Australia gets ready for QE but claims to reject negative interest-rates

So far the credit crunch era has been relatively kind to Australia. A major factor in this has simply been one of location as its huge natural resources have been a boon and that has been added to by its proximity to a large source of demand. Or putting it another way that is why we have at times given it the label of the South China Territories. However times are now rather different with the headlines being occupied by the subject of the various trade wars and as we have noted along the way this is particularly impacting on the Pacific region. Thus we find that the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia has given a speech this morning on unconventional monetary policy as they too fear that the super massive black hole that was the impact of the credit crunch may be pulling them towards an event horizon.

Why?

If we look at the state of play as claimed by Philip Lowe you may be wondering why this speech is necessary at all?

The central scenario for the Australian economy remains for economic growth to pick up from here, to reach around 3 per cent in 2021. This pick-up in growth should see a reduction in the unemployment rate and a lift in inflation. So we are expecting things to be moving in the right direction, although only gradually.

This is straight out of the central banking playbook where you discuss such moves and then imply they will not be necessary. They think it is a way of deflecting blame and speaking of deflecting blame interest-rate cuts are nothing to do with them either.

low interest rates are not a temporary phenomenon. Rather, they are likely to be with us for some time and are the result of some powerful global factors that are affecting interest rates everywhere

If interest-rates are indeed set by “powerful global factors” then we could trim central banks down to a small staff surely?

Banks

As ever it turns out to be all about “The Precious! The Precious!” for any central banker.

At the moment, though, Australia’s financial markets are operating normally and our financial institutions are able to access funding on reasonable terms. In any given currency, the Australian banks can raise funds at the same price as other similarly rated financial institutions around the world, and markets are not stressed.

You might think that plunging into unconventional economic policy might be driven by the real economy but oh no as you can see there is a different driver. In spite of the effort below to say Australia is different this means that it has learnt nothing and will make the same mistakes.

We are not in the same situation that has been faced in Europe and Japan. Our growth prospects are stronger, our banking system is in much better shape, our demographic profile is better and we have not had a period of deflation. So we are in a much stronger position.

Again this is a central banking standard as they claim “this time is different” and then apply exactly the same policies!

QE it is then

We get various denials which I will come to in a bit but the crux of the matter is below.

My fourth point is that if – and it is important to emphasise the word if – the Reserve Bank were to undertake a program of quantitative easing, we would purchase government bonds, and we would do so in the secondary market.

The explanation of why he would choose this option will certainly be popular with Australia’s politician’s.

The first is the direct price impact of buying government bonds, which lowers their yields. And the second is through market expectations or a signalling effect, with the bond purchases reinforcing the credibility of the Reserve Bank’s commitment to keep the cash rate low for an extended period.

You may note that he has contradicted himself with the second point as he has already told us that low interest-rates are “are likely to be with us for some time”.  He then points out again that he has already acted this year.

It is important to remember that the economy is benefiting from the already low level of interest rates, recent tax cuts, ongoing spending on infrastructure, the upswing in housing prices in some markets and a brighter outlook for the resources sector.

That also gets awkward because having cut interest-rates by 0.75% already this calendar year Governor Lowe is implying we could get to his QE threshold quite quickly.

Our current thinking is that QE becomes an option to be considered at a cash rate of 0.25 per cent, but not before that. At a cash rate of 0.25 per cent, the interest rate paid on surplus balances at the Reserve Bank would already be at zero given the corridor system we operate. So from that perspective, we would, at that point, be dealing with zero interest rates.

Why QE?

Well he is clearly no fan of negative interest-rates.

More broadly, though, having examined the international evidence, it is not clear that the experience with negative interest rates has been a success.

Indeed he may even have read yesterday’s post on here.

Negative interest rates also create problems for pension funds that need to fund long-term liabilities.

Or perhaps he has been a longer-term follower.

In addition, there is evidence that they can encourage households to save more and spend less, especially when people are concerned about the possibility of lower income in retirement. A move to negative interest rates can also damage confidence in the general economic outlook and make people more cautious.

Although this bit is quite a hostage to fortune and may come back to haunt Governor Lowe.

The second observation is that negative interest rates in Australia are extraordinarily unlikely.

Comment

It is hard not to have a wry smile as central bankers catch up with a point I was making about a decade ago.

Given these considerations, it is not surprising that some analysts now talk about the ‘reversal interest rate’ – that is, the interest rate at which lower rates become contractionary, rather than expansionary

I argued it was in the region of 1.5% and Australia is now well below it so it is I think singing along with Coldplay.

Oh no I see
A spider web and it’s me in the middle
So I twist and turn
Here am I in my little bubble

As to why the RBA is preparing the ground for even more monetary action then let me switch to Deputy Governor Debelle who also spoke today. This starts well.

Over much of the past three years, employment has grown at a healthy annual pace of 2½ per cent. This has been faster than we had expected, particularly so, given economic growth was slower than we had expected.

But in a reversal of the Meatloaf dictum that “two out of three aint bad” we get this.

But the unemployment rate has turned out to be very close to what we had expected and has moved sideways around 5¼ per cent for some time now………Then I will look at wages growth and show that the lower average wage outcomes of the past few years have reflected the increased prevalence of wages growth in the 2s across the economy.

The next issue is that does the mere mention of QE operate in the same manner as The Candyman in the film? If so that is at least 2 mentions in Australia so at the most we have 3 to go before it appears.

Finally with a ten-year bond yield already at 1.06% or about 1.5% lower than a year ago, what extra is there to be gained?

 

 

 

 

Australia cuts interest-rates for the third time in five months

This morning has brought news that we were expecting so let me hand you over to the Reserve Bank of Australia or RBA.

At its meeting today, the Board decided to lower the cash rate by 25 basis points to 0.75 per cent.

This means that the RBA has cut three times since the fifth of June. Thus those who travel in a land down under are seeing a central bank in panic mode as it has halved the official interest-rate in this period. It means that they have joined the central bankers headbangers club who rush to slash interest-rates blindly ignoring the fact that those who have already done so are singing along with Coldplay.

Oh no I see
A spider web it’s tangled up with me
And I lost my head
And thought of all the stupid things I said
Oh no what’s this
A spider web and I’m caught in the middle
So I turned to run
The thought of all the stupid things I’ve done.

If we look at the statement we get a reminder of our South China Territories theme.

The US–China trade and technology disputes are affecting international trade flows and investment as businesses scale back spending plans because of the increased uncertainty. At the same time, in most advanced economies, unemployment rates are low and wages growth has picked up, although inflation remains low. In China, the authorities have taken further steps to support the economy, while continuing to address risks in the financial system.

We can cut to the nub of this by looking at what the RBA also released this morning.

Preliminary estimates for September indicate that the index decreased by 2.7 per cent (on a monthly average basis) in SDR terms, after decreasing by 4.6 per cent in August (revised). The non-rural and rural subindices decreased in the month, while the base metals subindex increased. In Australian dollar terms, the index decreased by 3.5 per cent in September.

So the benefit from Australia’s enormous commodity resources has faded although it is still just above the level last year.

Over the past year, the index has increased by 1.8 per cent in SDR terms, led by higher iron ore, gold and beef & veal prices. The index has increased by 5.2 per cent in Australian dollar terms.

Aussie Dollar

The index above makes me think of this and here is a view from DailyFX.

Australian Dollar price action has remained subdued throughout most of 2019 with spot AUDUSD trading slightly above multi-year lows.

As I type this an Aussie Dollar buys 0.67 of a US Dollar which is down by 6.6% over the past year. The trade-weighted index has been in decline also having been 65.1 at the opening of 2018 as opposed to the 58.9 of this morning’s calculation.

So along with the interest-rate cuts we have seen a mild currency depreciation or devaluation. But so far President Trump has not turned his attention to Australia.

Also if we stay with DailyFX I find the statement below simply extraordinary.

 if the central bank continues to favor a firm monetary policy stance since announcing back-to-back rate cuts.

A firm monetary stance?

Back to the RBA Statement

Apparently in case you have not spotted it everybody else is doing it.

Interest rates are very low around the world and further monetary easing is widely expected, as central banks respond to the persistent downside risks to the global economy and subdued inflation.

As central bankers are pack animals ( the idea of going solo wakes them up in a cold sweat) this is very important to them.

Then we got a bit of a “hang on a bit moment” with this.

The Australian economy expanded by 1.4 per cent over the year to the June quarter, which was a weaker-than-expected outcome. A gentle turning point, however, appears to have been reached with economic growth a little higher over the first half of this year than over the second half of 2018.

Now if you believe that things are turning for the better an obvious problem is created. Having cut interest-rates twice in short order why not wait for more of the effect before acting again as the full impact is not reached for 18/24 months and we have barely made four?

Mind you if you look at the opening of the statement and the index of commodity prices you may well be wondering how that fits with this?

a brighter outlook for the resources sector should all support growth.

Indeed the next bit questions why you need three interest-rate cuts in short order as well.

Employment has continued to grow strongly and labour force participation is at a record high.

With that situation this is hardly a surprise as it is only to be expected.

Forward-looking indicators of labour demand indicate that employment growth is likely to slow from its recent fast rate.

The higher participation rate makes this hard to read and analyse.

Taken together, recent outcomes suggest that the Australian economy can sustain lower rates of unemployment and underemployment.

Moving to inflation the RBA seems quite happy.

Inflation pressures remain subdued and this is likely to be the case for some time yet. In both headline and underlying terms, inflation is expected to be a little under 2 per cent over 2020 and a little above 2 per cent over 2021.

It does not seem to bother them much that if wage growth remains weak trying to boost inflation is a bad idea. Also if they look at China there is an issue brewing especially as the Swine Fever outbreak seems to be continuing to spread.

Pork prices have surged more than 70% this year in China due to swine fever, and “people are panicking.”

( Bloomberg)

House Prices

These are always in there and we start with an upbeat message.

There are further signs of a turnaround in established housing markets, especially in Sydney and Melbourne.

Yet the foundations quickly crumble.

In contrast, new dwelling activity has weakened and growth in housing credit remains low. Demand for credit by investors is subdued and credit conditions, especially for small and medium-sized businesses, remain tight.

Comment

A complete capitulation by the RBA is in progress.

It is reasonable to expect that an extended period of low interest rates will be required in Australia to reach full employment and achieve the inflation target. The Board will continue to monitor developments, including in the labour market, and is prepared to ease monetary policy further if needed to support sustainable growth in the economy, full employment and the achievement of the inflation target over time.

They like their other central banking colleagues around the word fear for the consequences so they are getting their retaliation in early.

The Board also took account of the forces leading to the trend to lower interest rates globally and the effects this trend is having on the Australian economy and inflation outcomes.

This is referring to the use of what is called r* or the “natural” rate of interest which of course is anything but. You see in this Ivory Tower fantasy it is r* which is cutting interest-rates and not their votes for cuts. In fact it is nothing at all to do with them really unless by some fluke it works in which case the credit is 100% theirs.

Sweet fantasy (sweet sweet)
In my fantasy
Sweet fantasy
Sweet, sweet fantasy ( Mariah Carey )

 

 

Australia cuts interest-rates to another record low

This morning eyes turned to a land down under to see what the Reserve Bank of Australia would do. It will have been no great surprise to regular readers as this hit the newswires.

At its meeting today, the Board decided to lower the cash rate by 25 basis points to 1.00 per cent. This follows a similar reduction at the Board’s June meeting.

There are a lot of perspectives here but let me start with the point that it is getting ever harder to find any country with any sort of positive interest-rate. Even Australia with an economy cushioned by its enormous commodity resources cannot escape the trend to ever lower interest-rates that looks ever more like this.

Glaciers melting in the dead of night
And the superstars sucked into the super massive
Super massive black hole
Super massive black hole
Super massive black hole ( Muse)

There was a time that Australia was able to stand apart from this trend due to its ability to essentially dig money out of the ground. Actually if we take a look at The West Australian we can see that in fact this continues to boom.

Australia’s commodity exports earned a record $275 billion over the past 12 months, and another record is tipped next year.

Officials are scrambling to adjust their forecasts to account for the unexpected boom, with high iron ore prices driving the strong figures.

So a setback here was not the cause of the double cut in interest-rates and in case you are wondering why Iron Ore prices are booming as the world economy slows it has been caused by this.

The impact of the tailings dam collapse at one of Vale’s iron ore mines in Brazil this year, which led to a sharp fall in Brazilian iron ore exports, looks set to last at least two years.

This means that the situation in this area is not only rosy for Australia but looks set to be so.

It means the seaborne iron ore market is likely to remain tight, and prices elevated, at least until 2021, and Australia is the main beneficiary.

Official forecasts for resource and energy commodity earnings in 2019-20 have now been revised up by $12.9 billion to $285 billion, which would be another record.

What does the RBA say?

As we find so often the statement accompanying the announcement is somewhat contradictory. Let me show with this.

This easing of monetary policy will support employment growth and provide greater confidence that inflation will be consistent with the medium-term target.

But why does employment need supporting when later we are told this?

Employment growth has continued to be strong. Labour force participation is at a record level, the vacancy rate remains high and there are reports of skills shortages in some areas.

But wait there is more.

The strong employment growth over the past year or so has led to a pick-up in wages growth in the private sector, although overall wages growth remains low. A further gradual lift in wages growth is still expected and this would be a welcome development.

Back in the day central banks explained interest-rate increases like this! The situation gets even more bizarre as we note this.

Taken together, these labour market outcomes suggest that the Australian economy can sustain lower rates of unemployment and underemployment.

If we look at the latest data from Australia Statistics we are told this.

Employment increased 28,400 to 12,856,600 persons

It’s chart shows us that this has risen from just over 11.5 million five years ago. Over the same period the unemployment rate has fallen from 5.9% to 5.2%.

Why did they cut then?

On a superficial level there is a case from the inflation target. Here are the inflation numbers from Australia Statistics.

was flat (0.0%) this quarter, compared with a rise of 0.5% in the December quarter 2018……rose 1.3% over the twelve months to the March quarter 2019, compared with a rise of 1.8% over the twelve months to the December quarter 2018.

Except if they push it higher to 2% then as “overall wages growth remains low” they will reduce real wages and make things worse for the ordinary person. Unless of course the wages fairy turns up and we have learnt that he or she has been in rather short supply in the credit crunch era.

However there is this from the RBA.

Conditions in most housing markets remain soft, although there are some tentative signs that prices are now stabilising in Sydney and Melbourne. Growth in housing credit has also stabilised recently.

This is typical central banker speak as we note they invariably avoid any mention of pries falling or declining so we get euphemisms like “soft” and “stabilised”. The subject is obviously too painful for them. If we look at the situation then Australia Statistics gave us some insight on Thursday.

Residential real estate experienced its fifth consecutive quarter of real holding losses.

This has led to this.

The ratio of mortgage debt to residential real estate assets was 29.0, up from 28.1 in the previous quarter, indicating that mortgage debt grew faster than the value of residential real estate owned by households. The rise reflects falling residential property prices rather than strong growth in mortgage debt.

If we switch to the latest house price data then you can see for yourselves about the claimed tentative stabilisation in Sydney and Melbourne.

All capital cities recorded falls in property prices in the March quarter 2019, with the larger property markets of Sydney (-3.9 per cent) and Melbourne (-3.8 per cent) continuing to observe the largest falls……..Through the year growth in property prices fell 10.3 per cent in Sydney and 9.4 per cent in Melbourne. Adelaide (0.8 per cent) and Hobart (4.6 per cent) are the only capital cities recording positive through the year growth.

As to the RBA it will have mixed views on this from the Sydney Morning Herald.

The National Australia Bank, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac will not pass on the full benefit of the latest Reserve Bank interest rate cut to all of their home loan customers.

In response to the Reserve Bank’s move to cut the cash rate from 1.25 per cent to 1 per cent on Tuesday, NAB said it would cut all of its variable home loan interest rates by 0.19 percentage points.

On the one hand not all the easing is flowing into mortgage-rates but on the other thee rest will help “The Precious”.

Comment

There are two main issues here. The first is that as Australia cuts its interest-rates to a record low it is joining a trend and theme which just builds and builds. Perhaps the maddest example of this has popped up this morning.

Italy 2 year yield falls below 0% ( @mhewson_CMC )

So being the South China Territories has bought some time but appears to have only delayed the inevitable. The catch is that if it did any real good the places that preceded Australia on this road to nowhere would have recovered by now, but they just look to cut further. Whereas I would be mulling the response of the ordinary person as highlighted by the Sydney Morning Herald.

“Two months in a row to have a drop like that, it’s just fuelling the uncertainty,” Mr Chapman said.

“It just scares me we’re going down the same road as the global financial crisis, which means chaos. And if I see chaos on the radar, I want to have enough money behind me to see me through.

If other people think that then we see a mechanism which makes things worse and not better. A case I have been making for some years now. However the Governor feels the need to hint at even more.

Given the circumstances, the Board is prepared to adjust interest rates again if needed.

Odd that as in the speech he has just given in Darwin you could think that the economy is in fact going rather well.

Second, Australia’s terms of trade have risen again, largely due to higher iron ore prices. Investment in the resources sector is also expected to increase over the next few years…..Third, the exchange rate has depreciated over the past couple of years and, on a trade-weighted basis, is at the bottom end of its range of recent times…..And fourth, we are expecting stronger growth in household disposable income over the next couple of years,

The next issue is one of timing as we were on the case last September 4th.

So there has been a clear credit crunch down under which of course is related to the housing market changes. This is further reinforced by the narrower measure M1 which has stagnated so far in 2018. Much more of that and the RBA could either cut interest-rates further or introduce some credit easing of the Funding for Lending Scheme style.

So what have they been doing for the last ten months? This is even worse when we remind ourselves that monetary policy is supposed to lead not lag events. As we see so often they seem to have leapt from complacency to panic.

Looking Ahead

As it happens the situation with M1 growth is the same one of stagnation or around 0.1% higher than a year ago. Thus I doubt this rate cut is the last and still think a Funding for Lending Scheme or something similar is on its way.

 

 

 

 

The Australian house price crash of 2019 looks set to worsen

A feature of the credit crunch era has been policies which have been favourable for the housing market and house prices in particular. Central banks first cut official short-term interest-rates and then followed it up with Quantitative Easing and credit easing all of which reduced mortgage rates. As well as this the flows of liquidity created for the already wealthy by QE led to investment in property in the world’s capitals and major cities by foreigners. If we move to a land down under to my topic of the day this was added to by the resources boom which added to house prices in Western Australia and Perth in particular. From a central bankers point of view this was scene as a  type of paradise with higher house prices causing wealth effects and also boosting the asset holdings of banks via their mortgage book.

However the situation is seeing what David Bowie would call ch-ch-changes and perhaps a sleepless night or two at the Reserve Bank of Australia. Indeed it treated us to a full paragraph on the subject in last weeks monetary policy decision.

The adjustment in established housing markets is continuing, after the earlier large run-up in prices in some cities. Conditions remain soft and rent inflation remains low. Credit conditions for some borrowers have tightened over the past year or so. At the same time, the demand for credit by investors in the housing market has slowed noticeably as the dynamics of the housing market have changed. Growth in credit extended to owner-occupiers has eased over the past year. Mortgage rates remain low and there is strong competition for borrowers of high credit quality.

If you previously were unsure about the house price rise then central bankers calling it “large” settles it. They will be ruing the fact that this is taking place with mortgage rates being low but there is a clear hint that there is much less competition now for borrowers of lower credit quality.

Today’s News

Australia Statistics gave us an update about mortgage credit earlier.

“There were large falls in the value of lending for owner occupier dwellings in seasonally adjusted terms in both New South Wales (-5.7 per cent) and Queensland (-5.3 per cent) in March, after rises in both states the previous month” he said.

Nationally, lending for investment dwellings also contracted further in March, with the series down 25.9 per cent (seasonally adjusted) compared to March 2018. The level of new lending for investment dwellings is at its lowest level since March 2011.

The release picks out areas particularly hit in March but if we step back we see that over the past year it has been a general case of “ice,ice,ice, baby”. On a seasonally adjusted basis new mortgage lending at 16.9 billion Aussie Dollars was some 18.4% lower than a year ago.

This has helped pull down the overall level of credit.

The value of lending commitments to households fell 3.7% in seasonally adjusted terms. This follows a 2.2% rise in February 2019.

Overall the new trend of declining numbers began towards the end of 2017 and was 10.5% lower in March than a year before.

First-Time Buyers

Actually in lending terms at least they seem to be less affected by the  drop in credit as you can see below.

The number of lending commitments made to owner occupier first home buyers recorded a relatively small fall (down 0.5%) compared to the fall in the number of lending commitments made to non-first home buyers (down 3.3%) in March, seasonally adjusted.

However we are in an election campaign and something that will be awfully familiar to UK readers in particular hit the headlines yesterday. From the Sydney Morning Herald.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will intensify warnings of a hit to property prices from a Labor election victory, after launching a $500 million scheme to help people buy their first home – a policy swiftly copied by Labor.

Ah “help” to buy which usually means help to take on even more debt. Let us look further at the details.

The centrepiece of the Coalition campaign launch, called the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme, would be available from January 1 for those who have saved at least 5 per cent of the value of the home.

The government would put $500 million into the existing National Housing and Investment Corporation to guarantee a portion of the home loans for single applicants earning up to $125,000 or couples with combined incomes of $200,000.

In essence the Australian government would top up such a deposit  to 20% of the purchase price, and here is an idea of the scale of it.

This means it would only be available to about one in every 10 of the 100,000 first-home buyers who take out loans each year.

It is no great surprise that this quickly became bipartisan policy. However the “help” element is really for the banks and their loan books who get a subsidy from the taxpayer. So the government listens to their song.

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
And I do appreciate you being ’round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won’t you please, please help me, help me, help me, ooh?

The first-time buyer may well get a home but at the price of lots of debt and another line in John Lennon’s famous song.

My independence seems to vanish in the haze

House Prices

What we have looked at so far concerns future house price trends so let us bring ourselves up to date on current ones.

The national property market is enduring its biggest fall in values since the global financial crisis, being led down by double-digit drops in Sydney and Melbourne.

New analysis by CoreLogic shows house values in Sydney dropped 0.8 per cent in April to be down by 11.8 per cent over the past 12 months. The situation is worse in Melbourne where values fell by 0.7 per cent last month to be down 12.6 per cent over the past year…….

National dwelling values were down by 0.5 per cent in the month to be down by 7.2 per cent on an annual basis, the largest drop since the 12 months to February 2009.

That is the sort of thing that sends a chill down the spine of any central banker.

Comment

So far we have looked at the credit impulse in Australia and we can learn more by looking at broader economic data. For example narrow money supply measures have proven to be a good indicator of future economic activity. On April 2nd I pointed out this.

If we switch to the seasonally adjusted series we see that growth faded and went such that the recent peak last August of Aussie $ 357.1 billion was replaced by Aussie $356.1 billion in February so we are seeing actual falls on both nominal and real terms

We can now update with a March figure of Aussie $357.5 billion but even it only represents an annual growth rate of 0.3% so we can see that the RBA lacks monetarists as they would have voted for an interest-rate cut last week.

There is also the international issue of the trade war and its impact on what we sometimes call the South China Territories. This morning’s signal is the way that the offshore version of the Yuan/Renminbi has fallen through 6.9 to the US Dollar as we wonder about the impact on imports of commodities and resources from the SCT.

Thus the outlook for house prices is for status quo.

Get down deeper and down
Down down deeper and down
Down down deeper and down
Get down deeper and down

Podcast

I am pleased to report that my weekly podcast is now available on both I-Tunes and @playerFM ( Android).

 

Both money supply growth and house prices look weak in Australia

The morning brought us news from what has been called a land down under. It has also been described as the South China Territories due to the symbiotic relationship between its commodity resources and its largest customer. So let us go straight to the Reserve Bank of Australia or RBA.

At its meeting today, the Board decided to leave the cash rate unchanged at 1.50 per cent.

At a time of low and negative interest-rates that feels high for what is considered a first world country but in fact the RBA is at a record low. The only difference between it and the general pattern was that due to the commodity price boom that followed the initial impact of the credit crunch it raised interest-rates to 4.75%, but then rejoined the trend. That brought us to August 2016 since when it has indulged in what Sir Humphrey Appleby would call masterly inaction.

Mortgage Rates

However central bankers are not always masters of all they survey as there are market factors at play. Here is Your Mortage Dot Com of Australia from yesterday.

The race to raise interest rates is on as two more major lenders announced interest rate hikes of up to 40 basis points across mortgage products.

According to an Australian Financial Review report, Suncorp and Adelaide Bank have raised variable rates of investor and owner-occupied mortgage products to compensate for increasing capital costs.

Adelaide Bank is hiking rates for eight of its products covering principal and interest and interest-only owner-occupied and investor loans.

Starting 07 September, the rate for principal and interest mortgage products will increase by 12 basis points. On the other hand, interest-only mortgage products will bear 35-40 basis points higher interest rates.

 

This follows Westpac who announced this last week.

The bank announced that its variable standard home-loan rate for owner occupiers will increase 14 basis points to 5.38% after “a sustained increase in wholesale funding costs.”

A rate of 5.38% may make Aussie borrowers feel a bit cheated by the phrase zero interest-rate policy or ZIRP. However a fair bit of that is the familiar tendency for standard variable rate mortgages to be expensive or if you prefer a rip-off to catch those unable to remortgage. Your Mortgage suggests that the best mortgage rates are in fact 3.6% to 3.7%.

Returning to the mortgage rate increases I note that they are driven by bank funding costs.

This means the gap between the cash rate and the BBSW (bank bill swap rate) is likely to remain elevated.

That raises a wry smile as when this happened in my home country the Bank of England responded with the Funding for Lending Scheme to bring them down. So should this situation persist we will see if the RBA is a diligent student. Also I note that one of the banks is raising mortgage rates by more for those with interest-only mortgages.

Interest Only Mortgages

Back in February Michele Bullock of the RBA told us this.

Furthermore, the increasing popularity of interest-only loans over recent years meant that by early 2017, 40 per cent of the debt did not require principal repayments . A particularly large share of property investors has chosen interest-only loans because of the tax incentives, although some owner-occupiers have also not been paying down principal.

So Australia ignored the view that non-repayment mortgages were to be consigned to the past and in fact headed in the other direction until recently. Should this lead to trouble then there will be clear economic impacts as we note this.

As investors purchase more new dwellings than owner-occupiers, they might also exacerbate the housing construction cycle, making it prone to periods of oversupply and having a knock on effect to developers.

In central banking terms that “oversupply” of course is code for house price falls which is like kryptonite to them. Indeed the quote below is classic central banker speak.

 For example, since it is not their home, investors might be more inclined to sell investment properties in an environment of falling house prices in order to minimise capital losses. This might exacerbate the fall in prices, impacting the housing wealth of all home owners.

What does the RBA think about the housing market?

Let us break down the references in this morning’s statement.

Conditions in the Sydney and Melbourne housing markets have continued to ease and nationwide measures of rent inflation remain low. Housing credit growth has declined to an annual rate of 5½ per cent. This is largely due to reduced demand by investors as the dynamics of the housing market have changed. Lending standards are also tighter than they were a few years ago, partly reflecting APRA’s earlier supervisory measures to help contain the build-up of risk in household balance sheets. There is competition for borrowers of high credit quality.

Sadly we only have official data for the first quarter of the year but it makes me wonder why Sydney and Melbourne were picked out.

The capital city residential property price indexes fell in Sydney (-1.2%), Melbourne (-0.6%), Perth (-0.9%), Brisbane (-0.6%) and Darwin (-1.1%) and rose in Hobart (+4.3%), Adelaide (+0.5%) and Canberra (+0.9%).

You could pick out Sydney on its own as it saw an annual fall, albeit one of only 0.5%. Perhaps the wealth effects are already on the RBA’s mind.

The total value of residential dwellings in Australia was $6,913,636.6m at the end of the March quarter 2018, falling $22,498.3m over the quarter. ( usual disclaimer about using marginal prices for a total value)

As to housing credit growth if 5 1/2% is low then there has plainly been a bit of a party. One way of measuring this was looked at by Business Insider back in January.

The ABS and RBA now estimate total Household Debt to Disposable Income at 199.7%, up 3% on previous estimates,

The confirmation that there has been something of a party in mortgage lending, with all the familiar consequences, comes from the section explaining the punch bowl has been taken away! Lastly telling us there is competition for higher credit quality mortgages tells us that there is not anymore for lower quality credit.

Comment

If we look for unofficial data, yesterday brought us some house price news from Business Insider.

Australian home prices fell for an eleventh consecutive month in August, led by declines in a majority of capital cities.

According to CoreLogic’s Hedonic Home Value Index, Australia’s median home price fell 0.3%, adding to a 0.6% drop recorded previously in July.

That took the decline over the past three months to 1.1%, leaving the decline over the past year at 2%.

That is not actually a lot especially if we factor in the price rises which shows how sensitive this subject is especially to central bankers. If we look at the median values we perhaps see why the RBA singled out Sydney ( $855,000) and Melbourne ($703,000) or maybe they were influenced by dinner parties with their contacts.

This trend towards weaker premium housing market conditions is largely attributable to larger falls across Sydney and Melbourne’s most expensive quarter of properties where values are down 8.1% and 5.2% over the past twelve months.

Another issue to throw into the equation is the money supply because for four years broad money growth averaged over 6% and was fairly regularly over 7%. That ended last December when it fell to 4.6% and for the last two months it has been 1.9%. So there has been a clear credit crunch down under which of course is related to the housing market changes. This is further reinforced by the narrower measure M1 which has stagnated so far in 2018.

Much more of that and the RBA could either cut interest-rates further or introduce some credit easing of the Funding for Lending Scheme style. Would that mean one more rally for the housing market against the consensus? Well it did in the UK as we move into watch this space territory.

Also this slow down in broad money growth we have been observing is getting ever more wide-spread,

 

 

Rising inflation trends are putting a squeeze on central banks

Sometimes events have their own natural flow and after noting yesterday that the winds of change in UK inflation are reversing we have been reminded twice already today that the heat is on. First from a land down under where inflation expectations have done this according to Trading Economics.

Inflation Expectations in Australia increased to 4.20 percent in June from 3.70 percent in May of 2018.

This is significant in several respects. Firstly the message is expect higher inflation and if we look at the Reserve Bank of Australia this is the highest number in the series ( since March 2013). Next  if we stay with the RBA it poses clear questions as inflation at 1.9% is below target ( 2.5%) but f these expectations are any guide then an interest-rate of 1.5% seems well behind the curve.

Indeed the RBA is between a rock and a hard place as we observe this from Reuters.

Australia’s central bank governor said on Wednesday the current slowdown in the housing market isn’t a cause for concern but flagged the need for policy to remain at record lows for the foreseeable future with wage growth and inflation still weak.

Home prices across Australia’s major cities have fallen for successive months since late last year as tighter lending standards at banks cooled demand in Sydney and Melbourne – the two biggest markets.

You know something is bad when we are told it is not a concern!

If we move to much cooler Sweden I note this from its statistics authority.

The inflation rate according to the CPI with a fixed interest rate (CPIF) was 2.1 percent in May 2018, up from 1.9 percent in April 2018. The CPIF increased by 0.3 percent from April to May.

So Mission Accomplished!

The Riksbank’s target is to hold inflation in terms of the CPIF around 2 per cent a year.

Yet we find that having hit it and via higher oil prices the pressure being upwards it is doing this.

The Executive Board has therefore decided to hold the repo rate unchanged at −0.50 per cent and assesses that the rate will begin to be raised towards the end of the year, which is somewhat later than previously forecast.

Care is needed here as you see the Riksbank has been forecasting an interest-rate rise for some years now but like the Unreliable Boyfriend somehow it keeps forgetting to actually do it.

I keep forgettin’ things will never be the same again
I keep forgettin’ how you made that so clear
I keep forgettin’ ( Michael McDonald )

Anyway it is a case of watch this space as even they have real food for thought right now as they face the situation below with negative interest-rates.

Economic activity in Sweden is still strong and inflation has been close to the target for the past year.

US Inflation

The situation here is part of an increasingly familiar trend.

The all items index rose 2.8 percent for the 12 months ending May, continuing its upward trend since the beginning of the year. The index for all items less food and
energy rose 2.2 percent for the 12 months ending May. The food index increased 1.2 percent, and the energy index rose 11.7 percent.

This was repeated at an earlier stage in the inflation cycle as we found out yesterday.

On an unadjusted basis, the final demand index moved up
3.1 percent for the 12 months ended in May, the largest 12-month increase since climbing 3.1 percent in January 2012.

In May, 60 percent of the rise in the index for final demand is attributable to a 1.0-percent advance in prices for final demand goods.

A little care is needed as the US Federal Reserve targets inflation based on PCE or Personal Consumption Expenditures which you may not be surprised to read is usually lower ( circa 0.4%) than CPI. We do not know what it was for May yet but using my rule of thumb it will be on its way from the 2% in April to maybe 2.4%.

What does the Federal Reserve make of this?

Well this best from yesterday evening is clear.

In view of realized and expected labor market conditions and inflation, the Committee decided to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 1-3/4 to 2 percent. The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative, thereby supporting strong labor market conditions and a sustained return to 2 percent inflation.

If we start with that let me give you a different definition of accommodative which is an interest-rate below the expected inflation rate. Of course that is off the scale in Sweden and perhaps Australia. Next we see a reference to “strong labo(u)r market conditions” which only adds to this. Putting it another way “strong” replaced “moderate” as its view on economic activity.

This is how the New York Times viewed matters.

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates on Wednesday and signaled that two additional increases were on the way this year, as officials expressed confidence that the United States economy was strong enough for borrowing costs to rise without choking off economic growth.

Care is needed about borrowing costs as bond yields ignored the move but of course some may pay more. Also we have seen a sort of lost decade in interest-rate terms.

The last time the rate topped 2 percent was in late summer 2008, when the economy was contracting and the Fed was cutting rates toward zero, where they would remain for years after the financial crisis.

Yet there is a clear gap between rhetoric and reality on one area at least as here is the Fed Chair.

The decision you see today is another sign that the U.S. economy is in great shape,” Mr. Powell said after the Fed’s two-day policy meeting. “Most people who want to find jobs are finding them.”

Yet I note this too.

At a comparable time of low unemployment, in 2000, “wages were growing at near 4 percent year over year and the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation was 2.5 percent,” both above today’s levels, Tara Sinclair, a senior fellow at the Indeed Hiring Lab, said in a research note.

So inflation is either there or near but can anyone realistically say that about wages?

Mr. Powell played down concerns about slow wage growth, acknowledging it is “a bit of a puzzle” but suggesting that it would normalize as the economy continued to strengthen.

What is normal now please Mr.Powell?

Comment

One of my earliest themes was that central banks would struggle when it comes to reducing all the stimulus because they would be terrified if it caused a slow down. A bit like the ECB moved around 2011 then did a U-Turn. What I did not know then was that the scale of their operations would increase dramatically exacerbating the problem. To be fair to the US Federal Reserve it is attempting the move albeit it would be better to take larger earlier steps in my opinion as opposed to this drip-feed of minor ones.

In some ways the US Federal Reserve is the worlds central bank ( via the role of the US Dollar as the reserve currency) and takes the world with it. But there have been changes here as for example the Bank of England used to move in concert with it in terms of trends if not exact amounts. But these days the Unreliable Boyfriend who is Governor of the Bank of England thinks he knows better than that and continues to dangle future rises like a carrot in front of the reality of a 0.5% Bank Rate.

This afternoon will maybe tell us a little more about Euro area monetary policy. Mario Draghi and the ECB have given Forward Guidance about the end of monthly QE via various hints. But that now faces the reality of a Euro area fading of economic growth. So Mario may be yet another central bank Governor who cannot wait for his term of office to end.

 

 

Australia faces its own house price bubble demons

Today a several themes of this website have found themselves entwined. More evidence has emerged of yet another house price bubble and it has happened in one of the teams playing at the Rugby World Cup. So it is time for one of my occasional visits to here.

I come from a land down under
Where beer does flow and men chunder
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder
You better run, you better take cover.

What the Men At Work need to take cover from is what is looking like a bubbilicious property market especially in another familiar feature of these times in its capital city of Sydney, or as I have just made a mistake its perceived capital city. There the market looks red-hot almost as if we are singing along with Midnight Oil.

How do we sleep while our beds are burning?

No doubt others are mulling this lyric from the same song.

The time has come
To say fair’s fair
To pay the rent
To pay our share

The Numbers

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has released its property price indices this morning so let’s get straight to it.

The price index for residential properties for the weighted average of the eight capital cities rose 4.7% in the June quarter 2015.

They mean state capitals here and that looks a fair pace and I think even faster than that of Sweden. If we look into the detail we see that there are both pronounced hotspots and cold spots.

The capital city residential property price indexes rose in Sydney (+8.9%), Melbourne (+4.2%), Brisbane (+0.9%), Adelaide (+0.5%) and Canberra (+0.8%), was flat in Hobart (0.0%) and fell in Perth (-0.9%) and Darwin (-0.8%).

So we get the idea that Sydney is surging and Perth in particular falling. As Perth is the capital city of Western Australia where so much of the resources and commodity producing industry is located if there is a surprise here it is that it has not fallen faster. After all 2015 has been a hard year for that industry.

For some more perspective let us move to an annual comparison.

The index rose 9.8% through the year to the June quarter 2015.

So again all rather Swedish and the breakdown is shown below.

Annually, residential property prices rose in Sydney (+18.9%), Melbourne (+7.8%), Brisbane (+2.9%), Canberra (+2.8%), Adelaide (+2.7%) and Hobart (+1.5%) and fell in Darwin (-1.8%) and Perth (-1.2%).

If you want to know what this means in terms of actual prices then the numbers are below.

The mean price of residential dwellings rose $26,200 to $604,700 and the number of residential dwellings rose by 38,400 to 9,528,300 in the June quarter 2015.

The next part has a dubious element as you are using marginal prices for some of the stock to value the whole stock but here it is.

The total value of residential dwellings in Australia was $5,761,607.2m at the end of June quarter 2015, rising $271,939.1m over the quarter.

What is official policy?

Last week the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) released its latest Minutes which told us this.

They also noted that conditions in the housing market overall had remained strong and that housing price inflation nationally had risen since the beginning of the year……In particular, the strength in housing price inflation had been concentrated in Sydney and Melbourne, mainly for detached houses

There was an implicit rather than an explicit acknowledgement of the RBA’s role in this.

Members noted that very low interest rates would continue to support growth in dwelling investment and household consumption.

Also it was keen to start a campaign to shift the blame elsewhere.

The Bank was continuing to work with other regulators to assess and contain risks that may arise from the housing market.

The RBA has been cutting its official interest-rate since late 2011 when it was 4.75% and it has cut twice already in 2015 leaving it at 2%. The ten-year bond yield has fallen from 5.6% in early 2011 to 2.76% now and we know from our observations elsewhere what that will have done to the price of mortgage lending.

Actually the Sydney Morning Herald has helped us out today.

The most competitive rate offered by small lenders Credit Union SA and Community First Credit Union-owned Easy Street had fallen by more than 1 percentage point in the last year, with both offering loans at 3.99 per cent, while online bank ING Direct was also offering rates of 3.99 per cent, Mozo said.

It is wealth gains

The RBA has also engaged in the usual central banking practice of claiming the house price gains as a wealth increase or effect. If we move on again from the dubious system of using a marginal price for an average value we see that it has published a paper telling us this.

The preferred estimate suggests that a 1  per cent increase in housing wealth is associated with a one-half per cent increase in new vehicle registrations.

So these clever central bankers have pumped up house prices and the economy gains. How clever! To be fair it thinks that the effect is less than half that for other areas but again we are left with the impression that house price gains add to wealth and there appears to be no mention of inflation.

Oh I hope that they did not buy Volkswagens with their new found “wealth”. Or even worse Volkswagen shares.

Some Deeper Perspective

Another RBA paper has looked at longer-term trends.

In real terms, housing price inflation during the 1980s was relatively low, at 1.4 per cent per annum compared with 4.5 per cent during the period from 1990 to the mid 2000s, and 2.5 per cent over the past decade.

So the present gains are on top of past ones.

Who is driving this?

I asked the question on Twitter and received the following replies.

@econhedge it’s all China. they are snapping up 20-23% of new supply in NSW and Victoria

@fundamentalmac Yes the Chinese

The Daily Reckoning put an interesting perspective on it.

Not only is Sydney priced OK for China’s rich, it has a thing that’s pretty rare in the big cities of China these days: blue sky.

From a Chinese perspective house prices in Sydney may not have changed much as you see some 5.45 Yuan were needed a year ago to buy an Aussie Dollar whereas now we can rearrange those two numbers to 4.54. Those who read my update covering the Auckland property market in New Zealand on the 10 th of this month may be experiencing some deja vu here.

Comment

There is much to consider in the combination of a cooling economy and a housing market exhibiting bubbles. It can lead to media confusion with the Sydney Morning Herald telling us these two things today.

Sydney property prices faltering…………Prices in Sydney grew at 8.9 per cent in the quarter, to give 18.9 per cent over the year.

Up truly is the new down or something like that. Time for some Kylie.

I’m spinning around
Move out of my way

We are in fact seeing three factors combine. Firstly the boom and more recently bust in the Australian commodity and resource sector where the boom went national but the bust is so far regional. Secondly the easy monetary policy of the RBA. Thirdly the desire of the Chinese to purchase property in what they consider to be a safe-haven be that a political,economic or environmental one. In a way they are all combined as we see the Aussie Dollar fall.

Meanwhile we are promised that the modern cure-all will fix this as macroprudential policies are applied. That will only convince those with little or no knowledge of economic history. Meanwhile for the Australian economy the house price bubbles in Sydney and Melbourne are summed up for us by INXS.

Makes you wonder how the other half live

The devil inside
The devil inside