UK Inflation looks set to fall as 2018 progresses

Today brings us face to face with the UK context on what many are telling us has been the cause of the recent troubled patch for world equity markets. This is because a whole raft of inflation data from the consumer producer and housing sector is due. The narrative that inflation has affected equities markets has got an airing in today’s Financial Times.

The inflation threat has simmered for months, but the missing link had been wage growth, which made the rise in the US jobs figures for January so important, fund managers say. Indeed, the yield on the 10-year Treasury is 40 basis points higher this year, driven almost entirely by inflation expectations. Strong global economic data, coupled with sweeping tax cuts and the recent expansionary budget deal in Washington, should stir price pressures.

Actually that argument seems to be one fitted after the events rather than before as the rise in bond yields could simply be seen as a response to the expansionary fiscal policy in the US combined with interest-rate increases and a reduction albeit small in the size of the Federal Reserve balance sheet. Actually as the FT admits inflation is often considered to be good for equities!

While faster inflation would typically be good for stocks, lifting companies’ pricing power and suggesting economic growth is accelerating.

Wages

There is also a theme doing the rounds about wage inflation. Yesterday Gertjan Vlieghe of the Bank of England joined this particular party according to Reuters.

 a pick-up in wages ……..signs of a pick-up in wages

The problem for the Bank of England on this front is two-fold. Firstly it has been like the boy ( and in some cases) girl who has cried wolf on this front and the second is that the official data has picked up no such thing so far. Thus we are left essentially with one higher wages print of 2.9% for average hourly earnings in the United States. So the case is still rather weak as we wonder if even the current economic recovery can boost wages in any meaningful sense.

Trends

The first trend which should first show in the producer price numbers is the strength of the UK Pound versus the US Dollar over the past year. It was if we look back about 14 cents lower than the current US $1.388. Also the price of crude oil has dipped back from the rally which took it up to US $70 in terms of the Brent benchmark to US $62.47 as I type this. This drop happened quite quickly after this.

Goldman Sachs has held one of the most optimistic views on the rebalancing of the oil market and oil prices in the near term, and the investment bank is now growing even more bullish, predicting that the oil market has likely balanced, and that Brent Crude will reach $82.50 a barrel within six months. ( OilPrice.com)

The Vampire Squid is building up quite a track record of calling the market in the wrong direction as back in the day it called for US $200 a barrel and when prices fell for a US dollar price in the teens. I will let readers decide for themselves whether it is simply incompetent or is taking us all for “muppets”.

Today’s data

The good news was that the trends discussed above are beginning to have an impact.

The headline rate of inflation for goods leaving the factory gate (output prices) rose 2.8% on the year to January 2018, down from 3.3% in December 2017…….Prices for materials and fuels (input prices) rose 4.7% on the year to January 2018, down from 5.4% in December 2017.

Tucked away was the news that the worst seems to be passing us as this is well below the 20.2% peak of this time last year.

The annual rate of inflation for imported materials and fuels was 3.5% in January 2018 (Table 2), down 1.7 percentage points from December 2017 and the lowest it has been since June 2016.

It is a little disappointing to see the Office for National Statistics repeat a mistake made by the Bank of England concentrating on the wrong exchange rate.

The sterling effective exchange rate index (ERI) rose to 79.0 in January 2018. On the year, the ERI was up 2.6% in January 2018 and was the fourth consecutive month where the ERI has shown positive growth.

Commodities are priced in US Dollars in the main.

Consumer Inflation

This showed an example of inflation being sticky.

The all items CPI annual rate is 3.0%, unchanged from last month.

However prices did fall on the month due to the January sales season mostly.

The all items CPI is 104.4, down from 104.9 in December

The inflation rate was unaffected because they fell at the same rate last year.

There was something unusual in what kept annual inflation at 3%.

The main upward contribution came from admission prices for attractions such as zoos and gardens, with prices falling by less than they did last year.

I will put in a complaint when I pass Battersea Park Childrens Zoo later! More hopeful for hard pressed budgets was this turn in food prices.

This effect came from prices for a wide range of types of food and drink, with the largest contribution coming from a fall in meat prices.

My friend who has gone vegan may be guilty of bad timing.

An ongoing disaster

The issue of how to deal with owner-occupied housing remains a scar on the UK inflation numbers. This is the way they are treated in the preferred establishment measure.

The OOH component annual rate is 1.2%, down from 1.3% last month. ( OOH = Owner Occupied Housing).

Not much is it, so how do they get to it? Well this is the major player.

Private rental prices paid by tenants in Great Britain rose by 1.1% in the 12 months to January 2018; this is down from 1.2% in December 2017.

If you are thinking that owner occupiers do not pay rent as they own it you are right. Sadly our official statisticians prefer a fantasy world that could be in an episode of The Outer Limits. They have had a lot of trouble measuring rents which means their fantasies diverge even more from ordinary reality.

If they had used something real then the numbers would look very different.

UK house prices rose 5.2% in the year to December 2017, up from 5.0% in November 2017.

This makes inflation look much lower than it really is and is the true purpose in my opinion. A powerful response to this at one of the public meetings pointed out that due to the popularity of leasing using rents for the car sector would be realistic ( they do not) but using it for owner-occupied housing is unrealistic ( they do).

If you want a lower inflation reading thought it does the trick.

The all items CPIH annual rate is 2.7%, unchanged from last month.

Comment

The underlying theme is that UK consumer inflation looks set to trend lower as 2018 progresses which is good news for both consumers and workers. The initial driving force of this was the rally of the UK Pound £ against the US Dollar and as it has faded back a little we have seen lower oil prices. We also get a sign that prices can fall combined with annual inflation.

The all items CPI is 104.4, down from 104.9 in December…..The all items RPI is 276.0, down from 278.1 in December…….The all items CPIH is 104.5, down from 105.0 in December.

One issue that continues to dog the numbers is the treatment of housing and for all the criticisms levelled at it a strength of the RPI is that it does have house prices ( via depreciation).

The all items RPI annual rate is 4.0%, down from 4.1% last month.

Meanwhile the Bank of England seems lost in its own land of confusion. It cut interest-rates into an inflation rise and then raised them into an expected fall! This is of course the wrong way round for a supposed inflation targeter. Now they seem to be trying to ramp up the rhetoric for more increases forgetting that they need to look 18 months ahead rather than in front of their nose. Perhaps they should take some time out and listen to Bananarama.

I thought I was smart but I soon found out
I didn’t know what life was all about
But then I learnt I must confess
That life is like a game of chess

 

 

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The UK establishment dislikes the RPI because it produces a higher inflation number

Yesterday saw a new phase in a battle I have been fighting since 2012 with roots back to 2009. Back then some changes were made to the way the UK measured inflation in clothing and footwear that led to some uncomfortable answers. This triggered a debate about how we should measure inflation and the UK establishment immediately became fans of Steve Winwood.

While you see a chance take it
Find romance fake it
Because its all on you

You see over this period their behaviour can be summed up simply they are against inflation measures which give a HIGHER answer and in favour of ones which give a LOWER answer. Every time.

Governor Carney joins the party

It must have been party time for Chris Giles the economics editor of the Financial Times as he reported this.

Speaking to the House of Lords economic affairs committee, Mr Carney said the UK “wouldn’t want to be in the same position 10 years from now” using an inflation measure with “known errors” to uprate government bonds, student loan contracts and rail fares.

Indeed Governor Carney went further.

Mark Carney, Bank of England governor, on Tuesday called for a “deliberate and carefully timed” withdrawal of the retail prices index from its use in government contracts because “most would acknowledge, [the RPI] has no merit”.

There are some familiar features here of which the first is usually a combination of hyperbole and arrogance. For example to say that the RPI has “no merit” is plainly silly as whilst it has flaws it also has strengths of which more later. Also if it has “no merit” this should have been obvious from the start of Governor Carney’s term in July 2013 so why has he taken getting on for five years to notice it and then point it out? To use the Bank’s own language he has been “vigilant” with all that implies.

The next bit is maybe even more breathtaking.

He is the first senior official, outside of the UK’s statistics office, to call for the retirement of the RPI and to suggest a way to remove it in long term contracts, some of which stretch so far into the future that they mature in the second half of this century.

Is there an implication that existing contracts will be changed by a sort of force majeure? Care is needed here as the current landscape exists into the 2060s. Anyway the rhetoric continues.

The RPI has lost its status as a trusted inflation measure since 2012 when the Office for National Statistics found that an obscure change in the way it collected the price of clothing exaggerated the difference between it and other measures of inflation which show prices rising at a slower pace.

The use of “trusted” again overreaches. What happened it was declared as “not a national statistic” but it was also true that in the debate the RPI found support at places like the Royal Statistical Society from people like me. Actually some who have looked at this think that it was RPI which behaved more accurately over this period. So there has been a debate ever since and this raises a wry smile.

The ONS agreed that the RPI had errors, but the statistical office still refuses to improve its measurement after rejecting an expert committee’s advice to change the index in 2012. “RPI is not a good measure of inflation and we do not recommend its use,” an ONS spokesperson said.

I will leave you to decide whether Chris Giles is in fact an “expert” as he describes himself as he was on that committee ( CPAC) and voted  for imputed rents rather than house prices in CPIH. The problem with the “expert” description is that CPIH was later also declared not to be a national statistic because the rents numbers used in the imputed rents data were found to be wrong. This was something I predicted to Chris some 5 years ago when he spoke at the Royal Statistical Society.

The problems with inflation measurement

Let me give you some illustrations of good and bad features of UK inflation measures.

RPI

A good feature is that it covers owner-occupied housing mainly via the use of house prices via the depreciation component and mortgage interest-rates. It also covers the “average” better than most other measures by excluding some extremes. Apparently these have “no merit”.

The argument against centers on the “formula effect”

Mr Carney said the upward bias in the RPI was 0.7 percentage points a year.

Arguments have raged over the issue of a geometric mean versus an average one. This lead to the calculation of a variant called RPIJ  which was RPI without the “formula effect” and regular readers will have seen Andrew Baldwin’s eloquent arguments in favour of it in the comments section. Yet the UK establishment pressed the delete button on it after only a couple of years or so . Would it be rude to point out that it had consistently given higher readings than their preferred measures?

CPI

The arguments in favour of this are that it is consistent with national accounts methodology and that it avoids the formula effect. Against is the way that it omits owner-occupied housing and that it covers the better-off rather than the average person. This is because it is expenditure weighted and the fact that the better off spend more means it ends up about 2/3rds of the way up the income spectrum as opposed to the average,

CPIH

This variant of CPI above, does cover owner occupied housing but as even the FT hints there is an enormous flaw in the way it does so.

includes an estimate of the housing costs of owner occupiers

That is simultaneously true and untrue. What it has via the use of imputed rent is an estimate of something which is never paid as home owners do not pay themselves rent as assumed. Again this fits with national accounts methodology at the expense of reality.

 

Comment

The truth is that there is no perfect inflation measure as every measure tries to measure the “typical” experience and we all vary in some way or another. There is a further nuance in that we can try to measure the cost of living or try to follow a purist economics/statistic measure based on consumption. Personally I think that the former is a better route as the Bank of England regularly finds out when it conducts its expectations survey.

Asked about expectations of inflation in the longer term, say in five years’ time, respondents gave a median answer of 3.5%, compared to 3.4% in August.

Another way of putting this is from a reply to the FT from Lu Xun.

The average 25 year old living independently of parents is spending 50-75 % of post tax income on rent in London.  Official inflation  of 2 % , 3 % , no matter if  RPI  or CPI ,  is entirely meaning less for the average punter.

The sad reality of the UK experience has gone as follows and see it you can spot a trend. We were told RPI ( 4.1%) was bad and was replaced by CPI (3%). For a while we were told RPIJ (~3.4%  ) was a possible way ahead but it got dropped whilst CPIH ( 2.7%) with its fantasy rents for owner-occupiers carries on as the “preferred” measure.

Meanwhile RPI carries on with more believers in it than the claim of it losing “trusted” status would have you believe. Yet it is not being updated ( a rather petulant act in my opinion) so it will over time increasingly have issues which when you consider it will be used into the 2060s is a decision of which those who made it should be thoroughly ashamed. Also let me agree with Chris Giles on one issue its use in areas where the government benefits and we lose but not the reverse is simply indefensible and wrong.

student loan contracts and rail fares.

Some care is needed though as some pensioners will have it in their contracts and of course what on earth will the Bank of England pension fund invest in going forwards ( 90% last time I checked)? A bit of a gap there between its rhetoric and behaviour.

However all is not lost as we do not have to go down the slippery slope from RPI to the CPIH as you see there is a new measure called HCI on its way. It looks like it will be a proper replacement for RPI as it does cover house prices so in a few years time once it begins to have a track record we could perhaps suggest beginning to move from RPI to it. It would have been much better if Governor Carney said that and also argued for the RPI to be properly updated in the meantime.

Those of you interested in finding out more about the proposed HCI will find more at the link below.

https://notayesmanseconomics.wordpress.com/2017/12/19/welcome-to-the-uk-household-cost-index-bringing-hope-for-a-better-inflation-measure/

Number Crunching

You may be intrigued to know that an estimate of the effect of switching from RPI to CPI was that it raised GDP by around 0.5% a year. How? Well for the same outcome lower inflation means a higher recorded real output.

 

Is UK inflation rising or falling?

Today brings UK inflation data in to focus but before we get there we have received almost a message from the past from Nigeria. What I mean by that is that the inflation rate of 15.37% it has just reported for December is a reminder of past problems in the UK. Whilst it is a reduction on November consumers in Nigeria will be focusing on food price inflation of 19.4% no doubt whilst their central bank tells them it is non-core. We even have a hint of a consequence of hyper inflation as I note three different unofficial estimates for its inflation appearing and they are 600%, 3000% and 5067%. Aren’t you glad that’s clear?!

The trend

This year has started with inflation concerns as a theme and they have come from two sources. One seems to be something of a rehash of the tired old “output gap” theory. This has perhaps been given a little more credence this year as the world economy has been doing well and finally as unemployment falls in so many places we will then supposedly see some inflation as the Phillips Curve leaps from its grave like Dracula. Or something like that. Putting it another way there are overheating fears based on similar lines. William Dudley of the New York Federal Reserve was expressing such fears last week in remarks and in the Wall Street Journal. The problem for such thinking is that “output gap” style theories have been consistently wrong in the credit crunch era.

What we actually have as I looked at on the of this month is rises in commodity prices. Another example of this was seen overnight as the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil nudged over US $70. It has dipped back below that today but the underlying message is of an oil price around US $14 higher than a year ago and US $25 higher than the  recent nadir of late June 2017. There are various ways of looking at the impact of this but below is one version.

The New York Fed has a go at measuring inflationary pressure as shown below.

The UIG derived from the “full data set” increased slightly from a currently estimated 2.96% in November to 2.98% in December. The “prices-only” measure decreased slightly from 2.22% in November to 2.18% in December.

This is a better method than the attempt to look at core measures ( which for newer readers mostly means excluding the most important things like food and energy). What it shows us is some upwards pull on inflation right now albeit that some of that is from financial markets and maybe self-fulfilling.

Shrinkflation

My theme that the UK is particularly prone to inflation gets another tick. From the BBC.

Coca-Cola has announced it will cut the size of a 1.75l bottle to 1.5l and put up the price by 20p in March, because of the introduction of a sugar tax on soft drinks from April this year.

Today’s UK data

Let us open with a welcome piece of news.

The all items CPI annual rate is 3.0%, down from 3.1% in November.

The only person who may be shifting in his seat is Bank of England Governor Mark Carney who has yet to write his explanatory letter to the Chancellor about it being over 3% and now of course it isn’t! Embarrassing.

The reasons for the dip are based on air fares and something parents will have welcomed.

The largest effects came from prices for games and toys, which fell between November and December 2017 by more than they did a year ago.

The air fares move is intriguing as it is a technical move based on them having a lower weighting or the implied view they are relatively less important. So they rose by a similar amount but had less impact, curious.

What happens next?

If we look a producer prices we get a glimpse of what is coming over the hill in inflation terms.

The headline rate of inflation for goods leaving the factory gate (output prices) rose 3.3% on the year to December 2017, up from 3.1% in November 2017.Prices for materials and fuels (input prices) rose 4.9% on the year to December 2017, down from 7.3% in November 2017.

As you can see the immediate impact is a small pull higher but behind that there is less pressure than before. On the latter point we see yet again the impact of the oil price.

The largest upward contribution to the annual rate in December 2017 came from crude oil, which contributed 1.69 percentage points (Figure 2) on the back of annual price growth of 10.6% (Table 3), down from 26.9% last month.

If we look at what has happened since the numbers were collected the oil price is up around US $4/5 but in a welcome development the UK Pound £ is up around 4 cents against the US Dollar. So we can conclude two things. Firstly the impact of the lower Pound £ is quickly washing out of the system and in fact as we look forwards it will be a reducing factor on inflation if it remains at these levels because as I type this it is around 13 cents higher than a year ago. Meanwhile the higher oil price I looked at earlier is moving things in the opposite direction. So if you prefer we are moving from an individual phase to more of a world-wide one.

There is a long section in the report on the trade-weighted £ which has many uses but in this area I am afraid that Men At Work were correct due to so many commodity prices being in US Dollars.

Saying it’s a mistake
It’s a mistake
It’s a mistake
It’s a mistake

A  much bigger mistake

The UK inflation establishment has pushed forwards a new inflation measure and when it was mooted back in 2012 it got a wide range of support. For example the committee which recommended and pushed it called CPAC included representatives from the BBC ( Stephanie Flanders although she left before the actual vote) and the Financial Times ( economics editor Chris Giles). But their main change has failed utterly unless you actually believe costs for those who own their own homes have done this over the past year.

The OOH component annual rate is 1.3%, down from 1.5% last month.

Does anyone actually believe that housing costs in the UK are a downwards drag on inflation? Even someone looking at us from as far away as Pluto could spot that one is very wrong. After all this morning also saw this released.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 5.1% in the year to November 2017 (down from 5.4% in October 2017). The annual growth rate has slowed since mid-2016 but has remained broadly around 5% during 2017.

Not exactly the same month but if we look at the trend we see that what buyers regard as 5% has somehow morphed into 1.3%! They might reasonably become rather angry when they learn it is because something which does not exist and is never paid called Imputed Rent that is used to lower the number. This also leads me to have to point out that this from the Office of National Statistics deserves the banner of Fake News

mainly from owner occupiers’ housing costs (OOH),
with prices increasing by less between November and December 2017 than they did a year
ago. OOH costs have changed little since September 2017,

This implies they have measured the costs when the major influence is imputed instead.

Comment

It is a sad thing to report but UK inflation measurement has been heading in the wrong direction since at least 2012 and maybe 2003 since CPI was introduced. Much of the problem comes from our housing market which CPI mostly ignores ( the owner occupied housing sector is given a Star Trek style cloaking device and disappears). It leads to this problem.

The all items CPI annual rate is 3.0%, down from 3.1% in November…….The annual rate for RPIX, the all items RPI excluding mortgage interest payments (MIPs), is
4.2%, up from 4.0% last month.

Over time a gap like this is significant in many respects and has consequences. After all the inflation target was only moved by 0.5% so does the 1.2% gap highlight another possible cause of the credit crunch? Next whilst the gap is 1,1% to the headline RPI that means students pay more and reported GDP is higher. Of course GDP would be higher still if CPIH was used.

The all items CPIH annual rate is 2.7%, down from 2.8% in November

No wonder more and more people are losing faith. Let me end on a positive note which was my subject of the 19th of December which highlighted a better way.

 

 

Take your pick as UK Inflation rises via CPI and falls via RPI whilst staying the same via CPIH

The issue of UK inflation being above target is obviously troubling the UK establishment so much so that this morning HM Treasury has decided to tell us this.

Latest data from comes out today. Find out more about how the UK brought inflation under control:

There is a problem here as you see when we introduced inflation targeting in late 1992 the targeted measure called RPIX was below 4% and around 3.7% if the chart they use is any guide. It is currently 4% after 4.2% last month which is of course higher and not lower! So this is not the best time to herald the triumph of inflation targeting to say the least! Even worse if you look at the longer-term inflation charts in the release it is clear that the main fall in inflation happened before inflation targeting began. I will leave readers to mull whether the better phase was in fact the end of an economic mistake which was exchange-rate targeting.

The Forties problem

There will be a burst of inflationary pressure when we get the December inflation data from this issue. From the Financial Times.

The North Sea’s key Forties Pipeline System, which delivers the main crude oil underpinning the Brent benchmark, is likely to be shut for “weeks” to carry out repairs to an onshore section of the line, a spokesman for operator Ineos said on Monday. The move follows the worsening of a hairline crack in the 450,000 barrel-a-day pipe near Red Moss in Aberdeenshire over the weekend……..The FPS transports almost 40 per cent of the UK North Sea’s oil and gas production by connecting 85 fields to the British mainland.

If I was Ineos I would be crawling over the contract to buy the pipeline as they only did so in October and may have been sold something of a pup by BP. But in terms of the impact we have seen Brent Crude Oil move above US $65 per barrel in response to this. Also a cold snap in the UK is not the best time for gas supplies to be reduced as we wait to see how prices will respond. No doubt some of the production will get ashore in other ways but far from all. Also other news is not currently helping as this from @mhewson_CMC points out.

U.K. GAS FUTURES SURGE ON BAUMGARTEN EXPLOSION, NORWAY OUTAGE………front month futures jump about 20%.

Today’s data

This will have received a particularly frosty reception at the Bank of England this morning.

CPI inflation edged above 3% for the first time in nearly six years, with the price of computer games rising and airfares falling more slowly than this time last year. These upward pressures were partly offset by falling costs of computer equipment.

The annual reading of 3.1% means that Governor Mark Carney will have to write a letter to the Chancellor of Exchequer Phillip Hammond to explain why it is more than 1% over its target. I have sent via social media a suggested template.

Of course the official version could have been written by Shaggy.

I had tried to keep her from what
She was about to see
Why should she believe me
When I told her it wasn’t me?

We will not find out precisely until February as one of the improvements to the UK inflation targeting regime was to delay the publication of such a letter until it was likely to be no longer relevant.

How can we keep the recorded rate of inflation down?

This will have troubled the UK establishment and they came up with the idea of making a number up based on rents which are never paid. They rushed a proposal in last year as they noted that it was likely to be a downwards influence on inflation in 2017. How is that going? I have highlighted the relevant number.

The CPI rate is higher than the CPIH equivalent principally because the CPI excludes owner occupiers’ housing costs. These rose by 1.5% in the year to November 2017, less than the CPI rate of 3.1% and, as a result, they pulled the CPI rate down slightly, to CPIH.

That number which is a fiction as the Imputed Rents are never actually paid has a strong influence on CPIH.

Given that OOH accounts for around 17% of CPIH, it is the main driver for differences between the CPIH and CPI inflation rates.

This is like something straight out of Yes Prime Minister where a number which is never paid is used to reduce the answer. Just for clarity rents should be in the data for those who pay them but not for those who own their home and do not. Those who own their homes will be wondering why actual real numbers like the ones below are not used.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 4.5% in the year to October 2017 (down from 4.8% in September 2017). The annual growth rate has slowed since mid-2016 but has remained broadly around 5% during 2017.

What do you think it is about a real number that would INCREASE the recorded inflation rate that led it to be rejected for a fake news one which DECREASES the recorded inflation rate?

House Prices

Tucked away in the release was this which may be a sign of a turn.

The average UK house price was £224,000 in October 2017. This is £10,000 higher than in October 2016 and £1,000 lower than last month.

A 0.5% monthly fall. As the series is erratic we will have to wait for further updates.

What is coming over the hill?

We are being affected by the higher oil price.

The one-month rate for materials and fuels rose 1.8% in November 2017 (Table 3), which is a 0.8 percentage points increase from 1.0% in October 2017, driven by inputs of crude oil, which was up 7.6% on the month.

This meant that producer price inflation rose on the month.

The headline rate of inflation for goods leaving the factory gate (output prices) rose 3.0% on the year to November 2017, up from 2.8% in October 2017. Prices for materials and fuels (input prices) rose 7.3% on the year to November 2017, up from 4.8% in October 2017.

This is more than a UK issue as this from Sweden Statistics earlier indicates.

The rise in the CPI from October to November 2017 was mainly due to a price increase of vehicle fuels and lubricants (4.5 percent),

Comment

There is a lot to consider here as headlines will be generated by the fact that Bank of England Governor Mark Carney will have to write an explanatory letter about the way CPI inflation has risen to more than 1% above its annual target. He might briefly wish that the old target of RPIX was still in use.

The annual rate for RPIX, the all items RPI excluding mortgage interest payments (MIPs), is 4.0%, down from 4.2% last month.

Although actually he would soon realise that he would have had to have written a formal letter a while ago for it. For the thoughtful there is interest in one measure rising as another falls and here are the main reasons.

Other differences including weights, which decreased the RPI 12-month rate relative to the CPI 12-month rate by 0.15 percentage points between October and November 2017.

Ironically putting house prices into the inflation measure would have reduced it last month.

Other housing components excluded from the CPI, which decreased the RPI 12-month rate relative to the CPI 12-month rate by 0.06 percentage points between October and
November 2017. The effect came mainly from house depreciation.

Will the UK establishment do another u-turn and suddenly decide that house prices are fit for use ( now they may be falling) in the same way they abandoned aligning us with Europe by not using them or the way they dropped RPIJ?

The trend now sees two forces at play. The trend towards higher inflation from the lower UK Pound £ is not far off over. However we are seeing a higher oil price offset that for the time being and I am including the likely data for December in this. So we will have to wait for 2018 for clearer signs of a turn although the Retail Price Index may already be signalling it.

Meanwhile the “most comprehensive measure of inflation” and the Office for National Statistics favourite CPIH continues to be pretty much ignored. The punch may need fortifying for this years Christmas party.

Meanwhile I guess it could be (much) worse.

The Financial Times said Avondale Pharmaceuticals bought the rights to Niacor from Upsher Smith, a division of Japan’s Sawai Pharmaceutical, earlier this year. The company also bought the rights to a drug used to treat respiratory ailments, known as SSKI, and increased the price by 2,469 per cent, raising the cost of a 30ml bottle from $11.48 to $295.

 

 

The UK Student Loan problem is going from bad to worse

Sometimes developments flow naturally together and we see a clear example of this today. It was only yesterday that I pointed out that the Bank of England puts its telescope to its blind eye on the subject of student loans.

 In addition students will be wondering why what are likely to appear large debt burdens to them are ignored for these purposes?

Excluding student debt, the aggregate household debt to income ratio is 18 percentage points below its 2008
peak.

This is particularly material as we know that student debt has been growing quickly in the UK due to factors such as the rises in tuition fees.

Losses mount

I am often critical of the Financial Times but this time Thomas Hale deserves praise for this investigation.

The UK government is set to book a loss of almost £1bn from its largest privatisation of student loans, raising questions over the valuation of tens of billions of pounds of remaining graduate debt.

The most obvious question is why are we privatising these loans at a loss? It was of course the banking sector which saw privatisation of profits and socialisation of losses as fears will no doubt rise that this could be the other way around in terms of timing.

As we look at the detail the news gets even more troubling.

The controversial sale of a batch of student loans this week is expected to raise around £1.7bn, according to a Financial Times analysis of deal documentation. The loans, which had a face value of £3.7bn last year, are part of a total of £43bn in loans made to students up to 2012, which are currently on government books valued at just under £30bn, according to the Department of Education’s latest published accounts, as of the end of March this year.

As you can see not only are those loans not alone but they are being sold at a level below previous mark downs in value. The £3.7 billion face value had already been marked down to £2.5 billion and now we see this.

The deal will raise around £1.7bn in cash through the securitisation process, where assets are packaged together and sold off as bonds to investors. The process is a common feature of financing for student borrowing in the US but has rarely been used in the UK.

This seems odd as why would the UK taxpayer want to capitalise his/her losses?

The government’s loan book sale is dependent on passing a “value for money” test, which is designed to ensure that public assets are not sold too cheaply. The details of the test will not be made public but it is expected to provide a different, lower valuation for the loans compared to those on the DfE accounts.

The sale of the loans is part of a wider government effort to sell public assets “in a way that secures good value for money for taxpayers”, according to a statement on the student loans company website. The government aims to raise a total of £12bn through selling an unspecified amount of pre-2012 student loans over the next five years.

This brings us to a combination of Yes Prime Minister and George Orwell. Whilst it is possible that selling something at half its original value is sensible it needs to be checked carefully especially if it is public money . Also if it is a good deal for the new investors why not keep it?

What has happened to these loans?

Essentially these are loans from the previous decade which only have a rump left and guess which rump?

The transaction is made up of loans issued between 2002 and 2006, on which repayments are linked to income. Around half of students who borrowed during that period had already paid off their loans by the end of the 2015-16 financial year, meaning the pool of debt included in the deal is likely to be of a lower credit quality. Of those graduates with outstanding loans, only 60 per cent made a repayment in the same financial year.

So 40% of the remaining loans are seeing no repayments at present and the pricing here suggests that this will continue. One fear is that the buyers of the loans may try to pressurise students to repay even if they cannot afford to. Also there is the issue of what looks like around 20% of the students from over a decade ago still do not earn more than the £17,775 threshold ( confusingly more recent students seem to have a £21,000 threshold).

The rationale

Carly Simon poses the apposite question

Why?…. Don’t know why?

This is what it is all about. Yet again a wheeze for the national debt numbers.

Part of the motive for the sale is to reduce public debt. The cash generated from the transaction will go towards reducing public sector net debt, which was £1.79tn at the end of October. Unlike cash, student loan assets do not count towards the calculation of public sector net debt.

Comment

This is in my opinion a disaster on a national scale. Let me open with an issue which regular readers will be aware of but newer ones may not. This is the cost or interest on these loans and you may like to note that the most the UK would pay on issuing government debt is ~1.5%. From MoneySavingExpert (MSE ).

The rate used is the previous March’s RPI inflation rate. March 2017’s RPI inflation rate was 3.1% meaning interest charged on student loans for the 2017/18 academic year is between 3.1% and 6.1% depending on whether you’re studying or graduated, and how much you earn.

So at least double and maybe quadruple the alternative which speaks for itself. On this subject I both agree and disagree with MSE. He thinks for some it does not matter than much of this will never be repaid and is in that sense “free.” But you see along the way it matters as there is not only the psychological effect of say a £50k debt but it is also it affects mortgage calculations now. Recently reports have arisen of younger people not joining the NHS pension scheme and I wonder if that is linked to the fact that nurses now have student debts and feel burdened.

Back on the first of August 2016 I explained the problem like this.

We move onto the next problem which is that ever more of this debt will never be repaid which poses the question of what is the point of it? It feels ever more like a rentier society where someone collects all the interest and the takes the loan capital but we then forget that. Another type of borrowing from the future.

It would be much simpler I think to abandon the whole system and go back to providing tuition fees and grants. Also as this reply to the FT from safeside implies perhaps some of the weaker universities should be trimmed.

It would be interesting to see which universities produce graduates who are sub inv grade

It is tempting to suggest we should also write the whole lot off as let’s face it we are writing most of it off along the way anyway. The only major issue I think is how to treat fairly those who have already repaid their loans either in part or in full. It would also end the shambolic way the loans are collected. We seem to have replaced a system which worked with one based on more than few fantasies and if we continue to follow the American way then as I pointed out in August 2016 students can presumable expect this.

It’s 9 p.m. and your phone chimes. You’re among the one in eight Americans carrying a student loan—debts that collectively total nearly $1.4 trillion—and you’ve started to fall behind on your payments.

You know the drill: round-the-clock robocalls demanding immediate payment. You wince and pick up.

 

The UK Public finances have sometimes believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

As we await the UK Budget which of course is showing all the signs of being a leaky vessel if not a sieve a lot is going on in the background. What I mean by this is that the goal posts are moving back and forth so much that the grounds(wo)man must be grateful they have wheels on them these days. Let me give you the first example which I mentioned last week. From the Financial Times.

Chancellor Philip Hammond is planning to shift the goalposts on the government’s borrowing limits in a move that will flatter the public finances and provide up to £5bn a year in additional public spending in the Budget on Wednesday. He will use a technical change in the accounting status of housing associations to reduce headline borrowing figures but will not make a corresponding change to his deficit targets in the Budget.

What the FT omitted to point out was the full-scale of the mess here. You see it was only a couple of years ago the housing associations were included in the national debt and now they are not. So overall we have not really gained anything it just looks like we have! Along the way the credibility of the numbers has been reduced again.

The danger for a Chancellor with an apparent windfall is that somebody spends it before he can and marathon man Mark Carney sprinted to the front of the queue to help his banking friends.

Consistent with this, I am requesting that you authorise an increase in the total size of the APF of £25bn to £585bn, in order to accommodate expected usage of the TFS by the end of the drawdown period.

What is happening here is that the Bank of England has got permission to increase the size of its bank subsidy called the Term Funding Scheme by another £25 billion to £140 billion. This is where banks get the ability to borrow from the Bank of England at or close to Bank Rate which is bad news for depositors as it means the banks are less interested in them. This has three consequences, Firstly as we are looking at the public finances today if this £25 billion is used then it raises the national debt by the same amount. Then there is an odd link because if things are going well why do we need to add an extra £40 billion ( there was an extra £15 billion in August) to this?

With the stronger economy and lending growth, TFS drawings reached a total of £91 bn at mid-November 2017.

We are in a pretty pickle if banks need subsidies in the good times. Sadly the mostly supine media are unlikely to ask this question or to wonder how all the downbeat forecasts and Brexit worries have suddenly morphed into a “stronger economy”. The next issue is where will the money turn up? It could be funds to give the car loans sector one last hurrah but as housing appears to be top of the list right now it seems more likely that the Chancellor would prefer another £25 billion to subsidise mortgage rates even further.

Rates on new and existing loans fell after the TFS was launched and have remained low by historical standards

If we move to Bank of England policy it has raised interest-rates on the wider economy but now plans to expand its subsidies to “the precious”. Frankly its opus operandi could not be much more transparent.

Number Crunching

Part one

Firstly there is the FT on the Office for Budget Responsibility or OBR.

But the mood has improved since then after the OBR made clear it would offset some of the “significant” productivity downgrade with more optimistic employment forecasts.

So much for being “independent” and please remember tomorrow when the media are treating its pronouncements with respect and grandeur which is that the first rule of OBR club is that it is always wrong. Unless of course wage growth and gilt yields actually are 5% right now.

Part two

Then there is the possible/probable Brexit bill which is being reported as rising from £20 billion to £40 billion by places which told us it would be either £60 billion or £100 billion. So is that up or down? You choose.

Part three

I am sad that what was once a proud national broadcaster has sunk to this but this is finance from the BBC.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-politics-42059439/loadsamoney-norman-smith-on-the-brexit-divorce-bill

Today’s data

The news did not give any great reasons to be cheerful.

Public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) increased by £0.5 billion to £8.0 billion in October 2017, compared with October 2016.

The driver here was increased debt costs as the interest bill rose from £4.8 billion last October to £6 billion this. As conventional Gilt yields are broadly similar then most if not all of this has been caused by higher inflation as measured by the Retail Prices Index. The actual amount varies as they pay on a lagged inflation basis which is not always the same but as a rule of thumb the measure has been ~2% per annum higher this year.

Looking beyond that there is a little more optimism to be seen as revenues are not to bad if we switch to the fiscal year to date numbers.

In the current financial year-to-date, central government received £394.3 billion in income, including £292.7 billion in taxes. This was around 4% more than in the same period in the previous financial year.

This means that we are doing a little better than last year.

Public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) decreased by £4.1 billion to £38.5 billion in the current financial year-to-date (April 2017 to October 2017), compared with the same period in 2016; this is the lowest year-to-date net borrowing since 2007.

There has been a trend for a while for the numbers to be revised favourably as time passes so even including the debt interest rises we are edging forwards. As the inflation peak passes that will be less of an influence. The next major factor will be the self-assessment season in January and February when we will find out how much last years numbers were flattered by efforts to avoid the rise in dividend taxation.

National Debt

On the theme of moving goal posts we produce quite a lot of numbers on this front and here is the headline.

Public sector net debt (excluding public sector banks) was £1,790.4 billion at the end of October 2017, equivalent to 87.2% of gross domestic product (GDP), an increase of £147.8 billion (or 4.5 percentage points as a ratio of GDP) on October 2016.

Most of the rise in the last year can be attributed to Mark Carney and his colleagues at the Bank of England.

Of this £147.8 billion, £101.7 billion is attributable to debt accumulated within the Bank of England. Nearly all of it is in the Asset Purchase Facility, including £89.9 billion from the Term Funding Scheme (TFS).

By chance our headline number is quite close to international standards as Eurostat has our national debt at this.

general government gross debt was £1,720.0 billion at the end of March 2017, equivalent to 86.8% of gross domestic product (GDP); an increase of £68.1 billion on March 2016.

Comment

The accident of timing that brings our public finance data up to date a bit over 24 hours before the Budget gives us some perspective. Firstly if you recall some of the numbers from yesterday how wrong the OBR has been which never seems to bother the media along the lines of Alice through the looking-glass.

‘I could tell you my adventures–beginning from this morning,’ said Alice a little timidly: ‘but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.’

Let me offer a policy prescription for the OBR

The mad Queen said, “Off with his head! Off with his head! Off with his head!” Well… that’s too bad… no more heads to cut.”

As to the Budget it would seem it is arriving with a housing obsession. Even the Governor of the Bank of England has got in on the act with yet another banking subsidy to reduce mortgage rates. The way we are told that was ending but in fact is being expanded feels like something out of Alice In Wonderland. Perhaps we will seem some more bribes in addition to the cheap railcards for millenials also.

As to the public finances if we skip the incompetent blunderings of the Bank of England which surely could have designed a scheme which did not raise the national debt we see a situation which is slowly improving. It is not impossible once the inflation peak passes that our debt to GDP ratio could fall but care is needed as you see the only question in the number crunching here is are there only 6?

Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

 

 

 

 

 

Has UK inflation peaked?

Yesterday we heard from Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane.

On 3 November, I visited Greater Manchester on the latest of my Townhall tours.

He makes himself sound like a rock band doesn’t he? It is good to see him get out and about after years and indeed decades of being stuck in a bunker in the depths of the Bank of England. Although sadly for him the hopes of becoming Governor via a “man of the people” approach seem to be just hopes. I do hope that he takes the message below back to his colleagues as not only would some humility be welcome but the reality encapsulated in it would be too.

For most of the people I spoke with, small adjustments in the cost of borrowing were unlikely to have a significant impact on their daily lives.  The borrowing costs they faced for access to consumer credit were largely unaffected by changes in Bank Rate

The latter point was one of my earliest themes when I started this website which had its 7th anniversary over the weekend so you can see that our Andy is not the quickest to pick things up.

Moving to today’s theme of inflation Andy did have some thoughts for us.

It is well-known that increases in the cost of living hit hardest those on lowest incomes.  Rising inflation worsens the well-known “poverty premium” the poorest in society already face in the higher costs they pay for the everyday goods and services they buy.

I hope that Andy thought hard about the role his “Sledgehammer QE” and “muscular” monetary easing in August 2016 had in making the lot of these people worse by contributing to the fall of the UK Pound and raising UK inflation prospects. Speaking of inflation prospects what does he think now?

 Price rises across the whole economy are currently running well above the 2% inflation target and are expected to remain above-target for the next few years.

That is not cheerful stuff from Andy but there are several problems with it. Firstly you cannot forecast inflation ahead like that in the credit crunch era as for example you would have been left with egg on your face when oil prices dropped a couple of years ago. In addition Andy’s own record on forecasting or if you like Forward Guidance is poor as in his role of Chief Economist he forecasts an increase in wage inflation every year and has yet to be correct. Of course when you take out a lottery ticket like that you will eventually be correct but that ignores the years of failure.

International Trends

This mornings data set seems to indicate a clear trend although there is a lack of detail as to why Swedish inflation fell so much.

The inflation rate according to the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) was 1.7 percent in October 2017, down from 2.2 percent in September.

Germany saw a smaller decline but a decline nonetheless.

Consumer prices in Germany were 1.6% higher in October 2017 than in October 2016. The unflation rate, as measured by the consumer price index, was +1.8% in both September and August 2017.

Today’s data

This will be received in mixed fashion at the Bank of England.

The all items CPI annual rate is 3.0%, unchanged from last month.

The Governor Mark Carney will be pleased that his quill pen and foolscap paper will not be required for an explanatory letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer whereas Andy Haldane will mull that his Forward Guidance has not started well as a rise was forecast this month.

The MPC still expects inflation to peak above 3.0% in October, as the past depreciation of sterling and recent increases in energy prices continue to pass through to consumer prices.

The factors keeping inflation up were as shown below/

In October 2017, the food category, which grew by 4.2% since October 2016, contributed 0.3 percentage points to the overall 12-month growth rate……Recreation and culture, with prices rising by 0.5% between September and October 2017, compared with a smaller rise of 0.2% a year earlier.

There was also a rise in electricity prices. On the other side of the coin we saw transport and furniture and household services pulling in a downwards fashion on the annual inflation rate.

CPIH

The additional factor in CPIH which is the addition of rents which are never paid to the owner occupied housing sector did its planed job one more time in October.

Housing and household services, where owner occupiers’ housing costs had the largest downward effect, with prices remaining unchanged between September 2017 and October 2017, having seen a particularly large increase of 0.4% in the same period a year ago.

This is essentially driven by this.

Private rental prices paid by tenants in Great Britain rose by 1.5% in the 12 months to October 2017; this is down from 1.6% in September 2017.

I would be interested to know if those who rent are seeing lower inflation but also you can see how this pulls down the annual inflation rate. Fair enough ( if accurate as our statisticians have had problems here) for those who rent but the  impact is magnified by the use of Imputed Rent for those who own their property so the measure of inflation is pulled down even more.

The OOH component annual rate is 1.6%, down from 1.9% last month.

This means that what our official statisticians call our “most comprehensive” measure tells us this.

The all items CPIH annual rate is 2.8%, unchanged from last month.

Now let me take you to a place “far,far away” where instead of fictitious prices you use real ones like those below. What do you think the effect would be?

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 5.4% in the year to September 2017 (up from 4.8% in August 2017). The annual growth rate has slowed since mid-2016 but has remained broadly around 5% during 2017.

Thus the inflation measure would be higher with the only caveat being the numbers are a month behind the others. As owner occupied housing costs are 17.4% of the measure you can see that it would have a big effect. Up is the new down that sort of thing.

The whole episode here has reflected badly on the UK statistics establishment as this new measure is mostly being ignored and CPI is used instead as this from the BBC demonstrates.

The UK’s key inflation rate remained steady at a five-and-a-half-year high of 3% in October, according to official figures.

The use of the word “key” is a dagger to the heart of the plans of the Office for National Statistics.

The trend

This mornings producer price dataset suggested that the inflation peak has passed.

The input Producer Prices Index (input PPI) grew by 4.6% in the 12 months to October 2017, down from 8.1% in the 12 months to September 2017. The output Producer Prices Index (output PPI) grew by 2.8% in the 12 months to October 2017, down from 3.3% in the 12 months to September 2017.

So there is good news there for us although awkward again for Andy Haldane. On the other side of the coin there has been around an US $5 rise in the price of Brent Crude Oil since October so that will impact the November data if it stays there. Also more political crises could weaken the Pound like they did only on Monday.

Comment

We find ourselves in the peak zone for UK inflation as we may get a nudge higher but the bulk effect of the fall in the UK Pound £ has pretty much completed now. Back in late summer 2016 I suggested that its impact would be over 1% and if we look at the numbers for Germany and Sweden today that looks to be confirmed. Last year saw monthly CPI rise by 0.2% in November and 0.5% in December as inflation rose so the threshold is higher.

However we remain in a mess as to how we calculate inflation as the Retail Price Index measure has it at 4% as opposed to 3% and of course the newer effort CPIH is at 2.8%. So a few more goes and they may record it at 0% and we could have an “unflation rate”!

I have argued against CPIH for five years now for the reasons explained today and warned the National Statistician John Pullinger of the dangers of using it earlier this year. Meanwhile former supporters such as the economics editor of the Financial Times Chris Giles ( who was on the committee which proposed CPIH) now longer seem to be keeping the faith as this indicates.

CPIH is (probably) better since it has a big proxy for housing services of owner occupiers, but with hindsight I worry occasionally that it doesn’t proxy security of tenure well. And security of tenure is a big service you acquire when buying not renting.