The ECB is creating Euros even faster than Wirecard can lose them

The focus shifts today to the Euro area as there has been action on a number of fronts. Firstly the world’s second most notable orange person has been speaking at the online Northern Lights Summit. The Orangina Christine Lagarde seems to have upset the folk at ForexLive already.

Lagarde reaffirms that government debt will eventually have to be repaid

No. Just no. Governments will never run surpluses just with a snap of a finger and what is happening to the world and their debt levels now is basically what we have seen with Japan over the past two decades.

Actually before the pandemic Germany was running surpluses but the majority were not. We also got some classic Christine Lagarde as she waffled.

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – The euro zone is “probably past” the worst of the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde said on Friday, while urging authorities to prepare for a possible second wave.

“We probably are past the lowest point and I say that with some trepidation because of course there could be a severe second wave,” Lagarde told an online event.

At least she is not declaring success as Greeks and Argentinians have learnt to be terrified of what happens next after painful experience.

Also there has been this.

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – It is better for the European Central Bank to be safe than sorry when it decides whether to withdraw aggressive stimulus measures deployed to combat the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, ECB policymaker Olli Rehn said on Friday.

“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” Rehn said. “Recall the premature rate hikes of 2011 during the euro crisis.”

This is a classic strategy where a policymaker suggests things may be reduced (yesterday) and today we have the good cop part of this simple Good Cop,Bad Cop pantomime.

Money Supply

Back on the 29th of May I pointed out that the blue touch paper had been lit on the  money supply boom of 2020. Well the rocket is lifting off.

Annual growth rate of narrower monetary aggregate M1, comprising currency in circulation and overnight deposits, increased to 12.5% in May from 11.9% in April.

That compares with the recent nadir of an annual rate of 6.2% in January of 2019. Another comparison is that the rate of annual growth was around 8% before the latest phase of monetary action such as the extra Quantitative Easing of the PEPP. The weekly reporting does not exactly match a month but we saw an extra 116 billion Euros in May from it.

You will not be surprised to learn that the surge above pushed broad money growth higher as well.

Annual growth rate of broad monetary aggregate M3, increased to 8.9% in May 2020 from 8.2% in April (revised from 8.3%).

Indeed it is mostly a narrow money thing.

Looking at the components’ contributions to the annual growth rate of M3, the narrower aggregate M1 contributed 8.4 percentage points (up from 8.0 percentage points in April), short-term deposits other than overnight deposits (M2-M1) contributed 0.2 percentage point (up from -0.1 percentage point) and marketable instruments (M3-M2) contributed 0.3 percentage point (as in the previous month).

The pattern here is not quite the same as whilst the January 2019 reading at 3.8% was low the nadir is 3.5% in August of 2018. That provides some food for thought because if you apply the expected response to this the Euro area economy should have been slowing further about now. Of course the pandemic has created such a fog we cannot see one way or another about whether that held true.

There is another way of analysing this and here is a balance sheet style view.

credit to the private sector contributed 5.3 percentage points (up from 4.8 percentage points in April), credit to general government contributed 3.6 percentage points (up from 2.3 percentage points), net external assets contributed 1.0 percentage point (down from 1.4 percentage points), longer-term financial liabilities contributed 0.0 percentage point (as in the previous month), and the remaining counterparts of M3 contributed -0.9 percentage point (down from -0.3 percentage point).

I counsel caution about reading too much into this as back in the day such analysis when spectacularly wrong in the UK. Accounting identities are all very well but they miss the human component as well as some of the actual numbers. But we see growth from the government sector and the private-sector here. Also the external component has faded a bit in relative terms which provides a counterpoint to another piece of news.

Grandstanding?

From yesterday when all our troubles apparently not so far away.

Eurosystem repo facility for central banks (EUREP) introduced as precautionary backstop to address pandemic-related euro liquidity needs outside euro area….EUREP to allow broad set of central banks to borrow euro against euro-denominated debt issued by euro area central governments and supranational institutions….New facility to be available until June 2021.

These things are invariably badged as temporary but last time I checked the “temporary” income tax in the UK to pay for the Napoleonic War is still here. But as to what good it might do in a world where nobody seems to actually want Euros in this manner I am not sure. Perhaps it is a protection against another outbreak of the “Carry Trade” as this bit hints.

The provision of euro liquidity to non-euro area central banks aims at alleviating euro liquidity needs in the respective countries in a stressed market environment. The
potential beneficiaries are banks that need euro funding and are not able to obtain such funding in the market or get it only at prohibitive prices.

Although there is no real link at all to this.

Overall, these arrangements aim to facilitate a smooth transmission of monetary policy in the euro
area to the benefit of all euro area citizens

Let me help out bu suggesting replacing “all euro area citizens” with “The Precious! The Precious!”.

Here is what is presumably the official view from former ECB Vice-President Vitor Constancio. You may recall that Vitor’s job was to respond with technical questions at the ECB presser with a long involved answer that would send everyone to sleep. But at least he had a role unlike his replacement.

The ECB, reflecting awareness about the international role of the euro, just announced a new repo facility for other central banks to get euros against collateral.The FED dit it recently ..In general, the EU is finally aware of its geo-political interests.

The Fed saw demand of over US $400 billion at the peak whereas I suspect the Euro interest may be more like 0. Maybe someone will request a million or two as a test?

Comment

The relevance of the money supply changes is as follows. Narrow money supply impacts in the next 6 months and broad money in around two years. So assuming there is no Covid-19 second wave the push will impact as economies are picking up anyway. That is awkward as there is a clear inflation danger from this. There are signs of it already as we see the oil price pick up which even the neutered official inflation numbers will record. They of course miss the bit described by Abba.

Money, money, money
Must be funny
In the rich man’s world
Money, money, money
Always sunny
In the rich man’s world

Although we do see evidence of a type of money destruction.

Germany’s Wirecard collapsed on Thursday owing creditors almost $4 billion. ( Reuters )

The regulators are now on the case but.

All the money’s gone, nowhere to go ( The Beatles )

Is the Bank of England financing the UK government?

Today’s subject does have historical echoes as who can consider this sort of topic without thinking at least once of Weimar Germany with its wheelbarrows full of bank notes and Zimbabwe with its trillion dollar note? These days we need to include Venezuela which cannot even provide a water supply now. There are three good reasons therefore why central bank Governors should tread very carefully around this particular subject. So it was curious to see the Governor of the Bank of England long jump into this particular pit yesterday in a Sky News podcast.

The government would have struggled to fund itself if the Bank of England had not intervened during the market “meltdown” of COVID-19, the Bank’s governor has told Sky News.

In an exclusive interview, Andrew Bailey said that in the early stages of the virus, Britain came within a whisker of not being able to sell its debt – something many would characterise as effective insolvency.

There are elements of the first paragraph which are true but “came within a whisker of not being able to sell its debt” is a curious thing to say and if we are being less kind is in fact outright stupid. We are also guided by Sky News to this.

While there was an uncovered gilt auction in 2009 – in other words, the government was unable to find buyers for all of the debt it was selling to investors – it was widely seen as a one-off.

They are trying to make this sound a big deal but it isn’t really. For example over the past few years I can recall Germany having several uncovered bond or what they call bund auctions. Nobody considered them to be within a whisker of being unable to sell their debt, in fact Germany had a very strong fiscal position. Here as an example id CNBC from the 21st of August last year.

The bund, set to mature in 2050, has a zero coupon, meaning it pays no interest. Germany offered 2 billion euros worth of 30-year bunds, and investors were willing to buy less than half of it, with a yield of minus 0.11%.

What was it about having to pay to own the bond and do so for around 30 years that put investors off? That of course provides the clue here which both Sky and Governor Bailey either have not figured out or are deliberately ignoring. The debt did not sell because of the price at which it was offered was considered too expensive. Germany could have sold its debt if it was willing to pay more,

How did the Bank of England respond?

Mr Bailey warned that the dislocation in markets in March was even more serious, prompting the Bank to intervene with £200bn of quantitative easing – the biggest single cash injection in its history.

Actually it also cut Bank Rate to 0.1% and there is significance in the date which was the 19th of March. That is because the price of our debt was rising which has been summarised by the Governor like this.

The governor said: “We basically had a pretty near meltdown of some of the core financial markets.

“We had a lot of volatility in core markets: the core exchange rate, core government bond markets.

“We were seeing things that were pretty unprecedented, certainly in recent times. And we were facing serious disorder.”

If we look at the UK we were seeing a rise in Gilt yields as the benchmark ten-year yield rose quickly from an all-time low of 0.12% on the 9th of March to 0.87% on the 19th. We have seen much worse in the past and I have worked through some of them! In historical terms we still had very low Gilt yields and so it looks as if we are seeing another case of this from a central bank.

Panic on the streets of London
Panic on the streets of Birmingham
I wonder to myself
Could life ever be sane again? ( The Smiths)

The job of calming down world financial markets was a dollar issue and was dealt with the next day by the US Federal Reserve.

The Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, the European Central Bank, the Federal Reserve, and the Swiss National Bank are today announcing a coordinated action to further enhance the provision of liquidity via the standing U.S. dollar liquidity swap line arrangements.

We will never know now how much things would have improved in response to this as a panic stricken Bank of England fired as many weapons as it could. As a technical factor overseas QE bond buying helps other markets via spread and international bond buyers. Whether that would have been enough is a moot point or as central bankers regularly try to point out, the counterfactual! We do know from experience that it is a powerful force exhibited in say Italy which only saw bond yields rise to 3% and that only briefly recently as opposed to 7% last time around.

Anyway even the relatively minor rise in UK Gilt yields has the Governor claiming this.

Asked what would have happened had the Bank not intervened, Mr Bailey said: “I think the prospects would have been very bad. It would have been very serious.

“I think we would have a situation where in the worst element, the government would have struggled to fund itself in the short run.”

Okay so he is in effect claiming to have funded the government although not long afterwards he claims that he is not.

The Bank’s decision to create so much money and use it to buy government bonds, including an extra £100bn only last week, has prompted some to ask whether it is in effect financing the government’s borrowing. Mr Bailey rejected the accusations of “monetary financing”.

“At no point have we thought that our job was just to finance whatever debts the government issue,” he said, pointing out that the objective was to ensure economic stability.

Ah so not inflation targeting then?

Comment

The situation here was explained back in the day in an episode of Yes Prime Minister and the emphasis is mine.

We believe that it is about time that the Bank ( of England) had a Governor who is known to be both intelligent and competent. Although an innovation it should certainly be tried.  ( Treasury Permanent Secretary Sir Frank)

As you can see this was a topic in the 1980s and it still is. The present Governor was in such a rush to indulge in “open mouth operations” to boast about his role in the crisis that he not only overstepped the mark he made some factual errors. The UK government could have funded itself but it would have to have paid more for the debt. It could have activated the Ways and Means account earlier than it did as well if needed ( we looked at this on the 9th of April). So we see several of my themes at play. The Bank of England is implicitly but not explicitly funding the UK government right now just like the Bank of Japan, ECB and US Federal Reserve,something I pointed out on the 6th of April.

Let me finish off on the subject of monetary financing. The simple truth is that we have an implicit form of it right now.

This means that it is about as independent as a poodle (another theme). It tends to panic in a crisis and new Governor’s tend to reward their appointment with an interest-rate cut. I cannot take full credit for the latter as that was in Yes Prime Minister as well.

Also in the podcast was a reference to this.

The governor signalled that the government may need to consider finding a vehicle to resolve the many bad debts left by companies that fail over the COVID-19 period.

“If (a bad bank) were to be contemplated, it would be as a sort of an an asset management vehicle: how do we manage small firms through a problem that they would get as a result of the loans that they’ve taken on to deal with the crisis?”

Somebody needs to tell him the UK taxpayer has one of those and it is called Royal Bank of Scotland with a share price of £1.24 as opposed to the Fiver we “invested” at.

Let me finish by giving Governor Bailey some credit for a burst of much needed honesty.

“We’ve been mis-forecasting the labour market for some time because the traditional models just didn’t seem to hold.

We can add that to his apparent enthusiasm for changing policy on the subject of any QT in a direction I have been recommending since September 2013.

Podcast

 

 

UK Retail Sales and Public-Sector Borrowing Surge

We were supposed to be receiving some grand news from the Bank of England this morning. But in fact we find ourselves simply noting a rather botched public relations spinning effort.

You spin me right round, baby
Right round like a record, baby
Right round round round ( Dead or Alive)

The main movement was in the value of the UK Pound £ which fell by around 1% so we saw using the old rule of thumb monetary easing equivalent to a 0.25% Bank Rate cut. How much of that was due to the PR shambles?

Anyway there was some good news in an implied better trajectory for the UK economy and that has been backed by the data this morning.

The monthly growth rate in May 2020 is strong because of a combination of recent increasingly rapid growth in non-store retailing and a pick-up for non-food stores from the lowest levels ever experienced.

Also let me give the Office for National Statistics credit for this.

Weights to total retail are calculated from the amount of money typically spent in each retail sector and used as a proportion to calculate growth contributions. For example, around 38.1 pence of every pound is typically spent in food stores, providing us with a weight of 38.1 to total retail. In May 2020, these proportions were recalculated to reflect the changes in spending during the pandemic. The amount of money spent in food stores increased to 51.4%,

In what are volatile and uncertain times one needs to keep on our toes and this example should be spread to the inflation numbers. The data should reflect as best we can what is happening not a world “far,far,away”. As you can see,doing so makes quite a difference. The number below gives a hint of how the inflation data would be affected and in my opinion it is a great shame that the Bank of England Minutes ignored this factor yesterday.

Fuel sales usually has a weight of just over 10.4% to total retail, but was at around 5.5% in May 2020, resulting in a positive contribution of 2.3 and 2.7 percentage points for value and volume sales respectively.

Actually the release even hints at this.

Fuel prices also continued to fall in May 2020………When compared with the same month a year earlier, fuel prices fell by 14.9%

However whilst the monthly improvement was very welcome and you might like to note was another example of the “expert” forecasters missing the dartboard as they were expecting more like 6% growth as opposed to 12% or so, we need a deeper perspective.

While we see some partial bounce back on the monthly growth rate in May 2020 at 12.0%, levels of sales do not recover from the strong falls seen in March and April 2020 and are still down by 13.1% on February 2020 before the impact of the corona virus pandemic.

Putting this another way the volume index was 93.7 in May if we set 2016 as the base level of 100. Previously the numbers were bouncing around 108.

I doubt any of you will be surprised by the shift to online retailing.

Online sales as a proportion of all retailing reached a record high of 33.4% in May 2020, exceeding the original record reported last month of 30.7%.

There was a larger uptake of online spending for food, which reached record proportions, from 9.3% in April to 11.3% in May.

Should consumers continue with this trend this is more bad news for the high street. Although as a counterpoint the mobs that descended on the shops which opened recently suggests there is some hope, although the health message sent from that was rather different.

Public Finances

Let me start with an apology as I was asked about this and thought it would probably take place in June.

Debt (public sector net debt excluding public sector banks, PSND ex) at the end of May 2020 was 100.9% of gross domestic product (GDP), the first time that debt as a percentage of GDP has exceeded 100% since the financial year ending March 1963.

There are a couple of factors in my defence however and one of them we have just been noting. That is a further hint that the economy is doing better than the consensus expectations. Oh and my first rule of OBR Club is likely to help me out.

 the current estimate of GDP used to calculate this ratio uses forecasts based on expectations published in the Office for Budget Responsibility’s (OBR’s) Coronavirus Reference Scenario.

They look well on their way to being wrong again. Also there is the large £13.9 billion revision to borrowing for April and we learn quite a bit from it. Take a look at this for example.

Central government tax receipts and National Insurance contributions for April 2020 have been increased by £5.4 billion and £2.4 billion respectively compared with those published in our previous bulletin (published 22 May 2020). Within tax receipts, Pay As You Earn income tax has been increased by £3.0 billion and Value Added Tax has been increased by £2.8 billion, both because of updated data.

As you can see there is another hint from the numbers that the economy was doing better than so far reported in April as we see upwards revisions to both income and expenditure taxes.Indeed the numbers have quite a conceptual problem as we mull whether imputation is like a pandemic?

In other words, we attempt to record receipts at the point where the liability arose, rather than when the tax is actually paid.

Oh and you can’t say I have not regularly warned you about the OBR!

On 4 June 2020, the OBR published an update to its Corona Virus analysis in which it reduced previous estimates of CJRS expenditure.

Perspective

We can start with May.

Over this period, the public sector borrowed £55.2 billion, £49.6 billion more than it borrowed in May 2019.

But via the revisions noted above we have already seen how unreliable a single month is so we do a little better looking at this.

In the current financial year-to-date (April to May 2020), the public sector borrowed £103.7 billion, £87.0 billion more than in the same period last year.

Although we need to note that we will be lucky if it is accurate to the nearest £10 billion. Within the receipts numbers there are some points of note. The Retail Sales numbers with monthly rises of 30%,61% and now 3,6% for the category with includes alcohol sales meets alcohol duty receipts which have fallen from £2.1 billion to £1.6 billion. Perhaps a health kick has been going on as tobacco receipts fall by £400 million to £1 billion. Also a slowing in the housing market is kicking in as Stamp Duty receipts fall from £2 billion to £1.1 billion.

Switching to the national debt there is this.

Debt (PSND ex) at the end of May 2020 was £1,950.1 billion, an increase of £173.2 billion (or 20.5 percentage points) compared with May 2019, the largest year-on-year increase in debt as a percentage of GDP on record (monthly records began in March 1993).

Comment

We have some welcome news today on the economy but context is needed as we have still experienced quite a drop, simply one which is smaller than reported so far. There is an irony in the two numbers released as we see this being reported which gives a worse impression.

Just in: UK government debt exceeded the size of the country’s economy in May for the first time in more than 50 years, official data published on Friday showed, as borrowing surged to pay for coronavirus response measures ( Financial Times)

Having awarded myself a slice of humble pie let me move onto an issue that the more clickbaity reports have ignored.

If we were to remove the temporary debt impact of APF and TFS, public sector net debt (excluding public sector banks) at the end of May 2020 would reduce by £195.5 billion (or 10.1% percentage points of GDP) to £1,754.6 billion (or 90.8% of GDP).

That is the role of the Bank of England in raising the reported level of the national debt and frankly this bit below is one of the silliest inclusions.

As a result of these gilt holdings, the impact of the APF on public sector net debt stands at £95.7 billion, the difference between the nominal value of its gilt holdings and the market value it paid at the time of purchase. Note that the final debt impact of the APF depends on the disposal of the gilts at the end of the scheme.

Oh well. Let me end by bringing yesterday’s extra QE bond purchases and the borrowing together with these two numbers.

At the end of May 2020, the gilt holdings of the APF have increased by £46.7 billion (at nominal value) compared with the end of April 2020, to £475.1 billion in total. This increase is of a similar order of magnitude to the new issuance by the DMO in May 2020, which means that gilt holdings by units other than the APF have changed very little since April 2020.

As I have pointed out before if we take a broad brush the Bank of England is implicitly financing the government spending. That is why we can borrow so cheaply with some gilt yields negative and the fifty-year a mere 0.55%.

 

 

“All bets are off” as the Bank of England holds a “secret” press conference

Today is the turn of the Bank of England to take centre stage. On a personal level it raises a wry smile as when I was a market maker in UK short sterling options (known as a local) on the LIFFE floor it was the most important day of the month and often make or break. At other times it has been a more implicit big deal. Actually there is no likely change to short-term interest-rates on the cards. Perusing my old stomping ground shows that in fact not much action is expected at all with a pretty flat curve out to March 2024 when maybe a rise to the giddy heights of 0.25% is expected. Personally I think there is a solid chance we will see negative interest-rates first but that is not how the market is set this morning. Also I note that volumes are not great suggesting they are not expecting much today either.

If course some may be “more equal than others” to use that famous phrase as the Monetary Policy Committee voted last night following one of the previous Governor’s ( Mark Carney) “improvements”. He was of the opinion that getting his Minutes and PR prepared was more important than the risk of the vote leaking. Whereas the reality is that central banks are in fact rather leaky vessels.

Nationwide

There will have been consternation at the Bank of England when this news arrived at its hallowed doors. From the BBC.

The UK’s biggest building society has tripled the minimum deposit it will ask for from first-time buyers. The Nationwide will lower its ceiling for mortgage lending to new customers in response to the coronavirus crisis.It said the change, from Thursday, was due to “these unprecedented times and an uncertain mortgage market”.

I do not know if the new Governor Andrew Bailey has the same sharp temper as his predecessor Mark Carney but if he does it would have been in display. After all policy is essentially to get the housing market going once we peer beneath the veneer. Nearly £118 billion of cheap funding ( at the Bank Rate of 0.1%) has been deployed via the Term Funding Scheme(s) to keep the housing market wheels oiled. Also the news looks timed to just precede the MPC meeting.

In terms of detail there it is aimed at first-time buyers which is only likely to anger the Governor more.

First-time buyers are likely to be the most significantly affected because they often have smaller amounts saved to get on the property ladder.

Nationwide has reduced the proportion of a home’s value that is willing to lend from 95% to 85%.

So for example, if a property costs £100,000, a new buyer would now need a £15,000 deposit rather than a £5,000 deposit.

If we look back in time this is a familiar feature of house price falls. As mortgage borrowing becomes more restrained that by its very nature tends to pull house prices lower. For larger falls then it usually requites surveyors to join the party by down valuing some properties which as they are pack animals can spread like wildfire. The quote below shows that the situation is complex.

Some lenders, such as HSBC, still have mortgages with a 90% loan-to-value ratio. However, there is more demand for that type of mortgage than many banks have the capacity to deal with at the moment, he said.

Policy

We have already seen an extraordinary set of moves here. We have a record low interest-rate of 0.1% which is quite something from a body which had previously assured us that the “lower-bound” was 0.5%. There is a link to today’s news from this because it was building societies like the Nationwide and their creaking IT systems which got the blame for this, although ironically I think they did us a favour.

Next comes a whole barrage of Quantitative Easing and Credit Easing policies. The headliner here is the purchases of UK bonds ( Gilts) which by my maths passed the £600 billion mark just before 2 pm yesterday as it progresses at a weekly rate of £13.5 billion. This means that they are implicitly financing the UK public-sector right now, something I pointed out when the Ways and Means issue arose. We see that as I note that the UK Debt Management Office has issued some £14.4 billion of new UK bonds or Gilts this week. Whilst the Bank of England did not buy any of these it did oil the wheels with its purchases which means that the net issuance figure is £900 million which is rather different to £14.4 billion. On that road we see how both the two-year yield ( -0.07%) and the five-year yield ( -0,02%) are negative as I type this. Even the fifty-year yield is a mere 0.38%.

There has also been some £15 billion of Corporate Bond buying so far. This policy has not gone well as so desperate are they to find bonds to buy that they have bought some of Apple’s bonds. Yes the company with the enormous cash pile. Also I sure the Danes are grateful we are supporting their shipping company Maersk as it appears to need it, but they are probably somewhat bemused.

As to credit easing I have already noted the Term Funding Scheme and there is also the Covid Financing Facility where it buys Commercial Paper. Some £16.3 billion has been bought so far. Those who like a hot sausage roll may be pleased Greggs have been supported to the tune of £30 million, although North London is likely to be split on tribal lines by the £175 million for Spurs.

Comment

These days central banks and governments are hand in glove. Operationally that is required because the QE and credit easing measures require the backing of the taxpayer via HM Treasury. More prosaically the Chancellor Rishi Sunak can borrow at ultra low levels due to Bank of England policies and will do doubt raise a glass of champagne to them. Amazingly some put on such powerful sunglasses that they call this independence. Perhaps they were the ones who disallowed Sheffield United’s goal last night.

However the ability to help the economy is more problematical and was once described as like “pushing on a string”. This is not helped by the issues with our official statistics as we not inflation has been under recorded as I explained yesterday as has unemployment ( it was 5% + not the 3.9% reported) and the monthly drop of 20.4% in GDP has a large error range too. Because of that I have some sympathy for the MPC but I have no sympathy for the “secret” press conference it is holding at 1 pm. Then its “friends” will be able to release the details at 2:30 pm with no official confirmation until tomorrow.

So there are two issues. That is a form of corruption and debases what is left of free markets even more. Next it is supposed to be a publicly accountable institution with transparent policy. Along the way it means that the chances of a more aggressive policy announcement have just risen or as the bookie says in the film Snatch.

All bets are off

Can US house prices bounce?

The US housing market is seeing two tsunami style forces at once but in opposite directions. The first is the economic impact of the Covid-19 virus pandemic on both wages (down) and unemployment (up). Unfortunately the official statistics released only last week are outright misleading as you can see below.

Real average hourly earnings increased 6.5 percent, seasonally adjusted, from May 2019 to May 2020.
The change in real average hourly earnings combined with an increase of 0.9 percent in the average
workweek resulted in 7.4-percent increase in real average weekly earnings over this period.

We got a better idea to the unemployment state of play on Thursday as we note the scale of the issue.

The advance unadjusted number for persons claiming UI benefits in state programs totaled 18,919,804, a decrease of 178,671 (or -0.9 percent) from the preceding week.

The only hopeful bit is the small decline. Anyway let us advance with our own view is that we will be seeing much higher unemployment in 2020 although hopefully falling and falling real wages.

The Policy Response

The other tsunami is the policy response to the pandemic.

FISCAL STIMULUS (FEDERAL) – The U.S. House of Representatives passed a $2.2 trillion aid package – the largest in history – on March 27 including a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 to millions of U.S. families.

That was the Reuters summary of the policy response which has been added to in the meantime. In essence it is a response to the job losses and an attempt to resist the fall in wages.

Next comes the US Federal Reserve which has charged in like the US Cavalry. Here are their words from the report made to Congress last week.

Specifically, at two meetings in March, the FOMC lowered the target range for the federal funds rate by a total of 1-1/2 percentage points, bringing it to the current range of 0 to 1/4 percent.

That meant that they have now in this area at least nearly fulfilled the wishes of President Trump. They also pumped up their balance sheet.

The Federal Reserve swiftly took a series of policy actions to address these developments. The FOMC announced it would purchase Treasury securities and agency MBS in the amounts needed to ensure smooth market functioning and the effective transmission of monetary policy to broader financial conditions. The Open Market Desk began offering large-scale overnight and term repurchase agreement operations. The Federal Reserve coordinated with other central banks to enhance the provision of liquidity via the standing U.S. dollar liquidity swap line arrangements and announced the establishment of temporary U.S. dollar liquidity arrangements (swap lines) with additional central banks.

Their explanation is below.

 Market functioning deteriorated in many markets in late February and much of March, including the critical Treasury and agency MBS markets.

Let me use my updated version of my financial lexicon for these times. Market function deteriorated means prices fell and yields rose and this happening in the area of government and mortgage borrowing made them panic buy in response.

Mortgage Rates

It seems hard to believe now but the US ten-year opened the year at 1.9%, Whereas now after the recent fall driven by the words of Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell it is 0.68%. Quite a move and it means that it has been another good year for bond market investors. The thirty-year yield is 1.41% as we note that there has been a large downwards push as we now look at mortgage rates.

Let me hand you over to CNBC from Thursday.

Mortgage rates set new record low, falling below 3%

How many times have I ended up reporting record lows for mortgage rates? Anyway we did get some more detail.

The average rate on the popular 30-year fixed mortgage hit 2.97% Thursday, according to Mortgage News Daily……..For top-tier borrowers, some lenders were quoting as low as 2.75%. Lower-tier borrowers would see higher rates.

Mortgage Amounts

CNBC noted some action here too.

Low rates have fueled a sharp and fast recovery in the housing market, especially for homebuilders. Mortgage applications to purchase a home were up 13% annually last week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

According to Realtor.com the party is just getting started although I have helped out with a little emphasis.

Meanwhile, buyers who still have jobs have been descending on the market en masse, enticed by record-low mortgage interest rates. Rates fell below 3%, to hit an all-time low of 2.94% for 30-year fixed-rate loans on Thursday, according to Mortgage News Daily.

Mortgage demand is back on the rise according to them.

For the past three weeks, the number of buyers applying for purchase mortgages rose year over year, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Applications shot up 12.7% annually in the week ending June 5. They were also up 15% from the previous week.

Call me suspicious but I thought it best to check the supply figures as well.

Mortgage credit availability decreased in May according to the Mortgage Credit Availability Index (MCAI)………..The MCAI fell by 3.1 percent to 129.3 in May. A decline in the MCAI indicates that lending standards are tightening, while increases in the index are indicative of loosening credit.

So a decline but still a lot higher than when it was set at 100 in 2012. The recent peak at the end of last year was of the order of 185 and was plainly singing along to the Outhere Brothers.

Boom boom boom let me here you say way-ooh (way-ooh)
Me say boom boom boom now everybody say way-ooh (way-ooh)

What about prices?

As the summer home-buying season gets underway, median home prices are surging. They shot up 4.3% year over year as the number of homes for sale continued to dry up in the week ending June 6, according to a recent realtor.com® report. That’s correct: Prices are going up despite this week’s announcement that the U.S. officially entered a recession in February.

Comment

As Todd Terry sang.

Something’s goin’ on in your soul

The housing market is seeing some surprises although I counsel caution. As I read the pieces about I note that a 4.3% rise is described as “shot up” whereas this gives a better perspective.

While that’s below the typical 5% to 6% annual price appreciation this time of year, it’s nearly back to what it was before the coronavirus pandemic. Median prices were rising 4.5% in the first two weeks of March before the COVID-19 lockdowns began. Nationally, the median home list price was $330,000 in May, according to the most recent realtor.com data.

But as @mikealfred reports there is demand out there.

Did someone forget to tell residential real estate buyers about the recession? I’m helping my in-laws buy a house in Las Vegas right now. Nearly every house in their price range coming to market sees 40+ showings and 5+ offers in the first few days. Crazy demand.

Of course there is the issue as to at what price?

So there we have it. The Federal Reserve will be happy as it has created a demand to buy property. The catch is that it is like crack and if they are to keep house prices rising they will have to intervene on an ever larger scale. For the moment their policy is also being flattered by house supply being low and I doubt that will last. To me this house price rally feels like trying to levitate over the edge of a cliff.

Podcast

 

 

 

Where will all the extra US Money Supply end up?

Today brings both the US economy and monetary policy centre stage. The OECD has already weighed in on the subject this morning.

The COVID-19 outbreak has brought the longest economic expansion on record to a juddering halt. GDP
contracted by 5% in the first quarter at an annualised rate, and the unemployment rate has risen
precipitously. If there is another virus outbreak later in the year, GDP is expected to fall by over 8% in 2020
(the double-hit scenario). If, on the other hand, the virus outbreak subsides by the summer and further
lockdowns are avoided (the single-hit scenario), the impact on annual growth is estimated to be a percentage
point less.

Actually that is less than its view of many other countries. But of course we need to remind ourselves that the OECD is not a particularly good forecaster. Also we find that the official data has its quirks.

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 2.5 million in May, and the unemployment rate
declined to 13.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today……In May, employment rose sharply in leisure and hospitality, construction, education and health services, and retail trade. By contrast, employment
in government continued to decline sharply……….The unemployment rate declined by 1.4 percentage points to 13.3 percent in May, and the number of unemployed persons fell by 2.1 million to 21.0 million.

Those figures not only completely wrong footed the forecasters they nutmegged them as well in one of the most spectacular examples of this genre I have seen. I forget now if they were expecting a rise in unemployment of eight or nine million but either way you get the gist. We do not know where we are let alone where we are going although the Bureau of Labor Statistics did try to add some clarity.

If the workers who were recorded as employed but absent from work due to “other  reasons” (over and above the number absent for other reasons in a typical May) had
been classified as unemployed on temporary layoff, the overall unemployment rate  would have been about 3 percentage points higher than reported (on a not seasonally  adjusted basis).

We learn more about the state of play from the New York Federal Reserve.

The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at -25.5% for 2020:Q2 and -12.0% for 2020:Q3. News from this week’s data releases increased the nowcast for 2020:Q2 by 10 percentage points and increased the nowcast for 2020:Q3 by 24.5 percentage points. Positive surprises from labor, survey, and international trade data drove most of the increase.

As you can see the labo(u)r market data blew their forecasts like a gale and leave us essentially with the view that there has been a large contraction but also a wide possible and indeed probable error range.

The Inflation Problem

We get the latest inflation data later after I publish this piece. But there is a problem with the mantra we are being told which is that there is no inflation. Something similar to the April reading of 0.3% is expected. So if we switch to the measure used by the US Federal Reserve which is based on Personal Consumption Expenditures the annual rate if we use our rule of thumb would in fact be slightly negative right now. On this basis Chair Powell and much of the media can say that all the monetary easing is justified.

But there are more than a few catches which change the picture. Let me start with the issues I raised concerning the Euro area yesterday where the numbers will be pushed downwards by a combination of the weights being (very) wrong, many prices being unavailable and the switch to online prices. It would seem that the ordinary person has been figuring this out for themselves.

The May 2020 Survey of Consumer Expectations shows small signs of improvement in households’ expectations compared to April. Median inflation expectations increased by 0.4 percentage point at the one-year horizon to 3.0 percent, and were unchanged at the three-year horizon at 2.6 percent. ( NY Fed Research from Monday)

It is revealing that they describe an increase in inflation that is already above target as an “improvement” is it not? But we see a complete shift as we leave the Ivory Towers and media palaces as the ordinary person surveyed expects a very different picture. Still the Ivory Towers can take some solace from the fact that inflation is in what they consider to be non-core areas.

Expected year-ahead changes in both food and gasoline prices displayed sharp increases for the second consecutive month and recorded series’ highs in May at 8.7% and 7.8%, respectively, in May.

Just for the avoidance of doubt I have turned my Irony meter beyond even the “turn up to 11” of the film Spinal Tap.

Central bankers will derive some cheer from the apparent improvement in perceptions about the housing market.

Median home price change expectations recovered slightly from its series’ low of 0% reached in April to 0.6% in May. The slight increase was driven by respondents who live in the West and Northeast Census regions.

Credit

More food for thought is provided in this area. If we switch to US Federal Reserve policy Chair Jerome Powell will tell us later that the taps are open and credit is flowing. But those surveyed have different ideas it would seem.

Perceptions of credit access compared to a year ago deteriorated for the third consecutive month, with 49.6% of respondents reporting credit to be harder to get today than a year ago (versus 32.1% in March and 48.0% in April). Expectations for year-ahead credit availability also worsened, with fewer respondents expecting credit will become easier to obtain.

Comment

I now want to shift to a subject which is not getting the attention it deserves. This is the growth in the money supply where the three monthly average for the narrow measure M1 has increased in annualised terms by 67.2% in the three months to the 25th of May. Putting that another way it has gone from a bit over US $4 trillion to over US $5 trillion over the past 3 months. That gives the monetary system quite a short-term shove the size of which we can put into context with this.

In April 2008, M1 was approximately $1.4 trillion, more than half of which consisted of currency.  ( NY Fed)

Contrary to what we keep being told about the decline of cash it has grown quite a bit over this period as there is presently a bit over US $1.8 trillion in circulation.

Moving to the wider measure M2 we see a similar picture where the most recent three months measured grew by 40.6% compared to its predecessor in annualised terms. Or if you prefer it has risen from US $15.6 billion to US $18.1 billion. Again here is the historical perspective from April 2008.

 M2 was approximately $7.7 trillion and largely consisted of savings deposits.

So here is a question for readers, where do you think all this money will go? Whilst you do so you might like to note this from the 2008 report I have quoted.

While as much as two-thirds of U.S. currency in circulation may be held outside the United States….

The Investing Channel

 

The Euro area has an inflation problem that the ECB ignores

Yesterday brought us up to date with the thoughts of ECB President Christine Lagarde as she gave evidence to the European Parliament, and grim reading and listening it made.

After a contraction in GDP of 3.8% in the first quarter of the year, our new staff projections see it shrinking by 13% in the second quarter. Despite being expected to bounce back later in the year and recover some of its lost ground, euro area real GDP is now projected to fall by 8.7% over the whole of 2020, followed by growth of 5.2% in 2021 and 3.3% in 2022.

The numbers for 2021 and 22 are pure fantasy of course an area where President Lagarde has quite a track record after her claims about Greece and Argentina. But the fundamental polnt here is of a large and in many ways unprecedented fall in this quarter.

Germany

We have received some hints this morning via the April trade figures for the Euro areas largest economy Germany.

WIESBADEN – Germany exported goods to the value of 75.7 billion euros and imported goods to the value of 72.2 billion euros in April 2020. Based on provisional data, the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) also reports that exports decreased by 31.1% and imports by 21.6% in April 2020 year on year.

In a pandemic it is no surprise that trade is hit harder than economic output or GDP and the impact was severe.

That was the largest decline of exports in a month compared with the same month a year earlier since the introduction of foreign trade statistics in 1950. The last time German imports went down that much was in July 2009 during the financial crisis (-23.6%).

This meant that the German trade surplus which is essentially the Euro area one faded quite a bit.

The foreign trade balance showed a surplus of 3.5 billion euros in April 2020. That was the lowest export surplus shown for Germany since December 2000 (+1.7 billion euros). In April 2019, the surplus was 17.8 billion euros. In calendar and seasonally adjusted terms, the foreign trade balance recorded a surplus of 3.2 billion euros in April 2020.

In itself that is far from a crisis as both Germany and the Euro area have had plenty of surpluses in this area. But it will be a subtraction to GDP although some will be found elsewhere.

exports to the countries hit particularly hard by the corona virus pandemic dropped sharply from April 2019: France (-48.3%), Italy (-40.1%) and the United States (-35.8%).

So for the first 2 countries the falls will be gains although of course they will have their own losses.

There was a considerable decline in German imports from France (-37.3% to 3.5 billion euros) and Italy (-32.5% to 3.2 billion euros).

So we have a sharp impact on the economy although we need the caveat that these compete with retail sales to be the least reliable numbers we have.

Inflation

If we return to President Lagarde there was also this.

The sharp drop in economic activity is also leaving its mark on euro area inflation. Year-on-year HICP inflation declined further to 0.1% in May, mainly due to falling oil prices. Looking ahead, the inflation outlook has been revised downwards substantially over the entire projection horizon. In the baseline scenario, inflation is projected to average 0.3% in 2020, before rising slightly to 0.8% in 2021, and further to 1.3% in 2022.

There are serious problems with inflation measurement right now and let me explain them.

The HICP sub-indices are aggregated using weights reflecting the household consumption expenditure patterns of the previous year.

This is clearly an issue when expenditure patterns have changed so much. This is illustrated by the area highlighted by President Lagarde oil prices as we note automotive fuel demand was down 46.9% on a year ago. So she is being very misleading. Also I am regularly asked about imputed rent well it has plenty of company right now.

The second principle means that all sub-indices for the full ECOICOP structure will be compiled even when for some categories no products are available on the market. In such cases prices do not exist and they should be replaced with imputed prices.

So if you cannot get a price you make it up. You really could not er make it up…..

Also online quotes are used if necessary. That reflects reality but there is a catch as the prices are likely to be lower than store prices in more than a few cases.

What you might think are minor issues can turn into big ones as we saw last year from a rethink of the state of play concerning package holidays in Germany.

In the following years, the impact of the revision is smaller, between -0.2 and +0.3 p.p. Consequently, the euro area all-items annual rates are revised between 0.0 and +0.3 p.p. in 2015 and between -0.1 and +0.1 p.p. after.

Yes it did change the overall number for the Euro area which is I suppose a case f the mouse scaring and moving the elephant. This really matters when we are told this.

 the deteriorating inflation outlook threatening our medium-term price stability objective.

So we got this in response to a number which is dodgy to say the least.

The Governing Council last Thursday decided to increase the amount of the pandemic emergency purchase programme (PEPP) by an additional €600 billion to a total of €1,350 billion, to extend the net purchase horizon until at least the end of June 2021, and to reinvest maturing assets acquired under the programme until at least the end of 2022.

In context there is also this from Peter Schiff which raises a wry smile.

ECB Pres. Christine Lagarde claims that emergency action is necessary to protect Europeans from a mere 1.3% rise in their cost of living in the year 2022. Lagarde said such a small rise is inconsistent with the ECB’s goal of price stability. Prices must rise more to be stable.

George Orwell must wish he had put that in 1984, although to be fair his themes were spot on. He would have enjoyed how Christine Lagarde sets as her objective making people worse off.

The ECB measures will continue to be crucial in supporting the return of inflation towards our medium-term inflation aim after the worst of the crisis has passed and the euro area economy begins its journey to economic recovery.

Let’s face it even the (wo)man on Mars will probably be aware that these days wages do not necessarily grow faster than prices.

Comment

Let me now spin around to the real game in town for central bankers which is financial markets. Once they had helped the banks by letting them benefit from a -1% interest-rate which of course will in the end be paid by everyone else then boosting asset markets is the next game in town. I have already mentioned the large sums being invested to help governments borrow more cheaply with the 1.35 trillion. As a former finance minister Christine Lagarde can look forwards to being warmly welcomed at meetings with present finance ministers. After all Germany is being paid to borrow and even Italy only has a ten-year yield of 1.42% in spite of having debt metrics which are beginning to spiral.

Next comes equity markets where the Euro Stoxx 50 index was at one point yesterday some 1000 points higher than the 2386 of the 19th of March. The link from all the QE is of portfolio shifts as for example bonds providing less ( and in many cases negative income) make dividends from shares more attractive. As an aside this poses all sorts of risks from pensions investing in wrong areas.

But my main drive is that central banks can push asset prices higher but the problem is that the asset rich benefit but for everyone else there is them inflation. The inflation is conveniently ignored as those responsible for putting housing inflation in the numbers have been on a 20 year holiday. As even the ECB confesses that sector makes up a third of consumer spending you can see again how the numbers are misleading. Or to put it another way how the ordinary person is made worse off whilst the better off gain.

The Bank of England intervenes in support of Tottenham Hotspur

We have been provided with some more insights into the thinking of the Bank of England via a speech from Executive Director Andrew Hauser. We open with a curious accident of timing.

I have always had a funny feeling about Friday the 13th – and 13 March 2020, Mark Carney’s last day in the
office as Governor of the Bank of England, was no exception.

Actually he had various leaving dates as one might expect from an unreliable boyfriend. Then the speech shows it is being given by a central banker because we are told this.

But this is no time for self-congratulation.

But then it apparently is.

Hailed globally as a shining example of how monetary, fiscal and regulatory policies
could work together to reinforce one another, the combination of interest rate cuts, government spending,
cheap funding and capital easing measures seemed sure to stabilise markets and restore some muchneeded confidence to households and businesses.

Can you applaud yourself whilst also slapping yourself on the back, but avoid self-congratulation?

Policies

We get a confirmation of one of my points.

The dollar swap lines may be the most important part of the international financial stability safety net that few
have ever heard of.

In essence the US Federal Reserve was effectively operating as the world’s central bank.

QE

The events are described thus.

This was by far the largest and fastest single programme ever launched: equivalent to around a tenth of UK GDP, or 50% of the MPC’s existing holdings, and more than twice as rapid as the opening salvo of purchases in 2009.

The impact is described in glowing terms.

The impact was immediate, and decisive. Gilt yields fell back sharply as confidence returned, and market
functioning measures began to normalise . Purchase operations have since taken place
smoothly, with good participation and tight pricing.

There are issues with this though as we find ourselves noting that “as confidence returned” actually means that the Bank of England buys vast numbers of Gilts ( bonds). In fact the present rate of purchases at £13.5 billion per week means that few others need “confidence” as the UK has sold around £13.3 billion of new Gilts this week. So this week nobody else needed any confidence at all! Next is the yield issue where the Bank of England buying has driven short-dated Gilts into negative territory. I looked at the detail of the purchases on Tuesday and Wednesday and over 90% of the short-dated auction so around £2.9 billion was driving prices into negative yields which is apparently “tight pricing”. Also if I was being offered profits and in some cases enormous profits like this I think you might see “good participation” from me too.

Covid Corporate Credit Facility (CCFF)

Let me thank Andrew Hauser for reminding me of this issue and it led me down an unusual road. So in the style of children’s TV let me say to Arsenal fans are you sitting comfortably? First the details of the scheme and it is another bad day for those claiming the Bank of England is independent.

Given the credit risks involved, financial exposures and
eligibility decisions would be owned by the Treasury, but the scheme – to be known as the Covid Corporate
Credit Facility (CCFF) – would be designed and run by the Bank, and funded through the issuance of
reserves, with the MPC’s agreement.

What has it amounted to?

So far, over 140 firms have signed up for the scheme, and have borrowed over £20bn in total,
some of which has already matured. Firms’ borrowing capacity in the scheme is more than three times that
level , helping to underpin confidence – and complementing the Government-run schemes, including the Coronavirus Business Interruption and Bounce Back Loan (BBL) Schemes, which together have lent a further £31bn.

This is a tidy sum indeed and the independence crew take another punch to the solar plexus as we note that he is linking Bank of England work with HM Treasury.

Whilst the help is no doubt welcome yet again we see a central banker unable to see the wood for the trees.

First, CP issuance under the scheme has been at least three times
larger than the size of the pre-Covid-19 sterling CP market – and nearly three quarters of CCFF firms have
set up a CP programme since applying. So the CCFF has helped to deepen the CP market, with potentially
lasting benefits.

The Threadneedle Street Whale is in the market buying it all up! Who would not want to offer debt cheaply? Small and medium-sized businesses must be looking on with envy. It also gives us an addition to my financial lexicon for these times.

“the normalisation of conditions in core markets, ” means the Bank of England is buying.

Meanwhile

 

 

Term Funding Scheme

This is reviewed in dare I say it? Self-congratulatory terms.

In addition to the CCFF, the Bank also opened the borrowing window for the new Term Funding Scheme
with additional incentives for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (TFSME) on 15 April………There has already been £12bn of lending from the scheme – a far more rapid pace than the previous TFS.

Actually I would have expected more but of course the mortgage market is not yet properly open.

It does this by providing banks with cheap funding over
a four-year term (rising to six years for loans guaranteed under the BBL scheme).

So another one in 4 years as we note there is still £107 billion under the previous scheme?

Ways and Means

I looked at this on April 9th and concluded it was a minor factor which you might recall was very different to the mainstream media view.

The Ways and Means account has not been used since the financial crisis, and is normally worth £400m. But outside experts say that this will increase by billions, perhaps tens of billions to help the government manage a sharp increase in immediate spending,

I would suggest that Faisal Islam of the BBC needs some new “outside experts” as it has remained at £370 million and has therefore not been used.

Comment

We get some perspective from the scale of the interventions by the Bank of England which is described thus.

a balance sheet that has expanded by almost a third in three months, and will reach nearly 40% of annual UK GDP by
mid-year. To deliver that, we are doing more than ten times the number of weekly operations than in the
pre-Covid19 period.

He calculates it as £769 billion and as the pace continues I think it is more like £789 billion now.

Next is something that he rues but I am more hopeful about as the lack of groups may reduce the group-think.

Face-to face meetings – the lifeblood of central banking, sadly – have been seamlessly replaced with audio and
video calls.

Andrew Hauser clearly thinks about the situation but there is an elephant missing in his room which is how do we reverse all the central banking intervention and also deal with the side-effects? Have you noticed hoe the issue of the impact on longer-term saving ( pensions and insurance companies) has seen a type of radio blackout? Here are his suggestions.

First, do we understand why intermediaries struggled to make effective markets in core government
bond, money and foreign exchange instruments at crucial moments during the crisis?

Second, are we comfortable with the central role played by highly-leveraged but thinly-capitalised
non-banks in arbitraging between key financial markets, if the unwinding of those trades can amplify
instability so starkly?

Third, how do we deal with the risks posed to financial stability by the structural tendency for Money
Market and some other open-ended funds to be prone to runs, without having to commit scarce
public money to costly support facilities?

And, fourth, how can we ensure timely transition away from LIBOR, whose weaknesses were
highlighted so starkly by the crisis?

Still according to the Halifax Building Society house prices are (somehow) 2.6% higher than last May.

 

 

 

Christine Lagarde and the ECB have switched from monetary to fiscal policy

The Corona Virus pandemic has really rather caught the European Central Bank (ECB) on the hop. You see it was not supposed to be like this on several counts. Firstly the “Euro Boom” was supposed to continue but we now know via various revisions that things had turned down in Germany in early 2018 and then the Trumpian trade war hit as well. So the claims of former ECB President Mario Draghi that a combination of negative interest-rates and QE bond buying had boosted both Gross Domestic Product ( GDP) and inflation by around 1.5% morphed into this.

First, as regards the key ECB interest rates, we decided to lower the interest rate on the deposit facility by 10 basis points to -0.50%……..Second, the Governing Council decided to restart net purchases under its asset purchase programme (APP) at a monthly pace of €20 billion as from 1 November. We expect them to run for as long as necessary to reinforce the accommodative impact of our policy rates, and to end shortly before we start raising the key ECB interest rates.

As you can see the situation was quite problematic. For all the rhetoric who really believed that a cut in interest-rates of 0.1% would make a difference when much larger ones had not? Next comes the issue of having to restart sovereign bond purchases and QE only 9 months or so after stopping it. As a collective then there is the issue of what all the monetary easing has achieved? That leads to my critique that it is always a case of “More! More! More” or if you prefer QE to Infinity.

Next comes the issue of personnel. For all the talk about the ECB being independent the reclaiming of it by the political class was in process via the appointment of the former French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde as President. This of course added to the fact that the Vice President Luis de Guindos had been the Spanish Finance Minister. Combined with this comes the issue of competence as I recall Mario Draghi pointing out he would give Luis de Guindos a specific job when he found one he could do, thereby clearly implying he lacked the required knowledge and skill set. It is hard to know where to start with Christine Lagarde on this subject after her failures involving Greece and Argentina ( which sadly is in the mire again) and her conviction for negligence. Of course she has added to that more recently with her statement about “bond spreads” which saw the ten-year yield in Italy impersonate a Space-X rocket until somebody persuaded her to issue a correction. Although as the last press conference highlighted you never really escape a faux pas like that.

Do you now believe that it is the ECB’s role to control the spreads on government debt?

The Present Situation

This was supposed to be one where monetary policy had been set for the next year or so and President Lagarde could get her Hermes slippers under the table before having to do anything. Life sometimes comes at you quite fast though as this morning has already highlighted. From Eurostat.

In April 2020, the COVID-19 containment measures widely introduced by Member States again had a significant
impact on retail trade, as the seasonally adjusted volume of retail trade decreased by 11.7% in the euro area and
by 11.1% in the EU, compared with March 2020, according to estimates from Eurostat, the statistical office of
the European Union. In March 2020, the retail trade volume decreased by 11.1% in the euro area and by 10.1%
in the EU.
In April 2020 compared with April 2019, the calendar adjusted retail sales index decreased by 19.6% in the euro
area and by 18.0% in the EU.

As you can see Retail Sales have fallen by a fifth as far as we can tell ( normal measuring will be impossible right now and the numbers are erratic in normal times). Also there were large structural shifts with clothing and footwear down 63.5% on a year ago and online up 20.9%. Much of this is due to shops being closed and will be reversed but there is a loss for taxes and GDP which is an issue for ECB policy. Other news points out that May has its troubles as well.

Germany May New Car Registrations Total 168,148 -49.5% Y/Y – KBA ( @LiveSquawk)

Policy Response

For all the claims and rhetoric is that the ECB has prioritised the banks and government’s. So let us start with The Precious! The Precious!

Accordingly, the Governing Council decided today to further ease the conditions on our targeted longer-term refinancing operations (TLTRO III)……. Moreover, for counterparties whose eligible net lending reaches the lending performance threshold, the interest rate over the period from June 2020 to June 2021 will now be 50 basis points below the average deposit facility rate prevailing over the same period.

For newer readers this means that the banks will be facing what is both the lowest interest-rate seen so far anywhere at -1% and also a fix for the problems they have dealing with a -0.5% interest-rate more generally. It also means that whilst the bit below is not an outright lie it is also not true.

In addition, we decided to keep the key ECB interest rates unchanged.

In fact for those who regard the interest-rate for banks as key it is an untruth. Estimates for the gains to the banking sector from this are of the order of 3 billion Euros. Yet another subsidy or if you prefer we are getting the Vapors.

I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so
Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so

Fiscal Policy

This is what monetary policy has now morphed into. There is an irony here because one of the reasons the ECB has pursued such expansionary policy is the nature of fiscal policy in the Euro area. That has been highlighted in three main ways. the surpluses of Germany, the Stability and Growth Pact and the depressive policy applied to Greece. But that was then and this is now.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that Germany was set to plow 130 billion euros ($146 billion) into rebooting an economy severely hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The measures include temporarily cutting value-added tax form 19% to 16%, providing families with an additional €300 per child and doubling a government-supported rebate on electric car purchases.

The package also establishes a €50 billion fund for addressing climate change, innovation and digitization within the German economy. ( dw.com )

Even Italy is being allowed to spend.

Fiat To Use State-Backed Loan To Pay Italy Staff, Suppliers ( @LiveSquawk)

This is the real reason for the QE and is highlighted below.

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – The European Central Bank scooped up all of Italy’s new debt in April and May but merely managed to keep borrowing costs for the indebted, virus-stricken country from rising, data showed on Tuesday.

The ECB bought 51.1 billion euros worth of Italian government bonds in the last two months compared with a net supply, as calculated by analysts at UniCredit, of 49 billion euros.

Comment

Thus President Lagarde will be mulling the words of Boz Scaggs.

(What can I do?)
Ooh, show me that I care
(What can I say?)
Hmmm, got to have your number baby
(What can I do?)

Plainly the ECB needs the flexibility of being able to expand its QE bond buying so that Euro area governments can borrow cheaply as highlighted by Italy or be paid to borrow like Germany. We could see the PEPP plan which is the latest emergency one expanded as it will run out in late September on present trends, also the German Constitutional Court has conveniently given it a bye. But she could do that next time. So finally we have a decision appropriate for a politician!

As to interest-rates we see that the banks have as usual been taken care of. That only leaves the rest of us so it is unlikely. We will only see another cut if they decide that like a First World War general that a futile gesture is needed.

UK consumer credit collapses as the money supply soars

As we peruse the data for the impact of all the Bank of England actions in this pandemic we have also been updated on its main priority. From the Nationwide Building Society.

“UK house prices fell by 1.7% over the month in May, after
taking account of seasonal effects – this is the largest
monthly fall since February 2009. As a result, the annual rate of house price growth slowed to 1.8%, from 3.7% in April.”

According to them things had been going really rather well before the May reverse.

“In the opening months of 2020, before the pandemic struck
the UK, the housing market had been steadily gathering
momentum. Activity levels and price growth were edging up thanks to continued robust labour market conditions, low borrowing costs and a more stable political backdrop
following the general election.”

Personally I am rather dubious about the April number but we do have a large fall for May and also something of a critique for the suspended official index from the Office for National Statistics.

Mortgage activity has also declined sharply. Nevertheless,
our ability to generate the house price index has not been
impacted to date, as sample sizes have remained sufficiently large (and representative) to generate robust results.

Rents

Perhaps such news is all too much for the boomers as I note the BBC reporting this today.

Lockdown break-ups, job losses and urgent relocations are thought to have led to a surge in the rental sector.

Demand for lettings in Great Britain is up by 22% compared to last year, according to property giant Rightmove.

Experts say the lifting of lockdown restrictions has released “two months of pent-up tension” in the market.

The supply of new rents is not keeping up with demand, however, prompting fears the surge will push up costs and leave some struggling to find homes.

The article tries to give the impression that rents are rising but provides no evidence for this at all, as the data set only has demand. It seems to lack a mention of the numbers in the data set which showed larger demand declines in the pandemic. We seem back to the get in now before rents boom message that is so familiar as the media parrots what the industry wants.

“I think we were lucky really because we got in there before demand boomed.”

On a personal level some people were viewing in my block yesterday. Fair play to the viewers who put on masks, but sadly the estate agent who is more likely to spread the virus did not bother with any PPE.

Consumer Credit

Even in the hot summer weather we are seeing the spine of the Monetary Policy Committee will have seen a sudden chill as these numbers came in.

New gross borrowing fell to £11.8 billion in April, roughly half its February level. Repayments on consumer borrowing have also fallen sharply, by 19% since February, reflecting payment holidays. On net, the larger fall in gross borrowing meant people repaid £7.4 billion of consumer credit in April, double the repayment in March, which itself was a record repayment (Chart 3). The extremely weak net flows of consumer credit meant that the annual growth rate fell below zero in April, to -0.4%, the weakest since August 2012.

What is happening here is that each month there is a large amount of new borrowing but also repayments and the usual situation is that we see net borrowing and in recent years lots of it. In April the amount of new borrowing fell and for once the use of the word collapse is appropriate whereas the level of repayments fell by much less. Thus the net amount swung by as much as I can ever recall.

In terms of the detail the main player was credit card borrowing.

The majority (£5.0 billion) of net consumer credit repayments were on credit cards, while £2.4 billion of other loans were also repaid in April. The annual growth rate of credit card lending was negative for the second month running, falling to -7.8%, compared with 3.5% in February before borrowing fell. Growth in other loans and advances remained positive, at 3.1%.

Mortgages

There was a similar pattern to be found here although in this instance it was not enough to turn the net figure negative. Also the bit I have emphasised is a signal of the financial distress I have both feared and expected.

Lending has also fallen sharply. Gross (new) mortgage borrowing fell to £14.4 billion, 38% lower than in February (Chart 5). Repayments on mortgage lending also fell sharply, to £13.9 billion, 26% lower than in February. This reflects a sharp fall in full repayments of loans, as well as the effect of payment holidays. The sharper fall in gross lending than repayments means that net mortgage borrowing fell, and was only £0.3 billion in April compared to an increase of £4.3 billion in February. This was the lowest net increase since December 2011.

One area that I do expect to pick up is this.

Approvals for remortgage (which include remortgaging with a different lender only) have fallen by less, to 34,400, 34% lower than in February.

With my indicator for fixed mortgage interest-rates ( the five-year Gilt yield) so low and effectively around 0% I expect some cheaper mortgage rates and hence more remortgaging, for those that can. As to mortgage rates they did this.

The effective interest rate paid on the stock of floating-rate mortgages fell 46 basis points, to 2.39%, the lowest rate since this series began in 2016; and the rate on new floating-rate loans fell 35 basis points to 1.48%.

They do not often tell us the mortgage rates but I guess they wanted to emphasise their own actions.

The rate paid by individuals on floating-rate mortgage borrowing fell a little further in April, however, as the MPC’s March Bank Rate cuts continued to pass through.

Business Lending

You might like to recall as you read the bit below that all of the credit easing since the summer of 2012 has been to boost small business lending.

Private sector businesses of all sizes borrowed little extra from banks in April. Small and medium sized businesses drew down an extra £0.3billion in loans from banks, on net, a similar amount as in March. The annual growth rate of borrowing by SMEs was 1.2%, in line with the growth rate since mid 2019.

For newer the readers the central banking game is to claim you are boosting lending to SMEs and then express surprise when it is mortgage lending and unsecured credit to consumers that rises and soars respectively.

The numbers below are mostly because many businesses have been desperate for cash.

But strength in borrowing by the public administration and defence industry meant total borrowing by large businesses was £12.9 billion in April. While this total is very strong by historical standards, it is down from £32.4 billion in March. The annual growth rate of borrowing by all large businesses increased to 15.4%, much stronger than the growth rate of around 5% in late 2019.

There will be quite a complicated mixture there as we no note lower and sometime zero sales colliding with many expenses continuing.

This is an ongoing problem where big businesses get help. As you can see they can access bank loans and the various Bank of England schemes are designed for them too.

 In April, firms raised £16.1 billion from financial markets, on net, the highest amount raised since June 2009 and significantly stronger than the previous six month average of £23 million. Within this, firms issued £7.7 billion of bonds, £7.0 billion of commercial paper (including funds raised through the Covid Corporate Financing Facility), and £1.4 billion of equity.

It is not easy as for obvious reasons a central bank can help a large business in ways that it cannot help a corner shop or one (wo)man band but the truth is that they also get a bit lazy and could try much harder.

Comment

I have held back the money supply data for this section and here it is.

These additional sterling deposit ‘flows’ by households, private non-financial businesses (PNFCs) and financial businesses (NIOFCs), known as M4ex, rose by £37.3 billion in April. The strength was driven by households and PNFCs. The increase was smaller than in March, when money increased by £67.3 billion.

An interesting decline in the monthly number but the main message here is the £104.6 billion in only two months which compares to a total of £2364.4 billion. So a bit short of 5% in only 2 months! The annual rate is now 9%. On terms of economic impact then that is supposed to give us a nominal GDP growth rate also of 9% in a couple of years. Because of where we are there are all sorts or problems with applying that rule but it is grounds for those who have inflation fears. Oh and as to how this is created well some £13.5 billion of QE a week sure helps.

One other factor will be that these aggregate numbers will hide very different individual and group impacts. For example some with mortgages will be in financial distress whereas others will be using lower rates to increase repayments. The same will be true of businesses with sadly as I have explained above smaller ones usually getting the thin end of the wedge. These breakdowns are as important as the aggregate data but often get ignored.