Mario Draghi and the ECB prepare for a change of course next month

After a week where the UK has dominated the headlines it is time to switch to the Euro area.  This is for two reasons.  We receive the latest inflation data but also because a speech from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi has addressed an issue we have been watching as 2018 has developed. We have been waiting to see how he and it will respond to the economic slow down that is apparent. This is especially important as during the credit crunch era the ECB has not only been the first responder to any economic downturns it has also regularly found itself to be the only one. Thus it finds itself in a position whereby in terms of negative interest-rates ( deposit rate of -0.4%) and balance sheet ( still expanding at 15 billion Euros per month ) and credit easing still heavily deployed. Accordingly this sentence from Mario echoes what we have been discussing for quite a while.

The key issue at stake is as follows: are we witnessing a temporary “soft patch” or a more lasting deterioration in the growth outlook?

The latter would be somewhat devastating for the man who was ready to do “whatever it takes” to save the Euro as it would return us to discussions about its problems a major one of has been slow economic growth.

Some rhetoric

It seems to be a feature these days of official speeches that they open with what in basketball terms would be called a head fake. Prime Minister Theresa May did it yesterday with an opening sentence which could have been followed by a resignation and Mario opened with what could have been about “broad based” economic growth.

The euro area economy has now been growing for five years, and we expect the expansion to continue in the coming years.

Of course central bankers always expect the latter until there is no other choice. Indeed he confirms that line of thought later.

There is certainly no reason why the expansion in the euro area should abruptly come to an end.

As we move on we get an interesting perspective on the past as well as a comparison with the United States.

Since 1975 there have been five periods of rising GDP in the euro area. The average duration from trough to peak is 31 quarters, with GDP increasing by 21% over that period. The current expansion in the euro area, however, has lasted just 22 quarters and GDP is only around 10% above the trough. In contrast, the expansion in the United States has lasted 37 quarters, and GDP has risen by 21%.

The obvious point is whether you can use the Euro area as a concept before it even existed?! Added to that via the “convergence” promised by the Euro area founders economic growth should be better now than then, except of course we have seen plenty of divergence too. Also you might find it odd to be pointing out that the US has done better especially as the way it is put which reminds us that for all the extraordinary monetary action the Euro area has only grown by 10%. Even that relies on something of a swinging ball as of course he is comparing with the bottom of the dip rather than the past peak as otherwise the number would be a fair bit weaker. Mario is leaving a bit of a trap here, however, or to be more precise he thinks he is.

How have we got here?

First we open with two standard replies the first is that whilst any growth is permanent setbacks are temporary and the other fallback is to blame the weather.

The first is one-off factors, which have clearly played an important role in the underperformance of growth since the start of the year. In the first half of 2018, weather, sickness and industrial action affected output in a number of countries.

Actually that makes the third quarter look even worse as they had gone by then yet growth slowed. He is on safer ground here though.

Production slowed as carmakers tried to avoid building up inventory of untested models, which weighed heavily on economies with large automobile sectors, such as Germany. Indeed, the German economy actually contracted in the third quarter, removing at least 0.1 percentage points from quarterly euro area growth.

This is another marker being put down because it you are thinking that you might need to further expand monetary policy it is best to try to get the Germans onside and reminding them that they too have issues will help. Indeed for those who believe that ECB policy is essentially set for Germany it may be not far off a clincher.

There is something that may worry German car producers if they are followers of ECB euphemisms.

The latest data already show production normalising.

After all the ECB itself may not achieve that.

Trade

This paragraph is interesting on quite a few levels.

The second source of the slowdown has been weaker trade growth, which is broader-based. Net exports contributed 1.4 percentage points to euro area growth in 2017, while so far this year they have removed 0.2 percentage points. World trade growth decelerated from 5.2% in 2017 to 4.6% in the first half of this year.

Oddly Mario then converts a slow down in growth to this.

We are witnessing a long-term slowdown in world trade.

As we note the change in the impact of trade on the Euro area there are several factors in play. You could argue that 2017 was a victory for the “internal competitiveness” austerity model applied although when we get to the collective that is awkward as the Euro area runs a large surplus driven by Germany. From the point of view of the rest of the world they would like it to reduce although the preferable route would be for the Euro area ( Germany ) to import more.

Employment

Mario cheers rightly for this.

Over the past five years, employment has increased by 9.5 million people, rising by 2.6 million in Germany, 2.1 million in Spain, 1 million in France and 1 million in Italy.

I bet he enjoyed the last bit especially! But later there is a catch which provides food for thought.

 But since 2013 more than 70% of employment growth has come from those aged 55-74. This partly reflects the impact of past structural reforms, such as to pension systems.

Probably not the ECB pension though as we are reminded of “Us and Them” by Pink Floyd.

Forward he cried from the rear
And the front rank died
And the general sat
And the lines on the map
Moved from side to side.

Also whilst no doubt some of these women wanted to work there will be others who had no choice.

The share of women in work has also risen by more than 10 percentage points since the start of EMU to almost 60% – its highest level ever

Put another way this sentence below could fit into a section concerning the productivity crisis.

 In addition, countries that have implemented structural reforms have in general seen a rise in labour demand in recent years compared with the pre-crisis period. Germany, Portugal and Spain are all good examples.

There is a section on wages but Mario end up taking something of an each-way bet on this.

But in the light of the lags between wages and prices after a period of low inflation, patience and persistence in our monetary policy is still needed.

Money Supply and Credit

This is how central bankers report a sustained and considerable slow down in the money supply.

The cost of bank borrowing for firms fell to record lows in the first half of this year across all large euro area economies, while the growth of loans to firms stood at its highest rate since 2012. The growth rate of loans to households is also the strongest since 2012, with consumer credit now acting as the most dynamic component, reflecting the ongoing strength of consumption.

Also the emphasis below is mine and regular readers are permitted a wry smile.

Household net worth remains at solid levels on the back of rising house prices and is adding to continued consumption growth.

Comment

We are being warmed up for something of a change of course in case it is necessary.

When the Governing Council met in October, we confirmed our confidence in the economic outlook………….When the latest round of projections is available at our next meeting in December, we will be better placed to make a full assessment of the risks to growth and inflation.

As if they are not already thinking along those lines! The next bit is duo fold. It reminds us that the Euro area has abandoned fiscal policy but does have a kicker for the future.

To protect their households and firms from rising interest rates, high-debt countries should not increase their debt even further and all countries should respect the rules of the Union.

The kicker is perhaps a hint that there is a solution to that as well.

In conclusion, I want to emphasise how completing Economic and Monetary Union has become more urgent over time not less urgent – and not only for the economic reasoning that has always underpinned my remarks, but also to preserve our European construction………….more Europe is the answer.

There Mario leaps out of his apparent trap singing along to Luther Vandross.

I just don’t wanna stop
Oh my love, a million days in your arms
Is never too much (never too much, never too much, never too much)

Podcast

 

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What are the economic implications of Brexit?

Today there can only be one subject although as ever I will avoid the politics as much as is possible. Anyway at the current rate of progress anything on that subject would be out of date before I finished typing! At least in a world where the Brexit Secretary resigns over the Brexit deal. What exactly has he been doing these last few months? Let us move onto what is the debate over the economics and look at the outlook published by the International Monetary Fund or IMF yesterday.

IMF

The background is something that we are hearing from many establishments and central banks these days.

Moderate growth of just above 1½ percent is projected for the coming years, conditional on reaching a broad free trade agreement (FTA) with the EU and a smooth Brexit process.

Obviously the second part of the sentence is specific to the UK but both the Bank of England with its “speed limit” and the European Central Bank or ECB have been hammering out this bear. As ever the problem is how we got here? After all both central banks have indulged in monetary easing on a grand scale involving large interest-rate cuts, QE and credit easing. Yet the future is apparently not as bright as they promised. In essence we in Europe have a future that is a bit better than the past trajectory of Italy as we note that such views only cover what Chic called “Good Times” and mostly ignores recessions and setbacks.

The view from Tokyo is even worse where expanding the balance sheet of the Bank of Japan to more than 100% of GDP has led to the speed limit being between 0.5% and 1%. Is that the next step? Because if so a lot harder questions need to be asked about the way that central banks have been allowed to operate as borrowing from Peter to pay Paul has not gone anything like as well as they have claimed.

IMF View

Here is their base view on a no-deal Brexit.

On the downside, reverting to WTO trade rules, even in an orderly manner, would lead to long-run output losses for the UK of around 5 to 8 percent of GDP compared to a no-Brexit scenario. This is because of higher tariff and non-tariff trade barriers, lower migration, and reduced foreign direct investment.

The issue with that style of analysis is that in the long-run many things will change and we simply do not know what they will be. For example the UK would likely end up with higher trade tariffs with the European Union but might cut them elsewhere. Initially one would expect foreign investment to be lower due to the uncertainty but as time passes the UK may make moves – for example a mooted reduction in Corporation Tax – to offset that. Lower migration is the most likely to continue although as we have until now had little control over our borders it seems set to be driven by demand with fewer people wanting to come.

The IMF has a worse scenario for a disorderly situation.

A worst-case scenario would be a disorderly exit from the EU without an implementation period. In such a scenario, a sudden shift in investors’ preference for UK assets could lead to a sharp fall in asset prices and a hit to consumer and business confidence, which in turn would have adverse
impact on the balance sheets of households, firms and financial intermediaries. Sterling would depreciate further, raising domestic prices and affecting households’ real income and consumption. A disorderly exit is likely to lead to widespread disruptions in production and
services.

If we pick our way through this we open with what is mostly a euphemism for house prices which are of course supposed to be already falling. In fact I though and indeed hoped we would see a fall as they are too high but if we take yesterday’s official data we see that they were rising at an annual rate of 3.5% in September. One asset price that is surging today is the UK Gilt market where the long gilt future has risen over one point and the ten-year yield has fallen from 1.5% to 1.38%. As we have political turmoil right now and a disorderly departure is thus more likely this is awkward for the IMF. Of course the driving force in my opinion is investors seeing through the rather transparent “Forward Guidance” of Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and expectations of him pressing on his control P button. Last time around his “Sledgehammer QE” drove the ten-year Gilt yield as low as 0.5% so you can see what punters, excuse me investors may be thinking of.

If we move onto business investment then the IMF finds much firmer ground under its feet basically because of this. From last Friday’s GDP release by the Office for National Statistics.

being partially offset by a fall of 1.2% in early estimates of business investment.

The issue around consumer confidence is more complicated as some issues remain here as the IMF hints at.

At 8.1 percent yoy in August, consumer credit growth remains high relative to income growth.

What would happen to sterling? Well this morning;s circa two cent fall versus the US Dollar gives backing to the IMF view but of course we are already considerably lower than we were. So I do not expect a similar move unless there is a complete calamity. That brings in the trade issue where a calamity would mean trade at the ports and airports grinding to a halt. In the political shambles we are living through that is of course possible but you would think both sides would move heaven and earth to avoid it.

Comment

As you can see there is some solid backing for the IMF view but also more than a few areas which are debatable. To be fair it does hint at one of these itself.

New trade arrangements with countries outside the EU could offset some of losses on trade with the EU over the long run.

The exact balance is simply unknowable. For example in the short-term one would expect trade in goods and services to be affected but over time new products and methods will apply. Philosophically this type of steady-state analysis will always look bad because any change on this scale will have dislocations but any possible benefits are for the future and are therefore unpredictable. Indeed there is always a lot of doubt about such matters. Let me illustrate this with something from the IMF as recently as July 4th on the subject of Germany.

In the first quarter of 2018, growth slowed to 0.3 percent (qoq), reflecting a normal correction following unusually strong growth in late 2017 and temporary factors (strikes, a particularly nasty flu outbreak, and early Easter holidays).

Is the flu outbreak ongoing as we mull this from the German statistics office yesterday?

The Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) reports that, in the third quarter of 2018, the gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 0.2% on the second quarter of 2018 after adjustment for price, seasonal and calendar variations. This was the first decline recorded in a quarter-on-quarter comparison since the first quarter of 2015.

That reduced the annual rate of GDP growth to 1.1% or half of what the IMF forecast for this year (2.2%) and pretty much half of what was forecast for next year (2.1%).

Next let me move to the UK consumer which I have dodged so far and maybe the most unpredictable of all. The reason for this is it is entwined with Bank of England policy and the IMF did its best to rewrite history tucked away in its report.

Mortgage rates are at record low levels in part due to intense bank competition.

After all the Bank of England moves to reduce mortgage rates ( remember its own research suggested a nearly 2% fall in them due to the Funding for Lending Scheme on its own) that is breathtaking! Any “intense bank competition” has been driven by the policy of “the spice must flow” to the banks.

Which brings me to my next suggestion which is the surge in the UK Gilt market is in my opinion due to it rejecting the Forward Guidance of “limited but gradual interest-rate rises” of Mark Carney and the Bank of England. Instead expectations of Sledgehammer QE 2.0 which if you recall in its madness drove the ten-year Gilt yield to 0.5% seem to be at play. Perhaps a Bank Rate cut to what after all is the “emergency” rate of 0.5% too.

So how do you think the UK consumer would respond now?

Number Crunching 

Is everything 1.5% these days? From the IMF about UK Bank Rate.

The nominal policy rate is still below the Fund staff’s estimated neutral rate of about 1½ percent

 

 

The Bank of Japan reminds us it is all about the banks

It is time for another part of our discovering Japan theme as we travel to Nagoya, where Governor Kuroda of the Bank of Japan was talking earlier today. Let us open with some good news.

The real GDP has been on an increasing trend, albeit with fluctuations, and the output gap — which shows the utilization of capital and labor — widened within positive territory from late 2016, for seven consecutive quarters through the April-June quarter of 2018 . Under such circumstances, the duration of the current
economic recovery phase, which began in December 2012, is likely to have reached 69 consecutive months this August. If this recovery continues, its duration in January next year will exceed the longest post-war recovery phase of 73 months.

So reasons to be cheerful part one, and below we get part two, but as you can see part three is a disappointment.

In the Outlook Report released last week, the real GDP growth rate for fiscal 2018 is projected to be 1.4 percent, and this is clearly above Japan’s potential growth rate, which is estimated to be in the range of 0.5-1.0 percent. As for fiscal 2019 and 2020, the real GDP growth rates are both projected to be 0.8 percent.

Economics gets called the dismal science but at the moment central bankers are trying to under perform that with the UK having a growth “speed limit” of 1.5% and the ECB saying something similar. The Bank of Japan is even more downbeat which is partly related to the demographics of both an ageing and declining population. This is partly because the previous foundation of their Ivory Towers called the output gap has failed so badly in the credit crunch era but the more eagle-eyed amongst you will have noted a reference to it above. How is that going?

The Output Gap

It is “boom,boom,boom” according to the Black-Eyed Peas and the emphasis is mine.

In the labor market, the active job openings-to-applicants ratio has been at a high level that exceeds the peak of the bubble period, and the unemployment rate has declined to around 2.5 percent. The number of employees has registered a year-on-year rate of increase of around 2 percent, and total cash earnings per employee have risen moderately but steadily.

As you can see the Japanese output gap is already struggling as we are apparently beyond bubbilicious in terms of demand but wage growth is only moderate. What about inflation?

The year-on-year rate of change in the consumer price index (CPI) has continued to show relatively weak developments compared to the economic expansion and the labor market tightening, and that excluding fresh food
and energy prices has been at around 0.5 percent.

In fact after deploying so much effort Governor Kuroda abandons his favourite measure for a higher one.

The year-on-year rate of increase in the CPI (all items less fresh food) has continued to accelerate, albeit with fluctuations. Although there is still a long way to go to achieve the price stability target of 2 percent, the year-on-year rate of change recently has risen to around 1 percent, which is about half the target .

Actually the state of play here is as  strong of a critique of the original claims about QE as we have as according to the central bankers it would raise inflation. Whilst it has created asset price inflation there has been a lack of consumer inflation except in places where currencies have fallen, and in Japan not even much of that. Indeed whilst I would welcome the development below Governor Kuroda will be crying into his glass of sake.

What lies behind this likely is that people’s tolerance of price rises has decreased.

 

Monetary Policy

We have found something which has given the Bank of Japan food for thought. Output gap failure? Rigging so many markets? Impact on individual Japanese? Of course not! It is worries about the banks.

The Bank fully recognizes that, by continuing such monetary easing, financial institutions’
strength will be cumulatively affected by low profitability, mainly through a decrease in
their lending margins, and that it could have an impact on financial system stability as well
as the functioning of financial intermediation.

This is a little mind-boggling as we note that policies which were instituted to help the banks are now being described as hurting them. This is because the banks did not have to change and pretty much carried on as before knowing that they are too big to be allowed to fail. Also I though central banks and regulators were on the case these days but apparently not.

That is, if financial institutions become more active in risk taking to secure profits amid the low interest rate environment and severe competition continuing, the financial system could destabilize should large negative shocks actually occur in the future.

This if we think about it is quite a confession of failure. We have already looked at how economic policy has been directed to suit the banks and in Japan’ case that has continued for nearly thirty years now. Next we seem to have a loss of faith in the new regulations which were supposed to fix this. Finally we have something of a confession that it could all happen again!

If we looked wider we do see some context for example in the way that the European bank stress tests were widely ignored over the weekend. I think that those interested have already voted via bank share prices in 2018, but we do see something rather familiar via @jeuasommenulle.

While everybody is having fun bashing EU banks and pointing out that market volatility on Italian govies will hurt bank capital… the US quietly removes rules that make market volatility impact capital in the 1st place 🤪

Yep back to mark to model rather than mark to market. Just like last time in fact, what could go wrong?

You and I get told what to do but the banks get a different message.

encourage them to take concrete actions as necessary.

The Tokyo Whale

The Bank of Japan has been living up to its reputation and moniker.

The Bank of Japan bought a monthly record of 870 billion yen ($7.68 billion) in exchange-traded funds in October, apparently aiming to support equities as investors turned bearish amid sell-offs in U.S. shares. ( Nikkei Asian Review)

Back on the 23rd of October I pointed about I was bemused by the Japanese owned Financial Times report on a “stealth taper”.

The central bank has become more flexible on its annual ETF purchase quota of around 6 trillion yen — a mark it will likely exceed by year-end at the current pace. ( NAR)

Another Japanese style development comes from this.

 But its large-scale purchases under Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda’s massive monetary easing program were criticized for propping up share prices for a limited range of companies and distorting the market.

To which the classically Japanese response is of course to rig even more of them.

This prompted the BOJ to decide this July to spread out buying more widely.

 

Comment

The comments about an interest-rate hike from Japan are mostly driven by this from today’s speech.

Japan’s economic activity and prices are no longer in a situation where decisively implementing a large-scale policy to overcome deflation was judged as the most appropriate policy conduct, as was the case before.

The problem with such rhetoric comes from the section about as we note that Bank of Japan bought a record amount of equities via ETFs in October. Also this summer it give a specific pronouncement on this subject which was repeated today.

Specifically, the Bank publicly made clear to “maintain the current extremely low levels of short- and long-term interest rates for an extended period of time, taking into account uncertainties regarding economic activity and prices including the effects of the consumption tax hike scheduled to take place in October 2019.”

Indeed he even hints at my “To Infinity! And Beyond!” theme.

it has become necessary to persistently continue with powerful monetary easing while considering both the positive effects and side effects if monetary policy in a balanced manner.

So they will continue the side effects but carry on regardless unless of course the side effects become an even bigger problem for the banks. The status quo continues to play out.

Whatever you want
Whatever you like
Whatever you say
You pay your money
You take your choice
Whatever you need
Whatever you use
Whatever you win
Whatever you lose.

Podcasts

I plan to begin a new series of weekly podcasts this Friday.If anyone has any thoughts or suggestions please let me know.

 

 

 

What is the economic impact of tighter US monetary policy?

It is time for us to look West again and see what is happening in the new world and this week has brought a curious development. Ordinarily it is central bankers telling us about wealth effects and then trying to bathe in the implications of their own policies but in the US right now there is an alternative.

Stock Market up more than 400 points yesterday. Today looks to be another good one. Companies earnings are great!

That is from the Twitter feed of @realDonaldTrump and continues a theme where this seems if numbers of tweets on the subject are any guide to be his favourite economic indicator. Indeed on Tuesday he was tweeting other people’s research on the matter.

“If the Fed backs off and starts talking a little more Dovish, I think we’re going to be right back to our 2,800 to 2,900 target range that we’ve had for the S&P 500.” Scott Wren, Wells Fargo.

There is a danger in favouring one company over another when you are US President especially with the recent record of Wells Fargo. But the Donald is clearly a fan of higher equity markets, especially on his watch, and was noticeably quiet when we saw falls earlier this month. This does link in a way with the suggestions of a trade deal with China that boosted equity markets late on yesterday, although with the People’s Bank of China hinting at more easing the picture is complex.

The US Federal Reserve

Unless Standard and Poorski is correct below then the Fed is currently out of the wealth effects game.

FEDERAL RESERVE ANNOUNCES IT WILL BEGIN PURCHASES OF APPLE IPHONES AND IWATCHES AT A PACE OF $1 BILLION PER MONTH

One cautionary note is that humour in this area has a habit of becoming reality later as someone in authority might see this as a good idea. Also even the many central banking apologists may struggle with the US Fed buying Apple shares from the Swiss National Bank.

The current reality is rather different because as we stand QE ( Quantitative Easing) has morphed into QT  where the T is for Tightening. For example yesterday’s weekly update told us that its balance sheet  has shrunk by US $299 billion dollars to  US $4.1 trillion and the reduction was mostly due to the sale of US Treasury Bonds ( US $173 billion) followed by US $101 billion of Mortgage-Backed Securities. Over the next year we will expect to see around double the rate of change if it continues at its new raised pace.

 Effective in October, the Committee directs the Desk to roll over at auction the amount of principal payments from the Federal Reserve’s holdings of Treasury securities maturing during each calendar month that exceeds $30 billion, and to reinvest in agency mortgage-backed securities the amount of principal payments from the Federal Reserve’s holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities received during each calendar month that exceeds $20 billion. ( Federal Reserve ).

Consequences

From the Wall Street Journal on Monday.

After hovering around 2.3% for most of the spring and summer, the three-month London interbank offered rate, or Libor, has been climbing since the middle of September, settling at 2.53% on Monday, its highest level since November 2008.

I am sure most of you are thinking about the rises in US official interest-rates and the shrinking balance sheet as well as the year-end demand for US Dollars I looked at back on the 25th of September . Well your Easter Egg hunt looks likely to be much more fruitful than the one at the WSJ.

Analysts don’t fully know why the spread has moved the way it has in recent months.

If we ignore the why and move onto what happens next? Lisa Abramowich of Bloomberg is on the case.

3-month U.S. Libor rates have surged to a new post-crisis high, of 2.54%, more than double where it was last year. This is important because so much debt, including leveraged loans, are pegged to this rate. Companies will find themselves paying more interest on their debt…

As to how much debt I note Reuters have been estimating it at US $300 trillion which even if we take with a pinch of salt puts the Federal Reserve balance sheet into perspective. Oh and remember the booming leveraged loan market that had gone to about US $1.1 trillion if I recall correctly? Well Lisa has been on the case there too.

Short interest in the biggest leveraged-loan ETF has risen to a record high.

So in areas which bankers would describe as being “innovative” we see that Glenn Frey is back in fashion.

The heat is on, the heat is on, the heat is on
Oh it’s on the street, the heat is on

We can add that to the troubles we have seen in 2018 in emerging markets as the double combination of higher US interest-rates and a stronger Dollar have turned up the heat there too.

The US Dollar

Firstly we need to establish that whilst talk of challenges abounds the US Dollar remains the world’s reserve currency. So a rise impacts on other countries inflation via its role in the pricing of most commodity contracts and more helpfully may make their economies more competitive. But if we are looking for signs of trouble it hits places which have borrowed in US Dollars and that has been on the rise in recent times. I have reported before on the Bank for International Settlements or BIS data on this and here is the September update.

The US dollar has become even more dominant as the prime foreign currency for international borrowing. Dollar credit to the non-bank sector outside the US rose from 9.5% of global GDP at end-2007 to 14% in Q1 2018…….The growth in dollar borrowing by EMEs or  emerging market economies  has been especially strong, but dollar exposures vary substantially both across countries and in terms of sectoral composition.

An example of this has been Argentina which is caught in a trap of its own making as for example a devaluation would make its US Dollar debts more expensive. Or if we look at India it seems its shadow banks have caught something of a cold in this area.

India Is Said to Expect Shadow Banking Default Amid Cash Squeeze- Bloomberg Non-bank financiers and mortgage lenders have 2.7 trillion rupees ($37 billion) of debt maturing in the next five months, immediately ( @SunChartist )

 

Comment

So far we have mostly looked at the international impact of US monetary policy so let us now look more internally. If we look at interest-rates then the 30 year fixed rate mortgage has risen to 4.83% having started the year at 4% and which takes it back to early 2011. This reflects rising Treasury Bond yields which will have to be paid on ever more debt with official suggestions saying US $1.34 trillion will need to be issued in the next year.

Against that the economy continues to be in a boom. We will find out more later as for example will wages growth reach 3%? But economic growth has been above that as the last 6 months suggests around 3.8% in annual terms assuming it continues. So for now it looks fine but then it always does at times like this as for example a slow down and rising bond yields could in my opinion switch things from QT to QE4 quite quickly. After all worries about US stock market falls  started with it still quite near to what are all time highs.

Also if you want some more numbers bingo the BIS provided some more for Halloween.

The notional value of outstanding OTC derivatives increased from $532 trillion at end-2017 to $595 trillion at end-June 2018. This increase in activity was driven largely by US dollar interest rate contracts, especially short-term contracts.

 

 

 

 

Decision day and the Inflation Report arrive at the Bank of England

Today brings us to what is called Super Thursday as not only does the Bank of England announce its policy decision but we get the latest Inflation Report. Actually the Bank of England has already voted in a change decided upon by Mark Carney so that the official Minutes can be released with the decision. The problem with that comes from the issue that there is plenty of time for any decision to leak. That is on my mind this morning because markets have seen moves and activity.

Sterling extended its gains on Thursday……….

The pound jumped 0.9 percent to as high as $1.2881  sending the currency to a five-day high.

Against the euro, it rose to 88.155 pence per euro  before settling up half a percent at 88.21 pence. The gains follow a rise for sterling on Wednesday.

Now let me switch to interest-rate markets.

Short Sterling being hit in monster clips this morning 20k plus sells. ( @stewhampton)

For those unaware Short Sterling is the future contract for UK interest-rates and is somewhere where I worked back in the day in its options market. The confusing name comes I guess because they were trying to describe short-term interest-rates for sterling and it all got shortened. Anyway @stewhampton has continued.

Continuation of yesterday’s price action, all sells. Smacks of a surprise BOE vote on the hawkish side to me.

Looking at the actual movements we see that the contract for September 2019 was some 0.05 lower at the worst. For comparison an actual Bank of England move is usually 0.25%.

The Shadow MPC

The Times newspaper runs a Shadow Monetary Policy Committee so let us take a look at what it decided.

Sir John Gieve, Charles Goodhart and Andrew Sentance, all former Bank ratesetters, called on the monetary policy committee to increase rates after the £103 billion of fiscal loosening over six years unveiled in Monday’s budget.

Sir Steve Robson, a former Treasury mandarin, Geoff Dicks, a former member of the Office for Budget Responsibility, and Bronwyn Curtis, a non-executive member of the OBR, agreed. All six also cited the tight labour market, with unemployment at a 43-year low of 4 per cent, and rising wages.

On a personal note it is nice to see that Charles Goodhart is still active as he wrote a fair few of the books I read on UK monetary policy as an undergraduate. Also not many people call for a rise in interest-rates at their own semi-retirement party as Andrew Sentance did on Tuesday!

Before I move on I would also like to note that some seem to be catching up with a suggestion I first made in City-AM a bit over five years ago.

Of those who voted to hold rates, Rupert Pennant-Rea, a former deputy governor at the Bank, said that the MPC should start unwinding the £435 billion quantitative easing programme — signalling a bias on The Times panel for tighter policy.Ms Curtis and Sir Steve also called for QE to be wound down.

Decision Day

These are always rather fraught when there is the remote possibility that something may happen. Back in the day that usually meant an interest-rate change and moves were regularly larger which we returned to for a while with the cuts post credit crunch. These days it can also reflect a change in the rhetoric of the Bank of England as well as its Forward Guidance. That is of course if anyone takes much notice of the Forward Guidance which has been wrong more often than it has been right.

But you can have some humour as this from @RANSquawk shows.

Lloyds on – Prices have reversed from the 1.2660 range lows, back through 1.2850 resistance – This, along with momentum back in bull mode, supports our view for a move back towards the top of the 1.2660-1.3320 range

Yes now it has gone up the only way is up and you can guess which song has been linked to on social media.

Doubts

If we now look at the other side of the coin there have been other factors at play over the past 24 hours. First there was the announcement by Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab of progress followed this morning by this.

The UK has struck a deal with the EU on post-Brexit financial services, according to unconfirmed reports.

The Times newspaper said London had agreed in talks with Brussels to give UK financial services firms continued access to the bloc. ( BBC)

On this road we see reasons to be cheerful for the UK Pound £ and also a possible explanation for the lower short sterling. After all a Brexit deal and a likely stronger Pound £ might mean the Bank of England might raise interest-rates again at some future date. Of course we are building up something of a Fleetwood Mac style chain here as we are relying on the words of journalists about the acts of politicians influencing an unreliable boyfriend. Oh well.

House Prices

Having gone to so much effort to raise house prices for which during the tenure of Governor Carney the only way has indeed been up this will worry the Bank of England.

October saw a slowdown in annual house price growth to
1.6% from 2.0% in September. As a result, annual house
price growth moved below the narrow range of c2-3%
prevailing over the previous 12 months. Prices flat month-on-month after accounting for seasonal effects. ( Nationwide)

Reuters have implictly confirmed my point about Mark Carney’s tenure.

That was the weakest increase since May 2013, before Britain’s housing market started to throw off the after-effects of the global financial crisis.

Manufacturing

There was also a downbeat survey from Markit released at 9:30 am.

The seasonally adjusted IHS Markit/CIPS Purchasing
Managers’ Index® (PMI®) fell to a 27-month low of 51.1,
down from September’s revised reading of 53.6 (originally
published as 53.8).

Of course that 27-month low was when they got things really rather wrong after the EU Leave vote and perhaps most significantly helped trigger a Bank of England rate cut. As to factors here I think it is being driven by the automotive sector and the worries about trade generally. In some ways this measure has in fact been a sort of optimism/pessimism reading on views about Brexit.

One slightly odd feature of the report was this as we recall that a number above 50 is supposed to be an expansion and  after all they do measure down to 0.1.

At current levels, the survey indicates that factory output could contract in the fourth quarter, dropping by 0.2%

 

Comment

As you can see there is much for the Bank of England to consider this morning as they advance from a full English ( Scottish & Welsh versions are available) breakfast to morning coffee and biscuits. After all having voted last night there is not much to do until the press conference at 12:30 and less than half of them have to attend that. But as to a rate rise today I think it is time for some Oasis.

Definitely Maybe

Whilst some might say it is on the cards I think that if we add in the weak monetary data we have been watching in 2018 it would be an odd decision. After all it is promising to raise interest-rates like this.

As little by little we gave you everything you ever dreamed of
Little by little the wheels of your life have slowly fallen off
Little by little you have to give it all in all your life
And all the time I just ask myself why you’re really here?

But of course they have made odd decisions before………

Me on Core Finance TV

 

 

The Euro area GDP slow down puts the ECB in a pickle

Some days several economic themes come at us at once and this morning is an example of that. Only yesterday I was pointing out the problems of establishment Ivory Tower economic forecasting via the continued failures of the Office for Budget Responsibility or OBR. For many in the media it was a case of carry on regardless in spite of the fact that it was a Budget essentially based on past OBR errors. Perhaps they did not realise as they gave credibility to the GDP forecasts that they were based on the new establishment Ivory Tower theory that the economy cannot grow at an annual rate of more than 1.5%. A few decimal points were added and taken away at random to give a veneer of ch-ch-changes but that is the basis of it. Let me give you an example of this sort of Ivory Tower thinking from the OBR Report yesterday and the emphasis is mine.

In March 2017 and then again in November 2017, we reduced our estimate of the equilibrium rate of unemployment, in both cases reflecting the fact that unemployment had fallen below our previous estimate with little apparent impact on wage growth.

Actually those who recall the Bank of England using its Forward Guidance, which of course turned out to be anything but, pointing us towards a 7% unemployment rate will understand the intellectual bankruptcy of all this. But on this “output gap” rubbish goes mostly unchallenged.

Also what is not explained is why the future is so dim after so many extraordinary monetary policies that we keep being told were to boost growth.

The Italian Job

Those themes come to mind as yet another one has been demonstrated yet again by Italy this morning. From its statistics office.

In the third quarter of 2018 the seasonally and calendar adjusted, chained volume estimate of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was unchanged with respect to the previous quarter and increased by 0.8 per cent over the same quarter of previous year.

This brings us back sadly to the “Girlfriend in a coma theme” where Italy cannot grow at more than 1% per annum on any sustained basis.

The carry-over annual GDP growth for 2018 is equal to 1.0%.

There was even a sort of a back to the future element if you take a look at the breakdown.

The quarter on quarter change is the result of an increase of value added in agriculture, forestry and
fishing and in services and a decrease in industry. From the demand side, there is a null contribution by
both the domestic component (gross of change in inventories) and the net export component.

If we now switch to forecasting it was only last Thursday lunchtime that Mario Draghi told us this at the ECB press conference.

Incoming information, while somewhat weaker than expected, remains overall consistent with an ongoing broad-based expansion of the euro area economy and gradually rising inflation pressures. The underlying strength of the economy continues to support our confidence that the sustained convergence of inflation to our aim will proceed……remains overall consistent with our baseline scenario of an ongoing broad-based economic expansion, supported by domestic demand and continued improvements in the labour market.

Just like in the song New York, New York it was apparently so good he told us twice. As to looking at Italy specifically we got a sort of official denial.

On Italy, you have to remember that Italy is a fiscal discussion, so there wasn’t much discussion about Italy.

An interesting reply as we note that no doubt they did have an estimate of the number and without the third-largest economy can you call an expansion broad-based? Actually the latest Eurostat release challenges that statement much more generally.

Seasonally adjusted GDP rose by 0.2% in the euro area (EA19) and by 0.3% in the EU28 during the third quarter
of 2018…. In the second quarter of 2018, GDP had grown by 0.4% in the euro area and by 0.5% the EU28. Compared with the same quarter of the previous year, seasonally adjusted GDP rose by 1.7% in the euro area and
by 1.9% in the EU28 in the third quarter of 2018, after +2.2% and +2.1% respectively in the previous quarter.

As you can see the annual economic growth rate in the Euro area has been falling throughout 2018 as we recall that in the last quarter of 2017 it was 2.7% as opposed to the current 1.7%. This poses a question for a central bank doing this.

Regarding non-standard monetary policy measures, we will continue to make net purchases under the asset purchase programme (APP) at the new monthly pace of €15 billion until the end of December 2018. We anticipate that, subject to incoming data confirming our medium-term inflation outlook, we will then end net purchases.

The simple fact is that if we allow for monetary lags then the reduction in monthly asset purchases from the peak of 80 billion Euros a month has been followed by a fall in economic growth. If we switch to the quarterly numbers we see a fall from 0.7% to 0.2% and there must be further worries for the last quarter of 2018.

Eurozone GDP growth continues to ease in line with PMI data, according to initial Q3 estimate. Flash October data signals further loss of momentum at the start of Q4. ( Markit PMI)

Back to Italy

Returning to an Italian theme there are genuine concerns of further trouble combined with some perspective from @fwred on twitter.

Italian GDP misses: stagnation in Q3 (+0.02% QoQ) and still 5% below pre-crisis levels. Material risk of a ‘triple dip’. Economic reality comes at you fast.

Let us hope that Italy has the same luck with a “triple dip” that the UK had back in 2012. But the real perspective and indeed measure of this part of the Euro area crisis is the fact that the economy is still some 5% smaller than a decade ago. No wonder voters wanted change.

A catch comes if we switch back to looking at forecasts again as we note that the new government has veered between optimistic ( 1.5%) on economic growth and what Cypress Hill described as “Insane in the membrane” with 3%. Politicians like a 3% growth rate as for example it was used by both sides in the UK 2010 general election. Why? It makes their plans look affordable and if (when) it goes wrong they simply sing along with Temptation(s).

But it was Just my imagination,
once again runnin’ away with me.
It was just my imagination runnin’ away with me.

If it goes really badly then they deploy Lily Allen.

It’s Not Me, It’s You

Meanwhile the tweet below describes the consequences.

Comment

There is a lot to consider here so let me start with the ECB. It now staring down a future like the one I have feared and written about for some time where the Euro area economy behaves in a junkie economics manner. Once the honey is withdrawn so is the growth. As ever that is not the only factor in play as economics does not have any test tubes but governing council members must be thinking this as they close their eyes at night. Well the brighter ones anyway.

What does it do then? It may still end monthly QE but that is mostly because it has been running out of German bonds to buy. My view that Mario Draghi intends to leave without ever raising interest-rates gets another tick. Maybe we will see the so far mythical OMTs or Outright Monetary Transactions deployed and Italy would be an obvious test case.

Also let me offer you one more morsel as food for thought. We keep being told about the OBR and ECB being “independent”. Have you spotted how “independent” bodies so regularly do the will of the establishment and sometimes manage to do more than the establishment itself could get away with?

 

 

What next for the War on Cash?

Yesterday we took a look at a country which seems to be happy heading for a post cash era. Sweden has seen nearly a halving of cash use in the past decade and the size of the change would be even larger if we factored in inflation and did the calculation in real terms. This is particularly significant as we remind ourselves that Sweden already has negative interest-rates, and as I pointed out yesterday there are roads ahead where it would cut them further from the current -0.5%. The reason why cash is an issue for negative interest-rates is that it offers 0%, and so there must be a “tipping point” where interest-rates go so negative that bank deposits switch to cash in enough size to create a bank run. Such a prospect has created terror in central banking halls and boardrooms and has been the main barrier to interest-rates being cut even lower than they have. In my own country the Bank of England was so terrified of the impact of lower interest-rates on the “precious” that it claimed 0.5% was a “lower bound”, even when other countries were below it. That had a different reason ( their creaking antiquated IT systems could not cope with 0%) but told us of their primary response function.

Cash in the USA

The Financial Times has taken a look at this and seems upset at the result.

Americans can’t quit cash

If we switch to the actual research which was undertaken by  the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta, Boston, Richmond, and San Francisco we see the following.

In October 2017, U.S. consumers each made on average 41.0 payments for the month . Thus, on average, an adult consumer made 1.3 payments per day. Notably, an average
of 40.2 percent of consumers per day reported making zero payments. Also in October 2017, U.S. consumers each made on average $3,418 worth of payments for
the month.

So after finding out how much as well as how often? We get to see via what method.

In October 2017, consumers paid mostly with cash (30.3 percent of payments), debit cards (26.2 percent), and credit cards (21.0 percent). These instruments accounted for three-quarters of the number of payments, but only about 40 percent of the total value of payments, because they tend to be used more for smaller-value payments. In contrast,
electronic payments accounted for 30.3 percent of the value of total payments but only 8.9 percent of the number
of payments. Checks, at 17.7 percent, continued to account for a relatively high percentage of the value of
payments.

As you can see cash remains king (queen) in volume terms but has faded in value terms. The bit that sticks out to me is the amount still accounted for by Checks ( cheques) as I am struggling to think of the last time that I used one. Also the comments section provides a reason as to why cash remains in use for small payments on such a large-scale in the US.

Americans carry cash for smaller transactions partly because their unstinting devotion to the $1 bill means it is much lighter.  I can carry round a bunch of 1s and 5s for coffee in the day at a fraction of the weight of the euros or pounds that would do the similar job in Europe. ( Saughton)

For those unaware UK coins are fairly heavy and the £1 and £2 coins get more use than you might expect as the Bank of England has had its struggles with getting £5 notes into general circulation. So suit and trouser pockets can take a bit of a pasting. If we continue in the same vein even the convenience of digital payments faces an apparent challenge.

Those of us still paying cash are standing in lines behind phonsters fumbling with their payment app. When it looks faster and easier I’ll switch. ( Proclone )

That may be because it does not work well.

The other main reason the US lags on electronic purchases is because the cashless infrastructure is atrocious. ( Saughton)

Also that it may be businesses rather than consumers which prefer cash.

Mom and pop stores and restaurants may require cash for any transaction, and almost all do for purchases under $10. Cheques for larger payments are also due to vendor requirement. That dynamic would be worth comparing to other markets instead of implying consumer preference. ( Pharmacy )

What about the Euro area?

I noted that the replies pointed out the way that cash remains prevalent in Germany (historical), Belgium ( tax-avoidance) and Austria ( see Germany) so let us take a look. From the European Central Bank or ECB.

The survey results show that in 2016 cash was the dominant payment instrument at POS. In terms of number, 79% of all transactions were carried out using cash,
amounting to 54% of the total value of all payments. Cards were the second most frequently used payment instrument at POS; 19% of all transactions were settled using a payment card. In terms of value, this amounts to 39% of the total value paid at POS. ( POS = Point Of Sale )

I doubt using geography as a method of analysis will surprise you much.

In terms of number of transactions, cash was most used in the southern euro area countries, as well as in Germany, Austria and Slovenia, where 80% or more of POS transactions were conducted with cash……… In
terms of value, the share of cash was highest in Greece, Cyprus and Malta (above 70%), while it was lowest in the Benelux countries, Estonia, France and Finland (at,
or below, 33%).

The ECB thinks it tells us this.

This seems to challenge the perception that
cash is rapidly being replaced by cashless means of payment.

It then goes further.

The study confirms that cash is not only used as a means of payment, but also as a store of value, with almost a quarter of consumers keeping some cash at home as a
precautionary reserve. It also shows that more people than often thought use high denomination banknotes; almost 20% of respondents reported having a €200 or
€500 banknote in their possession in the year before the survey was carried out.

This means that the ECB will find itself in opposition to more than a few of its population soon.

 It has decided to permanently stop producing the €500 banknote and to exclude it from the Europa series, taking into account concerns that this banknote could facilitate illicit activities. The issuance of the €500 will be stopped around the end of 2018, when the €100 and €200 banknotes of the Europa series are planned to be introduced,

 

Comment

Let us consider the relationship between the use of cash and financial crime. You may note that the ECB statement uses the word “could”. That as I pointed out back on the 5th of May 2016 is because the German Bundesbank thinks this.

There is scant concrete information on the extent to which cash is being used to facilitate illicit activity……… the volume of notes devoted to such transactions is unknown and would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to estimate.

So the ECB seems to be basing its policy on the rhetoric of Kenneth Rogoff who in a not entirely unrelated coincidence thinks that central banks will have to go even further into negative interest-rates next time around. Our Ken has been rather quite recently on the subject of cash equals crime. This may be because if we look above we see that Estonia has moved away from cash both relatively and absolutely and yet you will have had to have spent 2018 under a stone to have missed this.

Danske Bank Estonia has been revealed as the hub of a $234bn money laundering scheme involving Russian and Eastern European customers. ( Frances Coppola)

Perhaps the authorities were too busy checking on the 500 Euro notes and missed a crime that would have taken four of out five of the total Euro area circulation. Priorities eh?

There are levels I think where this will be come more urgent. I have suggested before that I think that around -2% would be the level where people might move away from banks on a larger scale. So far in terms of headline official rates the lowest is the -0.75% of Switzerland. Of course another problem area would be created if we saw bank bailins on any scale which may be a reason why so many bank share prices have struggled.

Me on Core Finance TV