A solid day for the UK economy or another trade disaster?

Today has opened with some positive news for the UK economy. The opening salvo was fired just after midnight by the British Retail Consortium.

In September, UK retail sales increased by 1.9% on a like-for-like basis from September 2016, when they had increased 0.4% from the preceding year……..On a total basis, sales rose 2.3% in September, against a growth of 1.3% in September 2016. This is above the 3-month and 12-month averages of 2.1% and 1.7% respectively.

So we have had 2 months now of better news on this indicator although it is a far from perfect guide to the official data series mostly because it combines both volumes and prices as hinted below.

September saw a second consecutive month of relatively good sales growth which should indicate welcome news for retailers and the economy alike. Looking beneath the surface though, we see that much of this growth is being driven by price increases filtering through, particularly in food and clothing, which were the highest performing product categories for the month.

Anyway for all the talk of price increases if you look at the figures they cannot have been that high and we have also got a small bit of good news on that front. From the BBC.

Car insurance premiums have dipped for the first time in more than three years, but the respite for drivers will be short-lived, analysis suggests.

Prices fell by 1%, or £9, in the third quarter of the year compared with the previous three months, according to price comparison website Confused.com.

Tourism

The lower value of the UK Pound £ seems to have given the UK economy something of a boost as well.

Tourism is booming in the UK with nearly 40 million overseas people expected to have visited the country during 2017 – a record figure.

Tourist promotion agency VisitBritain forecasts overseas trips to the UK will increase 6% to 39.7 million with spending up 14% to £25.7bn this year.

Also we seem to be holidaying more at home ourselves.

Britons are also holidaying at home in record numbers.

British Tourist Authority chairman Steve Ridgway said tourism was worth £127bn annually to the economy……From January to June this year, domestic overnight holidays in England rose 7% to a record 20.4 million with visitors spending £4.6bn – a rise of 17% and another record.

Over time this should give a boost to the UK trade figures which feel like they have been in deficit since time began! Especially if numbers like the one below continue.

Spending on UK debit cards overseas was down nearly 13% in August compared with the same month in 2016.

Production

If we move to this morning’s official data series we see that production is in fact positive.

In August 2017, total production was estimated to have increased by 0.2% compared with July 2017………In the three months to August 2017, the Index of Production was estimated to have increased by 0.9%……Total production output for August 2017 compared with August 2016 increased by 1.6%.

It is being held back by North Sea Oil & Gas output.

The fall of 2.0% in mining and quarrying was due mainly to oil and gas extraction, which fell by 2.1%. This was largely due to maintenance during August 2017.

The maintenance season is complex is we had a good June followed by weaker months so we do not know if this is part of the long-term decline in the area or simply the ebb and flow of the summer maintenance schedule.

Tucked away in the revisions was some good news as new data sources raised the index for the second quarter of 2017 from 101.6 to 102.1. We also saw a continuing of the trend towards services as production’s weighting in the UK economy fell from 14.65% to 13.95% or another example of the trend is your friend.

Manufacturing

This was the bright spot in the production data set with it rising by 0.4% on a monthly basis and by the amount below on an annual one.

with manufacturing providing the largest upward contribution, increasing by 2.8%

We actually beat France (2.7%) on a year on year and monthly basis which poses food for thought for the surveys telling us it was doing “far,far better ” as David Byrne would say. A driver of this is shown below and the numbers are on a three-monthly basis.

other manufacturing and repair provided the largest contribution, rising by 3.8%, due mainly to an increase of 13.1% in repair and maintenance of aircraft and spacecraft.

We are repairing spacecraft, who knew? If we look at the pattern we see that the official data seems to be catching up with what had previously been much more optimistic survey data from the CBI and the Markit business surveys.

Here is the overall credit crunch era situation which is now a little better than we thought before due to revisions and the recent manufacturing growth.

both production and manufacturing output have risen but remain below their level reached in the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008, by 6.9% and 3.0% respectively in the three months to August 2017.

Construction

There were even some better numbers from this sector.

Construction output grew 0.6% month-on-month in August 2017, predominantly driven by a 1.7% rise in all new work……Compared with August 2016, construction output grew 3.5%

However I have warned time and time again about this data set and tucked away in the detail was a clear vindication of my scepticism.

The annual growth rate for 2016 has been revised from 2.4% to 3.8% and the leading contribution to this increase is infrastructure, which itself has been revised from negative 9.2% to negative 3.2%.

The ch-ch-changes are far too high for this series to be taken that seriously and this is far from the first time that this has happened.

Trade

This invariably brings bad news as here we go again.

Between the three months to May 2017 and the three months to August 2017, the total UK trade (goods and services) excluding erratic commodities deficit widened by £2.9 billion to £10.8 billion.

The bit that has me bothered about this series apart from its “not a national statistic” basis is this when we have reports from elsewhere that exporting is doing well as we have seen earlier today from the manufacturing and tourism news.

total trade (goods and services) exports decreased by 1.4% (£2.1 billion) ( in the latest 3 months).

Also it is hard to have much faith in primary income and investment position data which has been revised enormously especially in the latter case. I know we have got used to large numbers but a change of £500 billion?

The trade figures themselves have been less affected but surely the tuition fees change was known and should have been anticipated?

The biggest revision is in 2012 (£4.0 billion), with the inclusion of tuition fees having the greatest impact, followed by the inclusion of drugs data into the estimates of illegal activities.

Comment

Let us start with the good news which is that the data in the last 24 hours for the UK economy has been broadly positive. This is especially true if we compare it with the REM style “end of the world as we know it” which manifests itself in so much of the media. Also it is good that the UK Office for National Statistics has a policy of reviewing and trying to improve its data.

The bad news is that some of the large revisions lately bring into question the whole procedure. I mentioned last week the large upwards revision in UK savings which changed the picture substantially there which was followed by unit on labour costs being estimated as growing annually by 1.6% and then 2.4%. We now look at the construction sector which has given good news today and the balance of payments bad news. Both however have seen such large revisions that the true picture could be very different.

It is hard to believe that even those in the highest Ivory Towers could have any faith in nominal GDP targeting after the revisions but it pops up with regularity.

 

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The pensions dilemma for millennials and UK Retail Sales

The credit crunch era has been essentially one where central banks have tried to borrow spending and resources from the future. In essence this is a Keynesian idea although their actual methods have had Friedmanite style themes. We were supposed to recover economically meaning that the future would be bright and we would not even notice that poor battered can on the side of the road as we cruised past it. Some measures have achieved this.

Indeed some central banks are involved in directly buying stock markets as these quotes from the Bank of Japan this morning indicate.

BOJ’s Kuroda: ETF buys are aimed at risk premiums, not stock prices. Overall ETF holdnig small proportion of overall equity ( DailyFX).

Some think it has had an impact.

Nikkei avg receiving an agg boost of c.1,700 points after curr ETF policy was adopted. The Nikkei average added 2,150 points in fiscal 2016 ( @moved_average )

Such moves were supposed to bring wealth effects and in a link to the retail sales numbers higher consumption. This would be added to by the surge in bond markets which is the flip side of the low and in many cases negative yields we have and indeed still are seeing. This is why central bankers follow financial markets these days so that they can keep in touch with something they claim is a strong economic boost. In reality it is one of the few things they can point to that have been affected and on that list we can add in house prices.

Millennials

I am using that word broadly to consider younger people in general and they have much to mull. After all they are unlikely to own a house – unless the bank of mum and dad is in play – so do not benefit here. In fact the situation is exactly the reverse as prices must look even more unaffordable of which one sign this week has been the news that more mortgages are now of a 35 year term as opposed to 25 years.

They also face a rather troubling picture on the pension front. From the Financial Times.

 

People entering the workforce today face a “monumental savings challenge”, the International Longevity Centre-UK said in a report published on Thursday. According to the report, young workers in the UK will need to put away 18 per cent of their earnings each year in order to have an “adequate retirement income” — a higher proportion of their earnings than their counterparts in any other OECD country. Adequate retirement income is defined as around two-thirds of a person’s average pre-retirement salary.

To my mind the shock is not in the number which is not far off what it has always been. Rather it comes from finding that after student loan repayments and perhaps saving for a house which comes after feeding yourself, getting some shelter ( rent presumably) and so on. Of course some will feel that their taxes are financing the triple-lock for the basic state pension which is something which for them is getting ever further away. From the BBC.

UK state pension age increase from 67 to 68 to be brought forward by seven years to 2037, government says.

There were two clear issues with this. The first is the irony that this came out as the same time as a report suggested that gains in lifespan are fading. The other is the theme of a good day to bury bad news as the summer lull and the revelations about BBC pay combined.

Oh and tucked away in the Financial Times report was something that will require a “look away now” for central bankers.

A combination of low investment returns

You see those owning equities and government bonds have had a party but where are the potential future gains for the young in buying stock and bond markets at all time highs?

UK Retail Sales

This has not been one of the areas which has disappointed in the credit crunch era. If we look at today’s release we see that in 2010.11 and 12 not much happened as they were 98-99% of 2013’s numbers. Then something of a lift-off occurred as they went 104% (2014), 108.5% (2015), and 113.8% (2016). This fits neatly with my views on the Bank of England Funding for Lending Scheme as we see that a boost to the housing market and house prices yet again feeds into consumer demand. Actually to my mind that overplays the economic effect of FLS as it may have provided a kick-start but the low inflation levels as 2015 moved into 2016 provided the main boost via higher real wages in my opinion.

What happened next?

The first quarter of 2017 saw the weakest period for UK retail sales for a while with several drivers. One was the nudge higher in inflation provided by the lower value for the UK Pound £. Another was that the numbers could not keep rising like they were forever! Let us now look at today’s release.

In the 3 months to June 2017, the quantity bought (volume) in the retail industry is estimated to have increased by 1.5%, with increases seen across all store types…….Compared with May 2017, the quantity bought increased by 0.6%, with non-food stores providing the main contribution.

As to what caused this well as summer last time I checked happens every year it seems the weather has been looked at favourably for once.

Feedback from retailers suggests that warmer weather in addition to the introduction of summer clothing helped boost clothing sales.

If you recall last autumn we got a boost from ladies and women purchasing more clothes, is their demand inexhaustible and do we own them another vote of thanks?

Also I note that better numbers have yet again coincided with weaker inflation data.

Average store prices (including petrol stations) increased by 2.7% on the year following a rise of 3.2% in May 2017; the fall is a consequence of slowing fuel prices.

Or to be more specific less high inflation.

Comment

If we look at the retail sales data we have Dr. Who style returned to the end of 2016.

The growth for Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2017 follows a decline of 1.4% in Quarter 1 (Jan Mar) 2017, meaning we are broadly at the same level as at the start of 2017.

Unlike many other sectors it has seen a recovery and growth in the credit crunch era. In addition to the factors already discussed no doubt the rise in unsecured credit has also been at play. For the moment we see that it will provide a boost to the GDP numbers in the second quarter as opposed to a contraction in the first.

But there are issues here as we look ahead. With economic growth being slow we look for any sort of silver lining. But of course the UK’s reliance on consumption comes with various kickers such as reliance on an ever more affordable housing market and poor balance of payments figures.

Also from the perspective of millennials there is the question of what they will be able to consume with all the burdens bearing down on them? Mankind has seen plenty of period where economic growth has stagnated as for example the Dark Ages were not only called that because of the weather. But we have come to expect ever more growth which currently looks like quite a hangover for them. They need the equivalent of what is called “something wonderful” in the film 2001 A Space Odyssey like cold nuclear fusion or an enormous jump in battery technology. Otherwise they seem set to turn on the central bankers and all their promises.

 

 

Problems mount for Mark Carney at Mansion House

The UK’s central bank announces its policy decision today and it faces challenges on several fronts. The first was highlighted yesterday evening by the US Federal Reserve.

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 to 1-1/4 percent. The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative, thereby supporting some further strengthening in labor market conditions and a sustained return to 2 percent inflation.

UK monetary policy is normally similar to that in the US as our economies often follow the same cycles. This time around however the Bank of England has cut to 0.25% whilst the Federal Reserve has been raising interest-rates creating a gap of 0.75% to 1% now. In terms of the past maybe not a large gap but of course these days the gap is large in a world of zero and indeed negative interest-rates. Also we can expect the gap to grow in the future.

The Committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant gradual increases in the federal funds rate;

There was also more as the Federal Reserve made another change which headed in the opposite direction to Bank of England policy.

The Committee currently expects to begin implementing a balance sheet normalization program this year, provided that the economy evolves broadly as anticipated.

So the Federal Reserve is planning to start the long journey to what used to be regarded as normal for a central bank balance sheet. Of course only last August the Bank of England set out on expanding its balance sheet by another £70 billion if we include the Corporate Bond purchases in what its Chief Economist Andy Haldane called a “Sledgehammer”. So again the two central banks have been heading in opposite directions. Also on that subject Mr.Haldane was reappointed for another three years this week. Does anybody know on what grounds? After all the wages data from yesterday suggested yet another fail on the forecasting front in an ever-growing series.

Andrew Haldane, Executive Director, Monetary Analysis and Statistics, and Chief Economist at the
Bank of England, has been reappointed for a further three-year term as a member of the Monetary Policy
Committee with effect from 12 June 2017.

For those interested in what Andy would presumably call an anti-Sledgehammer here it is.

( For Treasury Bonds) the Committee anticipates that the cap will be $6 billion per month initially and will increase in steps of $6 billion at three-month intervals over 12 months until it reaches $30 billion per month…… ( for Mortgage Securities) the Committee anticipates that the cap will be $4 billion per month initially and will increase in steps of $4 billion at three-month intervals over 12 months until it reaches $20 billion per month.

Whilst these really are baby steps compared to a balance sheet of US $4.46 trillion they do at least represent a welcome move in the right direction.

The Inflation Conundrum

This has several facets for the Bank of England. The most obvious is that it eased policy last August as inflation was expected to rise and this month we see that the inflation measure it is supposed to keep around 2% per annum ( CPI ) has risen to 2.9% with more rises expected. It of course badged the “Sledgehammer” move as being expansionary for the economy but I have argued all along that it is more complex than that and may even be contractionary.

Today’s Retail Sales numbers give an example of my thinking so let me use them to explain. Here they are.

In May 2017, the quantity bought in the retail industry was estimated to have increased by 0.9% compared with May 2016; the annual growth rate was last lower in April 2013…..Month-on-month, the quantity bought was estimated to have fallen by 1.2% following strong growth in April 2017.

So after a strong 2016 UK retail sales have weakened in 2017 but my argument is that the main driver here has been this.

Average store prices (excluding fuel) increased by 2.8% on the year; the largest growth since March 2012.

It has been the rise in prices or higher inflation which has been the main driver of the weakness in retail sales. A factor in this has been the lower value of the Pound which if you use the US inflation numbers as a control has so far raised UK inflation by around 1%. This weakness in the currency was added to by expectations of Bank of England monetary easing which of course were fulfilled. You may note I say expectations because as some of us have been discussing in the comments section the main impact of QE on a currency happens in the expectations/anticipation phase.

On the other side of the coin you have to believe that a 0.25% cut in interest-rates has a material impact after cuts of over 4% did not! Also that increasing the Bank of England’s balance sheet will do more than adding to house prices and easing the fiscal deficit. A ten-year Gilt yield of 0.96% does not go well with inflation at 2.9% ( CPI) and of course even worse with RPI ( 3.7%).

House Prices

I spotted this earlier in the Financial Times which poses a serious question to Bank of England policy.

Since 1980, the compounded inflation-adjusted gain for a UK homeowner has been 212 per cent. Before 1980 house price gains were much tamer over the various cycles either side of the second world war. Indeed, in aggregate, prices were largely unchanged over the previous 100 years, once inflation is accounted for.

A change in policy? Of course much of that was before Mark Carney’s time but we know from his time in Canada and here that house price surges and bubbles do happen on his watch. The article then looks at debt availability.

The one factor that did change, though, and marked the start of that step change in 1980, is the supply of mortgage debt……….has resulted in a sevenfold increase in inflation-adjusted mortgage debt levels since then.

This leads to something that I would like Mark Carney to address in his Mansion House speech tonight.

Second an inflation-targeting central bank, which has delivered a more aggressive monetary response to each of the recent downturns, because of that high debt burden.

On that road we in the UK will see negative interest-rates in the next downturn which of course may be on the horizon.

Comment

There is much to consider for the Governor of the Bank of England tonight. If he continues on the current path of cutting interest-rates and adding to QE on any prospect of an economic slow down then neither he nor his 8 fellow policy setting colleagues are required. We could replace them with an AI ( Artificially Intelligent ) Robot although I guess the danger is that it becomes sentient Skynet style ( from The Terminator films ) and starts to question what it is doing?

However moving on from knee-jerk junkie culture monetary policy has plenty of problems. It first requires both acknowledgement and admittal that monetary policy can do some things but cannot do others. Also that international influences are often at play which includes foreign monetary policy. I have looked at the Federal Reserve today well via the Far East other monetary policy applies. Let me hand you over to some research from Neal Hudson of Residential Analysts on buyers of property in London from the Far East.

However, anecdotal evidence suggests that many of these buyers have been using local mortgages to fund their purchases.  The limited evidence I have suggests that around half of Hong Kong and Singaporean buyers use a local mortgage while the majority of mainland Chinese buyers use one.

Okay on what terms?

The main difference is that the mortgage rate tends to be slightly higher (London Home Loan comparison) and local lenders allow borrowers to have far higher debt multiples.

These people are not as rich as might previously have been assumed and we need to throw in changes in the value of the UK Pound £ which are good for new buyers but bad for existing ones. Complicated now isn’t it?

On a personal level I was intrigued by this.

Last year I visited a development in Nine Elms and the lobby felt more like a hotel than a residential block. There were significant numbers of people appearing to pick up and drop off keys with suitcases in tow.

You see I live in another part of Battersea ( the other side of the park) and where i live feels like that as well.

 

 

 

UK consumers leap out of their supposed grave yet again

Today we advance on the UK Retail Sales data which has various factors at play. Firstly the general theme is one of a fading of the growth we saw in 2016 as the growth in real wages also fades. On the subject of real wages I note that Sky News last night was comparing growth in March regular pay ( 2.1%) with April CPI inflation (2.7%) to presumably reinforce its point although of course there is a clear flaw there. Actually in March total pay growth (2.4%) was slightly higher than inflation ( 2.3%) as I pointed out yesterday but for some reason our official statistician’s use regular pay for real wages. I do wonder if they think Pound’s earned as bonuses are somehow marked in people’s pockets and bank accounts and treated differently.

Secondly there is the influence of the timing of Easter which was later this year and whether the seasonal adjustment allowed for that properly. The Confederation of British Industry or CBI certainly thinks that growth picked up.

59% of retailers said that sales volumes were up in April on a year ago, whilst 21% said they were down, giving a balance of +38%. This outperformed expectations (+16%), and was the highest balance since September 2015 (+49%)……37% of respondents expect sales volumes to increase next month, with 21% expecting a decrease, giving a balance of +16%

Indeed there was something rather familiar from last year so if it is the same let me say thank you ladies one more time. Your devotion to this area of the economy is hugely impressive.

Sales volumes grew strongly in clothing (+97% – the highest since September 2010), and grocers (+40%).

The details of this particular survey are as follows.

The survey of 112 firms, of which 57 were retailers, showed that the volume of sales grew at the fastest pace since September 2015 in the year to April, with orders placed on suppliers rising at the strongest rate for a year-and-a-half.

Today’s data

It would appear that my argument about problems with the seasonal adjustment concerning Easter gets another tick in its box.

In April 2017, the quantity bought in the retail industry increased by 2.3% compared with March 2017 and by 4.0% compared with April 2016.

This was a strong monthly performance and even got a little support in a way from my argument about the effect of inflation.

Average prices slowed slightly in April 2017, falling from 3.3% in March to 3.1% in April.

Slightly lower prices helping the performance? Maybe a bit and I also note that the measure of inflation in the retail sector seems to provide more backing for RPI data than CPI or CPIH.

If we look into the detail we see that they have a completely different view to the CBI.

Compared with March 2017, April 2017 has shown increases in the quantity bought and amount spent across all store types except department stores and textile, clothing and footwear stores.

I am not sure how a 97% rise for the CBI goes with an official data fall but there you have it! Meanwhile the march towards consuming online continues.

average weekly spending online was £1.0 billion; an increase of 19% compared with April 2016…….the amount spent online accounted for 15.6% of all retail spending, excluding automotive fuel, compared with 14% in April 2016.

Taking a perspective

If we look back we see that the figures for March which were so troubling at the time were revised from monthly growth of 1.7% to 2%. So they were not quite as bad, however even this month’s better performance is not so impressive on a quarterly basis.

The underlying pattern, as measured by the 3 month on 3 month estimate, showed a slight increase in April 2017 following a short period of contraction, increasing by 0.3%.

Thus it would be realistic to say that the surge of 2016 has gone and we are in a period  of little or marginal growth.

Looking Ahead

One area that is not going to be boosting Retail Sales is the buy to let industry if yesterday’s data from the Council of Mortgage Lenders is any guide.

Gross buy-to-let saw quarter-on-quarter decreases, down 2% by value and 1% by volume. Compared to the first quarter 2016, the number of loans decreased 39% and the amount borrowed decreased by 40%.

Of course that is comparing to the pre Stamp Duty increase peak but even the CML does not look especially optimistic.

The number of loans for buy-to-let house purchase advanced in March remained low compared to activity seen before the change on stamp duty on second properties introduced in April last year.

Also more general housing activity seems to have faded somewhat.

On a quarterly basis, house purchase activity was at its weakest for two years since the first quarter of 2015.

Although ever cheaper mortgage interest-rates did have an impact on existing borrowers.

By contrast, the number of remortgage loans advanced to borrowers was at its highest since the first quarter of 2009.

The only growth was seen in first time buyers which I have to say is not easy to explain.

Moving onto other factors I note that Markit’s latest survey has a two-way pull.

Higher living costs resulted in one of the sharpest falls in cash available to spend for two-and-a-half years in May. Survey respondents also indicated that their need for extra unsecured borrowing continued to rebound from the lows seen in 2016.

Of course regular readers of my work will realise that the UK has been on a bit of an unsecured borrowing binge recently. So perhaps more of the same is on its way. Somewhat oddly the surge in unsecured borrowing seems to have passed Markit’s economists by.

The survey measure which tracks people’s need to take on additional unsecured borrowing has rebounded so far this year, which marks an end to the steadily improved trend seen since late-2011

For newer readers the growth in UK unsecured credit has been of the order of 10% per annum for around a year now according to the Bank of England.

Car Finance

This seems to be continuing its rise and rise.

New figures released today by the Finance & Leasing Association (FLA) show that new business in the point of sale (POS) consumer new car finance market grew 13% by value and 5% by volume in March, compared with the same month in 2016. In Q1 2017, new business was up 10% by value and 3% by volume, compared with the same quarter in 2016.

Whilst we do not know that the cars bought were the same as last year there is a clear hint of higher inflation there than in the official figures if we look at the gap between value and volume. Also the word “bought” needs some review as these days we essentially lease or rent them.

The percentage of private new car sales financed by FLA members through the POS was 86.5% in the twelve months to March, unchanged compared with the same period to February.

The demand does however suggest that Gary Numan may have been prescient all those years ago.

Here in my car
I feel safest of all
I can lock all my doors
It’s the only way to live
In cars

Comment

Economics is a very contrary science if it is a science at all. We should welcome today’s better numbers for the UK and indeed they go with the business surveys which suggested an economic pick-up in April. Let us hope that continues. However we see yet more problems for our official statisticians as the seasonal adjustment for the timing of Easter misfires yet again. I am afraid that blaming that old staple the weather simply does not cut it. From the BBC.

Warmer weather helped retail sales to rise by more than expected last month, according to official data.

The actual picture is complex as growth fades and frankly after last year’s surge it had to at some point. The rise in inflation has reduced real wage growth although the situation is as ever in flux as in response to today’s numbers the UK Pound £ has pushed above US $1.30 which would help trim future inflation rises if we stay there. The ying to the upbeat yang is however that as so often in the past we look like we are borrowing on tick to spend.

If we move to financial markets this week has taught us one more time that crowded trades are the worst place to be as @NicTrades reminds us.

Reuters said this week biggest trade in the world was shorting VIX via leveraged ETFs millions selling vol at 7.8% VIX is now 16%

ETF stands for Exchange Traded fund.

 

 

 

 

What is it about GDP in the first quarter these days?

The behaviour of the UK economy so far in 2017 has been something of a hot potato in debate as the numbers swing one way and then the other. Let me give you an example of a ying and yang situation . The downbeat ying was provided last week by the official data on UK retail sales.

The 3 months to March shows a decrease of 1.4%; the third consecutive decrease for the underlying 3 month on 3 month pattern……Looking at the quarterly movement, the 3 months to March 2017 (Quarter 1) is the first quarterly decline since 2013 (Quarter 4).

That was ominous for today’s GDP release as the consumer sector had been part of the growth in the UK economy. Our official statisticians crunched the numbers as to the likely effect.

The 3-month period ending March 2017 coincides with Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2017 of the quarterly gross domestic product (GDP) output estimate. It marks the first negative contribution of retail sales to quarterly GDP growth since Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2013, contributing negative 0.08 percentage points (to 2 decimal places).

However only yesterday there was a yang to the ying from the Confederation of British Industry or CBI.

Retail sales growth accelerated in the year to April, with volumes rising faster than expected, according to the latest monthly CBI Distributive Trades Survey.

Here is some more detail.

59% of retailers said that sales volumes were up in April on a year ago, whilst 21% said they were down, giving a balance of +38%. This outperformed expectations (+16%), and was the highest balance since September 2015 (+49%)…….Sales volumes grew strongly in clothing (+97% – the highest since September 2010), and grocers (+40%). Meanwhile sales volumes decreased in specialist food & drink (-43%) and furniture & carpets (-30%).

If we stay with the specifics of the CBI report its is fascinating to see clothing leading the charge again. Regular readers will recall that this was the state of play last autumn and at that time it was female clothing in particular. So ladies if you have rescued us yet again we owe you another round of thanks. In such a situation you would be the consumer of last resort as well as often the first!

But the issue here is how does this fit with the official data? There is one way it might work and it comes down to the timing of Easter which was later this year than last. Whilst the official data does make seasonal adjustments I have seen this miss fire before. Perhaps the clearest generic example of this is first quarter GDP in the United States which year after year has been lower than the trend for the other quarters hinting at a systematic issue.

House prices

If these have been leading the charge for UK economic growth then this morning’s news will disappoint.

House prices recorded their second consecutive monthly fall in April, while the annual rate of growth slowed to 2.6%, the weakest since June 2013.

The date is significant as it was the summer of 2013 when the Bank of England lit the blue touch-paper for UK house prices with a new bank subsidy programme. The latest version of this called the Term Funding Scheme has risen in size to £57.5 billion.since its inception last August. Looking forwards if we allow for the obvious moral hazard this is hardly especially optimistic.

As a result, we continue to believe that a small increase in house prices of around 2% is likely over the course of 2017 as a whole.

The GDP data

UK gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated to have increased by 0.3% in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2017, the slowest rate of growth since Quarter 1 2016.

This was driven by the retail sales slow down and this.

Slower growth in Quarter 1 2017 was mainly due to services, which grew by 0.3% compared with growth of 0.8% in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2016……The services aggregate was the main driver to the slower growth in GDP, contributing 0.23 percentage points…….The main contributor to the slowdown in services was the distribution, hotels and restaurants sector, which decreased by 0.5%, contributing negative 0.07 percentage points to quarter-on-quarter GDP growth.

The services slow down will have had a big effect because it must be pretty much 80% of our economy by now. Officially it is 78.8%.

Actually much of the economy grew at this sort of rate.

Production, construction and agriculture grew by 0.3%, 0.2% and 0.3% respectively in Quarter 1 2017.

So a slowing on the end of 2016 but here is something to think about. UK GDP growth was 0.2% in the first quarter of 2016 so ironically it is better this year but also was 0.3% in 2015. Are we developing a similar problem to the US where it seems to be something of a hardy perennial situation and if so why?

Looking Forwards

As well as the more optimistic CBI retail sales report there was this from Monday.

The survey of 397 manufacturers found that domestic orders had improved at the fastest pace since July 2014 in the three months to April. Meanwhile export orders recorded the strongest growth in six years, supported by strong rises in competitiveness, particularly in non-EU markets which improved at a record pace.

It is not the only body which is looking forwards with some optimism.

The UK economy slowed sharply in Q1, as signalled by PMI. March rise in PMI suggests Q1 GDP could be revised up from 0.3% to 0.4%………Note that Q1 GDP was based on a forecast of no service sector growth in March. PMI showed strengthening ( Chris Williamson of Markit ).

What about the individual experience?

We have settled on GDP per capita as a better guide and this was frankly poor this time around.

GDP per head was estimated to have increased by 0.1% during Quarter 1 2017.

This adds to an issue which the chart below highlights, guess which of the lines is our more recent experience?

For the people who think that their individual experience has not backed up the claims of improvement there is food for thought in that chart.

Is GDP underecorded?

Tim Worstall wrote a piece for CapX this week telling us this.

For it’s obvious to our own eyes, and when properly adjusted GDP shows it once again, that we’ve all got much richer these recent decades.

Okay why?

The CPI overstates inflation – and thus understates how quickly real incomes are rising……Of course the ONS and others do the best they can but the current estimate is that inflation is overstated by 1 per cent a year. Or real income rises understated by it of course.

There are some interesting points on goods which are free ( WhatsApp for example) and ignored by GDP.  However it completely misses out the cost of housing which in recent times has been a major inflationary force in my mind. Would you rather have housing or the latest I-Pad?

Care is needed as of course there were substantial gains in the past but on this logic we are all much better off than we realise. Really?

Comment

The issue with first quarter growth was also true across the channel as the expectation and then the reality show below.

with 0.6% growth signalled for both Germany and France ( Markit )…….In Q1 2017, GDP in volume terms* slowed down: +0.3%, after +0.5% in Q4 2016 ( France Insee ).

So as we note the Bank of France was correct we await the US figures wondering what it is about first quarter GDP? For France this is not yet a sequence as last year was better but the UK and US seem trapped in a mire that appears to have a seasonal reappearance.

Looking ahead we were expecting higher inflation to bite on real incomes as 2017 progressed. As we stand a little of the edge of that has been taken off that impact. What I mean by that is the rise of the UK Pound £ to above US $1.29 helps with inflation prospects as does the fall in the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil to below US $52 per barrel. Of course they would need to remain there for this to play out.

Some posted some Blood Sweat & Tears lyrics a while back and they seem appropriate again.

What goes up, must come down
Spinning wheel got to go round
Talkin’ ’bout your troubles, it’s a cryin’ sin
Ride a painted pony, let the spinning wheel spin

Can the economy of Italy throw off its past shackles?

It is time to take another look at how the economy of Italy is performing and first let me point out that the backdrop is good. What I mean by that is that the outlook for the Euro area is currently rather good with this being reported by Markit at the end of last week.

Eurozone economic growth gathered further momentum in March, according to PMI® survey data, reaching a near six-year high…….The March flash PMI rounds off the best quarter for six years and signals GDP growth of 0.6% in the first quarter

That has been followed this morning by better news on the inflation front for March as lower petrol and diesel prices have pulled back both Spanish and some German regional inflation from the February highs this morning. Actually Spanish inflation seems very volatile and therefore difficult to read but this month’s picture seems lower than last even allowing for that. But overall there seem to be some economic silver linings around albeit that there was a cloud or two as the credit data lost some momentum.

What about Italy?

The sentiment numbers here released yesterday were positive as well.

With regard to the consumer survey, the confidence climate index grew in March 2017 from 106.6 to 107.6……With reference to the business surveys, the composite business confidence climate index (IESI, Istat Economic Sentiment Indicator) increased from 104.3 to 105.1.

However there was something rather Italian in all of this good news as I note this.

while the personal and current components worsened from 102.1 to 101.0 and from 104.7 to 104.5

Whilst the outlook is favourable it does not seem to have impacted so far on Italians themselves.

What about industry?

On Tuesday the Italian statistics office served up a swerving serve that Roger Federer would be proud of as its headline showed both industrial turnover (1.9%) and new orders (8.6%) rising. But if we look deeper as there were 21 days this year as opposed to 19 last we see this.

In January 2017 the seasonally adjusted turnover index decreased by -3.5% compared to the previous month (-2.3% in domestic market and -5.4% in non-domestic market)……..In January 2017 the seasonally adjusted industrial new orders index decreased by -2.9% compared with December 2016 (-6.6% in domestic market and +2.6% in non-domestic market).

So it was a bad January meaning that quarterly growth fell to 1.7% for turnover and 0.8% for new orders.

If we look for context of the Italian problem we see some of it in the underlying index which was set at 100 in 2010 and has now risen to 100.3. If we look further we see another sign as the growth has been export-led (121.7) whereas the domestic market has fallen to 91.5. Thus the domestic numbers are more depressionary than recessionary.

If we move to production we see that it fell by 0.5% in January leaving it at 93.8% of the level seen in 2010.

Retail Sales

If we look at the latest data we see that the better sentiment has yet to impact here.

In January 2017 the seasonally adjusted retail trade index increased by 1.4% with respect to December 2016 (+2.3% for food goods and +0.8% for non-food goods). The average of the last three months compared to the previous three months was unvaried. The unadjusted index decreased by 0.1% with respect to January 2016.

The underlying index returns us to thoughts of an economic depression as this time an index set at 100 in 2010 compares to 95.7 in January.

Employment and Unemployment

This continues a rather troubled pattern so let us start with the good bit.

The labour input used in the economic system (expressed by the hours worked in the national accounts) increased by 0.4% quarter-on-quarter and by 1.6% year-over-year.

So there is more work around but because of the past pattern it is hard to look past this.

The unemployment rate confirmed at 11.9%, up by 0.2 percentage points after the substantial stability over the four previous quarters.

Some of that is technical as the particpation rate rose reversing for example some of the arguments over the US labour market but it is also true that the previous year saw unemployment rise by 108,000. So we see that this problem is persisting when if we look at other metrics it should not be.

Also we get a clue perhaps as to the current issues with retail sales as we note that real wages are under pressure.

as a result of a 0.2% increase in wages ( in 2016).

 

Population

The numbers for 2016 are out and they tell us this.

The population at 1st January 2017 was estimated to be 60,579,000; the decrease on the previous year was 86,000 units (-1.4 per thousand).

This happened in spite of the growth from migration.

The net international migration in 2016 amounted to +135 thousand, a similar level to that seen in 2015. Compared to the latter it was determined by a higher number of inflows, 293 thousand, and a new record of outflows, for the recent time, equal to 157 thousand.

As we see people are leaving but are being replaced and some presumably mostly by those crossing the Mediterranean.

Also the demographics clock continued to tick. However let me also welcome this as people are living longer.

The mean age of the population at 1st January 2017 was 44.9 years, two tenths more than in 2016.

The banks

This has become a little like the never-ending story. After all what news is there some 3 months down the road after the announcement of a bailout for Monte Paschi. Well according to Bloomberg there are ongoing arguments.

In the view of some ECB Supervisory Board members, while Monte Paschi cleared the hurdles for aid, its viability was bolstered by unrealistic valuations of its bad loan portfolio, the people said. The board gave the all-clear even though the possibility that Monte Paschi sold junior bonds inappropriately to retail investors wasn’t fully reflected in the solvency assessment, they said.

There is also the issue of what will happen to Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca. The official view is that this will be solved “soon” which is a line they also use for Greece.

Also remember the Atlante bailout fund which was supposed to rescue things which rather embarrassingly was followed by Atlante 11 as it needed more funds, how is it going? From Teleborsa.

Intesa Sanpaolo is not prepared to add other loans in the Fund Atlas. It does not leave space for imagination Carlo Messina, CEO of the banking group……..”There is no doubt that today the one to which we must aim is to safeguard the investment made in Atlas “

Perhaps he is worried by this in 24 ORE.

Altogether, as reconstructed by Radiocor Plus, the adjustments made by the top 12 Italian banks that have joined Atlas amounted to 1.01 billion, compared with 1.98 billion actually paid into the fund on December 31 last year (about l ‘ 80% of the 2.45 billion total commitment declared by the main institutions). Less than a year after the birth of the fund, the average write-down was then 51.2% of actual amounts paid.

Comment

As ever there is much to consider and if we look at the forecast of the Bank of Italy against what is for once a favourable backdrop I am reminded of the “Girlfriend in a Coma” theme of Bill Emmott.

We expect GDP to expand, on an annual basis, by 0.9 per cent this year and the next and by 1.1 per cent in 2018 and 2019.

This reinforces my theme that even in the good years Italy manages around 1% economic growth which means that by the time we allow for downturns it is on a road to nowhere. Actually that explains its experience in the Euro area and as the population has grown it has seen GDP per capita fall by around 6%.

If we move to the banking sector we see something very sclerotic which is plainly holding the economy back as we not even the official data shows Non-Performing Loans at 16.24% of the total. If it is true that the Monte Paschi numbers have been “massaged” (again…) then I fear for what the real number is. Yet real reform never seems to actually turn up as we mull another apparently never-ending story.

 

 

Does anybody believe the Bank of England hints of an interest-rate rise?

Firstly let me open with my best wishes to those caught up in the terrible event at Westminster yesterday which is somewhere I pass through regularly. Let us then review some better economic news in a period where the UK statisticians overload particular days. If we go back to Tuesday where there was a panoply of inflation data there was also this about the public finances.

Public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) decreased by £2.8 billion to £1.8 billion in February 2017, compared with February 2016; this is the lowest February borrowing since 2007.

I recall that the January numbers were also more positive and this led to this.

In January and February 2017, the government received £13.4 billion and £4.7 billion respectively in self-assessed Income Tax, giving a combined total of £18.1 billion. These represent the highest combined self-assessed Income Tax receipts on record (records begin in 1998).

So good news and other forms of revenue were good too.

Similarly, in January and February 2017, the government received £6.2 billion and £2.2 billion respectively in Capital Gains Tax, giving a combined total of £8.4 billion. These represent the highest combined Capital Gains Tax receipts on record (records begin in 1998).

It would seem that Capital Gains Tax is more significant than might be assumed. I guess the higher house prices ( it is paid on second homes and therefore buy to lets) and maybe profits from the equity market are driving this. I am surprised that the Bank of England has not been trumpeting this as part of its wealth effects, have they missed it?

Also the overall tax situation for the financial year so far has been strong.

In the current financial year-to-date, central government received £616.1 billion in income; including £465.6 billion in taxes. This was around 6% more than in the previous financial year-to-date.

There was a change to National Insurance rates but even allowing for that we are seeing a pretty good performance and ironically after the talk of extra spending and fiscal expansionism the numbers may well be telling a different story.

Over the same period, central government spent £638.1 billion; around 2% more than in the previous financial year-to-date.

With inflation rising that is of course less in real terms than it first appears and meant that we did better here.

Public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) decreased by £19.9 billion to £47.8 billion in the current financial year-to-date (April 2016 to February 2017), compared with the same period in the previous financial year;

Retail Sales

There was good news as well in the February data for Retail Sales.

Estimates of the quantity bought in retail sales increased by 3.7% compared with February 2016 and increased by 1.4% compared with January 2017; this monthly growth is seen across all store types.

However the monthly numbers are erratic and the seasonal adjustment is unconvincing. February was partly so good because January was revised even lower. But the year on year comparison was strong.

In February 2017 compared with February 2016, all main retail sectors, except petrol stations saw an increase in the quantity bought (volume) while all sectors saw an increase in the amount spent (value). The largest contribution in both the quantity bought and amount spent came from non-store retailing.

However because of the week December and January data the trend remains for a fading of the year on year growth.

The underlying pattern as suggested by the 3 month on 3 month movement decreased by 1.4% for the second month in a row; the largest decrease since March 2010 and only the second fall since December 2013.

Actually we get a confirmation of some of the themes of this blog. For a start in something which central bankers and inflationistas will overlook higher inflation leads to lower consumption. The higher oil price has led to less petrol consumption.

the largest contribution came from petrol stations, where year-on-year average prices rose by 18.7%……..The underlying trend suggests that rising petrol prices in particular have had a negative effect on the overall quantity of goods bought over the last three months.

Over time I expect this to feed into retail sales as you see that prices are rising overall as the higher oil price feeds through.

Average store prices (including fuel) increased by 2.8% on the year, the largest growth since March 2012;

So sadly I expect the retail sales growth to fade away as higher inflation erodes real wages.  Also whilst it is only one sector we have yet another inflation measure (2.8% here) running higher than the official one, how many do we need?

Royal Statistical Society

I am pleased that it has expressed its misgivings about the new UK inflation infrastructure in a letter to The Times today. Here are the main points.

For several years, the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) has been advocating the introduction of a proper household inflation index. We believe the answer lies in the proposed Household Costs Index (HCI) that is currently being developed by the Office for National Statistics, with expert input from some RSS members.
Paul Johnson is right that government should not be cynical in its use of different inflation measures. We would also argue, however, that the government should use the appropriate inflation index for the job at hand. CPIH makes sense as an index for economic policy matters (such as potentially interest rate setting by the Bank of England) but it is HCI that, once fully developed and proven, should be used for uprating purposes and for assessing real incomes in the UK.

Good for them! I have spent quite some time taking my arguments to the RSS and am pleased that the message is at least partly not only being received but also transmitted. My only quibble would be that CPIH results from national accounts methodology and not economic principles.

Ben Broadbent

Ben spoke at Imperial College earlier and as ever his Forward Guidance radar misfired.

We may already be seeing the impact of that squeeze on retail spending, which in real terms fell quite sharply around the turn of the year.

Some felt it was a hint for the 9:30 numbers but if it was Ben had misread them. He gives some more Forward Guidance by telling us the UK Pound £ may go up or down!

Either the currency market is too pessimistic, in which case sterling’s depreciation is likely to be reversed over time. Or it’s not, in which case the costs of exporting will eventually go up.

Actually after the last Forward Guidance debacle Ben has either completely lost the plot or has developed a sense of humour as whilst not in the speech this was being widely reported..

It’s quite possible we could see rates go up in the UK

Can see scenarios where BOE could raise rates ( h/t FXStreet )

Another issue is that Ben Broadbent seems to follow financial markets and assume they are correct. If you recall when I was on BBC Radio 4’s MoneyBox last September the ex-Bank of England economist Tony Yates repeated the same mantra. They seem to have forgotten that they should not be puppets they should have their own views.

Comment

This week has had a ying and yang to it on UK economic news. The public finance and retail sales numbers remain good but the Sword of Damocles already beginning to swing is higher inflation especially via its effect on real wages. This will affect retail sales as 2017 progresses and that will affect the public finances too albeit there are also gains for the latter. Yet the establishment continues with its objective of inflation measures that ignore as much inflation as possible. Does anybody actually believe this new Forward Guidance from the Bank of England? After all back in 2011 they ignored inflation which went above 5% with disastrous consequences for real wages.

Me on Official Tip-TV

http://tiptv.co.uk/uk-inflation-property-bubble-boe-response-not-yes-man-economics/