Where will Christine Lagarde lead the ECB?

We find ourselves in a new era for monetary policy in the Euro area and it comes in two forms. The first is the way that the pause in adding to expansionary monetary policy which lasted for all of ten months is now over. It has been replaced by an extra 20 billion Euros a month of QE bond purchases and tiering of interest-rates for the banking sector. The next is the way that technocrats have been replaced by politicians as we note that not only is the President Christine Lagarde the former Finance Minister of France the Vice-President Luis de Guindos is the former Economy Minister of Spain. So much for the much vaunted independence!

Monetary Policy

In addition to the new deposit rate of -0.5% Mario Draghi’s last policy move was this.

The Governing Council decided to restart net purchases under each constituent programme of the asset purchase programme (APP), i.e. the public sector purchase programme (PSPP), the asset-backed securities purchase programme (ABSPP), the third covered bond purchase programme (CBPP3) and the corporate sector purchase programme (CSPP), at a monthly pace of €20 billion as from 1 November 2019.

It is the online equivalent of a bit of a mouthful and has had a by now familiar effect in financial markets. Regular readers will recall mt pointing out that the main impact comes before it happens and we have seen that again. If we use the German ten-year yield as our measure we saw it fall below -0.7% in August and September as hopes/expectations of QE rose but the reality of it now sees the yield at -0.3%. So bond markets have retreated after the pre-announcement hype.

As to reducing the deposit rate from -0.4% to -0.5% was hardly going to have much impact so let us move into the tiering which is a way of helping the banks as described by @fwred of Bank Pictet.

reduces the cost of negative rates from €8.7bn to €5.0bn (though it will increase in 2020) – creates €35bn in arbitrage opportunities for Italian banks – no signs of major disruption in repo, so far.

Oh and there will be another liquidity effort or TLTRO-III but that will be in December.

There is of course ebb and flow in financial markets but as we stand things have gone backwards except for the banks.

The Euro

If we switch to that we need to note first that the economics 101 theory that QE leads to currency depreciation has had at best a patchy credit crunch era. But over this phase we see that the Euro has weakened as its trade weighted index was 98.7 in mid-August compared to the 96.9 of yesterday. As ever the issue is complex because for example my home country the UK has seen a better phase for the UK Pound £ moving from 0.93 in early August to 0.86 now if we quote it the financial market way.

The Economy

The economic growth situation has been this.

Seasonally adjusted GDP rose by 0.2% in the euro area (EA19…….Compared with the same quarter of the previous year, seasonally adjusted GDP rose by 1.1% in the euro area in the third quarter of 2019 ( Eurostat)

As you can see annual economic growth has weakened and if we update to this morning we were told this by the Markit PMI business survey.

The IHS Markit Eurozone PMI® Composite
Output Index improved during October, but
remained close to the crucial 50.0 no-change mark.
The index recorded 50.6, up from 50.1 in
September and slightly better than the earlier flash
reading of 50.2, but still signalling a rate of growth
that was amongst the weakest seen in the past six and-a-half years.

As you can see there was a small improvement but that relies on you believing that the measure is accurate to 0.5 in reality. The Markit conclusion was this.

The euro area remained close to stagnation in
October, with falling order books suggesting that
risks are currently tilted towards contraction in the
fourth quarter. While the October PMI is consistent
with quarterly GDP rising by 0.1%, the forward looking data points to a possible decline in economic output in the fourth quarter.

As you can see this is not entirely hopeful because the possible 0.1% GDP growth looks set to disappear raising the risk of a contraction.

I doubt anyone will be surprised to see the sectoral breakdown.

There remained a divergence between the
manufacturing and service sectors during October.
Whereas manufacturing firms recorded a ninth
successive month of declining production, service
sector companies indicated further growth, albeit at
the second-weakest rate since January.

Retail Sales

According to Eurostat there was some good news here.

In September 2019 compared with August 2019, the seasonally adjusted volume of retail trade increased by 0.1% in the euro area (EA19). In September 2019 compared with September 2018, the calendar adjusted retail sales index increased by 3.1% in the euro area .

The geographical position is rather widespread from the 5.2% annual growth of Ireland to the -2.7% of Slovakia. This is an area which has been influenced by the better money supply growth figures of 2019. This has been an awkward area as they have often been a really good indicator but have been swamped this year by the trade and motor industry problems which are outside their orbit. Also the better picture may now be fading.

Annual growth rate of narrower monetary aggregate M1, comprising currency in circulation and overnight deposits, decreased to 7.9% in September from 8.5% in August.

In theory it should rally due to the monthly QE but in reality it is far from that simple as M1 growth picked up after the last phase of QE stopped.

Comment

As you can see there are a lot of challenges on the horizon for the ECB just at the time its leadership is most ill-equipped to deal with them. A sign of that was this from President Lagarde back in September.

“The ECB is supporting the development of such a taxonomy,” Lagarde said. “Once it is agreed, in my view it will facilitate the incorporation of environmental considerations in central bank portfolios.” ( Politico EU)

Fans of climate change policies should be upset if they look at the success record of central banks and indeed Madame Lagarde. More prosaically the ECB would be like a bull in a China shop assuming it can define them in the first place.

More recently President Lagarde made what even for her was an extraordinary speech.

There are few who have done so much for Europe, over so long a period, as you, Wolfgang.

This was for the former German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble. Was it the ongoing German current account surplus she was cheering or the heading towards a fiscal one as well? Perhaps the punishment regime for Greece?

As to the banks there were some odd rumours circulating yesterday about Deutsche Bank. We know it has a long list of problems but as far as I can tell it was no more bankrupt yesterday than a month ago. Yet there was this.

Mind you perhaps this is why Germany seems to be warming towards a European banking union…..

UK Retail Sales are strong again posing questions for the CBI and BRC

We find ourselves advancing today on what is the strengths of the UK economy which is retail sales. These have consistently supported economic output and GDP ( Gross Domestic Product). However there is an undercut to this as our propensity to consume is a major factor in our persistent balance of trade deficits. It is also one of the factors that gets forgotten when this tune starts up and people get the vapors because it is an area where we are different.

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

British Retail Consortium

This has played a rather different tune to the official data as these excerpts from its prices report show.

Shop prices fell by 0.6% on the previous year as low consumer demand and stiff competition continued to push down prices…….While consumers may welcome lower prices, falling consumer demand is squeezing retailers’ already tight margins.

Their volume data has been weak for some time.

Unsurprisingly September proved to be another difficult month for retailers, with like-for-like sales declining by 1.7 per cent compared to last year. Worryingly, even online sales moved closer to stalling, with growth of non-food online sales only 0.7 per cent.

“Ongoing Brexit uncertainty is clearly having a material impact on the consumer psyche, with all but one non-food category being in decline in September. Consumers are choosing to focus on the essentials, with food one of the few categories delivering growth.

The trouble is that they have ended up looking like they have experienced a set of bum notes as the official data has turned out to be pretty good. Indeed frankly there has been no relation between the two at all.

The CBI

The Confederation of British Industry has been sending out an SOS for some time now.

Retail sales volumes in the year to September fell for the fifth consecutive month, albeit at a slower pace than the previous month, according to the latest CBI Distributive Trades Survey. Retailers expect the contraction in sales volumes to ease further in October.

There is a particular subject they seem obsessed with.

Five successive months of falling volumes tells its own story about the tough conditions retailers are having to operate in. Add to this the pressures of Sterling depreciation and the need to plan for potential tariffs and supply issues in the event of a no-deal Brexit and you get a gloomy picture for the sector.

The media have often joined in with this gloomy view but have regularly found themselves crossing their fingers that their readers,listeners and viewers have forgotten this when the official data is released. I fear that the British Retail Consortium and the CBI are imposing their own views on a particular issue onto the data rather than just letting the numbers speak for themselves.

Today’s Data

At first it might appear odd that this was a good number.

The quantity bought was flat (0.0%) in September 2019 when compared with the previous month, following a fall of 0.3% in August 2019.

There is the improvement from last month’s fall but there is also the fact that September last year was a particularly weak number where the index fell from 106.2 to 105.4 so if we switch to an annual comparison we see a strengthening of the position.

The year-on-year growth rate shows that the quantity bought in September 2019 increased by 3.1%, with growth across all sectors except department stores and household goods.

If we look at the picture we see that pretty much everywhere is strong but particularly non-retail and food.

In September 2019, all four main sectors contributed positively to the amount spent and quantity bought, resulting in a year-on-year growth of 3.4 and 3.1 percentage points respectively.

Non-store retailing provided the largest contribution to the growth in the quantity bought at 1.4 percentage points. Food stores reported the largest contribution to the amount spent at 1.5 percentage points in September 2019.

The Recent Trend

There have always been issues with monthly retail sales data being erratic and the modern era with the development of Black Friday and Amazon sales days have made that worse. Thus we get the best idea from the three month average.

In the three months to September 2019, moderate growth in the quantity bought continued at 0.6% when compared with the previous three months, with all sectors within non-food stores reporting declines except “other stores”.

That may be moderate growth for retail sales but we would be happy indeed if all the other areas of the economy managed it! As to the detail we are told this.

Non-store retailing showed strong growth at 4.3%; this includes a strong monthly growth in July 2019 of 6.9% with summer promotions boosting sales more than usual in this month. Food stores also reported a growth in the three-month on three-month movement; this follows three previous months of decline in the three-month on three-month growth rate.

I am afraid that one sector seems locked into decline though.

Department stores continued the ongoing decline in the three-month on three-month movement resulting in 13 consecutive months of no growth in this sector.

Online Sales

These continue to strengthen overall.

Internet sales increased by 9.1% for the amount spent in September 2019 when compared with September 2018, with all sectors reporting growths except department stores.

However the monthly numbers like elsewhere are erratic.

In contrast, internet sales fell on the month by 2.0% when compared with August 2019.

It seems that department stores cannot buy a break as I note that their online sales over the past year have fallen by 3.6%

Comment

We are seeing yet more confirmation of the theme that I established on the 29th of January 2015.

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

Actually we have shifted from absolute price falls to relative ones as inflation in this area which has been around 0.3% is far lower than wage growth, So we have real wage growth of over 3% which is boosting retail sales. Ironically the British Retail Consortium think this impact may be even stronger.

September Shop Prices fell by 0.6% compared to a 0.4% decrease in August. This is the highest rate of decline since May 2018…..Non-Food prices fell by 1.7% in September compared to August’s decrease of 1.5%. It is the highest rate of decline since May 2018.

So according to their numbers relative real wages are surging but as to the consequences well Kim Syms got it right I think.

Too blind to see it
Too blind to see what you were doing
Too blind to see it
Too blind to see what you were doing.

As to the wider issue these numbers move the UK further away from a recession as they suggest a small ( 0.03%) boost on a quarterly basis and a stronger annual one.

Meanwhile in other news Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has flown all the way to Boston in the United States to lecture us all on climate change.

Asked about his views on climate change and potential divestments from fossil fuel firms, Carney said a more effective approach would be to help companies, including automakers and energy producers, move to lower emissions.

“It’s not just about divestment,” he said. Better, he said, would be “to put capital into an energy company, that’s going from oil-and-coal heavy to a renewable mix, that they wouldn’t otherwise do if they didn’t get the capital.” ( Reuters)

He did however find time to remind us that his priority remains The Precious! The Precious!

Carney said the British central bank would probably cut the countercyclical capital buffer that it sets for banks to zero, from 1% now, if the economy – which faces the prospect of a no-deal Brexit shock – took a hit.

The Investing Channel

 

 

The UK consumer continues to both shop and buy

This morning has opened with a reminder that the UK is progressing towards electronic forms of payment. From the BBC.

Consumers spent more money on credit cards with UK retailers last year than they did in cash, a retailers’ trade body has said.

Debit cards were the most popular, but falling cash use pushed notes and coins down to third place, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said.

Cash accounted for just over £1 in every £5 spent with UK shops.

The exact details of the numbers can be found here.

Credit and charge cards accounted for £82bn, or 22%, of retail sales last year – outstripping cash (£78bn) for the first time, according to the BRC, which has been running its payments survey for 20 years. Spending on debit cards totalled £216bn.

So the real story is the way that debit cards have come to dominate spending. In a sense they have become another form of cash and more convenient in that you do not have to go to a cash point and take money out before spending. I checked the research and they have grown from 49.6% of of transactions in 2013 to 56.8% in 2018. For foreign readers they ( and credit cards) are very convenient as you can “tap and go” in the UK for purchases up to £30. I do see people paying with cash but I see it less and less.

Returning to the growth argument the BBC seems to have omitted the bit which reminded us how strong UK retail sales have been.

Total UK retail sales rose by 4.1% to £381 billion, from £366 billion the previous year.

The BRC research was in essence driven by a whinge about this.

Retailers spent £1.3 billion just to accept payments from customers

I can see their point although inexplicably they seem to have omitted the costs of taking more cash in terms of security and the like.

Today’s Data

I had been thinking that we were due a weaker number based on reverse logic. You see these are erratic numbers and the outlook with the real wage growth we have is good, so a reverse ferret could be in play. At first it did look like that.

The monthly growth rate in the quantity bought in August 2019 fell by 0.2%; non-store retailing was the largest contributor to this fall, partially offsetting the strong growth reported last month for this sector.

However things are not quite how they seem because the July numbers which were originally reported as 108.8 have been revised higher to 109.3. So compared to where we thought we were August’s numbers were higher at 109. So good news on the index level gives a poor month on month number.

If we look deeper we see that overall growth has been continuing.

In the three months to August 2019, moderate growth in the quantity bought continues at 0.6% when compared with the previous three months, with growth in non-store retailing being the main contributor to the increase.

As it happens this fits well with the annual comparison.

The year-on-year growth rate shows that the quantity bought in August 2019 increased by 2.7%; this is a slowdown compared to the stronger growth experienced earlier in the year which peaked at 6.7% in March 2019.

We get a further perspective here as we note that growth has slowed from the March peak. Actually it had to slow from that sort of growth rate as even the UK consumers lust for spending is not infinite. Also March will have been boosted by some pre expected Brexit day stocking up.

Low Inflation

I have argued since the 29th of September 2015 that low inflation boosts retail sales via its impact on real wages. From today’s data that looks to be still in play because if you look at the difference between amount spent and volume you have a hint of the inflation rate.

In the three months to August 2019, the amount spent increased by 1.1% and the quantity bought increased by 0.6% when compared with the previous three months.

When compared with a year earlier, both the amount spent and quantity bought showed strong growth of 3.4% and 2.7% respectively in August 2019; this growth is a slowdown to the strength experienced earlier in the year.

Online Sales

There was an unusual development which I suspect is a fluke but will monitor.

Online sales as a proportion of all retailing fell to 19.7% in August 2019, from the 19.9% reported in July 2019.

That is especially curious as the BRC reported this for the same period.

Footfall declined by 1.3% in August, compared to the same point last year when it declined by 1.6%……..On a three-month basis, footfall decreased by 2.1%. The six and twelve–month average declines are 1.4% and 1.7% respectively.

As you can see they have consistently reported declines and in terms of the official data have been consistently wrong which up until this month can be explained by the decline of the high street and the rise of online shopping.

The CBI

I am not sure what they have been smoking to have reported this.

The CBI said that while retail sales volumes and orders both fell at their fastest since December 2008 in the year to August, sales were only slightly below average for the time of year, and to the least extent in four months.

As you can see that sentence seems to collapse under its own contradictions. Furthermore it was for a slightly earlier period that we have been looking at today and we know that was revised up. Anyway they expect the future to be dreadful and from where they think we are starting then it will be even worse than dreadful.

The CBI’s latest Distributive Trades Survey – which provides a gauge of retailers or the difference between those reporting rising and falling sales volumes – slumped to -49 in August from -16 in July.

Along with marking the biggest pace in a drop since the 2008 financial crisis, it was the second weakest reading since records began in 1983.

Comment

If we look back the story has been one of sustained growth because today’s release only takes us back to 2013 but if we go back 6 years to August 2013 we see an index level of 89 compared to this August’s 109. So we have seen growth of 22% in total. This has been quite a support for the UK economy but it does have a bit of a hangover because our trade figures so bear the brunt of this. Here they are for the three months to July.

Excluding unspecified goods (including non-monetary gold) the total trade deficit narrowed by £3.7 billion to £4.7 billion, exports fell £2.5 billion to £159.0 billion and imports fell £6.2 billion to £163.8 billion in the three months to July 2019.

They are an off set affected I think by the expected March Brexit date in addition to the usual problems. But the fundamental point is that we have run yet another deficit. For newer readers I feel that the situation is not as bad as it looks because we have so little detail on services trade but that is far from saying it would solve the problem.

However in conclusion the overall stream on UK data has been pretty good in the circumstances. Or as the Rolling Stones put it.

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes, well, you might find
You get what you need.

The Investing Channel

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bond Yields

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

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

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

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

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

Retail Sales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cauliflowers

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

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

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

Why does Germany have such negative bond yields?

Much is happening in the economy of Germany right now and let me open with a perspective provided by when we looked at it on the 6th of June.

If we look towards Europe we see that the Federal Republic of Germany has set a new record for itself this morning as its benchmark ten-year bond yield has fallen to -0.23%. So it is being paid ever more to borrow which I will let sink in for a moment.

At the time that provided some shock value as in the previous wave of negative bond yields we had seen the shorter maturities go negative but this time the benchmark ten-year had joined the party. However the bond market surge continued and as I type this the German ten-year yield is -0.4%. There are various factors in this but the German statistics office has provided a significant one already today.

The debt owed by the overall public budget  to the non-public sector  amounted to 1,916.6 billion euros at the end of 2018. This represents a per capita debt of 23,124 euros in Germany. Based on final results, the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) also reports that debt decreased by 2.7% (52.5 billion euros) compared with the revised results as at 31 December 2017.

This provides a perspective on the French debt numbers we looked at yesterday and whilst the basis is slightly different the broad picture holds. In fact the two countries are heading in different directions as this from back in April highlights.

According to provisional results of quarterly cash statistics, the core and extra budgets of the overall public budget – as defined in public finance statistics – recorded a financial surplus of 53.6 billion euros in 2018.

In fact looking at the annual data release Germany has been reducing its debt since 2015.

The next factor is the expected policy of the European Central Bank which already holds some 517 billion of German bonds or bunds and is expected to announce new purchases in September. The impact on the German bond market is higher because the ECB makes its purchases according to a Capital Key based on economic performance.

Five-yearly adjustment based on population and GDP data from European Commission.

Here Germany is strong getting 26.4% of the total and hence the QE bond purchases. But its bond market is relatively small due to the way it runs its public finances and according to its statisticians it has a securities debt ( bonds and treasury bills) of 1.521 trillion Euros and falling. In fact as the ECB has been buying the debt total has fallen by 51 billion Euros. If you want the price of something to rise then large purchases ( ECB) accompanied by falling and at times negative supply is the way to do it.

This creates quite a mess because you have a negative yield and thus an expected loss if you hold to maturity. Yet holders of German bonds have made large capital gains as for example the German bond future is up over 3 points since we looked at it on June 6th. Of course you are replacing guaranteed coupons with the “greater fool” theory but then that twists as we note the greater fool is often the central bank.

The Economy

This morning has brought more evidence of a slowing economy.

Compared with June 2018, the number of persons in employment increased by 0.9% (+394,000). The year-on-year change rate had been 1.2% in December 2018, 1.1% in January 2019 and 1.0% in April. This means that employment growth slightly slowed in the course of 2019.

As you can see employment growth is slowing and June saw a rise of a mere 1,000 on a monthly basis which if adjusted for seasonality rises to 7,000 as opposed to the 44,000 average of the last five years.

If we switch to unemployment Reuters is reporting this.

German unemployment increased less than expected in July, data showed on Wednesday, suggesting that the labor market in Europe’s largest economy so far remains relatively immune to an economic downturn which is driven by a manufacturing crisis. Data from the Federal Labour Office showed the number of people out of work rose by 1,000 to 2.283 million in seasonally adjusted terms. That compared with the Reuters consensus forecast for a rise of 2,000.

I love the way that Reuters think you can accurately forecast unemployment to 1000! The broad view is that on this measure the decline in unemployment looks as if it may have stopped. This is backed up by this bit.

The jobless rate held steady at 5.0% – slightly above the record-low of 4.9% reached earlier this year.

If we switch to retail sales then the story starts well.

+3.5% on the previous month (in real terms, calendar and seasonally adjusted, provisional)

That was the best since 2001 on a monthly basis but then we also got this.

-1.6% on the same month a year earlier (in real terms, provisional)

This was partly driven by a large downwards revision to the May data which reminds us of how erratic retail sales numbers can be. Anyway so far this year the retail numbers have been helping to keep Germany going.

Compared with the previous year, turnover in retail trade was in the first six months of 2019 in real terms 2.2% and in nominal terms 2.9% higher than in the corresponding period of the previous year.

But if yesterday’s survey is any guide the times they are a-changing.

The GfK consumer sentiment indicator, based on a survey of about 2,000 Germans, edged down to 9.7 from 9.8 a month earlier. It was the lowest reading since April 2017 and in line with market expectations……….The GfK sub-indicator measuring consumers’ economic expectations dropped to -3.7, falling below its average of zero points for the first time since March 2016 and hitting the lowest level since November 2015. ( Reuters )

Economic Growth

This morning has brought the economic growth numbers for the Euro area.

Seasonally adjusted GDP rose by 0.2% in both the euro area (EA19) and the EU28 during the second quarter of
2019, compared with the previous quarter…….Compared with the same quarter of the previous year, seasonally adjusted GDP rose by 1.1% in the euro area and
by 1.3% in the EU28 in the second quarter of 2019. In the previous quarter, GDP had grown by 1.2% in the euro
area and by 1.6% in the EU28.

We do not have the German numbers but there are more than a few clues from this. For example we looked at France ( 0.2%) yesterday and we know Austria was 0.4% and Spain 0.5%. By the time you read this you will know how much Italy contributed to the reduction in growth at which point we will know if the Bundesbank was right to suggest that the German economy may have contracted this quarter.

Comment

What we are seeing is the economic and financial market version of a perfect storm. A large buyer enters a market just as supply reduces and then net supply goes into reverse. Next we see an economic slow down which surprisingly at these levels retains the old knee-jerk effect of people buying bonds. However this time around that is not driven by the security of coupons as some bonds now don’t have them or yield because it is usually negative but instead the prospect of being able to sell at ever higher prices to the central bank. So it looks the same on the surface but is different as we look deeper.

Meanwhile we do not often get comparisons of this sort so here it is and as it is missing the UK is the same as France,

 

 

 

Strong UK Retail Sales show that low inflation is good for everyone apart from retailers

Today has opened with a bit of a hangover from yesterday. The reason for that is that more than a few were caught out by this release in the afternoon. From Markit.

Flash U.S. Composite Output Index at 50.9 (53.0
in April). 36-month low.
▪ Flash U.S. Services Business Activity Index at
50.9 (53.0 in April). 39-month low.
▪ Flash U.S. Manufacturing PMI at 50.6 (52.6 in
April). 116-month low.
▪ Flash U.S. Manufacturing Output Index at 50.8
(52.7 in April). 35-month low.

Those hit the screens and impacted in two ways. Firstly the size of the drop and then a follow-up punch as they noted when 116 months ago was. The detail provided a further reminder of more troubled times.

The muted rise in output was attributed to softer
demand conditions and subdued growth of new
orders. The rise in new business in May was the
softest recorded since the series began in October
2009.

We were ready for this because back on the eighth of this month had noted this.

This is the clearest warning shot we have seen for the US economy. Outright falls in narrow money supply of this magnitude are rare on a monthly basis………Thus as we move through the autumn I now fear a US slow down and another month or so like this would make me fear a sharp slow down.

Moving back to the Markit PMI then they conclude this.

“A decline in the headline ‘flash’ PMI to its lowest for
three years pushes the survey data down to a level
historically consistent with GDP growing at an
annualised rate of just 1.2% in May. Worse may be
to come, as inflows of new business showed the
smallest rise seen this side of the global financial
crisis. Business confidence has meanwhile slumped
to its lowest since at least 2012, causing firms to
tighten their belts, notably in respect to hiring.”

So it looks like the impact of the “trade war” is now impacting the US economy and should it only grow at a quarterly rate of 0.3% it will have a knock-on effect for the rest of the world.

We got two fairly quick responses as bond markets rallied taking the US ten-year Treasury Note to 2.32% as I type this, or if you prefer it has further shifted to suggesting the next move in interest-rates is down. Also commodity prices fell with crude oil leading the pack with falls of 5% for some types and Brent Crude is now a bit over US $68. Dr. Copper has been diagnosing an issue for a while as the recent peak of US $2.99 on the 17th of April is replaced by us $2.69 now.

Fears of a slow down have had a by now familar response.

Thanks I think a 4% inflation target jointly announced by G3 central banks may be unlikely, but more powerful than worrying about asymmetrical targets or carefully calibrating inflation overshoots ( Former Bank of England policymaker Adam Posen)

Adam is seemingly convinced he can make us richer by er making us poorer. Also Olivier Blanchard is on the case and the emphasis is mine.

Blanchard and Tashiro, however, argue that, in the current economic environment in Japan, primary deficits may be needed for a long time, because they may be the best tool to sustain demand and output, alleviate the burden on monetary policy, and increase future output.

Last time Olivier Blanchard was involved in primary deficits the Greek economy collapsed. That is an odd feature of economics as who in the real world would rush to travel on a new plane by the 737 Max designers? Also these proposals fail my general critic which is why do we always need more stimulus? Surely it would be better to address why we need it as in a cure rather than ongoing treatment?

UK Retail Sales

These were strong again as we note below although it began with what in sporting terms would be called a head fake.

The quantity bought was flat (0.0%) in April 2019 when compared with the previous month, with growths in clothing, non-store retailing and fuel offset by falls in all other main sectors.

However this represented quite a surge on last year.

When compared with the previous year, the quantity bought in April 2019 increased by 5.2%, with growth across all sectors except household goods, which fell by 4.5%.

As you can see the numbers were strong and if we stockpiled anything ( after all many economists and much of the media claimed we were) then household goods seems an odd item. As to the more recent trend overall it has been strong too.

In contrast, from January 2019 to April 2019 the three-month on three-month index has shown strong growth…….In the three months to April 2019, the quantity of goods bought (volume) in retail sales increased by 1.8% when compared with the previous three months, with strong growth in non-store retailing, which reached a record high of 9.4%.

This brings one of my main themes into play as well as providing insight into an curious current episode. The theme that I established in January 2015 has worked again.

Both the amount spent and quantity bought in the retail industry showed growth of 5.5% and 5.2% respectively in April 2019 when compared with a year earlier.

What that shows us is that an inflation rate of 0.3% has led to strong retail sales growth one more time. That is more mud in the eye for inflation fanatics like Adam Posen who continue to prescribe more of it as a cure all for the economy. Actually there is so much evidence to the reverse now it is mud in both eyes. The low retail sales inflation we are seeing combined with annual wages growth of 3% or so means strong real wages growth in this area and therefore strong numbers.

Why are retailers doing so badly then?

This week has seen various problems for the retail sector. Here is the Guardian on Marks and Spencer.

Pretax profits were less than £85m – on sales of £10.4bn – after £440m of one-off costs, about half of which relate to the store closure programme………Marks & Spencer is stepping up its retreat from the high street by closing a further 20 of its full-line stores, which sell clothing and food under one roof.

Also the empire of Phillip Green has hit trouble this week or perhaps I should say more trouble, plus in a related piece of news Jamie Oliver’s restaurant chain bit the dust. So how can retail sales be so strong but retailing so week?

  • The low retail inflation number is good for consumers but must be squeezing retailers margins
  • “with strong growth in non-store retailing, which reached a record high of 9.4%.”

So not only are margins squeezed but we continue to shift online.

In April 2019, online retailing accounted for 18.7% of total retailing compared with 17.7% in April 2018, with an overall growth of 10.1% when compared with the same month a year earlier.

Or as Glen Frey put it.

The heat is on, on the street
Inside your head, on every beat
And the beat’s so loud, deep inside
The pressure’s high, just to stay alive
‘Cause the heat is on

Comment

As ever a lot is happening at once. We see more and more signs of a global slow down which to my mind should lead to us asking “how did I get here?”. Instead the same old crew repeat the same failed remedies and so rarely get questions. In the detail we may see something of a pivot towards the Euro area relative to the US as the monetary data has been better the last couple of months.

Returning to the UK we are likely to be grateful yet again for the UK consumer who seems to have inexhaustible desire and appetite. Of course it is not a free lunch as it poses questions for the trade figures. Also if we sum up the retail sector is reducing inflation but even with it we do not have that much economic growth. That no doubt explains why in spite of the rhetoric from Mark Carney and Forward Guidance from the Bank of England about higher interest-rates those trading UK Gilts do not believe it. That is because the UK two-year yield at 0.66% and the five-year yield at 0.72% are below his Bank Rate of 0.75% and suggesting cuts and not rises.

Also let me wish soon to be former PM Theresa May well as whatever one may think of her term it is nearly over and we all need to move on.

 

 

 

Germany is facing the credit crunch era version of stagflation

Some days a topic appears that has become an economic theme plus links with the discussions of earlier in the week and today is such a day. Since late summer last year we have began observing some backfires in the engine of the German economy and that turned into a second half of 2018 that saw economic output as measured by Gross Domestic Product actually fall.  This meant that the 2.2% economic growth of 2016 and 2017 decelerated to 1.4% in 2018. Apparently that is enough to turn Germans to drink.

WIESBADEN – As reported by the Federal Statistical Office, the beer producing and storing establishments in Germany sold 2.0 billion litres of beer in the first quarter of 2019. That was an increase of 2.4% from the corresponding period of the previous year.

However that report from earlier failed to provide enough support for the retail sales numbers.

Retail turnover, March 2019
-0.2% on the previous month (in real terms, calendar and seasonally adjusted, provisional)
-0.5% on the previous month (in nominal terms, calendar and seasonally adjusted, provisional)
-2.1% on the same month a year earlier (in real terms, provisional)
-1.7% on the same month a year earlier (in nominal terms, provisional)

If we concentrate on the real or volume figures we see the retail sales fell by 0.5% on the February numbers and were 2.1% on last year. This would be a troubling development if it persisted because one of the issues of the pre credit crunch era was the German export surplus which we know has if anything grown since. There has been a lot of establishment rhetoric about it but it has been hot air as we sing along with Bob Seeger and the Silver Bullet Band.

Cause you’re still the same
You’re still the same
Moving game to game
Some things never change
You’re still the same.

A proposed win-win situation out of this would be for German domestic consumption to rise and thereby boost imports to reduce the export surplus. This would be a win-win because the imports would be others exports and might lead to a virtuous circle where they could afford more German exports. But the March signal from retail sales is the consumption is not only not booming but maybe falling.

This is a change on what we had seen so far in 2019 and as ever in the retail sales series we wonder about how reliable the seasonal adjustment has been.

The Easter holiday situation had a negative impact on March 2019 sales when compared to March 2018.

Manufacturing

This is an area where the news has progressively gone from bad to worse. This mornings Markit business survey continued the theme.

Latest PMI® data from IHS Markit and BME revealed a further marked contraction of Germany’s manufacturing sector at the start of the second quarter, albeit with the rates of decline in output and new orders easing slightly since March.

Before this phase the phrase “marked contraction” was something definitely not associated with German manufacturing, and especially its up until now very successful car industry.

Behind the decrease in output in April was a seventh straight monthly reduction in new orders. Despite easing slightly since March, the rate of decline remained sharp and quicker than at any other point over the past ten years. This was also the case for new export orders. Where firms reported a decrease in inflows of new work, this was often linked to a slowdown in the automotive industry.

So we see that the automotive slow down is rippling though other parts of industry. Earlier this month Germany’s statisticians focused in on this.

In the course of 2018, however, the production of motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers decreased markedly….. the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) reports that production in the second half of 2018 was a calendar and seasonally adjusted 7.1% lower than in the first half of the year.

They went onto point out that it was 4.7% of the German economy in 2016 and employed 880.000 people directly.

If we look ahead then the outlook also looks none too bright.

Finally, April’s survey showed manufacturers growing
gloomier about the outlook for output over the next 12
months. The degree of pessimism was the greatest seen
since November 2012.

Even this was happening.

another modest decrease in employment

However this just feels like stating the obvious.

Capacity pressures meanwhile continued to dissipate.

Stagflation?

This from Tuesday added a little fuel to the fire.

WIESBADEN – The inflation rate in Germany as measured by the consumer price index is expected to be 2.0% in April 2019. Based on the results available so far, the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) also reports that the consumer prices are expected to increase by 1.0% on March 2019.

Actually the Euro standard HICP measure or what we in the UK call CPI rose to an annual rate of increase of 2.1%. As to what drove it we see that the annual rate of energy costs has risen from 2.3% in January to 4.6% in March but a larger impact has come from services inflation rising from 1.4% to 2.1% because it is 53% of the index ( These breakdowns are from the German CPI).

As we so often find rental inflation at 1.4% pulls the number lower as it has been 1.4% every month in 2019 so far. Also it is time for my regular reminder that owner-occupied housing costs are ignored.

Given the tight market situation in 2018, prices in Germany as a whole advanced at nearly the same pace as in the preceding years, with house and apartment prices up by an average 8% in the 126 cities. ( Deutsche Bank )

They expect 7.9% this year which will have central bankers rubbing their hands at the wealth effects, after all if you ignore the inflation here it just disappears doesn’t it?

Principally because of low-interest rates, aggregate private household wealth in the entire cycle since 2009 has risen successively by roughly EUR 3,800 bn or over 40%,
according to the Federal Statistical Office, with property asset growth largely paralleling that of financial assets. ( Deutsche Bank)

Also I note that they think that rental inflation for new properties was 5% last year and 4.5% this which begs a question of the official data.

Comment

Whilst comparisons with the stagflation of the 1970s leave us well short of the absolute level of inflation it is also true that wage growth is much lower. The Ivory Towers will need a very cloudy day to avoid spotting that inflation has risen when according to their models it should be falling. So not much growth and some inflation makes us mull that temporarily at least Germany is something of a sick man of Europe.

The irony is that as I reported on Tuesday the pick-up in narrow money growth means that the Euro area has better economic prospects than it did. So other nations look like they will do better than Germany for a while and Spain for example already has been, Thus they may support it and stop things getting as bad as some think. But let me leave you with some manufacturing PMI numbers that this time last year would have been considered as “unpossible”.

Greece 56.6,  UK 53.1,  Germany 44.4