China adds to the list of slowing economies

This morning has seen a barrage of economic data released by the National Bureau of Statistics in China. This gives us an opportunity to see if they are catching the economic cold that we have been observing developing amongst us evil western capitalist imperialists. According to the rhetoric things are going really rather well.

In November, under the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, all regions and departments implemented the decisions and arrangements made by the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, adhered to the requirement of high-quality development, stuck to the general working guideline of making progress while maintaining stability, adopted the new development philosophy, deepened the supply-side structural reform, and intensified efforts in policy implementation to maintain stability in areas like employment, financial sector, foreign trade, foreign investment, domestic investment, and market expectation. The economy performed within the reasonable range and maintained the generally stable and growing momentum.

That is quite an opening sentence to say the least! Let us add to that with some perspective as we look back.

Next week marks 40 years since China opened up its economy to the world. It’s economy has grown to 80x the size of its 1978 version. For comparison, the U.S. has grown 8x. ( @DavidInglesTV)

So the rhetoric fits that but as we shall see fits what is currently taking place much less well.

Today’s Data

Industrial Production

Whilst the growth rate would be loved by many this is China and things are not what they used to be.

In November, the real growth of the total value added of the industrial enterprises above designated size was 5.4 percent year-on-year, 0.5 percentage point slower than last month.

This wrong-footed expectations based on the ongoing stimulus programme and was the lowest reading since early 2016. In terms of this year the annual growth rate has fallen from the 7.2% of January to a period of apparent stabilisation around 6% and now another leg lower. In terms of a breakdown we were told this.

In terms of sectors, the value added of the mining increased by 2.3 percent on a year-on-year base, the manufacturing grew by 5.6 percent and the production and supply of electricity, thermal power, gas and water grew by 9.8 percent.

Retail Sales

So with production falling was there a potential boost from consumer demand?

In November, the total retail sales of consumer goods reached 3,526.0 billion yuan, a year-on-year rise of 8.1 percent, 0.5 percentage point slower than last month.

If we switch to Reuters we see that it has been quite some time since growth has been at this level.

Retail sales rose 8.1 percent in November from a year earlier, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed on Friday, below expectations for an 8.8 percent rise and the slowest since May 2003. In October, sales increased 8.6 percent.

If we look at the pattern we see the recent peak was 10.1% in March and the early part of the year saw several readings comfortably above 9%.

From January to November, the total retail sales of consumer goods grew by 9.1 percent year on year.

The official data set also gives us an idea of the scale of urbanisation in China now.

Analyzed by different areas, the retail sales in urban areas reached 2,999.0 billion yuan, up by 7.9 percent year-on-year, and the retail sales in rural areas stood at 527.0 billion yuan, up by 9.3 percent.

I doubt you will be surprised to learn what was particularly pulling the numbers down.

Auto sales fell a sharp 10.0 percent from a year earlier, in line with industry data showing sales dived 14 percent in November – the steepest drop in nearly seven years. ( Reuters).

Slowing auto sales on China are part of a pattern that has rumbled around the world this year. Only yesterday there was news about Ford closing a plant in Blanquefort in France and planning job cuts in Saarlouis Germany.

Service Sector

This was not as weak as the others but has also fallen in 2018.

In November, the Index of Services Production increased by 7.2 percent year on year, the same speed as last month………From January to November, the Index of Services Production increased by 7.7 percent year on year.

Taxes

Another way of looking at economic performance is to analyse what a country can collect in taxes and at first this looks good.

China’s fiscal revenue rose 6.5 percent year-on-year to 17.23 trillion yuan (about 2.5 trillion U.S. dollars) in the first 11 months of 2018, official data showed.

But it too has slowed quite a bit in the last couple of months.

The country’s fiscal revenue stood at 1.08 trillion yuan last month, with a 5.4-percent decline year-on-year, according to the Ministry of Finance.

The decline widened from a drop of 3.1 percent in October, the first fall this year.

In November, China’s tax revenue reached 805.1 billion yuan, down 8.3 percent year on year, compared with a 5.1-percent decline in October, the ministry said.

Some of this has been driven by the tax cuts applied to try to stimulate the economy so we will have to wait and see how this fully plays out.

Money Supply

Reuters updated us earlier this week.

Broad M2 money supply grew 8.0 percent in November from a year earlier, matching forecasts and October’s pace.

Adding to signs of stress on balance sheets and faltering business confidence, M1 money supply rose just 1.5 percent on-year, the weakest pace since January 2014. M1 reflects both the strength of corporate cash positions and whether they may be building up funds for possible future investments.

That is a fascinating perception of narrow money. What we would expect from such data ( the growth rate exceeded 10% in late 2015 and much of 2016) is for it to apply a brake to the Chinese economy and that is exactly what it appears to be doing. Furthermore the brake appears to be tightening.

Switching to broad money trends and subtracting inflation we get a suggestion that future economic growth will head towards and maybe below 6%.

Comment

Whilst the rhetoric may be different China has itself a dose of what the western capitalist imperialists are suffering from in 2018 and that is slower narrow money supply growth. We can argue about definitions and circumstances but as we look around Europe, the US and now China it seems the rhythm section are hammering out the same beat. There are different responses because countries start from different growth levels. For example the impact on France seems to have sent production into negative territory if this morning’s Markit business survey is any guide whereas Chinese production is still recording a growth rate above 5%.

But the direction of travel is the same and China has got used to high growth rates so there will be indigestion from the changes. So we can expect more stimuli and if the recent speeches from the PBOC are any guide some interest-rate reductions I think. They will be a bit late for the next few months though.

And so it begins?

China To Lift Retaliatory Tariff On US Cars For Three Months -Had Imposed 25% Retaliatory Tariff On Cars -To Lift Tariffs From On Jan 1 ( @LiveSquawk )

 

Advertisements

Italy faces another bond market crisis

The situation in Italy has returned to what we now consider as a bond market danger zone although this time around the mainstream media seems much less interested in a subject which it was all over only a fortnight ago. Before we get to that as ever we will prioritise the real economy and perhaps in a type of cry for help the Italian statistics office has GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) per capita at the top of its page. This shows that the post Second World War surge was replaced by such a decline since the 28,699 Euros of 2007 that the 26,338 of last year took Italy back to 1999. The lack of any growth this century is at the root cause of the current political maelstrom as it is the opposite of what the founders of the Euro promised.

Retail Sales

These attracted my attention on release yesterday and you will quickly see why.

In April 2018, both the value and volume of retail trade show a fall respectively of -4.6% and -5.4%
comparing to April 2017, following strong growth in March 2018.

Imagine if that had been the UK Twitter would have imploded! As we look further we see that there seems to be an Italian spin on the definition of a recession.

In April 2018, the indices of retail trade saw a monthly recession, with value falling by 0.7% and volume
dropping by 0.9%.

Taking a deeper perspective calms the situation somewhat but leaves us noting a quarterly decline.

Notwithstanding the monthly volatility, looking at the underlying pattern, the 3 months to April picture
reports a slight decline as value decreased by 0.5% and volume contracted by 0.2%.

This is significant as this is supposed to be a better period for the Italian economy which has been reporting economic growth for a couple of years now. It does not have the UK problem of inflation impacting on real wages because inflation is quite subdued.

In May 2018, according to preliminary estimates, the Italian harmonised index of consumer prices (HICP) increased by 0.4% compared with April and by 1.1% with respect to May 2017 (it was +0.6% in the previous month).

Actually the rise in inflation there may further impact on retail sales via real wages. Indeed the general picture here sees retail sales in April at 98.6 compared to 2015 being 100. Seeing as that is supposed to have been a better period for the Italian economy I think it speaks for itself.

The economy overall

This is consistent with the general European theme we have been both observing and expecting. From yesterday’s official monthly report.

The downturn in the leading indicator continues, suggesting a deceleration in economic activity for the coming months.

This would continue the decline as in terms of GDP growth we have seen 0.5% twice then 0.4% twice and then 0.3% twice. Ironically that had shifted Italy up the pecking order after the 0.1% for the UK and the 0,2% for France after its downwards revision. But the detail is not optimistic.

Italian growth has been fostered by change in inventories (+0.7 percentage points) and by domestic consumption expenditures (+0.3 percentage points).

The inventory position seems to be a case of “what goes up must come down” from the aptly named Blood Sweat & Tears and we have already seen that retail sales will not be helping consumption.

The trade position is in general a strong one for Italy but the first quarter showed a weakening which seems to have continued in April.

In April, exports toward non-EU countries recorded a contraction (-0.9% compared to the previous month) less marked than in the previous months (- 3.1% over the last three months February-April). In the same quarter, total
imports excluding energy showed a negative change (-0.7%).

So lower exports are not good and lower imports may be a further sign of weakening domestic demand as well. As ever the monthly data is unreliable but as you can see below Italy’s vert strong trade position with non EU countries has weakened so far this year as we mull the stronger Euro.

The trade balance registered a surplus of 7,141 million euro compared to the surplus of 7,547 million euro in the same period of 2017.

An ominous hint of trouble ahead comes if we note the likely impact of a higher oil price on Italy’s energy trade balance deficit of 12.4 billion Euros for the first four months of 2018.

Bond Markets

These are being impacted by two main factors. Via @liukzilla we are able to award today’s prize for stating the obvious to an official at the Bank of Italy.

ROSSI SAYS YIELD SPREAD WIDER DUE TO -EXIT RISK: ANSA || brilliant…

It seems to have been a day where the Bank of Italy is indeed in crisis mode as we have also had a case of never believe anything until it is officially denied.

A GRADUAL RISE IN INTEREST RATES TO PRE-CRISIS LEVELS IS NOT A CAUSE FOR CONCERN FOR ITALY -BANK OF ITALY OFFICIAL ( @DeltaOne )

The other factor is the likelihood that the new Italian government will loosen the fiscal purse strings and spend more. It is already asking the European Union for more funds which of course will come from a budget that will ( May?) lose the net contribution from the UK.

Thus the bond market has been sold off quite substantially again this week. If we look at it in terms of the bond future ( BTP) we see that the 139 and a bit of early May has been replaced by just under 123 as I type this. Whilst there are implications for those holding such instruments such as pension funds the main consequence is that Italy seems to be now facing a future where the ten-year benchmark yields and costs a bit over 3%. This is a slow acting factor especially after a period where the ECB bond purchases under QE have made this cheap for Italy. But there has already been one issue at 3% as the new drumbeat strikes a rhythm.

There has also been considerable action in the two-year maturity. Now this is something that is ordinarily of concern to specialists like me but the sharp movements mean that something is going on and it is not good. It is only a few short week’s ago that this was negative before it then surged over 2% in a dizzying rise before dropping back to sighs of relief from the establishment. But today it is back at 1.68% as I type this. In my opinion something like a big trading position and/or a derivative has blown up here which no doubt will be presented as a surprise at some future date.

Meanwhile here is the Governor of the Bank of Italy describing the scene at the end of last month.

Having widened considerably during the sovereign debt crisis, the spread between the average cost of the debt and GDP growth narrowed to around
1 per cent. It could narrow further over the next few years so long as the economic situation remains positive. If the tensions of the last few days subside, the cost of debt will also fall, if only slightly, when the securities
that were placed at higher rates than newly issued ones come to maturity.

Comment

So to add to the other issues it looks like the Italian economy is now slowing and of course it was not growing very much in the first place. This makes me think of the banks who are of course central to this so let us return to Governor Visco’s speech.

Italian banks strengthened capital in 2017. Common equity increased by €23 billion, of which €4 billion was provided by the Government for the recapitalization of Monte dei Paschi di Siena.

Those who paid up will now be mulling losses yet again as even more good money seems to be turning bad and speaking of bad.

NPLs, net of loan loss provisions, have
diminished by about a third with respect to the end of 2015, to €135 billion. The coverage ratio, i.e. the ratio of the stock of loan loss provisions to gross NPLs, has reached 53 per cent, a much higher level than the average for the
leading European banks.

On and on this particular saga goes which will only really ever be fixed by some economic growth which of course is where we came in. Also whoever has done this has no doubt been suffering from a sleepless night or two recently.

The decrease in the stock of NPLs is partly due to the sharp rise in sales on the secondary market, facilitated by the favourable economic situation
(€35 billion in 2017 against a yearly average of €5 billion in the previous four years). This year sales are expected to reach €65 billion for the banking
system as a whole.

 

 

 

UK Retail Sales give a hint of stagflation

We move onto the official retail sales situation having been warned that times have been hard. On the 14th of this month the British Retail Consortium told us this.

Much could be made of the adverse impact on April’s footfall of Easter shifting to March, but even looking at March and April together – so smoothing this out – still demonstrates that footfall has plummeted. A -3.3% drop in April, following on from -6% in March, resulted in an unprecedented drop of -4.8% over the two months. Not since the depths of recession in 2009, has footfall over March and April declined to such a degree, and even then the drop was less severe at -3.8%.

The news there was no good and there was a rather ominous reference to 2009 as we all know what happened next. Part of this is the switch from high street to online shopping which is a major driver in this.

 in April nearly 1 in 10 shops in town centres was vacant.

That seems to be true in my area although I note that these are described as a “flagship store opportunity” on the Kings Road in Chelsea. This morning has seen more of the same. From the BBC.

The wave of cold weather dubbed the Beast from the East took a big bite out of B&Q’s sales in the three months to 30 April, its owner Kingfisher has said.

Like-for-like sales at the DIY chain tumbled 9% in the UK and Ireland.

The woe was not contained to the UK for Kingfisher, with sales at Kingfisher’s French DIY chain Castorama also dropping 8%.

The falls led to an overall 4% decline in like-for-like sales for the quarter.

This has been added to by the woes at Marks and Spencer which was a benchmark for quality retailing in the UK but certainly in my experience lost its way. It now plans to close 100 stores and as to the reasons well the Guardian puts it like this.

Wired world: M&S faces greater competition as the internet has made it easier than ever to shop around……Too many shops:……

Poor stores:………Fashion faux pas:…..This is not just M&S food … It’s too expensive and rivals have caught up. …….M&S Inc: The business culture at M&S has long been criticised for being too bureaucratic……..Peak stuff? M&S is exposed to a shift in spending that is seeing Britons spend less on wardrobe updates.

I have two main thoughts on that. Firstly wasn’t the structure at M&S supposedly turned round by Stuart Rose? The UK establishment certainly gave that impression by making him Baron Rose of Monewden. Also the “peak stuff” issue can be taken further and wider as you see until recently UK retail sales were seeing quite a boom.

“Retailers saw a strong end to 2016 with sales in the final quarter up 5.6% on the same period last year,”

Back then we were in a phase that I thought and argued would work but of course the central bankers and their media acolytes were too busy scaremongering about DEFLATION to figure out.

Longer term, retail sales have continued to grow strongly since 2014, following a stagnant period during the economic downturn. Growth in sales coincides with a continued decline in store prices as prices began to fall in March 2014

The index set at 100 in 2013 had risen to 114.7 and my point about “peak” is did even the British consumer to some extent satiate themselves? There is a potential element of rationality too because if they expected price rises from a weaker UK Pound £ it would be logical to buy more if you could.

Today’s data

I am pleased to report that I was on the case on Tuesday.

Even VAT rose a little from £11.2 billion to £11.5 billion which may suggest that the more apocalyptic surveys on retail sales have been exaggerated.

This was because the ONS reported this.

When compared with March 2018, the quantity bought in April increased by 1.6% as all sectors, excluding department stores, recovered from the declines seen in March.

If we look for some perspective we see this.

The quantity bought and amount spent increased by 1.4% and 3.5% respectively when compared with both the same month to a year earlier and the three months to a year earlier. There was little movement to growth in the three months to April, with a slight increase of 0.1% in the quantity bought compared with the previous three months.

So we see that in fact we have some growth and as it happens it is pretty similar to the rate of growth we think we have for the wider economy right now. Not quite what we keep being told as we cross our fingers that the slow down in the monetary data is just that rather than a reversal.

For our official statisticians the numbers presented a couple of problems. If you tell people that the weather was not a material effect in March then this is to say the least awkward.

Petrol sales reported the largest recovery in April, with a growth of 4.7% compared with a decline of negative 6.9% in the previous month as road closures affected travel in March.

Or this.

The effects of the adverse weather on sales introduces further volatility to the monthly growth rate in April 2018.

Also I am sorry to say that what used to be called the “Early Wire” seems to be still around for some at least.

Who knew

Remember when we were such fools
And so convinced and just too cool
Oh no (Pink)

Comment

So we now know we are in a phase of slower retail sales growth but what happens next. Well only on Tuesday the Bank of England gave its view.

As inflation falls back, and wage growth improves somewhat due to reduced labour market slack, household real income growth is set to pick up this year. That should support consumption growth………. A key risk for this year is to what extent household will spend the additional real income, or use it to rebuild the savings that were eroded
last year.  ( Gertjan Vlieghe)

So it should get better but it might not? Thanks for that Jan. Still when you cling to a failure like the Phillips Curve the world must seem an uncertain and frightening place.

A lower unemployment rate should still be expected to push up on wages.

In reality retail sales will be supported by the end of the decline in real wages and could get a boost if they rise but as we have seen from the inflation data yesterday the situation for late summer is not what it was. We could be heading for a period of what used to be called Stagflation. To the response that inflation is lower now I would reply that you are correct but it is the relationship between it and wage growth which is material now. The numbers may be lower but the impact on people is the same.

Meanwhile in a universe far.far, away a man responsible for a £60 billion Sledgehammer for markets announces this on the Bank of England social media feed.

Mark Carney looks at what’s been done to re-build market infrastructures so real markets can thrive.

 

What can we expect from the Bank of England in 2018?

Today we find out the results of the latest Bank of England policy meeting which seems set to be along the lines of Merry Christmas and see you in the new year. One area of possible change is to its status as the Old Lady  of Threadneedle Street a 200 year plus tradition. From City AM.

The Bank will use further consultations to remove “all gendered language” from rulebooks and forms used throughout the finance sector, a spokesperson said.

Perhaps it will divert attention from the problems keeping women in senior positions at the Bank as we have seen several cases of “woman overboard” in recent times some for incompetence ( a criteria that could be spread to my sex) but not so in the case of Kristin Forbes. There does seem to be an aversion to appointing British female economists as opposed to what might be called “internationalists” in the style of Governor Carney.

Moving onto interest-rates there is an area where the heat is indeed on at least in relative terms. From the US Federal Reserve last night.

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 1-1/4 to 1‑1/2 percent. The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative

The crucial part is the last bit with its clear hint of more to come which was reinforced by Janet Yellen at the press conference. From the Wall Street Journal.

Even with today’s rate increase, she said the federal-funds rate remains somewhat below its neutral level. That neutral level is low but expected to rise and so more gradual rate hikes are likely going forward, she said.

The WSJ put the expectation like this.

At the same time, they expect inflation to hold steady, and they maintained their expectation of three interest-rate increases in 2018.

Actually if financial markets are any guide that may be it as the US Treasury Bond market looks as though it is looking for US short-term interest-rates rising to around 2%. For example the yield on the five-year Treasury Note is 2.14% and the ten-year is 2.38%.

But the underlying theme here is that the US is leaving the UK behind and if we look back in time we see that such a situation is unusual as we generally move if not in unison along the same path. What was particularly unusual was the August 2016 UK Bank Rate cut.

Inflation Targeting

What is especially unusual is that the Fed and the Bank of England are taking completely different views on inflation trends and indeed targeting. From the Fed.

 Inflation on a 12‑month basis is expected to remain somewhat below 2 percent in the near term but to stabilize around the Committee’s 2 percent objective over the medium term. Near-term risks to the economic outlook appear roughly balanced, but the Committee is monitoring inflation developments closely.

In spite of the fact that consumer inflation is below target they are raising interest-rates based on an expectation ( incorrect so far) that it will rise to their target and in truth because of the improved employment and economic growth situation. A bit of old fashioned taking away the punch bowl monetary policy if you like.

The Bank of England faces a different inflation scenario as we learnt on Tuesday. From Bloomberg.

The latest data mean Carney has to write to Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond explaining why inflation is more than 1 percentage point away from the official 2 percent target. The letter will be published alongside the BOE’s policy decision in February, rather than this week, as the Monetary Policy Committee has already started its meetings for its Dec. 14 announcement.

If you were a Martian who found a text book on monetary policy floating around you might reasonably expect the Bank of England to be in the middle of a series of interest-rates. Our gender neutral Martian would therefore be confused to note that as inflation expectations rose in the summer of 2016 it cut rather than raised Bank Rate. This was based on a different strategy highlighted by a Twitter exchange I had with former Bank of England policymaker David ( Danny) Blanchflower who assured me there was a “collapse in confidence”. To my point that in reality the economy carried on as before ( in fact the second part of 2016 was better than the first) he seemed to be claiming that the Bank Rate cut was both the fastest acting and most effective 0.25% interest-rate reduction in history. If only the previous 4% +  of Bank Rate cuts had been like that…….

 

Even Norway gets in on the act

For Norges bank earlier today.

On the whole, the changes in the outlook and the balance of risks imply a somewhat earlier increase in the key policy rate than projected in the September Report.

China is on the move as well as this from its central bank indicates.

On December 14, the People’s Bank of China launched the reverse repo and MLF operation rates slightly up 5 basis points.

I am slightly bemused that anyone thinks that a 0.05% change in official interest-rates will have any effect apart from imposing costs and signalling. Supposedly it is a response to the move from the US but it is some 0.2% short.

The UK economic situation

This continues to what we might call bumble along. In fact if the NIESR is any guide ( and it has been in good form) then we may see a nudge forwards.

Our monthly estimates of GDP suggest that output expanded by 0.5 per cent in the three months to November, similar to our estimate from last month.

The international outlook looks solid which should help too. This morning’s retail sales data suggested that the many reports of the demise of the UK consumer continue to be premature,

When compared with October 2017, the quantity bought in November 2017 increased by 1.1%, with household goods stores showing strong growth at 2.9%……..The year-on-year growth rate shows the quantity bought increased by 1.6%.

As ever care is needed especially as Black Friday was included in the November series but Cyber Monday was not. Although I note that there was yet another signal of the Bank of England’s inflation problem.

Total average store prices increased by 3.1% in November 2017 when compared with the same period last year, with price increases across all store types, in particular food stores had the largest price increase of 3.6% since September 2013.

Comment

The Bank of England finds itself in a similar position to the US Federal Reserve in one respect which is that it had two dissenters to its last interest-rate increase. The clear difference is that the Fed is in the middle of a series of rises whereas the Bank of England has so far not convinced on this front in spite of saying things like this. From the Daily Telegraph.

“We’ve said, given all the things we assume in our forecast, many of which will be misses – there are always unknown things and unpredictable things happening – but given our outlook currently, we anticipate we will need maybe a couple more rate rises, to get inflation back on track, while at the same time supporting the economy,” Ben Broadbent told the BBC’s Today programme.

I wonder if he even convinced himself. Also it is disappointing that we will not get the formal letter explaining the rise in inflation until February as it is not as if Governor Carney has been short of time.

So it seems we will only see action from the Bank of England next year if its hand is forced and on that basis I am pleased to see that Governor Carney plans to get about.

Me on Core Finance

http://www.corelondon.tv/inflation-employment-uk/

Why does the Bank of England lack credibility these days?

As it is open season at the Bank of England in terms of media appearances and speeches even the absent-minded professor has been spotted. Actually these days he seems to be performing the role of Governor Carney’s messenger boy and as you can see below this was in evidence yesterday,

The effects of Brexit on inflation, and ultimately on the appropriate level of interest rates, are altogether more
uncertain and more complex. They’re certainly too complex to justify the simple assertion that Brexit necessarily implies low interest rates.

I am not sure what world Ben Broadbent lives in as of all the things Brexit might effect I would imagine low interest-rates was a long way down most people’s lists. Also as to the direction of travel well we were told before the referendum by Governor Carney that interest-rates were likely to rise should the vote be to leave.  Of course he then cut them!

But if we continue with what was supposed to be the theme of yesterday’s speech there was also this.

The MPC explained over a year ago that
there were “limits to the extent to which above-target inflation [could] be tolerated” and that those limits
depended on the degree of spare capacity in the economy. In March, eight months ago, it said in its
Monetary Policy Summary that, if demand growth remained resilient, “monetary policy may need to be
tightened sooner” than the market expected. Similar points were made in the intervening months.
Yet, even as inflation rose, and the rate of unemployment fell further, interest-rate markets continued to
under-weight the possibility that Bank Rate might actually go up this year.

This bit is significant because interest-rate markets are again saying “we don’t believe you” to the Bank of England. The clearest example of that is the two-year Gilt yield which at 0.48% is below the current Bank Rate let alone any possible increases. Even the five-year Gilt yield at 0.75% is only pricing in maybe one increase. Thus the message that further Bank Rate increases are on the cards has not convinced.

Mixed Messages

The problem with sending out an absent-minded professor to deliver a message is that they are likely to be, well, absent-minded!

I’m certainly not going to argue here that interest rates will inevitably rise as Brexit proceeds.

If we skip his apparent Brexit obsession that rather contradicts the message he was sent out to put over and later there was more.

However, my main point is that, given all the moving parts, even the marginal impact of EU withdrawal on the
appropriate level of UK interest rates is ambiguous

And more.

These pull in different directions: holding fixed the other two, weaker demand tends to
depress inflation and interest rates, declines in productivity and the exchange rate do the opposite. There
are feasible combinations of the three that might require looser policy, others that lead to tighter policy.

This is classic two handed economics as in one the one hand interest-rates might rise but on the other they might fall.

And more.

Predicting others’ predictions isn’t easy, and I don’t think the balance of risks to inflationary pressure, and
therefore future interest rates, is obvious.

The essential problem faced here is back to the credibility issue that Sir Jon Cunliffe was boasting about in his speech on Tuesday. You see markets have problems but are usually not stupid and they will see through this.

It won’t have escaped your attention that the MPC raised interest rates earlier this month. It did so, in part,
because of the referendum-related decline in sterling’s exchange rate. That has pushed up CPI inflation and
will continue to do for some time yet, as the rise in import costs is passed through to retail prices.

When the Bank of England raised Bank Rate the effective or trade-weighted index for the UK Pound £ was 78 but it had cut Bank Rate in August 2016 when it was 79! So if it raised Bank Rate in response to a one point fall why did it cut it in the face of the 9 point fall that has followed the EU leave vote? Best to leave our absent-minded professor in his land of confusion I think. The statement also ignores that fact that to defeat an inflationary push you need to get ahead of events not be some form of tail end charlie chasing them.

Back in August 2016 Ben Broadbent and his colleagues gambled and we lost.

The MPC eased policy in August 2016 not because of the referendum result but because of the steep fall in measures of business and consumer confidence that followed it.

So in terms of credibility I would say that in modern language they are in fact uncredible.

Retail Sales

These numbers remind us of why Ben Broadbent is so uncredible. You see after the EU Leave vote he decided to ignore signals that the Bank of England previously used and concentrate on business surveys. Markit reported this in July.

UK economy contracts at steepest pace since early-2009

Both they and Ben are probably desperately hoping that people will be absent minded about this as of course the UK economy in fact continued to grow. In particular we saw this happen towards the end of the year as we focus in on Retail Sales.

In October 2016, the quantity of goods bought (volume) in the retail industry was estimated to have increased by 7.4% compared with October 2015; all store types showed growth with the largest contribution coming from non-store retailing. This is the highest rate of growth since April 2002.

That is one of the biggest booms we have ever had and thank you ladies as it your enthusiasm for clothes and shoes shopping that helped give the numbers a push.

That perspective brings us to today’s numbers which reflected the boom last year.

The longer-term picture as shown by the year-on-year growth rate shows the quantity bought fell by 0.3% in comparison with a strong October 2016;

At this point a cursory glance might make you think that the numbers are badly and are in line with some of the surveys we have seen. Except if we look closer maybe not.

The underlying pattern in the retail industry in October 2017, as suggested by the three-month on three-month measure is one of growth, with the quantity bought increasing by 0.9%………The quantity bought in October 2017 increased by 0.3% compared with September 2017;

If you look at the series it was in fact September which was the weak month as was the opening of 2017 and October was a little better. Also we saw another possible confirmation of my argument that higher inflation leads to weaker volumes.

The main contribution to the overall year-on-year decrease of 0.3% in the quantity bought in retail sales came from food stores, providing a negative contribution of 0.9 percentage points;

The inflation data on Tuesday signalled higher food inflation ( 4.2%) and it may well be more than a coincidence that we are seeing lower volumes. Rather curiously the strong point in October was this.

in particular second-hand goods stores (charity shops, auction houses, antiques and fine art dealers) provided the largest contribution to this growth.

Comment

A theme of my work over the past year and a half or so is to be sanguine about the impact of an EU Leave vote. Yes there are impacts due to higher inflation reducing real wage growth but the economy has in fact grown fairly steadily albeit at no great pace. Regular readers will recall that I pointed out that UK economic history showed that a lower Pound £ has a powerful impact. Ironically that is only partly shown by the trade figures where you might expect to see it first but we do seem to have seen it elsewhere. As to the statistics we receive well they can be solved by a stroke of the pen apparently.

Having carried out an assessment on the additional information, ONS has determined that if the
proposed regulations come into force as proposed then local authority and central government influence
in combination with the existence of nomination agreements would not constitute public sector control,
and English PRPs would be reclassified as Private Non-Financial Corporations (S.11002).

About £60 billion I think and it looks a little like a merry-go-round as they put the national debt up and then change their minds.

Meanwhile I expect the speeches from the Bank of England to get ever more complex so that they paper over the issue that they have got the basic wrong. Let me add one more problem to the list by pointing out something it tries to look away from, here are some wealth effects from what is a fair bit of the QE era.

 

 

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.

 

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.