloomberg.

Equity bears hunting for excess in the stock market might be better off worrying about bond prices, Alan Greenspan says. That’s where the actual bubble is, and when it pops, it’ll be bad for everyone.

Actually that is troubling on two counts. The simplest is the existence of extraordinarily high bond prices and low and in some cases negative yields. The next is that fact that his successors in charge of the various central banks may start pumping more monetary easing into this bubble to stop it deflating and it being “bad for everyone”. Indeed maybe this mornings ECB monthly bulletin is already on the case.

Looking ahead, the Governing Council confirmed that a very substantial degree of monetary accommodation is needed for euro area inflation pressures to gradually build up and support headline inflation developments in the medium term.

Let us look at what he actually said.

“By any measure, real long-term interest rates are much too low and therefore unsustainable,” the former Federal Reserve chairman, 91, said in an interview. “When they move higher they are likely to move reasonably fast. We are experiencing a bubble, not in stock prices but in bond prices. This is not discounted in the marketplace.”

I find it intriguing that he argues that there is no bubble in stock prices which are far higher than when he thought they were the result of “irrational exuberance” . After all low bond yields must be supporting the share prices of pretty much any stock with a solid dividend in a world where investors are so yield hungry that even index-linked Gilts have been used as such.

What is a bubble?

This is hard to define but involves extreme price rises which are then hard to justify with past metrics or measurement techniques. With convenient timing we have seen a clear demonstration of one only this week as something extraordinary develops. From Sky Sports News.

Sky sources: Neymar agrees 5-year-deal at PSG worth £450m, earning £515,000-a-week after tax. More on SSN.

One sign that we are in the “bubbilicious” zone is that no-one is sure of the exact price as I note others suggesting the deal is £576 million. You could drive the whole London bus fleet through the difference. The next sign is that people immediately assure you that everything is just fine as it is normal. From the BBC.

Mourinho said: “Expensive are the ones who get into a certain level without a certain quality. For £200m, I don’t think [Neymar] is expensive.

To be fair he pointed out that there would however be consequences.

“I think he’s expensive in the fact that now you are going to have more players at £100m, you are going have more players at £80m and more players at £60m. And I think that’s the problem.”

Of course Jose will be relieved that what was previously perceived as a large sum spent on Paul Pogba now looks relatively cheap. Oh and did I say that the numbers get confused?

PSG’s total outlay across the initial five-year deal will come to £400m.

If Sky are correct the high property prices we look at will be no problem as he will earn in a mere 8 months enough to buy the highest price flat they could find in Paris ( £18 million). The rub if there is one is that the price could easily rise if they know he is the buyer!

The comparison with the previous record does give us another clue because if we look at the Paul Pogba transfer it has taken only one year for the previous record to be doubled. That speed and indeed acceleration was seen in both the South Sea Bubble and the Tulip Mania.

Perhaps there was a prescient sign some years ago when the team who has fans who are especially keen on blowing bubbles was on the case. From SkyKaveh.

West Ham were close to signing Neymar from Santos in 2010. Offered £25m but move collapsed when Santos asked for more money

Back to bonds

If we look at market levels then the warning lights flash especially in places where investors are paying to get bonds. If we look at the Euro area then a brief check saw me note that for 2 years yields are negative in Germany, France, Belgium, Italy and Spain. For Germany especially investors can go further out in terms of maturity and get a negative yield. Does that define a bubble on its own as they are paying for something which is supposed to pay you?! There are two additional factors to throw in which is that the real yield situation is even worse as over the next two years inflation looks set to be positive at somewhere between 1% and 2%. Also if we look at Spain with economic growth having been ~3% or so a year for a bit why would you buy a bond at anything like these levels?

Another sign of a bubble that has worked pretty well over time is that you find the Japanese buying it. So I noted this earlier from @liukzilla.

“Japanese Almost Triple Foreign Bond Buying in July” exe: buy or + buy => like a double chocolate pie

Here we do get something of a catch as the issue of foreign investors buying involves the currency as well. Whether that is a sign of the Euro peaking I do not know but in a way it shows another form of looking for yield if you can call a profit a yield. Also there is an issue here of Japanese investors buying foreign bonds not only because there is little or no yield to be found at home but also because the Bank of Japan is soaking up the supply of what there is.

Comment

If we survey the situation we see that prices and yields especially in what we consider to be the first world do show “bubbilicious” signs. If we look at my home country of the UK it seemed extraordinary when the ten-year Gilt yield went below 2% and yet it is now around 1.2%. Of course the Bank of England with its “Sledgehammer” QE a year ago blew so much that it fell briefly to 0.5% in an effort which was a type of financial vandalism as we set yet again assets prioritised over the real economy. What we are not seeing is an acceleration unless perhaps we move to real yields which have dropped as inflation has picked up.

So far I have looked at sovereign bonds but this has also spilled over into corporate bonds especially with central banks buying them. We have seen them issued at negative yields as well which makes us wonder how that all works if one of the companies should ever go bust. Yet we also need to remind ourselves that there are geographical issues as we look around as Africa has double-digit yields in many places and according to Bloomberg buying short dated bonds in the Venezuelan state oil company yields 152% although the ride would not be good for your heart rate.

 

 

UK unsecured credit continues to surge

This week will see the anniversary of the Bank of England decision to open the credit and monetary taps to the UK economy. It did so in a panicky response to the EU leave vote and the consequent rather panicky business surveys. It was afraid of an immediate lurch downwards in the UK economy along the lines of the recession and 1% contraction expected by its former Deputy Governor Sir Charlie Bean. Of course that did not happen which if you look at Charlie’s past forecasting record was no surprise but the UK economy was left with a lower interest-rate, an extra £70 billion of QE ( Quantitative Easing) plus a bank subsidy called the Term Funding Scheme which currently amounts to £78.3 billion. As I pointed out at the time this was in addition to the boost provided by the lower value of the UK Pound £ which in spite of a rally to US $1.31 is still equivalent to a Bank Rate cut of 2.75%.

The problem with boosting credit in that manner is that it invariably turns up in all the wrong places. Last week I pointed out the extraordinary way that Alex Brazier of the Bank of England blamed the banks for this whilst forgetting the way the Bank of England lit the blue touch-paper with what it called at the time its “Sledgehammer” of monetary easing. What did they expect the banks to do? Now it is looking into the consequences of its own actions according to The Times.

The Bank of England is demanding detailed information from high street lenders on how they approve loans after sounding the alarm over the consumer borrowing binge.
Within five weeks, banks must provide evidence of how they assess the financial position of their riskiest customers.

The FCA and car loans

The Financial Conduct Authority ( FCA ) has apparently heard a rumour that there may be trouble in the car finance market. Here are the details from this morning’s release.

The majority of new car finance is now in the form of Personal Contract Purchase (PCPs), a form of Hire Purchase. The key feature of a PCP is that the value of the car at the end of the contract is asssessed at the start of the agreement and deferred, resulting in lower monthly repayments.

If we move onto the dangers it tells us this.

The Prudential Regulation Authority notes that a PCP agreement creates an explicit risk exposure to a vehicle’s GFV for lenders. We consider that direct consumer risk exposure may be more limited, but may be heightened where there has been an inadequate assessment of affordability and/or a lack of clarity for the consumer in their understanding of the contract.

All lending scandals involve “an inadequate assessment of affordability” and a “lack of clarity for the consumer” don’t they? This is of course one of the ways the credit crunch began. Anyway there seems to be no apparently hurry as regulation continue to move at the speed of the slow train running of the Doobie Brothers.

We will publish an update on this work in Q1 2018.

It is also concerned about high cost credit too.

The FCA also identified particular concerns in the rent-to-own, home-collected credit and catalogue credit sectors.

I am no expert in this area but did notice Louise Cooper posting a link to this.

This represents a typical cost of using a Very Account.

Representative 39.9% APR variable

So only 39.65% over the Bank of England Bank Rate. But the FCA train runs with all the speed of Southern Railway.

Today’s data

We see that overall unsecured or consumer credit continues to grow strongly.

The flow of consumer credit fell slightly to £1.5 billion in June, and the annual growth rate ticked down to 10.0%

I will leave the Bank of England to decide whether this is a triumph and therefore due to its actions as it claimed for a while or a problem and the fault of the banks as it has said more recently. Its rhetoric may be having some effect as the main banks did cut their monthly lending from £921 million to £324 million. As this is an erratic series that may be a quirk of the data so I will be watching in subsequent months. But the fundamental point is the gap between the annual growth rate of 10% and economic growth (0.5%) or indeed real wage growth which is currently negative. Also the total amount of consumer credit had a big figure change as it rose to £200.9 billion in June.

If we move to the wider money supply there are issues too as aggregate broad money and lending annual growth was 5.3% in June. Whilst that is seemingly slowing it is a long way above the 1.7% annual GDP growth of the UK economy. The rough rule of thumb is that the gap is a measure of inflation or monetary stimulus and if allowed to persist invariably ends up with the sort of consumer credit problems we are facing now.

Meanwhile the stimulus was of course supposed to be for the purpose of boosting business lending to small and medium-sized businesses. If we look at that we see little sign of any great impact.

Loans to small and medium-sized enterprises increased by £0.4 billion, a little higher than the recent average.

The annual growth rate at 1.2% is even below our rate of annual economic growth. Do businesses no longer want to borrow from banks ( and if so why?) or are banks still unwilling to lend to them?

Comment

When it votes on Wednesday on UK monetary policy ( it votes then and announces on what is called Super Thursday) the Bank of England has much to consider. Firstly the way it flooded the UK economy with more QE and monetary easing and the consequences which are becoming ever more apparent. It pushed both unsecured credit and inflation higher just when the UK economy needed neither. The previous PR campaign that this was a recession averted was weak and has now been replaced by blaming the banks which of course were following the central bank’s lead.

Meanwhile the inflation it created has in one sense come home to roost. From the Guardian and the emphasis is mine.

The Bank of England will hold last-ditch talks with the UK’s largest trade union on Monday as the central bank attempts to avert its first strike in 50 years.

The stoppage has been called over a below-inflation pay offer to the Bank’s maintenance, security and hospitality staff, and was originally due to begin on Monday.

Meanwhile this was announced last week.

to appoint Sir David Ramsden as Deputy Governor for Markets and Banking at the Bank of England.

There are two main issues here. The first is that the “Governor for Markets and Banking” role invariably goes to someone who has no experience or much apparent knowledge of them.  The next is related to the first as Sir David ( the existing knighthood is also worrying) comes from HM Treasury which means that all 4 Deputy Governors comes from there now. What was that about inclusive recruitment again? Perhaps his replacement at the organisation below could look into this.

In January 2013 he became Chair of the Treasury’s Diversity Board.

Anyway he will be a busy chap.

Dave will also be a member of the Monetary Policy Committee, the Financial Policy Committee, the Prudential Regulation Committee and the Court of the Bank of England.

 

 

 

Sweden has economic growth of 4% with an interest-rate of -0.5%

We can end the week with some good news as the economic growth figures produced so far today have pretty much varied between better and outright good. For example I note that the 0.5% growth for France makes its annual rate of 1.8% a smidgen higher than the UK for the first time in a while. Also Spain has continued its series of good numbers with quarterly GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) up by 0.9%. But the standout news has come from the country which I have described as undertaking the most extraordinary economic experiment of these times which is Sweden.

Sweden’s GDP increased by 1.7 percent in the second quarter of 2017, seasonally adjusted and compared with the first quarter of 2017. The GDP increased by 4.0 percent, working-day adjusted and compared with the second quarter of 2016.

Boom! In this case absolutely literally as we see quite a quarterly surge and added to that growth in the previous quarter was revised higher from 0.4% to 0.6%. This means that it grew in the latest quarter by as much as the UK did in the last year and is the highest quarterly number I can think of by such a first world country for quite some time.

If we look into the detail there is much to consider. There was something unusual for these times.

Production of goods rose by 3.0 percent, and service-producing industries grew by 1.7 percent

It also looks as though the demand was domestic as trade was not a major factor.

Both exports and imports grew by 0.7 percent

There was a sign of booming domestic consumption here.

Household consumption increased by 1.1 percent

Also investment went on a surge.

Gross fixed capital formation increased by 3.8 percent.

However there is kind of an uh-oh here as I note this from Nordea.

Residential construction continues to be a very important growth driver (scary!), but also other investments seem to have picked up and more than forecast.

We will look at that more deeply in a moment but first let us note that the numbers below suggest that productivity has picked up.

Employment measured as the total number of hours worked increased by 0.8 percent seasonally adjusted, and the number of persons employed increased by 0.6 percent.

The Riksbank

The latest minutes point out that the monetary policy pedal remains pressed pretty much to the metal.

At the Monetary Policy Meeting on 3 July, the Executive Board of the Riksbank decided to hold the repo rate unchanged at –0.50 per cent. The first rate increase is not expected to be made until the middle of 2018, which is the same assessment as in April. The purchases of government bonds will continue during the second half of 2017, in line with the plan decided in April.

Still they did say they were now less likely to push it even harder.

it is now somewhat less likely than before that the repo rate will be cut further in the near term

Rather amazingly they described the policy as “well-balanced” but I guess you have to think that to be able to vote for it. However today’s data will be welcome in a headline sense but is yet another forecasting failure as they expected 0.7% GDP growth. Now a 1% mistake in one-quarter makes even the Bank of England’s failures at forecasting to be of the rank amateur level.

Let us move on with the image of the Riksbank continually refilling the punch bowl as the party hits its heights as opposed to removing it.

What could go wrong?

Even the Riksbank could not avoid mentioning this.

the risks associated with high and rising household indebtedness were also discussed.

Did anybody mention indebtedness?

In June, the annual growth rate of households’ loans from monetary financial institutions (MFIs) was 7.1 percent, which means that the growth rate increased by 0.2 percentage points compared with May.

So the rough rule of thumb would be to subject economic growth and estimate inflationary pressure at 3% which of course would lead to interest-rates being in a very different place to where they are. Also if you look at the issue of the domestic consumption boom you be rather nervous after reading this.

Households’ loans for consumption had a growth rate of 9.4 percent in June, an increase compared with May, when it was 7.3 percent.

I noted earlier the fears over what is happening in the housing market and loans to it have just passed a particular threshold.

In June, households’ housing loans amounted to SEK 3 005 billion, which means that lending exceeded SEK 3 000 billion for the first time. This is an increase of SEK 27 billion compared with the previous month, and of SEK 198 billion compared with the corresponding month last year. This means that housing loans had an annual growth rate of 7.2 percent in June, an increase of 0.1 percentage point compared with May.

Another bank subsidy?

I have noted before that fears that negative interest-rates would hurt bank profits have been overplayed and as we note mortgage and savings rates we get a hint that margins are pretty good.

The average housing loan interest rate for households for new agreements was 1.57 percent in June…….In June, the average interest rate for new bank deposits by households was 0.07 percent, unchanged from May.

I also note that banks remain unwilling or perhaps more realistically afraid to pass on negative interest-rates to the ordinary depositor.

House prices

Of course this will look very good on the asset side of the balance sheets of the Swedish banks.

Real estate prices for one- or two-dwelling buildings rose by almost 4 percent in the second quarter of 2017 compared with the first quarter. Prices rose by nearly 10 percent on an annual basis in the second quarter, compared with the same period last year.

In terms of amounts or price it means this.

The average price at the national level for one- or two-dwelling buildings in the second quarter 2017 was just over SEK 2.9 million.

If we look back we see the index which was based at 100in 1981 ended 2016 at 711 and we learn a little more by comparing it to the 491 of 2008. There was a small dip in 2012 but in essence the message is up, up and away. For owners of Swedish houses it is time for some Abba.

Money, money, money
Must be funny
In the rich man’s world
Money, money, money
Always sunny
In the rich man’s world
Aha-ahaaa
All the things I could do
If I had a little money
It’s a rich man’s world

Comment

If we go for the upbeat scenario then it is indeed time for a party at the Riksbank as we see Sweden’s economic performance in the credit crunch era.

The problem with being top of the economic pop charts is that it so often ends in tears. The clear and present danger is the expansion of lending to the housing market and the consequent impact on house prices. Also the individual experience is not as good as the headline as the population grew by 1.5% in the year to May to 10.04 million which of course is presumably another factor in higher house prices.