UK Real Wages took quite a dip in April

As we looked at the inflation data yesterday it was hard not to think of the implications for real or inflation adjusted wages from the further rise in inflation. There were quite a few such stories in the media about a fall in real wages although they were a little ahead of events because the inflation data was for May and even today we will only get wages data up to April. However there is an issue here that has been building in the credit crunch era where real wages fell heavily as the Bank of England looked the other way as inflation went above 5% in the autumn of 2011. Sadly they relied in their Ivory Tower models which told them that wages would rise in response. Not only did that not happen but the recovery since has been weak and was in fact driven much more by low inflation than wage growth. This is different to past recessions as this from the Resolution Foundation shows.

As you can see the pattern has been very different from past recessions. Real pay rebounded very strongly after 1979 and did well after 1990 but on the same timescale in remains in negative territory this time around. A lot of care is required with long term data like this but this is a performance that looks the worst for some time.

The Napoleonic war period seems especially grim for real wages. If I recall correctly we were imposing a blockade on much of Europe which seems to have our economy hard as well.

Today’s data

We see that wage growth has faded a bit in the latest numbers.

Between February to April 2016 and February to April 2017, in nominal terms, regular pay increased by 1.7%, slightly lower than the growth rate between January to March 2016 and January to March 2017 (1.8%)……..Between February to April 2016 and February to April 2017, in nominal terms, total pay increased by 2.1%, lower than the growth rate between January to March 2016 and January to March 2017 (2.3%). The annual growth rate for total pay, in nominal terms, has not been lower than 2.1% since October to December 2015.

This is of course happening at the same time that inflation is rising and leads to this situation.

The rate of wage growth slowed in the 3 months to April 2017; adjusted for inflation, annual growth in total average weekly earnings turned negative for the first time since 2014.

That is rather ominous when we consider the first chart above as it means that we are getting further away from regaining where we were in 2008 rather than nearer so let us look deeper. The emphasis is mine.

Average weekly earnings, including bonuses, grew by 2.1% in the same period and are the weakest since the December to February 2016 period. Taking into account recent increases in inflation, real average weekly earnings decreased by 0.4% including bonuses and by 0.6% excluding bonuses in the 3 months to April 2017 compared with the same period a year earlier. This is the first annual decline in total real average weekly earnings since 2014.

Of course they are using the new lower headline measure of inflation called CPIH which uses Imputed Rents to estimate owner-occupied housing costs. So the goal posts have been moved a little and this happens so often these days that we should be grateful that so many goal posts now come with wheels.

Where does this leave us overall?

The situation is as follows according to our official statisticians. They are using constant 2015 prices so they are real numbers.

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

Number Crunching

We can go deeper because there are numbers for the month of April on its own. In that month total pay only rose at an annual rate of 1.2% because whilst regular pay rose by 1.8% bonuses fell by 5.8%. Care is needed as if we look back April has been an erratic month for bonuses but we see that real wages were falling at an annual rate of 1.5% if we use CPI inflation. 1.4% if we use CPIH and 2.3% if we use RPI. Even if we ignore the bonus numbers we see -0.9% for CPI, -0.8% for CPIH and -1.5% for RPI.

The sectors which seem to have impacted in April are the finance and construction ones which both saw total pay fall at an annual rate of 0.5%.

Is the UK labour market tight

Conventional analysis based on such theories as the Phillips Curve will be telling us that the UK labour market is “tight”. An example of this is below from Andy Verity of the BBC.

Unemployment: a 42-year low (1.53m, 4.6%); work force: another record high (31.95m people). But tight labour market isn’t pushing up pay.

If we put some more meat on those bones there are things heading in that direction as this shows below.

The number of people in work increased by 109,000 in the 3 months to April 2017 compared with the previous 3 months, to 31.95 million, with an increase in full-time employment (162,000) partly offset by a fall in part-time employment (53,000) . The employment rate reached a joint record high of 74.8%.

This looks good and indeed is but questions remain. For example having checked I know that there is not a clear definition of full-time work it is something that responders to the survey decide for themselves. Added to this is the issue of self-employment and how much work they are actually doing.

self-employed people increased by 103,000 to 4.80 million (15.0% of all people in work).

Just as a reminder the self-employed are excluded from the official wages data. There is more reinforcement for the labour market being tight here.

Total hours worked per week were 1.03 billion for February to April 2017. This was 0.7 million more than for November 2016 to January 2017 and 15.4 million more than for a year earlier.

We are left with the concept of underemployment here I think which measures the gap between the work that people are doing and what they would like to do. Sadly the UK does not have an official measure of this unlike the US with its U-6 data. We only have flickers of insight via the growth of self-employment which needs to be sub-divided into positive and negative and the rise of zero hours contracts. In terms of influencing pay there seems to have been an associated rise in job insecurity but we have no clear measure of this.

Comment

The real wage squeeze we feared for this year is now upon us and we face the grim reality that it has been more than a lost decade for them.

Looking at longer term movements, average total pay for employees in Great Britain in nominal terms increased from £376 a week in January 2005 to £502 a week in April 2017; an increase of 33.5%. Over the same period the Consumer Prices Index including owner occupiers’ housing costs (CPIH) increased by 31.8%.

The cross-over was in early 2006. This poses all sorts of problems for the Ivory Towers who will look at the employment numbers and forecast much stronger wage growth. Of course they were usually responsible for the increasingly inadequate employment data as we note that one thing they are certainly very poor at is adapting to ch-ch-changes.

Grenfell Tower

Let me express my deepest sympathies for anyone involved in the dreadful fire there which started this morning.

 

 

Are we measuring the wrong type of productivity?

Today gives us an opportunity to look at the latest data on what is the key economic number these days which is wages growth. After yesterday’s inflation data we will be able to look at both nominal and real or inflation adjusted wages growth. The reason it has become a key number is that in countries like the UK ( and US and Japan..) is that the employment situation is strong and recorded unemployment has improved considerably but wages growth has been weak. In the extreme case of Japan there has so often been no wages growth.

An associated influence on this has been problems with productivity as of course it has helped drive wages growth in the past. Whereas according to Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane that happy situation has been replaced by this.

Productivity growth has consistently underperformed relative to expectations, since at least the global financial crisis. This tale of productivity disappointment, in forecasting and in performance, has been extensively debated and analysed over recent years. Some have called it the “productivity puzzle”.

Indeed we have been on something of a road to nowhere.

For the past decade, average productivity growth has been negative. This is unusual, if not unique, historically. You would have to go right back to the 18th century to see a similarly lengthy period of stagnant productivity.

In case you were wondering it compares to this.

there has been a near-monotonic rise in UK productivity. UK TFP growth since 1750 has averaged 0.8% per year. Since the Industrial Revolution, GDP per capita has doubled roughly every 65 years and productivity roughly every 85 years.

Actually some of Andy’s numbers are a little contradictory as he suddenly agrees with the theme on here that things were deteriorating even before the credit crunch.

From 1950 to 1970, median global productivity growth averaged 1.9% per year. Since 1980, it has averaged 0.3% per year.

I find that fascinating because is not that the same period where we saw the influence of increasing globalisation and internationalisation which were badged as bring significant economic benefits?

The United States

The international scale of the issue has been highlighted by the Financial Times today.

US productivity is set to grow this year at around a third of the pace prevailing before the financial crash………..
US labour productivity — a driver of the economy’s fortunes — is forecast to expand 1 per cent this year, an improvement on the 0.5 per cent recorded for 2016 but far shy of the 2.9 per cent growth seen from 1999 to 2006, according to Conference Board projections shared with the Financial Times.

This is true of others as well.

The EU will see 1 per cent growth in GDP per hour, an improvement on last year’s 0.8 per cent but short of the 1.9 per cent seen in 1999-2006.  Japan is on course for 1.1 per cent productivity growth, up sharply from 0.5 per cent in 2016 but still well shy of the 2.2 per cent pace seen before the crisis.

I cannot move on without pointing out that the pre credit crunch figures were inflated in many places by booming housing and banking sectors which then went bust.

the figures lag far behind the 4.9 per cent pace in 1999-2006.

Is it the service sector?

To my mind a large factor in the productivity puzzle has been the switch from actual things being produced to more intangible types of economic growth. If we look at it in a stereotypical sense we see output of cars replaced by output of haircuts or teaching or nursing. The latter is much harder to measure in productivity terms as who wants teachers to be more productive via larger class sizes? It is even worse for nurses as who would want to be in a hospital ward with fewer nurses? The problem here is we need a measure of quality of the output and we struggle to define and measure that. Even worse some areas of production face a future of possible enormous gains in labour productivity by the use of robotics and artificial intelligence but where does that leave the labour? Can we have too much of something that is usually considered to be good.

Looking forwards as Sarah O’Connor points out we are likely to see more growth in the service sector.

The undramatic truth is that many of the jobs of the future are also those of the present. Prime among them are jobs that involve humans looking after other humans. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted the top 30 fastest-growing occupations for the next 10 years; more than half are some variety of nurse, therapist, healthcare worker or carer. This feels like a safe bet — and not just in the US.

She also points out that this growth will be in jobs that we tend to not value.

Social care jobs, for example, are defined by economists everywhere as low-skilled or unskilled…….Personal care and home health aides in the US make roughly $23,000 a year on average. In Britain, a prolonged squeeze on public spending has had knock-on effects on care workers, many of whom work for private companies that rely on public sector contracts. In England last year, 43 per cent of care workers earned less than £7.50 an hour.

There are plenty of thought-provoking issues here as raising productivity here would involve paying them more as that is the only measure of output we have here. Indeed both GDP and productivity fail us when we cannot measure economic output. On this road no wonder both metrics have problems. If a service sector producer gets more efficient and reduces its price then as money is often the only measure we record lower productivity when in fact things have improved. In other words we are in a something of a mess of our own making.

Today’s data

Not the cheeriest I am afraid to say.

Output per hour – our main measure of labour productivity – fell by 0.5% in Quarter 1 (January to March) 2017. This compares with growth of 0.4% in Quarter 4 (October to December) 2016.

My explanation given above may well work though.

was a result of hours worked growing faster than output;

What about wages?

Growth has been pretty consistent at what seems to be something of a new normal.

Between January to March 2016 and January to March 2017, in nominal terms, total pay increased by 2.4%

It is in fact marginally higher but as we look for real wage growth and note that nominal growth in March was 2.4% we see that it was a mere 0.1% and should it remain the same in April then wage growth will be negative. Of course if we use the RPI then annual wage growth was negative again in March at -0.7%. Sadly such numbers come on the back of a credit crunch era decline.

The Resolution Foundation has a somewhat enduring if increasingly lonely faith in officialdom so it still takes the forecasts of the OBR seriously and has switched to the CPIH inflation measure. I think though like so many places today it was so revved up to say real wages were falling again that it has used the regular rather than total pay data.

Comment

There is much to consider here as we find yet another set of statistics that are failing us in the credit crunch era. Our outdated concept of productivity needs to change and it is being challenged at both ends of the spectrum. At one extreme we have the sort of situation covered by Skynet in the Terminator series of firms where robots rule and at the other we have what we might call 100% human occupations. Do we really want to say that one provides a sort of 100% productivity and the other 0% because that is where we are heading right now?

Let me add in another sector which is the self-employed which these days is 15% of our workforce or 4.78 million people. For those in the service sector our main measure of output and hence productivity will be their pay. The very pay numbers that are ignored by the official average earnings data. What could go wrong?

Number Crunching

Regular readers will be aware of my love for football. The numbers game at The Emirates where Arsenal were playing Sunderland had me intrigued. You see pictures of a ground that was a long way from full were all over social media and BBC 5 live reported it was at least a third empty, and yet.

the official number for Tuesday’s game was 59,510. ( ESPN)

Actually Arsene Wenger claimed it was “sold out” but of course he has a long history of eyesight problems and myopia so let’s pass on that. But could we one day see the first empty ground that is counted as sold out?

What is the problem with wage growth?

The problem with wages growth has been a long running theme of this website, also if we look back it is something which even preceded the credit crunch. Although of course the credit crunch has made it worse. The world of economics has been wrong-footed by this as the Ivory Towers as usual projected that it would be “the same old song” as the Four Tops told us. For example the UK Office for Budget Responsibility projected that wages growth in the UK would be 4.5% now, and if they had known how far that unemployment would fall would presumably have projected it even higher.

A contributor to this has been the concept of full employment. From Investopeadia.

Full employment is an economic situation in which all available labor resources are being used in the most efficient way possible. Full employment embodies the highest amount of skilled and unskilled labor that can be employed within an economy at any given time. Any remaining unemployment is considered to be frictional, structural or voluntary.

There were and amazingly still are concepts such as the “natural rate of unemployment” below which inflation was supposed to rise. The catch has been that as we have seen unemployment rates fall post credit crunch we have seen wages either rise weakly or stagnate. At best wage growth has been lower than expected and at worst we have seen it actually fall. Something has changed.

One factor in this is clearly that the old Ivory Tower way of looking at the labour market through the lens of official unemployment rates is flawed. The concept of “underemployment” has been developed whereby people work fewer hours than they would like or take a lower skilled job. This has become entwined with quite a few issues around the concept of self-employment which is often counted as a type of “full” employment when it is not. Indeed being fully employed is in fact in the UK something you think you are rather than being something properly defined. On this road we start to understand that the clouds have yet again gathered between the elevated heights of the Ivory Towers and the ground zero where the rest of us live and work.

Japan’s problem

Weak wages growth has been one of the features of the “lost decade(s)” for the Japanese economy and accordingly it was one of the objectives of the policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to reverse this. So let us examine today’s data as reported by Reuters.

Japan’s March real wages fell at the fastest pace in almost two years, pressured by meagre nominal pay hikes and a slight rise in consumer prices,

The detail is not good.

Inflation-adjusted real wages dropped 0.8 per cent in March from a year earlier to mark their biggest rate of decline since June 2015, labour ministry data showed on Tuesday (May 9)….In nominal terms, wage earners’ cash earnings fell 0.4 per cent year-on-year in March, also notching the biggest rate of decrease since June 2015.

If we continue the themes expressed above then if we imagined that we were inhabitants of an Ivory Tower we would be projecting fast wage growth. From Japan Macro Advisers.

The demand/supply balance in the Japanese labor market continues to remain tight. The unemployment rate remained steady at 2.8% in March 2017, matching the lowest rate since June 1994. Japan is likely to be at its full employment status, with only frictional unemployment remaining in the labor market.

Full employment with no wage growth and maybe even falls in real wages? Actually this is perhaps even worse for the concept of a natural rate of unemployment.

NAIRU, the Non-Accelerating-Inflation-Rate of Unemployment rate, was considered to lie between 3.5% and 4.5% in Japan.

So wages should be rising and doing so quite quickly whereas in reality they are not rising at all. Indeed contrary to the hype and media reporting they have been falling in the period of Abenomics  as the 103.9 of 2013 has been replaced by the 100.7 of 2016 where 2015 =100. The slight nudge up in 2016 has been replaced by falls so far in 2017.

This from Morgan Stanly only last month already seems like it is from a parallel universe.

Record low unemployment rates are pushing up salaries,

The Bank of Japan regularly tells us that wages will rise next year and Governor Kuroda stated this again only on Friday, but so far next year has never arrived.

Is Japan are forerunner for us and should we be singing along with The Vapors one more time?

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

The United States

A month ago US News reported this from US Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen.

“With an unemployment rate that stands at 4.5 percent, that’s even a little bit below what most of my colleagues and I would take as a marker of where full employment is,” Yellen said. “I’d say we’re doing pretty well.”

Yet on Friday the Bureau of Labor Statistics told us this.

In April, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 7 cents to $26.19. Over the year, average hourly earnings have risen by 65 cents,
or 2.5 percent.

So we are at what we are told is pretty much full employment and we are below the natural rate of employment ( 5.6% according to the Congressional Budget Office) and yet pay growth is still rather weak. It has been so for a while.

http://www.epi.org?p=117112&view=embed&embed_template=charts_v2013_08_21&embed_date=20170509&onp=75850&utm_source=epi_press&utm_medium=chart_embed&utm_campaign=charts_v2

The other issue is that in spite of us apparently being at full employment the level of wage growth is not a lot above inflation with the US CPI being at 2.4% and the Personal Consumption Expenditure being at 1.8%. Something is not right here and we do perhaps get some more perspective by looking at both the underemployment rate in the US ( 8.6%) and the way that the participation rate has fallen.

The UK

The situation here as I have been pointing out pretty much each time the data is released is very good in terms of the quantity measures as we see falling unemployment and rising employment but poor on the price or wages measure. This has been illustrated somewhat ironically by one of the failures of the Bank of England. Remember when it made an issue of the unemployment rate falling below 7%?

In particular, the MPC intends not to raise Bank Rate from its current level of 0.5% at least until the Labour Force Survey headline measure of the unemployment rate has fallen to a threshold of 7%,

There was a clear implication there that it expected economic changes as we moved below that threshold such as higher wage growth. Of course this was abandoned very quickly as unemployment fell sharply leaving the Bank of England’s spinners and PR people with plenty of work. But with the unemployment rate now well below 7% and indeed being 4.7% then wages should be rising quickly as we are well below the rate at which it was expected by our central banking overlords and masters. Er no, as you see wage growth for total pay was 2.3% back then and is 2.3% now. In terms of exact numbers that is happenstance but in terms of theme and principle it is yet another sign that the economic world has seen ch-ch-changes.

Comment

We are seeing something of a shift in the economic tectonic plates. Some of this is welcome as we see a strong recovery in levels of employment and falls in unemployment. However the other side of this coin is that wage growth is weak and in my home country the UK real wages have in spite of the economic recovery are still short of where they were a decade ago. It was only yesterday when I noted the German housing market getting like us well today it is our labour market which has mimicked theirs! Weak wage growth with low unemployment is rather Germanic and in fact is something we aimed at, well until we got it anyway.

Until now I have left out productivity which is an important factor in real wage growth as we wonder if the switch to a mainly service based  economy has neutered it? But there have been issued here as this morning’s working paper from the ECB indicates and its analysis applies much wider than just in the Euro area.

Higher labour productivity growth is a key factor in raising living standards in advanced economies……..Recent labour productivity growth in the euro area has, however, been low – by both historical and international standards – albeit against the backdrop of a generalised slowdown in global labour productivity growth…………..Over the period 2008-16, annual growth in euro area labour productivity per person employed slowed to an average of around 0.5% (based on a three-year moving average), from an average of around 1.1% over the course of the decade to 2007

 

The 0% problem of Japan’s economy

Today I intend to look east to the land of the rising sun or Nihon where the ongoing economic struggles have been a forerunner to what is now happening to western economies. Also of course Japan is intimately tied up with the ongoing issue and indeed problem that is North Korea. And its navy or rather maritime self-defence force is being reinforced as this from Reuters only last month points out.

Japan’s second big helicopter carrier, the Kaga, entered service on Wednesday, giving the nation’s military greater ability to deploy beyond its shores………..Japan’s two biggest warships since World War Two are potent symbols of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to give the military a bigger international role. They are designated as helicopter destroyers to keep within the bounds of a war-renouncing constitution that forbids possession of offensive weapons.

We cannot be to critical of the name misrepresentation as of course the Royal Navy badged its previous aircraft carriers as through deck cruisers! There are of course issues though with Japan possessing such ships as the name alone indicates as the last one was involved in the attack on Pearl Habour before being sunk at Midway.

Demographics

This is a crucial issue as this from Bloomberg today indicates.

Japan Needs More People

The crux of the problem will be familiar to regular readers of my work.

Japanese companies already report they can’t find people to hire, and the future isn’t likely to get better — government researchers expect the country’s population to fall by nearly a third by 2065, at which point nearly 40 percent will be senior citizens. There’ll be 1.3 workers for every person over the age of 65, compared to 2.3 in 2015.

So the population is both ageing and shrinking which of course are interrelated issues. The solution proposed by Bloomberg is rather familiar.

It’s plain, however, that he needs to try harder still, especially when it comes to immigration……..Researchers say that to maintain the current population, Japan would have to let in more than half a million immigrants a year. (It took in 72,000 in 2015.)……..He now needs to persuade Japan that substantially higher immigration is a vital necessity.

There are various issues here as for example the Bloomberg theme that the policies of  Prime Minister Abe are working seems not to be applying to population. But as they admit below such a change is the equivalent of asking fans of Arsenal football club to support Tottenham Hotspur.

In a society as insular and homogeneous as Japan, any such increase would be a very tall order.

The question always begged in this is if the new immigrants boost the Japanese economy surely there must be a negative effect on the countries they leave?

The 0% Problem in Japan

I thought today I would look at the economy in different ways and partly as a reflection of the culture and partly due to the effect above a lot of economic and financial market indicators are near to 0%. This is something which upsets both establishments and central bankers.

Real Wages

Let me start with an issue I have been writing about for some years from Japan Macro Advisers.

The real wage growth, after offsetting the inflation in the consumer price, was 0% YoY in February.

The official real wage data has gone 0%,0%,0.1%, -0.1% and now 0% so in essence 0% and is appears on a road to nowhere. This is very different to what you may have read in places like Bloomberg and the Financial Times which have regularly trumpeted real wage growth in their headlines. There is a reason why this is even more significant than you might think because let me skip to a genuine example of economic success in Japan.

Given the prevalent labor shortage situation in Japan, there should be an economic force encouraging wages to rise. At 2.8%, the current unemployment rate is the lowest since 1993. (Japan Macro Advisers )

Actually in another rebuttal to Ivory Tower economics we see that unemployment is above what was “full employment”.

One could argue it is a matter of time, but it has already been 2.5 years since the unemployment rate reached 3.5%, the level economists considered as full-employment equivalent. (Japan Macro Advisers )

Inflation

The latest official data hammers out an increasingly familiar beat.

The consumer price index for Japan in February 2017 was 99.8 (2015=100), up 0.3% over the year before seasonal adjustment, and down 0.1% from the previous month on a seasonally adjusted basis.

If you compare 99.8 now with 100 in 2015 you see that inflation has been in essence 0%. This is quite a reverse for the policy of Abenomics where the “Three Arrows” were supposed to lead to inflation rising at 2% per annum. An enormous amount of financial market Quantitative Easing has achieved what exactly? Here is an idea of the scale comparing Japan to the US and Euro area.

As we stand this has been a colossal failure in achieving its objective as for example inflation is effectively 0% and the Japanese Yen has been reinforcing this by strengthening recently into the 108s versus the US Dollar. it has however achieved something according to The Japan Times.

Tokyo’s skyline is set to welcome 45 new skyscrapers by the time the city hosts the Olympics in 2020, as a surge of buildings planned in the early years of Abenomics near completion.

Although in something of an irony this seems to cut inflation prospects.

“This could heat up competition for tenants in other areas of the city”

A cultural issue

From The Japan Times.

Naruhito Nogami, a 37-year-old systems engineer in Tokyo, drives to discount stores on weekends to buy cheap groceries in bulk, even though he earns enough to make ends meet and the prospects for Japan’s economic recovery are brighter.

“I do have money, but I’m frugal anyway. Everyone is like that. That’s just the way it is,” he says.

Jaoanese businesses have responded in a way that will be sending shudders through the office of Bank of Japan Governor Kuroda.

Top retailer Aeon Co. is cutting prices for over 250 grocery items this month to lure cost-savvy shoppers, and Seiyu, operated by Wal-Mart Stores, cut prices on more than 200 products in February.

More of the same?

It would seem that some doubling down is about to take place.

The Abe government on Tuesday nominated banker Hitoshi Suzuki and economist Goshi Kataoka to the Bank of Japan Policy Board to replace two members who have frequently dissented against the direction set by Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda. ( Bloomberg)

Also Japan seems ever more committed to a type of centrally planned economic culture.

Japanese government-backed fund eyes Toshiba’s chip unit (Financial Times )

With the Bank of Japan buying so many Japanese shares it has been named the Tokyo Whale there more questions than answers here.

Comment

There is much to consider here but let me propose something regularly ignored. Why does Japan simply not embrace its strengths of for example full employment and relatively good economic growth per capita figures and abandon the collective growth and inflation chasing? After all lower prices can provide better living-standards and as  wages seem unable to rise even with very low unemployment may be a road forwards.

The catch is the fact that Japan continues to not only have a high national debt to GDP (Gross Domestic Product) ratio of 231% according to Bank of Japan data but is borrowing ever more each year. It is in effect reflating but not getting inflation and on a collective level not getting much economic growth either. Let is hope that Japan follows the lead of many of its citizens and avoids what happened last time after a period of economic troubles.

For us however we are left to mull the words of the band The Vapors.

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

Let me finish with one clear difference we in the UK have much more of an inflation culture than Japan.

UK employment improves and so does underemployment

As we look at the UK labour market today let us start with something which in one way is good news and in another poses questions. From Reuters last week.

Manchester United winger Jesse Lingard has signed a new contract that will keep him at Old Trafford until 2021, the Premier League club said in a statement on Thursday.

Lingard, who will earn up to 100,000 pounds a week according to British media reports, has an option to extend the deal by a further year.

Firstly congratulations to Jesse and for once it is nice to see an English player benefit from the largesse of the Premier League these days. There is invariably hype in the exact numbers but he seems to have approximately trebled his wages which will do there bit for the average wages series in the future. However those who watched an outstanding display by Juventus last night in the Champions League as they put Barcelona to the sword have been mulling the concept of relativity. From @Football_Tweet

– Paulo Dybala earns €3M a season at Juventus. – Jesse Lingard earns €6M a season at Man Utd.

we return to a familiar question which is how much of the wages growth is in effect a type of inflation?

The impact of Robots

If we look ahead on a more general level then we can expect to see not only more robots in our economy but more advanced ones appear. Not quite as advanced as the ones in the Foundation saga of Isaac Asimov that I am currently reading again but considerable advances are being made. According to Bloomberg such improvements are likely to have an impact on labour markets and wages especially.

Robots have long been maligned for job-snatching. Now you can add depressing wages and promoting inequality to your list of automation-related grievances.

Industrial robots cut into employment and pay for workers, based on an new analysis of local data stretching from 1990 and 2007. The change had the biggest impact on the lower half of the wage distribution, so it probably worsened America’s wage gap.

The exact results are as follows.

One additional robot per thousand workers reduces the employment-to-population ratio by 0.18 percentage points to 0.34 percentage points and slashes wages by 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent, based on their analysis.

Food for thought as we look forwards in years and decades and of course ground which many of the best science fiction writing has warned about.

Today’s data

The quantity data remains pretty strong as you can see.

There were 31.84 million people in work, 39,000 more than for September to November 2016 and 312,000 more than for a year earlier.

There was an additional kicker to this as we got a glimpse into a potentially improving situation regarding underemployment as well.

with an increase in full-time employment (positive 146,000) partly offset by a fall in part-time employment (negative 107,000)………….strong demand for labour is translating into a shift from part-time to full-time employment, and an increase in the average hours worked per week by both full time and part-time employees.

Here is the analysis of hours worked.

Average hours worked per week increased from 32.0 to 32.4 in the 3 months to February 2017, the highest since July to September 2002, largely due to more hours being worked over the Christmas and New Year period compared with recent years.

Fewer part-time workers are looking for full-time work.

Data released today (12 April 2017) show that this measure continued to contract with the proportion falling to 12.6%, down from 14.2% a year ago (and down from a peak of 18.4% in 2013). This proportion is now at its lowest since March to May 2009, but still well above its pre-crisis average of 8.3%.

So it looks as though the situation regarding underemployment has improved as well although the data is only partial and let us finish this section with the unemployment numbers.

There were 1.56 million unemployed people (people not in work but seeking and available to work), 45,000 fewer than for September to November 2016 and 141,000 fewer than for a year earlier.

What about wages?

These were the same as last month in terms of growth.

Between the three months to February 2016 and the three months to February 2017, in nominal terms, total pay increased by 2.3%, the same as between the three months to January 2016 and the three months to January 2017.

Actually there was a rise in the month of February by 2.9% on the year before so maybe a hopeful hint of a pick-up! We will find out as we go through the bonus months of March and April. One thing we do know is that both Sky News and the Financial Times ( “UK wages have grown at their weakest pace in seven months,”) have not checked this.

The official numbers on real wages are below.

adjusted for inflation, average weekly earnings grew by 0.2% including bonuses and by 0.1% excluding bonuses, over the year, the slowest rate of growth since 2014.

So we have something of a discontinuity as we had some real wage growth in February it would appear. Let us cross our fingers that it continues but sadly it seems unlikely ( the comparison is flattered by bonuses falling last year). Of course even if we use the figures for February alone then real wage growth was negative if we compare it to the Retail Price Index.

Also the exclusion of the self-employed from the wages data gets ever more shameful.

self-employed people increased by 114,000 to 4.78 million (15.0% of all people in work).

Can we increase tax on income from wages?

After the debacle of the U-Turn on higher National Insurance contributions from the self-employed there have been arguments that the UK is unable to ever raise more taxes from income. It was interesting therefore to see some international comparisons from the OECD today.

The average single worker in Belgium faced a tax wedge of 54.0% in 2016 compared with the OECD average of 36.0%…..Belgium had the 4th highest tax wedge in the OECD for an average married worker with two children at 38.6% in 2016, which compares with the OECD average of 26.6%.

Not the best place to be single and childless it would appear! But now the UK.

The average single worker in the United Kingdom faced a tax wedge of 30.8% in 2016……..The United Kingdom had the 22nd lowest tax wedge in the OECD for an average married worker with two children at 25.8% in 2016,

So in theory we could if we wished to reach the peak that is Belgium. The Anglosphere ( US, Australia and Canada) if I can put it like that has similar numbers to the UK although the Kiwis stand out at only 17.9% for a single person. The lowest is Chile at 7%.

Interestingly with its debt and deficit problems income in Japan is slightly more taxed than here.

Comment

I would like to take a step back and consider the last couple of years. Remember the number of economists and media analysts who warned about what they called “deflation” and sometimes they shouted it so loud it was “DEFLATION”? Well it morphed into this.

By late-2014, an increase in nominal wage growth and low CPIH inflation, led to average real earnings increasing by 1.7% in the 18 months to mid-2016. ( Office for National Statistics).

This of course boosted the economy mostly via the retail sales boom but also in other ways as I pointed out on the 29th of January 2015.

However if we look at the retail-sectors in the UK,Spain and Ireland we see that price falls are so far being accompanied by volume gains and as it happens by strong volume gains. This could not contradict conventional economic theory much more clearly. If the history of the credit crunch is any guide many will try to ignore reality and instead cling to their prized and pet theories but I prefer reality ever time.

If there was a musical theme to the deflation paranoia then it was “clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right” from Stealers Wheel. Please do not misunderstand me I am talking about the so-called experts here not those influenced by them. Sadly we seem to be heading into a period where something they wanted ( higher inflation) will slow the economy down. I wonder how the inflationistas will spin that?

 

 

 

 

 

What is happening in the Central London property market?

The barrage of inflation news yesterday did give us some insight into the UK property market. Consumer inflation rose to 2.3% ( CPI and amusingly CPIH ) or 3.2% (RPI) although no such doubts were available on BBC News 24 which confidently asserted several times that prices were rising at 2.3% per annum. This was considerably lower than the official house price growth data.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 6.2% in the year to January 2017 (up from 5.7% in the year to December 2016), continuing the strong growth seen since the end of 2013.

Regular readers will be aware that I expect consumer inflation to pass house price inflation as 2017 progresses as the impact of the higher inflation impacts and that the bellweather is often London. So far little has changed in the official data although the house prices are for January and not February with London prices rising at 7.3% per annum.

What about Central London?

Property Wire reports this.

Newly released data from Land Registry, average prices reached a new high of £1,818,262 in Central London, largely due to a rally in Q4 which saw prices increase 14% over the previous quarter.

This was apparently led ( yet again) by the borough below.

The uptick has been led, in particular, by Kensington and Chelsea which saw a 24% quarterly increase in prices

However all this is based on a rather low-level of sales.

The picture for PCL sales volumes, however, was far less positive. Compared with the previous year, sales were down 28% with only 3,330 taking place, equivalent to just 64 a week – the lowest number on record. This is half the volume registered just two years ago. ( PCL = Prime Central London).

The last quarter of 2016 did see a 19% rise on the preceding one but of course from a very low base.

However there are issues with London as a whole.

In Greater London, the fall in transactions was even more marked, down 29% in Q4 over the same period in 2015. Whilst annual price growth was more positive, up 5.7%, average prices took a hit across the year, finishing 3% lower than in January.

Bloomberg has more on the trends.

Greater London home prices will probably show their first annual decline since June 2011 when February’s data is published next month, according to Peter Williams, chairman of researcher Acadata. Prices in the city have fallen in six of the past 12 months,

The Financial Times steps in

Perhaps shaken by the possibility that London house prices might fall the FT is already on the case.

London has been cushioned from the prospects of a house price crash by the high levels of equity required to buy property in the capital and the difficulty of mortgage financing at high loan-to-value ratios for all but the biggest earners. Research by Hometrack, a housing market research group, found the average loan-to-value ratio (LTV) in the most expensive tenth of properties was 23 per cent and 40 per cent in mid-priced zones, compared with a UK average of 53 per cent.

Now if we switch that to saying that quite a bit of London property has been bought by cash rich foreign buyers the pack of cards above starts to fall. I have no idea how the fact that even very high earners cannot get a mortgage for London property supports the prices there, surely the reverse!

However, since the Bank of England limited to 15 per cent by value of a lender’s mortgage book the number of new loans it could issue at more than 4.5 times a borrower’s income, the opportunity for large LTV mortgages in the capital has dwindled.

There is another section which appears to make my case much more than theirs.

Mark Pattanshetti, mortgage manager at broker Largemortgageloans.com, said the top end of the market had “paused” after the Brexit vote but was likely to recover. “There isn’t enough supply in London, demand is still there and the top end is not so sensitive to interest rate changes.”

 

Nonetheless he said banks had reined in their lending on luxury new-build apartments in the capital — a favourite vehicle for Asian investors — after fears that this part of the market had become overheated. Average loan-to-value ratios on such flats had fallen from 70 per cent to 50-60 per cent in the past three years, he said.

Surely prices should be surging if there is not enough supply so how does “paused” work? Furthermore the fact that some Asian buyers might not be able to get mortgages does not seem especially bullish for prices. In some areas they have bought quite a bit of new property including a fair chunk at Battersea Power Station. Also if there is all this demand why did this happen? From the 7th of March.

The housebuilder ( Barratt Homes) said it had sold the units to Henderson Park for £140.5m. The portfolio includes 29 units at Aldgate Place, a joint venture with British Land, 25 in Fulham Riverside and all 118 at its Nine Elms Point tower in Vauxhall, a joint venture with L&Q.

We find as the FT article develops some more fuel for my views.

The pressure on prices in the top tenth of the market has been growing over the shorter term, with falls of 5.1 per cent in the past year. Hometrack expects further “single-digit price falls” over the course of this year at the top end. However in the middle and lower value markets, where prices are less volatile, it predicts “broadly flat” prices over the year.

As the year develops we may get the opportunity to improve the definition of “broadly flat” in my financial lexicon for these times.

I note that there is a mention of a house price crash in the headline and after yesterday’s fall in stock markets I thought this offered some perspective on hyperbole.

 

Speaking of Hyperbole

Here is Andy Haldane of the Bank of England from Monday.

This would translate into an immediate loss of around 1½ million jobs – a very significant macro-economic cost.

This is Andy slapping himself on the back for interest-rate cuts voted for by er Andy and his mates, so no danger of moral hazard there! Also Andy has issues with his number-crunching elsewhere as he seems to have a blind spot with regard to banking, he starts well but then loses his way.

It is certainly true that financial sector productivity was probably over-stated in the run-up to the crisis. Nonetheless, the subsequent sharp fall in financial services productivity is plainly not the whole story. Of the 1.7 percentage point fall in the UK’s productivity growth since 2008, less than a third can be accounted for by financial services.

Move along please, nothing to see here.

Comment

There are various factors at play here. The domestic influences come from real wages in the main as I note that the regional agents of the Bank of England have just reported this.

Settlements were clustered around 2% to 2½%.

So real wages are at best flat and in fact are now negative if we use the RPI. Other domestic influences on the housing market must be fading as even the Bank of England has not introduced anything new since last August.

If we look internationally at house prices and this is a powerful influence in Central London there are two streams which are crossing ( worrying for fans of the film Ghostbusters ). Past owners have seen prices fall in some areas and have lost money in their own currencies due to the lower level of the UK Pound £, although those who have been here for a while have profits still. Newer buyers may be tempted in by the lower Pound and some lower prices. Central London is especially open to foreign buyers with few checks made, surprising really when you look at the situation regarding bank accounts. So foreign money will at times arrive and buy properties and much of this has little to do with the UK as some will be looking to escape troubles elsewhere. But unless there is a surge of them I think the low volume levels tell an eloquent story as in markets they are often a sign of a dip in prices.

 

 

Headline UK Inflation or CPIH is an example of official “Alternative News”

Today is inflation data day in the UK and the National Statistician is about to make a major change. Firstly there is a confession to a current omission in the CPI or Consumer Prices Index ( one which is especially important in the UK economy) and then the detail. The emphasis is mine.

However, it does not include the costs associated with owning a home, known as owner occupier housing costs. ONS decided that the best way to estimate these costs is a method known as ‘rental equivalence’. This estimates the cost of owning a home by calculating how much it would cost to rent an equivalent property.

The new headline measure called CPIH is claimed to include owner occupied housing costs but in fact uses the same methodology as used for Imputed Rents. As the renting does not actually happen they have to estimate which as I will come to later has gone badly. The alternative is to measure real costs and prices such as mortgage costs and house prices which not only exist but are understood by most people. So as a critique we start with the simple issue of why use a made up or Imputed concept when you have real prices available?

Sadly the UK Office for National Statistics has become an organisation which does not want debate and instead publishes propaganda or “fake news”. Here is an example.

(CPIH is…) the most comprehensive measure of inflation

As I have explained earlier it omits house prices and mortgage costs which are for many people substantial expenses and whilst I welcome Council Tax being introduced other housing costs are still missed out.

At the Public Meeting to discuss this the statistician John Wood made a powerful case against the change which was to point out why housing was being singled out to be imputed? Here are his words from the Royal Statistical Society online forum.

The CPI is based on acquisition costs, which is not the same as consumption costs for products (such as cars, furniture, electrical goods, jewellery) that are consumed over many years. I asked John Pullinger at the meeting whether ONS was going to apply the rental equivalence principle to such products and the answer was no. He accepted that they should be so treated in principle but ONS was not going to do so for “practical convenience”. So the only product in CPIH that will conform to the consumption principle will be owner occupied housing.

The problem of measurement

I argued when this saga began back in 2012 that the rental series being used was unreliable but was told our official statisticians knew better. What happened next?

ONS needs to take more time to strengthen its quality assurance of its private rents data sources, in order to provide reassurance to users about the quality of the CPIH.

There was an announcement that CPIH had been some 0.2% too low but the principle that the football chant “You don’t know what you are doing” applies as that series was abandoned and a new one introduced. Let me switch to the regulator’s view from last month.

This matter was considered at the UK Statistics Authority’s Regulation Committee at its meeting on 16 February 2017.

At that meeting, the Regulation Committee decided not to confer the National Statistics status of CPIH at this point in time. This is because although considerable progress has been made, ONS has not yet fully addressed some of the Requirements in the Assessment Report, particularly related to comparisons with other sources, explanations of the methods of quality assurance and description of the weights used in the calculation of CPIH.

I was contacted and gave evidence arguing for such a decision and just to give you a flavour I pointed out that there had just been announced a £9 billion revision to the Imputed Rental numbers which added to so many others that the series is now in my opinion a complete mess.

Also how is CPIH now the headline inflation measure when it is “not a national statistic”? Demotion was grounds for removing the RPI so why does this not apply to CPIH?

Smoothing

There is a further problem which is that the UK monthly rental series is erratic and would send out very different messages from month to month. Accordingly each month we do not get that month’s data but a stream from the past to “improve” the data. The first issue is that it is not that month’s data as claimed but this has another problem which is that it takes a long time for changes in the economy to show up ( around 3 years). This is two-fold and the opening effort is that rents take time to respond to economic changes in a way that house prices do not. Next the data is smoothed so it takes even longer to pick it up. What could go wrong here?

Today’s numbers

If we look at the numbers released this morning we would expect our “comprehensive” measure of inflation which now has housing costs or CPIH to push above CPI.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 6.2% in the year to January 2017 (up from 5.7% in the year to December 2016), continuing the strong growth seen since the end of 2013.

So CPI was?

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was  2.3% in February 2017, compared with 1.8% in January.

Should we be nervous before looking at CPIH? Er no…

The Consumer Prices Index including owner occupiers’ housing costs (CPIH, not a National Statistic) 12-month inflation rate was 2.3% in February 2017, up from 1.9% in January.

So owner occupied housing costs make no difference at all? Not only is that embarrassing it comes under the banner of Fake News in my opinion. Actually Torsten Bell of the Resolution Foundation made a good point earlier.

https://twitter.com/TorstenBell/status/843760157494595584

So what is the point of the switch other than to claim you are representing something which you are not?! If we think of the period since the early 1990s the argument that there has been little or no inflation from the housing sector is a very bad joke.

Retail Price Index

This has been dropped from the Statistical Bulletin which is very poor from the UK’s statistical bodies as after all being “not a national statistic” has been no barrier to the advancement of CPIH. Here are the numbers.

The all items RPI annual rate is 3.2%, up from 2.6% last month. • The annual rate for RPIX, the all items RPI excluding mortgage interest payments (MIPs) index, is 3.5%, up from 2.9% last month.

For all the barrage of abuse it has received if you look at UK house prices it continues in my opinion to provide a better snapshot of the UK situation than CPI or CPIH.

Let me also mention the “improved” version or RPIJ which was pushed for a couple of years by our statisticians as it is now RIP for it. More than a few were led up a garden path which now is on its way to be redacted from history.

Comment

Regular readers will be aware that I have been predicting a rise in UK inflation for some time even during the phase when the “deflation nutters” were in full panic mode. Once the oil price stopped falling we were always coming back to this sort of situation and of course there has been the fall in the value of the UK Pound which in my opinion will lead to higher inflation of the order of 1.5%. If we look at today’s producer price numbers with output price rising at an annual rate of 3.7% more of that is on its way, sadly as we now face the fact that real wage growth has ended and will soon be negative even on the official inflation numbers.

Meanwhile as I have given a lot of detail today on the inflation changes let me end with something very prescient from Yes Minister.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: “If local authorities don’t send us the statistics that we ask for, than government figures will be a nonsense.”
James Hacker: “Why?”
Sir Humphrey Appleby: “They will be incomplete.”
James Hacker: “But government figures are a nonsense anyway.”
Bernard Woolley: “I think Sir Humphrey wants to ensure they are a complete nonsense.”

Update 2:45 pm

Someone has a suggestion about why there was such an official rush to include Rental Equivalence in the UK inflation numbers.