Good news for the UK economy as inflation and house price growth both fall

Today the UK economic data flow coincides with the news story of the week which is the oil price. After yesterday’s press conference from the Saudi oil minister things are now much calmer. From sharjah24.ae

He added that this interruption represents about half of the Kingdom’s production of crude oil, equivalent to about 6% of global production. However, he stated that over the past two days, “the damage has been contained and more than half of the production which was disrupted as a result of this blatant sabotage has been recovered.”

The Kingdom’s production capacity will return to 11 million barrels per day by the end of September, he said, and to 12 million barrels per day by the end of November. Production of dry gas, ethane and gas liquids will gradually return to pre-aggression levels by the end of this month.

A lot of this seemed targeted at the Aramco IPO but the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil has fallen back to US $64.50. So the inflation impact has been considerably reduced since Sunday night. I did warn that things got overheated on Monday.

 It then fell back to more like US $68 quite quickly. For those unaware this is a familiar pattern in such circumstances as some will have lost so much money they have to close their position and everybody knows that. It is a cruel and harsh world….

On the other side of the coin a welcome rebound in the value of the UK Pound £. It is only a little more than a fortnight after so many reports of its demise were written when it went below US $1.20 for a while whereas it is just below US $1.25 as I type this. That gave us another reminder to always be very nervous about crowded trades. Of course the picture ahead is unclear and may well be volatile although it was yet another bad move by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney to say this. From MorningStar.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney says that sterling’s recent volatility means it is behaving more like an emerging market currency than one of a leading global economy.

Sometimes his ego makes his forget his responsibilities. Returning to our inflation theme should the stronger level for the UK Pound versus the US Dollar be maintained it will help with inflation prospects due to the way so many commodities are priced in dollars.

Today’s Data

The Trend

This turned out to be quite welcome as the lower value for the UK Pound £ was more than offset by the lower price for crude oil ( this was August).

The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process was negative 0.8% on the year to August 2019, down from 0.9% in July 2019.

If you want the exact impact here they are and they give a clue as to how volatile the impact of the crude oil price can be.

The largest downward contribution to the annual rate in August 2019 came from crude oil, which contributed 2.09 percentage points  and had negative annual price growth of 11.6% . This compares to an annual price growth of 41% this time last year.

So there is a downwards push for later in the year and a nearer impact is also downwards for the level of inflation.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 1.6% on the year to August 2019, down from 1.9% in July 2019.

In the welcome news was something that David Bowie might have described as a Space Oddity.

Transport equipment provided the largest upward contribution of 0.32 percentage points to the annual rate , with price growth of 2.8% on the year to August 2019 . This is the highest the annual rate has been within this industry since September 2017 and is driven by motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers.

The only thing I can think of is that I believe there was a change in the subsidy for some types of electric vehicles.

Consumer Inflation

The news here was welcome too.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 1.7% in August 2019, down from 2.1% in July 2019.

This has a range of beneficial impacts because if we look at the wages data for the month of July it showed annual growth of 4.2% meaning real wages rose by 2.5% using this measure.

The good news has some flies in the ointment however. The first is that an inflation measure which ignores owner-occupied housing is therefore not that appropriate as a wages deflator. Also two areas which have been troubled drove the inflation fall.

Recreation and culture, where within the group, the largest effect (of 0.09 percentage points) came from games, toys and hobbies (particularly computer games including
downloads), with prices overall falling by 5.0% between July and August 2019 compared with a smaller fall of 0.1% between the same two months a year ago.

Regular readers will be aware that our statisticians have problems dealing with games which get discounted and if we look at fashion clothing there is the same problem. Ahem.

Clothing and footwear, where prices rose by 1.8% this year compared with a larger rise of 3.1% a year ago. The main effect came from clothing, particularly children’s clothing. Prices of clothing and footwear usually rise between July and August as autumn ranges start to enter the shops following the summer sales season. The rise was smaller this year and may have been influenced by the proportion of items on sale, which fell by less between July and August this year than between the same two months a year ago.

Apologies for the raft of technical detail but these are important points. Not only for themselves but the latter came up in the debate over the RPI as there were arguments it made up around 0.3% of the gap ( presently 0.9%), But in a shameful act the UK Statistics Authority decided to use the three wise monkeys as its role model going forwards. No doubt the research is finding its way to the recycling bin.

If we switch to the RPI we see a sign that will send a chill down the spine of our official statisticians and statistics authority.

games, toys and hobbies

Are one of the reasons it fell by less and thus there is a hint it may be dealing with the issues here in a better fashion.

The all items RPI annual rate is 2.6%, down from 2.8% last month.

As you can see it only fell by half the amount.

House Prices

There was some really good news here.

Average house prices in the UK increased by 0.7% in the year to July 2019, down from 1.4% in June 2019. This is the lowest annual rate since September 2012, when it was 0.4%.

I have long argued that UK house prices have become unaffordable and we see that in the year to July they fell by 3.5% relative to wage growth. More of this please as it is the best way of deflating the bubble. As ever this conceals regional differences which opened with a surprise.

The lowest annual growth was in the North East, where prices fell by 2.9% over the year to July 2019. This was followed by the South East, where prices fell by 2.0% over the year…….House price growth in Wales increased by 4.2% in the year to July 2019, down slightly from 4.3% in June 2019, with the average house price at £165,000.

With LSL Acadata reporting earlier this week that annual house price growth in the year to August was 0% we seem to be coming out of the house price boom phase in terms of increases if not price levels.

Comment

Pretty much all of the trends here are welcome as we see lower consumer, producer price and house price inflation. As I have already pointed out this boosts real wages and let me add that over time I expect that to boost economic output and GDP. Although of course there are plenty of other factors in play in the latter. As to the detail it looks as though the monthly fall may have been exacerbated by the problems with the measurement of inflation in items which have a fashion component. Let me give you an example of this which is that we spotted a pair of Nike running shoes which retail at £209.95 at Battersea Park Running Track yet my friend managed to get the previous model for £28 at a sale outlet. Put that in the inflation numbers….

This leads more egg on the face of the UK inflation establishment as it would appear that in the latest data the RPI handled such matters in a superior fashion. Also let me just remind you that whilst the fantasy imputed rent driven CPIH looks more on the ball because of the decline in house price growth this is a fluke along the lines of the fact that even a stopped watch is right twice a day.

 

It is boom time for UK wages growth

Today has opened with a reminder of one of the biggest hits of Steve Winwood.

While you see a chance take it
Find romance
While you see a chance take it
Find romance

It is on my mind for two reasons. The first is that the fifty-year Gilt yield in the UK has risen back to 1% after reaching an all-time low of 0.79%. It is still remarkably cheap for the UK to borrow for infrastructure projects and the like just not as cheap as it was. On the other side of the coin the Bank of England will be trying to make it cheaper today by buying some £1.27 billion of longer-dated ( 2036 – 2071) UK Gilts as part of its reinvestment programme for its £435 billion of QE holdings. This is an extension of QE which can do little good in my opinion which will now continue until 2071 as the Bank has bought a little over £2 billion of it, Something to affect our children and grandchildren.

PPI

There was more news on this subject yesterday as Barclays joined the list of banks adding to their exposure.

Total amounts set aside for PPI redress now stand at £51.8-£53.25 billion – over 5 times the cost of the London 2012 Olympics. Banks have proved hopeless at estimating the total cost of their misconduct – with some increasing their PPI redress provisions 20 times over the past 8 years. Legitimate complaints have been rejected and banks have delayed writing to customers, meaning that the scandal has taken years to be resolved and cost billions in administrative costs. ( New City Agenda)

This has plainly boosted UK consumption and the stereotypical example would be on car sales. But it is not quite a free lunch for GDP as there have been offsetting impacts elsewhere.

  • At Lloyds, retail misconduct costs have amounted to a staggering £14 billion, compared to dividends of just £500 million.
  • RBS has not paid a penny in dividends to its shareholders, but has had to find £6.4 billion in misconduct costs and has chosen to pay £3.8 billion in bonuses.
  • If Barclays had managed to restrain its misconduct costs then it could have tripled its dividend.

People have asked me why this has taken so long? Easy, those in charge of the banks have been able to maintain their positions with the large salaries and bonuses by “managing” the news flow. In banking crises just like in war the first casualty is the truth.

Wages

After yesterday’s strong GDP reading for July we maybe should not have been surprised to see some really good wages numbers, but perhaps not this good.

Estimated annual growth in average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain increased to 4.0% for total pay (including bonuses), and fell to 3.8% for regular pay (excluding bonuses).

As you can see total pay growth reached 4% so what is called a big figure change and it was driven by the July number rising to 4.2%. Below are the sectoral numbers.

Of the sectors reported on, Construction and Finance and Business services are experiencing the highest pay growth, of over 5% (not adjusted for inflation) for total pay; manufacturing is experiencing the lowest pay growth, of 2.4%.

Actually construction wages rose at an annual rate of 7% in July. The numbers here have been boosted by bonus payments which have been around £30 per week for the last year. So it looks as though something has changed there and in a good way for once. I have to admit that it raises a wry smile as it fits with my Nine Elms to Vauxhall crane count rather better than the official construction figures.

Real Wages

Let me first show you the official view.

In real terms (after adjusting for inflation), annual growth in total pay is estimated to be 2.1% and annual growth in regular pay is estimated to be 1.9%.

The problem with that is that it relies on the CPIH inflation measure which is 17% fantasy via the use of Imputed Rents ( it assumes homeowners pay themselves rent which of course they do not). Thus on a technical level it should not be used as a deflator at all but sadly the UK statistics authorities have abandoned such logic. Let me explain by how they present the overall picture now. They start with regular pay.

£470 per week in real terms (constant 2015 prices), higher than the estimate for a year earlier (£461 per week), but £3 (0.7%) lower than the pre-recession peak of £473 per week for April 2008……..The equivalent figures for total pay in real terms are £502 per week in July 2019 and £525 in February 2008, a 4.3% difference.

Now let me show some alternative numbers from Rupert Seggins.

How close is real pay compared to where it was at the start of the crisis? That answer still very much depends on your favoured measure of prices. For CPIH fans it’s close, -1% below. If CPI’s your thing it’s -3%. If you prefer RPI it’s -8% and -11% if you like RPIX.

The problem with real wage growth is one of the main issues of the credit crunch and trying to sweep it away with the stroke of a statistical pen is pretty shameful in my view.

Employment and Unemployment

The numbers here were pretty good too.

the estimated employment rate for everyone was estimated at 76.1%; this is the joint-highest on record since comparable records began in 1971 and 0.6 percentage points higher on the year………Estimates for May to July 2019 show 32.78 million people aged 16 years and over in employment, 369,000 more than for a year earlier.

The cautionary note for employment is that the rate of growth has slowed as shown below.

In the three months to July 2019, UK employment increased by 31,000 to reach 32.78 million.

On the other side of the coin we see that unemployment continues to trend lower.

For May to July 2019, an estimated 1.29 million people were unemployed, 64,000 fewer than a year earlier and 716,000 fewer than five years earlier.

Some 11.000 lower in these numbers meaning it is at a 45 year low.

Comment

There is a lot to welcome in these numbers as we see wage growth pick-up with rising employment and falling unemployment. In the detail we see that the wage growth has been driven by bonuses and maybe there is a flattering of these numbers from timing changes. But it is also true that the change in the timing of NHS payments has fallen out of the numbers with no appreciable effect.

There are more than a few factors to consider. The wage growth has happened with little or no productivity growth as employment has risen by 1.1% over the past year. Next it is hard not to have a wry smile at the Resolution Foundation who had a conference on responding to recession yesterday. They are a little touchy if you point this out as this reply to me from their communications director highlights.

Given that the report says we’re not ready for a recession, we’re pretty glad we’re not in one . And as a pro-rising living standards think-tank, we’re obviously in favour of stronger wage growth.

Also there is an issue we have long expected. That is after countless occasions where it has been wrong, useless and misleading some were always going to cling to the Phillips Curve like a drowning (wo)man clings to a piece of wood.

For all the talk of its demise, the UK Phillips Curve shows signs of life ( FT economics editor Chris Giles )

To me this is a basic difference in approach. I adapt theory to reality whereas others adapt reality to suit pre-existing theory.

Oh and UK wage growth is now in line with the sort of rate at which the Bank of England would in the past be thinking of raising Bank Rate. So over to you Mark Carney and your Forward Guidance…..

 

 

 

Retail Sales continue to be a bright spot for the UK economy

Today brings us up to date on the UK retail sector but before we get to it there is something that will have the full attention of the Bank of England. Let me hand you over to City-AM.

The Royal Bank of Scotland was hit this morning on the news that two brokers had lowered their forecasts for the company’s shares.

Analysts at Macquarie downgraded the company from buy to neutral this morning, slashing its target price to 201p, from 246p.

Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs reiterated its buy rating on the stock, but lowered its target price to 325p from 360p.

Shares were trading down around eight per cent to 182.5p.

Firstly at least I warned you as those who read my post on the sixth of this month will be aware. The theme of the credit crunch era has been that RBS is always about to turn a corner ( as in a way highlighted by a 360p price target) but the path turns out to be this one.

We’re on a road to nowhere
We’re on a road to nowhere
We’re on a road to nowhere

If you believed Brewin Dolphin on the 6th you may be wondering what happened to the ” path to redemption”? Also those with longer memories may be wondering about the “nest egg”

City Minister Lord Myners yesterday claimed that the ownership of RBS and LBG – which were both rescued from collapse by the Treasury in the credit crisis – represented a “nice little nest egg” for the taxpayer. ( Evening Standard September 2009)

I have picked this out for a reason because the Ivory Tower of the Bank of England has trumpeted the “Wealth Effects” of its policies whereas RBS has been a spectacular case of wealth destruction. I can widen this out as Barclays is at a recent low at 138 pence reminding me that the chairman who promised to double the share price has gone I think, which is for best because it has halved. The Zombie Janbouree continues with HSBC below £6 and Lloyds at 59 pence.

This is way beyond just a UK issue as for example the European banks are in quite a mess headlined by Deutsche Bank falling back below 6 Euros this morning. Or in some ways more so by the Spanish banks as the economy is still doing well but they look troubled too. Here is Mike Bird of the Wall Street Journal.

Japanese regional bank share prices have now broken below their Feb 2016 lows. The sector is, to use the technical terminology, completely screwed.

This is quite a change of approach from Mike who is something of the order of my doppleganger on Japan. Anyway my point is that the them here is that there have been no wealth effects from the banks and more seriously they cannot be supporting the economy.

The official Bank of England view is that banks are “resilient” and it is “vigilant”

Bond Yields

On the other side of the coin support is being provided by another surge in the UK Gilt market. These are extraordinary times with the UK having a ten-year yield of 0.44% and a five-year yield of 0.35%. Those who have owned UK Gilts have seen extraordinary gains and this includes the ordinary person with pension savings. However this is no silver bullet as we would be in a better place than we are if it was, But it does support the economy.

Whilst I am looking at this area let me deal with all the inverted yield curve mania going on via a tweet that proved rather popular yesterday.

Some worry about the yield curve ( 2s/10s) being inverted but I am sanguine about that. This is because when it bought £435 billion of UK Gilts the Bank of England distorted the market giving us an example of Goodhart’s Law.

It does not buy two-year Gilts thereby distorting the market and making past signals unreliable.

The Bank (as agent for BEAPFF) purchases conventional gilts with a minimum residual maturity of greater than three years in the secondary market.

Retail Sales

This morning has brought another good set of retail sales figures for the UK.

The quantity bought in July 2019 increased by 0.2% when compared with the previous month, with strong growth of 6.9% in non-store retailing.

The duff note there is the implication for the high street but the numbers below confirm that the situation for the UK economy overall remains positive.

In the three months to July 2019, the quantity bought in retail sales increased by 0.5% when compared with the previous three months, with food stores and fuel stores seeing a decline…….Year-on-year growth in the quantity bought increased by 3.3% in July 2019, with food stores being the only main sector reporting a fall at negative 0.5%.

The positive spin in the decline of the high streets is provided by this.

In July 2019, online retailing accounted for 19.9% of total retailing compared with 18.9% in June 2019, with an overall growth of 12.7% when compared with the same month a year earlier.

The flipside is that less money flows through the high street and sadly I suspect this is not a new trend.

Department stores’ growth increased for the first time this year with a month-on-month growth of 1.6%; this was following six consecutive months of decline.

Comment

Let me shift now to why is this happening? The situation regarding the UK consumer is strong and has been supported by several factors. The first is in the numbers themselves and repeats a theme I first highlighted on the 29th of January 2015.

Both the amount spent and the quantity bought in the retail industry reported strong growth of 3.9% and 3.3% respectively when compared with a year earlier.

That gives us an ersatz inflation measure of the order of 0.6% which made me look it up and the official deflator is 0.8%. That is very different to the ordinary inflation measures we see which are 2%-3%. So in a sense your money goes further ( strictly declines in value more slowly) and is compared to this.

Estimated annual growth in average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain increased to 3.7% for total pay (including bonuses) and 3.9% for regular pay (excluding bonuses).

So in real terms there are gains in this sector. Thus it is no great surprise it has done well.

Also there is the fact that whilst the annual rate of growth has slowed we are still on something of an unsecured credit orgy.

The additional amount borrowed by consumers to buy goods and services was £1.0 billion in June, compared with £0.9 billion in May…….The annual growth rate of consumer credit continued to slow in June, falling to 5.5%

Is anything else growing at an annual rate of 5.5%.

Cauliflowers

There seems to be something of a media mania here as this from BBC Essex illustrates.

“Customers I’ve never seen before are coming in just for cauliflowers” Great Baddow greengrocers Martin and George Dobson are selling imported cauliflowers at cost price as Britain experiences a shortage. Prices have reached £2.50

I checked in two local supermarkets and they were selling then for £1 albeit they were from Holland. Then I went to Lidl and they were selling UK cauliflowers for 75 pence. Maybe a bit smaller than usual but otherwise normal so I bought one.

Good news on UK real wage growth reminds us they are still in a depression

One of the features of the UK economic recovery post credit crunch has been the strong growth in employment. This has had the very welcome side effect of bringing unemployment down to levels that on their own would make you think we have fully recovered. However yesterday produced a flicker of a warning on this subject from the official survey on well-being.

Expectations for higher unemployment for the year ahead have been climbing and are now higher than at any point for the past five and a half years.

Of course with so many elements of the media and “think tanks” singing along with REM it is hard to know whether people actually think this or feel they should.

It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it

Intriguingly though the next line includes the words “I feel fine” which were also replicated at a time ( Brexit D-Day 1.0 ) you might nor expect this.

Anxiety in the UK remained stable in the year ending March 2019, with no significant decrease in the proportion of people who reported the highest anxiety ratings.

Meanwhile the Bank of England will be expecting the economy to improve.

Net financial wealth per head increased by 3.0% for the quarter ending March 2019 compared to the same quarter a year ago, led by increases in equity and investment fund shares.

The only disappointment for it will be that it has not managed to keep house prices rising in real terms as well.

Unemployment

If we stay with that this morning’s release shows that the expectations had at least some basis in reality.

The UK unemployment rate was estimated at 3.9%; lower than a year earlier (4.0%); on the quarter the rate was 0.1 percentage points higher.

So there was a nudge higher in the unemployment rate. I have looked into the numbers as the release is shall we shall a bit light in this area. The rise in unemployment was by 37,000 to 1,329,000 but there is a nuance to this.

90,000 people from economic inactivity to unemployment

This is for a different time period as we are comparing the first three months of this year with the latest three but you can see that the shift is people joining the labour force. Over this period it is just about treble the change in unemployment of 31,000.

How can this be? We find it in the definition of employment that includes those above retirement age as over the same period it has risen by 104,000 which as the ordinary employment level only rose by 34,000 then 70,000 “retirees” have found work.

Nuance

I have pressed the numbers hard here so do not take them to the last thousand. But in a broad sweep it looks as though more “retirees” have looked for work and many of them have found jobs. But some others have not and because they are looking for work have been switched from not being in the numbers to raising both unemployment numbers and the rate. Awkward.

So we are not sure what this actually tells us.

Employment

I have stolen my own thunder to some extent in the previous section but these numbers were good again and took us to a joint record high in employment rate terms of 76.1%. But let me go wider as I have above as we reached what ELO might call A New World Record. Or rather a UK record because if we include those above retirement age we have a new record employment rate of 61.6% and have 32.8 million.

The catch is that whilst some of this is good in terms of older people being heathier and able to work some will be forced to by needing the money and we have no way of determining the split. Also there was this.

There were an estimated 896,000 people (not seasonally adjusted) in employment on zero-hour contracts in their main job, 115,000 more than for a year earlier, but 8,000 fewer than the same period in 2016. This represents 2.7% of all people in employment for April to June 2019.

So a rise in a number which had been falling and again we lack the nuance. These contracts suit some people but others only take them because it is all they can get and we do not know the split. Frankly to my mind if you do not get work in a week or maybe only a few hours then the numbers should be discounted into “full-time equivalents.”

Oh and there was something which contradicted a lot of the rhetoric we see flying around.

EU nationals working in the UK increased by 99,000 to 2.37 million.non-EU nationals working in the UK increased by 34,000 to 1.29 million

Wages

These were a bright spot.

Estimated annual growth in average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain increased to 3.7% for total pay (including bonuses) and 3.9% for regular pay (excluding bonuses).

If we look at total pay the monthly pattern has improved going, £530,£534,£536 and now £538 for weekly wages. Pay in construction has risen at an annual rate of 5.9% although the monthly pattern was better in April and May than June. The fly in the ointment is the public sector which had a really good April due to the rise in the minimum wage and this.

Public sector annual pay growth has accelerated to 3.9% and is now at its highest since May 2010; this is driven in large part by the health and social work sub-sector in which the timing of pay rises for some NHS staff is different in 2019 compared with 2018.

As April drops out of the three monthly average next time we could see quite a dip in this area.

Real Wages

The official view is this.

In real terms (after adjusting for inflation), total pay is estimated to have increased by 1.8% compared with a year earlier, and regular pay is estimated to have increased by 1.9%.

Sadly it is not that good as they use the imputed rent driven CPIH for this measure. As an example of the issue RPI was 1% higher in June. So if we split this down the middle real wage growth is 1.3%.

This sort of thing matters and let me highlight it with this.

For June 2019, average regular pay, before tax and other deductions, for employees in Great Britain was estimated at:

  • £505 per week in nominal terms
  • £469 per week in real terms (constant 2015 prices), higher than the estimate for a year earlier (£460 per week), but £4 (0.8%) lower than the pre-recession peak of £473 per week for April 2008

The equivalent figures for total pay are £499 per week in June 2019 and £525 in February 2008, a 5.0% difference.

Firstly on both readings that is a depression. But many press the regular pay numbers which ignores the fact that the depression has been raging most in bonus pay. If we move to total pay we see why many people think they are poorer, it is because they are. That is before we get to the highly favourable inflation measure used here.

Comment

There is an element of good UK bad UK here so let me start with the good. Employment growth has been excellent and so overall has been the fall in unemployment. This month’s rise in the latter may be older people thinking they can get a job which many are but those that do not now count as unemployed. Wage growth is now pretty good and in fact is stellar for the credit crunch period.

The other side of the coin is that real wages are still in a depression and even at current rates of growth with take around 3 years to get back to the previous peak. Also if you have rising employment and falling (-0.2% GDP) you get this.

Data from the latest labour market statistics and GDP first quarterly estimate indicate that output per hour fell by 0.6% compared with the same quarter in the previous year….Output per worker in Q2 2019 also fell by 0.1%, compared with the same quarter in the previous year. This was the result of employment (1.3%) growing faster than gross value added (1.2%).

 

Recession forecasts for the UK collide with stronger wage growth

As we arrive at UK labour market day the mood music around the UK economy has shifted downwards. For example the Resolution Foundation has chosen this week to publish this.

Technical recessions (where economic output contracts for two consecutive quarters) have come along roughly once a decade in the UK. With the current period of economic
expansion now into its tenth year, there is therefore concern that we are nearer to the next recession than we are to the last.

At this point we do not learn a great deal as since policy has been to avoid a recession at almost nay cost for the last decade then the surprise would be if we were not nearer to the next recession.Also they seem to be clouding the view of what a technical recession ( where the economy contracts only marginally) is with a recession where it contracts by more. But then we get the main point.

Indeed, a simple model based on financial-market data
suggests that the risk of a recession is currently close to levels only seen around the time of past recessions and sharp slowdowns in GDP growth, and is at its highest level since 2007.

Okay so what is it?

One indicator that is often cited as a predictor of future recessions is the difference between longer-term and shorter-term yields on government bonds, often referred to as the ‘slope’ of the yield curve……..If shorter-term rates are above longer-term ones (negative slope), it suggests markets are expecting looser monetary policy in future than today, implying expectations of a deterioration in the outlook for the economy.

Okay and then we get the punchline.

It shows that this indicator has increased significantly in the run up to the previous three recessions. And it has risen from close to zero in 2014 to levels only seen around recessions and sharp slowdowns in GDP growth by 2019 Q2, reflecting the flattening of the yield curve……..

Thoughts

The problem with this type of analysis is that it ignores all the ch-ch-changes that have taken place in the credit crunch era. For example because of all the extraordinary monetary policy including £435 billion of purchases of UK government bonds by the Bank of England there is very little yield anywhere thus the yield curve will be flatter. That is a very different situation to market participants buying and selling and making the yield curve flatter. The danger here is that we record a false signal or more formally this is a version of Goodhart’s Law.

Also frankly saying this is not much use.

Our simple model suggests, therefore, that there is an elevated chance of the UK facing a recession at some point in the next three years.

 

UK Labour Market

The figures themselves provoked a wry smile because the downbeat background in terms of analysis collided with this.

Estimated annual growth in average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain increased to 3.4% for total pay (including bonuses) and 3.6% for regular pay (excluding bonuses)……..Annual growth in both total pay (including bonuses) and regular pay (excluding bonuses) accelerated by 0.2% in March to May when compared with February to April.

The rise for the latter was the best in the credit crunch era and provoked some humour from Reuters. At least I think it was humour.

The pick-up in pay has been noted by the Bank of England which says it might need to raise interest rates in response, assuming Britain can avoid a no-deal Brexit.

The good news section of the report continued with these.

The UK unemployment rate was estimated at 3.8%; it has not been lower since October to December 1974. The UK economic inactivity rate was estimated at 20.9%, lower than a year earlier (21.0%).

So higher wage growth and low unemployment.

Nuance

Actually as the two factors above are lagging indicators you could use them as a recession signal. But moving to nuance we found that in the employment data. This has just powered away over the past 7 years but found a bit of a hiccup today.

The UK employment rate was estimated at 76.0%, higher than a year earlier (75.6%); on the quarter, the rate was 0.1 percentage points lower, the first quarterly decrease since June to August 2018.

At this stage in the cycle with the employment rate so high it is hard to read especially when we notice these other measures.

Between March to May 2018 and March to May 2019: hours worked in the UK increased by 1.9% (to reach 1.05 billion hours)…….the number of people in employment in the UK increased by 1.1% (to reach 32.75 million)

We gain a little more insight from looking at just the month of May which was strong in this area.

The single month estimate of the employment rate, for people aged 16 to 64 years in the UK, for May 2019 was 76.2%

But not as strong as April which was at 76.4%! Oh and in case you are wondering how the three-month average got to 76% it was because March was 75.5%. You could press the Brexit Klaxon there but no-one seems to be doing so, perhaps they have not spotted it yet. Anyway barring a plunge in June the employment rate should be back.

Wages

We can fig deeper into these as well as we note something we have been waiting for.

the introduction of the new National Living Wage rate (4.9% higher than the 2018 rate) and National Minimum Wage rates which will impact the lowest-paid workers in sectors such as wholesaling, retailing, hotels and restaurants.

When we note who that went to we should particularly welcome it although it is different to wages being higher due to a strong economy as it was imposed on the market. There was also this.

pay increases for some NHS staff which will impact public sector pay growth

That provokes a few thoughts so let me give you some number crunching. Public-sector pay is at £542 per week higher than private-sector pay ( £534) and is growing slightly more quickly at 3.6% versus 3.4%. However if we look back to the year 2000 we see that pay growth has been remarkably similar at around 72%. Actually in the categories measured the variation is very small with manufacturing slowest at 69.3% and construction fastest at 74.8%.

If we look at the case of real wages we get a different picture.

In real terms (after adjusting for inflation), total pay is estimated to have increased by 1.4% compared with a year earlier, and regular pay is estimated to have increased by 1.7%.

It starts well although even here it is time for my regular reminder that the numbers rely on the official inflation series and are weaker if we use the Retail Price Index or RPI. But even so the credit crunch era background remains grim.

For May 2019, average regular pay, before tax and other deductions, for employees in Great Britain was estimated at:

£503 per week in nominal terms

£468 per week in real terms (constant 2015 prices), higher than the estimate for a year earlier (£460 per week), but £5 (1.0%) lower than the pre-recession peak of £473 per week for April 2008

 

The equivalent figures for total pay are £498 per week in May 2019 and £525 in February 2008, a 5.0% difference.

Again that relies on a flattering inflation measure. But the grim truth is that real wages are in a depression and have been so for a bit more than a decade.

Comment

So there you have it in spite of the fears around this sector of the UK economy continues to perform strongly and give quite a different measure to say economic output or GDP. Also as we note the increase in hours worked and that GDP growth is fading we are seeing a wage growth pick-up with weak and probably negative productivity growth. We will have to see how that plays out but let me show you something else tucked away in the detail and let us go back to the Resolution Foundation.

Real pay growth grew by more than 3.5% for the real estate sector but fell by more than 1.0% in the arts and entertainment sector.

A bit harsh on luvvies who have been one of the strongest sectors in the economy. But I have spotted something else which may be a factor in why estate agents and the like are doing so well.

The proportion of UK mortgage lending at (LTV) ratios of 90% or higher was 18.7% of all mortgage lending in 2019 Q1. ( @NobleFrancis )

Odd that as I recall out political class singing along with Depeche Mode.

Never again
Is what you swore
The time before
Never again
Is what you swore
The time before

 

 

 

 

 

The Bank of Japan begins to face its failures

The last couple of weeks have seen two of the world’s main central banks strongly hint that the path for interest-rates is now lower, or perhaps I should say even lower. So as we open this week my thoughts turn eastwards to what the Shangri-Las would call the leader of the pack in this respect, Nihon or Japan. If we look at the Nikkei newspaper we see that Governor Kuroda of the Bank of Japan has also been conducting some open mouth operations.

TOKYO — Bank of Japan Governor Haruko Kuroda said extra stimulus would be an option if prices refuse to keep rising toward the central bank’s 2% inflation target.

The BOJ “will consider extra easing measures without hesitation” if the economy runs into a situation where momentum toward reaching stable inflation is lost, Kuroda said at a news conference on Thursday in Tokyo after keeping monetary policy unchanged.

There are various problems with this which start with the issue of inflation which has simply not responded to all the stimulus that the Bank of Japan has provided.

  The consumer price index for Japan in May 2019 was 101.8 (2015=100), up 0.7% over the year before seasonal adjustment,   and the same level as the previous month on a seasonally adjusted basis. ( Statistics Bureau).

This has been pretty much a constant in his term ( the only real change was caused by the rise in the Consumption Tax rate in 2014) and as I have pointed out many times over the years challenges Abenomics at its most basic point. If we stick to the monthly report above the situation is even worse than the overall number implies. This is because utility bills are rising at an annual rate of 3.2% but this is offset by other lower influences such as housing where the annual rate of (rental) inflation is a mere 0.1%. Also the services sector basically has virtually no inflation as the annual rate of change is 0.3%. Even the Bank of Japan does not think there is much going on here.

On the price front, the year-on-year rate of change in the
consumer price index (CPI, all items less fresh food) is in the range of 0.5-1.0 percent. Inflation expectations have been more or less unchanged.

Wages

On Friday we got the latest wages data which showed that real wages fell at an annual rate of 1.4% in April, This meant that so far every month in Japan has seen real wages lower than the year before. If we look back we see that an index set at 100 in 2015 was at 100.8 in 2018 so now may well be back where it started.

This matters because this was the index that Abenomics was aimed at. Back in 2012/13 it was assumed by its advocates that pushing inflation higher would push wages even faster. Whereas that relationship was struggling before the credit crunch and it made it worse. Indeed so strong was the assumed relationship here that much of financial media has regularly reported this it has been happening in a version of fake news for economics. The truth is that there has been an occassional rally such as last summer’s bonus payments but no clear upwards trend and the numbers have trod water especially after Japan’s statisticians discovered mistakes in their calculations.

Problems for economics

Back when QE style policies began there was an assumption that they would automatically lead to inflation whereas the situation has turned out to be much more nuanced. As well as an interest-rate of -0.1% the Bank of Japan is doing this.

With regard to the amount of JGBs to be purchased, the Bank will conduct purchases in a flexible manner so that their amount outstanding will increase at an annual
pace of about 80 trillion yen……….The Bank will purchase exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and Japan real estate
investment trusts (J-REITs) so that their amounts outstanding will increase at annual
paces of about 6 trillion yen and about 90 billion yen, respectively…….As for CP and corporate bonds, the Bank will maintain their amounts outstanding at
about 2.2 trillion yen and about 3.2 trillion yen, respectively.

Yet we have neither price nor wage inflation. If we look for a sign of inflation then it comes from the equity market where the Nikkei 225 equity index was around 8000 when Abenomics was proposed as opposed to the 21,286 of this morning. Maybe it is also true of Japanese Government Bonds but you see selling those has been something of a financial widow maker since around 1990.

Misfire on bond yields

2019 has seen yet another phase of the bond bull market which if we look back has been in play since before the turn of the century. But Japan has not participated as much as you might think due to something of a central planning failure.

The Bank will purchase Japanese government bonds (JGBs) so that 10-year JGB yields will remain at around zero percent. While doing so, the yields may move upward
and downward to some extent mainly depending on developments in economic activity and prices.

That was designed to keep JGB yields down but is currently keeping them up. Ooops! We see that bond yields in Germany and Switzerland have gone deeper into negative territory than in Japan. If we compared benchmark yields they go -0.31% and -0.51% respectively whereas in Japan the ten-year yield is -0.15%.

Economic Growth

On the face of it the first quarter of this year showed an improvement as it raised the annual rate of economic or GDP growth to 0.9%. That in itself showed an ongoing problem if 0.9% is better and that is before we get to the fact that the main feature was ominous. You see the quarterly growth rate of 0.6% was mostly ( two-thirds) driven by imports falling faster then exports, which is rather unauspicious for a trading nation.

If we look ahead Friday’s manufacturing PMI report from Markit posted a warning.

June survey data reveals a further loss of momentum
across the manufacturing sector, as signalled by the
headline PMI dropping to a three-month low. Softer
demand in both domestic and international markets
contributed to the sharpest fall in total new orders for
three years. A soft patch for automotive demand…..

The last few words are of course no great surprise but the main point here is the weaker order book. So Japan will be relying on its services sector for any growth. Also there is the issue of the proposed October Consumption Tax hike from 8% to 10% which would weaken the economy further. So we have to suspect it will be delayed yet again.

Comment

To my mind the Abenomics experiment never really addressed the main issue for Japan which is one of demographics. The population is both ageing and shrinking as this from the Yomiuri Shimbun earlier this month highlights.

The government on Friday released a rough calculation of vital statistics for 2018, revealing that the number of deaths minus births totaled 444,085, exceeding 400,000 for the first time.

The latest numbers on Thursday showed yet another fall in children (0-15) to 12.1% of the population and yet another rise in those over 85 to 4.7%. In many ways the latter is a good thing which is why economics gets called the dismal science. The demographics are weakening as Japan continues to borrow more with a national debt of 238% of GDP.

The size of the national debt is affordable at the moment for two reasons. The first is the low and at times negative level of bond yields. Next Japan has a large amount of private savings to offset the debt. The rub is that those savings are a buffer against the demographic issue and there is another problem with Abenomics which I have feared all along. Let me hand you over to a new research paper from the Bank of Japan.

The reversal interest rate is the rate at which accommodative monetary policy
reverses and becomes contractionary for lending. Its determinants are 1) banks’
fixed-income holdings, 2) the strictness of capital constraints, 3) the degree of passthrough to deposit rates, and 4) the initial capitalization of banks.

So it looks like they are beginning to agree with me that so-called stimulus can turn out to be contractionary and there is more.

The reversal interest rate creeps up over time, making steep but short rate cuts preferable to “low for long” interest rate environments.

Exactly the reverse of what Japan has employed and we seem set to copy.

Podcast

Bank of England Forward Guidance ignores the falls in UK real wages

Yesterday evening Michael Saunders of the Bank of England spoke in Southampton and gave us his view on our subject of today the labour market.

 the output gap is probably closed……….. The labour
market continued to tighten, and the MPC judged in late 2018 that the output gap had closed, with supply
and demand in the economy broadly in balance.

As you can see we quickly go from it being “probably closed” to “had closed” and there is something else off beam. You see if there is anyone on the Monetary Policy Committee who would think it is closed is Michael via his past pronouncements, so if he is not sure, who is? This leads us straight into the labour market.

In general, labour market data suggest
the output gap has closed. For example, the jobless rate is slightly below the MPC’s estimate of equilibrium,
vacancies are around a record high, while pay growth has risen to around a target-consistent pace (allowing
for productivity trends).

Poor old Michael does not seem to realise that if pay growth is consistent with the inflation target he does not have a problem. Of course that is before we hit the issue of the “equilibrium” jobless rate where the Bank of England has been singing along to Kylie Minogue.

I’m spinning around
Move outta my way
I know you’re feeling me
‘Cause you like it like this

In terms of numbers the original Forward Guidance highlighted an unemployment rate of 7% which very quickly became an equilibrium one of 6.5% and I also recall 5.5% and 4.5% as well as the present 4.25%. Meanwhile the actual unemployment rate is 3.8%! What has actually happened is that they have been chasing the actual unemployment rate lower and have only escaped more general derision because most people do not understand the issue here. Let’s be generous and ignore the original 7% and say they have cut the equilibrium rate from 6.5% to 4.25%. What that tells me is that the concept tells us nothing because on the original plan annual wage growth should be between 5% and 6%.

What we see is that an example of Ivory Tower thinking that reality has a problem and that the theory is sound.  It then leads to this.

This would reinforce the prospect that the
economy moves into significant excess demand over the next 2-3 years, and hence that some further
monetary tightening is likely to be needed to keep inflation in line with the 2% target over time.

Somebody needs to tell the Reserve Bank of India about this excess demand as it has cut interest-rates three times this year and also Australia which cut only last week. Plus Mario Draghi of the ECB who said no twice before the journalist asking him if he would raise interest-rates last week finished his question and then added a third for good measure.

Wage Data

We gain an initial perspective from this. From this morning’s labour market release.

Including bonuses, average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain were estimated to have increased by 3.1%, before adjusting for inflation, and by 1.2%, after adjusting for inflation, compared with a year earlier.

If we start with the economic situation these numbers are welcome and let me explain why. The previous three months had seen total weekly wages go £530 in January, but then £529 in both February and March. So the £3 rise to £532 in April is a welcome return to monthly and indeed quarterly growth. As to the number for real wages it is welcome that we have some real wage growth but sadly the official measure used called CPIH is a poor one via its use of imputed rents which are never paid.

Ivory Tower Troubles

However as we peruse the data we see what Taylor Swift would call “trouble, trouble trouble” for the rhetoric of Michael Saunders. Let us look at his words.

Wage income again is likely to do better than expected.

That has been something of a hardy perennial for the Bank of England in the Forward Guidance era where we have seen wage growth optimism for just under 6 years now. But whilst finally we have arrived in if not sunlit uplands we at least have some real wage growth there is a catch. Let me show you what it is with the latest four numbers for the three monthly total wages average. It has gone 3.5% in January then 3.5%, 3.3% and now 3.1%. Also if we drill into the detail of the April numbers I see that the monthly rise was driven by an £8 rise in weekly public-sector wages to £542 which looks vulnerable to me. Was there a sector which got a big rise?

Thus as you can see on the evidence so far we have slowing wage growth rather than it picking up. That would be consistent with the slowing GDP growth yesterday. So we seem to be requiring something of a “growth fairy” that perhaps only Michael is seeing right now. This is what he thinks it will do to wage growth.

Pay growth has recently
risen to about 3% YoY and the May IR projects a further modest pickup (to about 3.5% in 2020 and 3.75% in 2021). That looks reasonable in my view: if anything, with the high levels of recruitment difficulties, risks may
lie slightly to the upside.

Real Wages

There is a deeper problem here as whilst the recent history has been better the credit crunch era has been a really poor one for UK real ages. Our official statisticians put it like this.

£468 per week in real terms (constant 2015 prices), higher than the estimate for a year earlier (£459 per week), but £5 lower than the pre-recession peak of £473 per week for April 2008.

As you can see even using their favoured ( aka lower) inflation measure real wages are in the red zone still. I noted that they have only given us the regular pay data so I checked the total wages series. There we have seen a fall from the £512 of January 2008 to £496 in April so £16 lower and just in case anyone looks it up I am ignoring the £525 of February 2008 which looks like the equivalent of what musicians call a bum note.

We see therefore that the closed output gap measured via the labour market has left us over a decade later with lower real wages!

Comment

If we view the UK labour market via the lenses of a pair of Bank of England spectacles then there is only one response to the data today.

Between February to April 2018 and February to April 2019: hours worked in the UK increased by 2.4% (to reach 1.05 billion hours) the number of people in employment in the UK increased by 1.1% (to reach 32.75 million).

From already strong numbers we see more growth and this has fed directly into the number they set as a Forward Guidance benchmark.

For February to April 2019, an estimated 1.30 million people were unemployed, 112,000 fewer than a year earlier and 857,000 fewer than five years earlier.

It is hard not to have a wry smile at falls in unemployment like that leading to in net terms the grand sum of one 0.25% Bank Rate rise. Also even a pair of Bank of England spectacles may spot that a 2.4% increase in hours worked suggests labour productivity is falling.

But the Forward Guidance virus is apparently catching as even the absent-minded professor has remembered to join in.

BoE’s Broadbent: If Economy Grows As BoE Forecasts, Interest Rates Will Probably Need To Rise A Bit Faster Than Market Curve Priced In May ( @LiveSquawk )

My conclusion is that we should welcome the better phase for the UK labour market and keep our fingers crossed for more in what look choppy waters. Part of the problem at the Bank of England seems to be that they think it is all about them.

Second, why should growth pick up without any easing in monetary or fiscal policies? ( Michael Saunders)

Of course that may be even more revealing…..