Ironically falling UK car registrations are impacting on French manufacturers

Yesterday afternoon saw some good news for my topic of the day. It came from a sector of the UK economy which over the past decade has seen an extraordinary boom which is premiership football. From the BBC.

Crystal Palace’s chairman has unveiled plans to increase Selhurst Park’s capacity to more than 34,000.

Steve Parish said the expansion, expected to cost between £75m-£100m, would be an “icon” for south London.

The full revamp is expected to take three years to complete, and work could begin “within 12 months”.

KSS, the architects behind the project, have previously redeveloped sporting venues including Anfield, Twickenham and Wimbledon.

If you travel past the ground then without wishing to upset Eagles fans it is to put it politely in sore need of redevelopment. But as well as a boost and if you make the usually safe assumption that it ends up costing the higher end of the estimate we see that each extra seat costs something of the order of £12,500. Is that another sign of inflation in the UK or good value.?

If we continue on the inflation beat then this morning has bought grim news for railway commuters as the BBC points out.

Train fares in Britain will go up by an average of 3.4% from 2 January.

The increase, the biggest since 2013, covers regulated fares, which includes season tickets, and unregulated fares, such as off-peak leisure tickets.

The Rail Delivery Group admitted it was a “significant” rise, but said that more than 97% of fare income went back into improving and running the railway.

A passenger group said the rise was “a chill wind” and the RMT union called it a “kick in the teeth” for travellers.

The rise in regulated fares had already been capped at July’s Retail Prices Index inflation rate of 3.6%.

We see a clear example of my theme that the UK is prone to institutionalised inflation in the way that the rises are capped at the highest inflation measure they could find. Suddenly the “not a national statistic” Retail Prices Index or RPI is useful when it can be used for something the ordinary person is paying in the same way it applies to student loans. Whereas when it is something that we receive or the government pays then the lower ( ~1% per annum) Consumer Prices Index or CPI is used.

The rail industry is an unusual one where booming business is a problem.

Here’s some examples. Passenger numbers on routes into King’s Cross have rocketed by 70% in the past 14 years. On Southern trains, passenger numbers coming into London have doubled in 12 years…….There is a push to bring in new trains, stations and better lines, but it’s difficult to upgrade things while keeping them open and it’s seriously expensive.

Ah inflation again! Of course railways suffer from fixed costs due to their nature but we never seem to get to the stage where maximising use reduces costs do we?

The economic outlook

If we look at the business surveys from Markit ( PMIs) we see that the UK economy continues to grow at a steady pace with according to the surveys construction and particularly manufacturing doing well.

On its current course, manufacturing production is rising at a quarterly rate approaching 2%, providing a real boost to the pace of broader economic expansion…….

This morning has brought the services data which you might think would be good following them but of course things are often contrary.

November data pointed to a setback for the UK
service sector, with business activity growth easing
from the six-month peak seen in October. Volumes
of new work also increased at a slower pace, while
the rate of staff hiring was the joint-slowest since
March.

So growth continued but at a slower rate as the reading fell to 53.8 in November from 55.6 in October. Also there were inflation concerns being reported.

Sharp and accelerated rise in prices charged by
service providers.

This is very different to the official data although it only covers the period to September.

The annual inflation rate in the latest quarter was above the average for the period, at 1.3%.

The average is for the credit crunch era.

This means that according to the business surveys the UK economy is doing this.

The survey data are so far consistent with the economy growing at a quarterly rate of 0.45% in the closing months of 2017.

I did challenge the spurious accuracy here and got this in response from their chief economist Chris Williamson.

Hi Shaun – October UK PMI was consistent with +0.5% GDP while November signalled +0.4%. Seemed sensible to split the difference!

Car Trouble

Regular readers will be aware that the boom in this sector has faded and perhaps turned to dust in 2017. This morning the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has reported this.

The UK new car market declined for an eighth consecutive month in November, according to figures released today by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). 163,541 vehicles were registered, down -11.2% year-on-year, driven by a significant fall in diesel demand.

The fall was led by businesses.

Business, fleet and private registrations all fell in the month, down -33.6%, -14.4% and -5.1% respectively. Registrations fell across all body types except specialist sports, which grew 6.7%. The biggest declines were seen in the executive and mini segments, which decreased -22.2% and -19.8% respectively, while demand in the supermini segment contracted by -15.4%.

This means that the state of play for the year so far is this.

Overall, registrations have declined -5.0% in the eleven months in 2017, with 2,388,144 cars hitting British roads so far this year.

Hitting the roads? Well hopefully not but the economic consequences are ironically being felt abroad as much as in the UK. From the UK point of view there is a fall in consumption and to the extent of some business use a fall in investment. But we mostly import our cars so in terms of a production impact it will mostly be felt abroad. As it turns out the major impact will be felt in France as so far this year we see registrations have fallen by 18% for Citroen, 16% for Peugeot and 17% for Renault totalling around 38,000 cars for the sector. Individually the worst hit of the main manufacturers seems to be Vauxhall which is down 22% this year.

As to the type of car that has been worst hit then I am sure you have already guessed it.

heavy losses for diesel, falling -30.6%.

On that subject the SMMT seems lost in its own land of confusion.

Diesel remains the right choice for many drivers, not least because of its fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions.

That ( and the tax advantages) persuaded me to get what I thought was a new green and clean diesel only to discover that instead I have been poisoning the air for myself and other Londoners. So I guess more than a few are singing along to the Who these days.

Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
No, no!

We await to see how this impacts on all the car loans and note that the UK is not alone in this if the Irish Motor Industry is any guide.

New car sales year to date (2017)131,200 (2016) 146,215 -10%

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider so let us start with the car market. Whilst there is an impact on consumption and perhaps a small impact on production ironically the impact on our trade and current account position will be beneficial as explained by this from HM Parliament.

The value of exports totalled £31.5 billion in 2016, but imports totalled £40.3 billion, so a trade deficit of £8.8 billion was recorded.

So the impact on UK GDP is not as clear as you might think especially if we continue to export well.

UK car manufacturing rises 3.5% in October with 157,056 cars rolling off production lines.Exports up 5.0% – but domestic demand falls -2.9% as lower consumer confidence continues to impact market.

The main problem for the UK would be if the current inflation surge continues so let us cross our fingers that it is fading. Otherwise 2017 has been remarkably stable in terms of economic growth driven by two factors which are the lower Pound £ and the fact that the world economy is having a better year.

Meanwhile I will leave the central bankers and their acolytes to explain why a development like this is bad news. From Bloomberg.

Among the coconut plantations and beaches of South India, a factory the size of 35 football fields is preparing to churn out billions of generic pills for HIV patients and flood the U.S. market with the low-cost copycat medicines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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UK GDP growth poses a new problem for the “unreliable boyfriend”

Today brings us the latest economic growth or Gross Domestic Product data for the UK and of course the numbers will be pored over way more than they can stand. There are questions over the state of accuracy when all the data is in but at this first preliminary estimate it has only 42% of the total. Thus I support the move to take more time ( and collate more data) in the future.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) proposals to move to a publication schedule of two estimates of quarterly gross domestic product (GDP) using data from all three of the output, income and expenditure approaches around six weeks and 13 weeks after the end of the preceding quarter.

In terms of the main output measure of GDP this will mean that the first estimate will be a couple of weeks or so later but will have just under 60% of the full data set.

The other change I am much more dubious about as I feel this is going in the opposite direction of more timeliness but less accuracy.

ONS will move to using the new GDP publishing model in 2018, with the first estimate of monthly GDP (for the reference month of May) being introduced in July 2018

If you think about it the two moves are contradictory as if we need more time for the quarterly data how can we produce accurate monthly numbers? I have pointed out before that the surveys for the services sector in the trade figures are quarterly ( which yes do pose a question for monthly trade figures) and will not provide much confidence for monthly GDP numbers. Even worse there will be rolling quarterly GDP figures leading to confusion for the unwary and for some to pick and choose between which number they look at.

What is GDP good for?

Many of the problems of GDP come from this simple point explained by Diane Coyle.

GDP measures the monetary value of final goods and services—that is, those that are bought by the final user—produced and consumed in a country in a given period of time.

This means that work which does not have a price/cost is not included. So if you wished to boost it everyone could pay their neighbour to wash their car or do their housework but reality would be unchanged. Even worse the modern digital era and changes in the way people work have made matters more complex and difficult.

More and more people are self-employed or freelance through digital platforms. Their hours may be flexible, and work can overlap with other activities. In many cases they are using household assets, from computers and smartphones to their homes and cars, for paid work.

Another problem is the estimation of inflation as GDP is measured in monetary terms and you need an inflation measure or deflator to get a real number to run comparisons over time. Here I tend to disagree with Diane as I feel that there has been an effort to inflate GDP numbers via reducing measured inflation. For example the statistician Dr. Mark Courtney has estimated that replacing the Retail Price Index with the Consumer Price Index or CPI has boosted the stated GDP growth of the UK by around 0.5% per annum. Should the new “more comprehensive” CPIH replace CPI in the numbers then it would add a smidgen more.

So we have a push me pull me type of situation where I agree that the digital side of the services economy is probably under measured but where changes to the inflation infrastructure have led to it being over measured.

If you want to know how the services sector has grown over time then this sets the pattern.

Bringing that up to date the latest numbers assume that the services sector is now 79.3% and manufacturing is 10.04%. Personally I think that the former number is still too low.

The Trend

Thus has been for economic growth to slow in 2017 so far as in essence we have gone from an annual economic growth rate of at times ~3% to one of more like half that. There have been two main factors at play here. Firstly the impact of higher inflation coming from a lower UK Pound £ after the EU leave vote and secondly the fact that the boom had become mature. After all factors like house prices and retail sales were unlikely to keep rising at the rates we had seen.

Today’s numbers

They were good albeit of course we need to remember the reservations described above.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated to have increased by 0.4% in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2017, a similar rate of growth to the previous two quarters.

Also should this continue then the relative importance of manufacturing may rise as we look forwards.

Manufacturing returned to growth after a weak Quarter 2 2017, increasing by 1.0% in Quarter 3 2017.

As to the trend well there was this.

Following growth of 0.4% in Quarter 3 2017, GDP has grown for 19 consecutive quarters.

But it is also true that the annual rate of growth remained at 1.5% ( or in fact slipped from 1.7% if we recall the revisions). So we needed a better quarter to halt or slow the annual decline.

Maybe also we will seem some benefit individually.

GDP per head was estimated to have increased by 0.3% during Quarter 3 2017.

If we move to the detail then there were various factors at play. Let us start with manufacturing.

due to growth across a number of industries, including the manufacture of transport equipment, other manufacturing and repair and the manufacture of machinery and equipment.

It’s growth suggests good news for the trade figures although so far they have not shown it. Also we had growth from services driven by this.

The main contributor to growth was the business services and finance sector, which increased by 0.6%, contributing 0.19 percentage points to quarter-on-quarter GDP growth. Growth in this sector was broad-based, with employment activities being the largest contributor (Figure 3), recording growth of 3.5% after a fall of 2.4% in Quarter 2 2017 and contributing 0.04 percentage points to GDP growth.

There was also this.

The largest individual contributor to growth in services was computer programming activities, which grew by 1.9% and contributed 0.05 percentage points to GDP growth……

If we move to August for services we see this.

motion pictures, which increased by 7.1%, contributing 0.06 percentage points; this growth follows a large fall in the industry in July 2017 and further information on the films in August 2017 can be found on the British Film Institute (BFI) website

Any analogies for Dunkirk?

Comment

The theme of the UK economy having stable but below trend growth in 2017 continues as 0.4% compares with say 0.6% as a trend. Of course that assumes the central bankers have indeed ended recession and speaking of central bankers imagine yourself as an “unreliable boyfriend” right now having given Forward Guidance that there will be an interest-rate rise if the economy does better! In the past the Bank of England has tended to respond to GDP data although of course we have to look back a very long time to see any evidence around an interest-rate rise.

Meanwhile we see that services are bumbling along manufacturing is doing rather well but construction is in a recession. An odd mixture as we are supposed to be building so many houses…….

 

 

The brightest sector in the UK economy appears to be manufacturing

Today has seen a raft of news on the state of play in the UK economy and let us start with what the consumer has been up to. The British Retail Consortium has told us this.

August provided a welcome pick-up in retail sales across channels, with Non-Food returning to growth as shoppers’ attentions turned to homewares, autumn clothing ranges and the new school term.

The BBC gives us a breakdown of the data.

The British Retail Consortium, working with consultancy KPMG, said like-for-like sales rose 1.3% in August, against a 0.9% fall for the same month in 2016.

Actually total sales rose by 2.4% which suggests that there was an opening of retail stores in some form which seems strange with the switch to online ( “from strength to strength”) that is happening. Also there was a dichotomy between the views of consumers about the future and the BRC. Here is the consumer view.

Shopper confidence has been building. 23 per cent expect to be financially better off over the next 12 months, compared with 20 per cent in the election month of June.

So an improvement albeit a small one whereas the BRC itself is much more downbeat.

Purchasing decisions are very much dictated by a shrinking pool of discretionary consumer spend, with the amount of money in people’s pockets set to be dented by inflation and statutory rises in employee pension contributions in a few months’ time.

Data from Barclaycard which claims to cover nearly half of UK credit and debit card transactions put a different spin on things.

Consumer spending growth slowed to 2.9 per cent in August, compared to a 2017 average of 3.8 per cent, as consumers rowed back across the board.

So they have seen growth but maybe not much if we allow for inflation and in the detail I noted that we seem to feel we need a drink!

Pub growth fell to single digits for only the second time this year (9.2 per cent), and spend on cinemas and event tickets flatlined (0.4 per cent) after the 24.3 per cent boost seen in July.

Also I saw this earlier and of course with a lag we tend to follow the United States in such things.

US box office -35 per cent in August, worst in 20 yrs raises Q’s about the future of cinema in the age of digital streaming!?  ( h/t @CompoundIncome )

Car Sales

This have hit a decidedly rough patch however which we have noted by the proliferation of scrappage schemes which add to the definition of “price cuts” in my financial lexicon for these times. From the SMMT.

New car registrations fall -6.4% in August to 76,433……Year-to-date market holds steady, down -2.4%, with 1.64 million cars joining British roads in 2017.

So bad news for sales however not so much for manufacturing as we mostly import the cars we lease. Europe’s trade body gave us an idea of how much last September.

The other way round, the EU represents 81% of the UK’s motor vehicle import volume, worth €44.7 billion

So a small drain for UK manufacturers and a larger one for foreign manufacturers so ironically if we continue to export as usual a possible improvement in the trade figures.

UK business surveys

The Markit PMI for services this morning had some odd combinations in it as shown below.

new order volumes increased at the second slowest rate since September 2016….. fragile business confidence

So a slowing but one which caused backlogs and increased employment?

This was highlighted by the steepest rise in backlogs of work since July 2015. Service providers responded to rising workloads and pressures on operating capacity by recruiting additional staff in August.

We have found employment to be a reasonably reliable forward indicator over the last few years or so meaning that the down reported could be an “unexpected” up.

If we move to manufacturing nearly everyone except the official figures are telling us that things are on the up.

All five of the PMI components – output, new orders, employment, suppliers’ delivery times and stocks of purchases – were consistent with a stronger performance for the manufacturing industry during August.

There was also this from another source earlier.

Britain’s manufacturers are enjoying buoyant conditions on the back of export markets going from strength to strength according to a major survey published today by EEF , the manufacturers’ organisation and accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP……  Output and orders bounce back to historic highs.

The picture is completed by a weak period for construction and particularly infrastructure spending from the PMI there. Maybe the election was an influence on the public-sector but we cannot say that for ever! However the overall picture suggested is of steady as she goes.

the latest two months’ data put the economy on course for another 0.3% expansion in the third quarter

What about flows of money?

This morning has brought news that suggests at least one company sees UK businesses attractive at current exchange rates. From the Financial Times.

 

Schneider Electric will contribute its own software division to Aveva in exchange for new shares in the UK company. Schneider will own 60 per cent of the enlarged company’s stock, valued at approximately £1.7bn. Existing Aveva shareholders will own the remaining 40 per cent.

However this morning we got official data saying that in the second quarter foreign acquisitions of UK companies had fallen! One area where there may be a change if ( as often happens) similar investors fall into line was this announced by the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund.

 In future, the benchmark index for the bond portfolio should consist of nominal government bonds issued in dollars, euros and pounds……….The benchmark index for bonds currently consists of 23 currencies. Our recommendation is that the number of currencies in the bond index is reduced.

These things take a long time to happen usually and some emerging bond markets will be hit but it seems that there will be a purchase of UK bonds ( as well as Euro and US Treasuries) which will be mostly a currency play.

Comment

On the surface we see that there is an element of “same as it ever was” as  the UK economy continues to grow but slowly. However underneath a fair bit seems to be changing as we see more and more reports of UK manufacturing doing well albeit that we wait to see that reflected in the official data. I have to confess I am unclear why services output is falling as backlogs and employment both rise!

The danger remains of a lower UK Pound £ pushing inflation higher but the main burst of that is fading now and if other sovereign wealth funds match Norway it may see some investing flows. On the other side of the coin even Markit seems to be trolling the Bank of England these days.

the overall level of the PMI remains more consistent with policymakers erring towards stimulus rather than hiking interest rates, suggesting the doves will continue to outnumber the hawks.

 

 

UK GDP grinds higher thanks to services and the film industry

Today brings us up to date in terms of official data on the performance of the UK economy in the first half of 2017. Whilst expectations are low rather than stellar the last week or so has brought a little more optimistic tinge to things. This started with the retail sales numbers last week. From last Thursday.

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.

This contrasted with the fall of a similar amount seen in the first quarter of the year which meant that we got back to levels seen at the end of 2016 or around 2.6% higher than in the second quarter last year.

This was added to by better news on the tourism front albeit for only some of the latest quarter.

For the period March to May 2017, spend in the UK by overseas residents increased 14% on the previous year to £5.6 billion………During the period March to May 2017, there were 2% more visits abroad by UK residents compared with the corresponding period a year earlier, and they spent 1% more on these visits

So whilst there was still a considerable trade deficit it did shrink a bit compared to last year as we presumably see a beneficial impact of a lower exchange rate for the pound.

Manufacturing

Yesterday came news from the Confederation of British Industry that the manufacturing was in pretty good shape.

Production among UK manufacturers grew at the fastest pace since January 1995 in the three months to July, according to the latest quarterly CBI Industrial Trends Survey……….Output growth is expected to continue to grow strongly in the quarter ahead and manufacturers are upbeat about prospects for overall demand. Domestic orders are expected to continue growing strongly, while expectations for growth in export orders improved to a four-decade high

This was upbeat as you can see and came with positive expectations from all of employment, investment and exports. It also came with some better inflation news.

Meanwhile, input cost pressures cooled in the quarter to July and are expected to soften further in the near-term, while factory gate price inflation is also expected to be more subdued.

This poses a few questions as whilst this is to some extent consistent with the Markit PMI business survey although it was more subdued and had a fading in June. It is much less in line with the official data which has shown only a little growth up to May.

Mini

There was some good news on the production front here as well. From City-AM.

A fully-electric version of the Mini is to be built at BMW’s plant at Cowley, in Oxford, the car firm has announced.

Actually whilst good news it is more accurate to say that it will be assembled there. Also in the light of the announcement that sales of petrol and diesel cars will be banned from 2040 it was interesting to see that BMW is heading down that road to at least some extent.

By 2025, BMW expects electric vehicles to make up between 15 and 25 per cent of sales. It currently produces electric models at 10 plants worldwide.

Today’s GDP Data

Here we go.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated to have increased by 0.3% in Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2017.

So some but not a lot and it was driven by a very familiar sector.

The growth in Quarter 2 2017 was driven by services, which grew by 0.5% compared with 0.1% growth in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2017.

As I regularly point out this sector must be 80% of our economy by now as again and again it grows faster than the other sectors.

The services aggregate was the main driver to the growth in GDP, contributing 0.42 percentage points. Production and construction recorded falls in Quarter 2 2017 of 0.4% and 0.9% respectively, each contributing negative 0.06 percentage points to GDP.

This had an interesting corollary though.

Construction and manufacturing were the largest downward pulls on quarterly GDP growth, following 2 consecutive quarters of growth.

As I have noted above this is very different from the “Production among UK manufacturers grew at the fastest pace since January 1995 ” of the CBI and the growth recorded in the Markit business surveys. I note that Chris Williamson of the latter has been on the wires.

ONS say economy grew 0.3% in Q2, but & output fell 0.5% & 0.9% respectively. These likely to be revised higher.

Regular readers will be aware of my particular doubts about the official data on the UK’s construction sector although there was an interesting reply from the Mayor of West Yorkshire who said that elections always cause slow downs as people wait for the result.

The Film industry

There was good news on this front.

The second largest contributor was motion picture activities, which grew by 8.2% and contributed 0.07 percentage points to GDP growth….. Motion picture activities are a subset of the transport, storage and communications sector, which grew by 1.0%.

Actually only a couple of weeks or so ago Albert Bridge was closed for filming at the weekend and yesterday I noted filming taking place in Battersea Park. This is of course purely anecdotal but this sector has been mentioned in GDP despatches before in recent times. For more information we get referred to the BFI website which does not have the numbers until tomorrow but the ones for the first quarter were strong and perhaps provide a guide.

The total UK spend and budget of these films was £747 million and £983 million respectively, a substantial increase from UK spend of £231 million and total budget of £318 million in Q1 2017. UK spend, as a percentage of budget, was the highest since 2013, at 76%.

The only cloud in this silver lining is that we may have to start being more tolerant of some of the extraordinary statements made by luvvies, excuse me I mean economic miracle workers.

Comment

So the UK economy is grinding on in a slow way as we see the annual rate of growth fall to 1.7%. Also the news from looking at the data on a more personal level shows the minimum rate of growth possible.

GDP per head was estimated to have increased by 0.1% during Quarter 2 2017.

We also learn that the first quarter may not have been the type of statistical quirk we see regularly from the US but of course much more data will be needed for us to be sure of that.

On the more positive side this was always going to be the awkward period after the EU leave vote as higher inflation from the Pound’s fall causes not only lower real wage growth but actual falls.

Real earnings declined despite historically low unemployment. Adjusted for inflation, average weekly earnings fell by 0.7% including bonuses and by 0.5% excluding bonuses, over the year ( to May). For total real pay (including bonuses) this is the largest 3-month average year-on-year decrease since the 3 months to August 2014.

Also the film industry numbers make me wonder about the UK football premiership where the numbers are ballooning but the latest update I can find is this from E&Y.

The Premier League and its Clubs together generated over £6.2 billion in economic output that contributed approximately £3.4 billion to national GDP in 2013/14.

Surely there has been a fair bit of growth? Although of course the flow of money in then sees a flow of money out in transfer fees. Some are claiming that so far this year the defence budget of Manchester City exceeds that of around 25 countries.

 

 

 

The UK economy continues to motor ahead or if you prefer is on drugs

Today sees us advance on some key data for the UK economy as we receive production, manufacturing and trade data. But before we even get to it there has been a warning from France which has already opened the day with something of a conundrum.

In January 2017, output decreased sharply again in the manufacturing industry (−1.0% as in the previous month).

Whereas the Markit PMI ( Purchasing Managers Index ) told us this.

 The index was down from January’s reading of 53.6

We were told that the french economy was doing well in January. From Reuters.

“The expansion was broad-based with marked increases in output evident in both the manufacturing and service sectors, driven by firm underlying client demand. In turn, this filtered through into the labor market.”

Markit has had trouble before with France ironically for producing numbers which were lower than official estimates. But this is another issue for a series which has proved to be disappointing in its accuracy in more recent times.

UK monetary policy

This remains extremely expansionary with the Bank of England adding to its holdings of UK Gilts ( government bonds ) and corporate bonds this week. Indeed at £434.2 billion the UK Gilts part of the QE (Quantitative Easing) program has only one day left but at £8 billion so far there is more corporate bond QE to come. If we add in the £43.9 billion of the Term Funding Scheme we get an idea of the total scale of Bank of England monetary policy in balance sheet terms and that is before we note a Bank Rate set at 0.25%.

The other factor at play is the lower level of the UK Pound £ which post the EU leave vote in the UK has provided an economic stimulus equivalent to a 2.75% cut in Bank Rate if we use the old Bank of England rule of thumb. It would have created quite a shock would it not if we had somehow had the same exchange rate as before but with a Bank Rate of -2.5%!

Today’s data

Production and Manufacturing

Unlike the numbers for the French I quoted above these start brightly for the UK.

In the 3 months to January 2017, total production was estimated to have increased by 1.9%, with manufacturing providing the largest contribution increasing by 2.1%, its strongest growth since May 2010.

However manufacturing output continues to see-saw each month along with the pharmaceutical industry.

In January 2017, total production decreased by 0.4% compared with December 2016 with manufacturing providing the largest downward contribution, decreasing by 0.9%…………The monthly decrease in manufacturing was largely due to a decrease in pharmaceuticals, falling by 13.5%,………. pharmaceuticals can be highly erratic, with significant monthly changes, often due to the delivery of large contracts.

I am glad to see that our official statisticians have caught up with the view that I have been expressing on here for the best part of a year now as this recent pattern began last spring. However if we look back over the past year there is some call for a smile for spring.

Total production output for January 2017 compared with January 2016, increased by 3.2%, supported by growth in all 4 main sectors, with manufacturing providing the largest contribution, increasing by 2.7%.

The pharmaceutical sector is up some 6.1% on a year ago which is good news. But of course that only regains some of the ground which we lost.

Since then, both production and manufacturing output have steadily risen but remain well below their level reached in the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008 by 6.7% and 3.3% respectively in the 3 months to January 2017.

What about trade?

This is an ongoing worry for the UK economy that stretches back for around 30 years or so. Actually I recall days when these numbers were considered very important and as a young man working in the City it was “all hands on deck” when they were released. These days they do not get much of a mention especially if they are better because the financial twitter community if I may call it that do quite a bit of cherry picking. But the “same as it ever was” theme continued in January.

The trade deficit in goods and services in January 2017 was £2.0 billion, unchanged from December 2016.

It is odd that such an erratic number is the same for two months in a row but let us take a deeper perspective.

Between the 3 months to October 2016 and the 3 months to January 2017, the total trade deficit (goods and services) narrowed by £4.7 billion to £6.4 billion.

We find some cheer here in the improvement so let us probe further.

At the commodity level, the main contributors to the narrowing of the total trade deficit in the 3 months to January 2017, were increased exports of non-monetary gold, oil, machinery and transport equipment (mainly electrical machinery, aircraft and cars) and chemicals.

So the chemicals numbers are consistent with the reported growth of the pharmaceutical industry which is a relief as they do not always coincide. Also increased production and thence exports of vehicles has helped.

The latest data shows that passenger motor vehicles were the UK’s second highest exported commodity behind mechanical machinery in 2016. The value of cars exported by the UK increased by 14.8% in the year to January 2017 with export growth stronger to non-EU countries (17.9%) compared with the EU (10.0%).

Indeed if you want something hopeful take a look at this.

However one of the problems with these statistics is that they are unreliable and frequently heavily revised. For the UK this is a particular issue as the numbers for the service sector are collected quarterly at best. However this time the revisions were cheerful ones.

The trade in services balance (exports less imports) has been revised upwards by £2.7 billion in Quarter 4 2016, to a trade surplus of £26.6 billion. This reflects an upwards revision of £1.7 billion to exports, and a downwards revision of £1.0 billion to imports.

So a nudge higher for UK GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth in the last quarter of 2017 although not enough to be especially material.

Another way of looking at this is to note how few countries we do so much of our trading with.

In 2016, nearly 50% of all UK exports of goods went to just 6 countries: the United States, Germany, France, Netherlands, Republic of Ireland and China. The United States are our biggest export partner, receiving 15.7% of all UK exported goods.

The UK’s largest import partner was Germany in 2016, supplying 14.8% of all goods imported to the UK. Similar to exports, over 50% of the UK’s imports of goods come from 6 countries: Germany, China, United States, Netherlands, France and Belgium.

Comment

This morning has seen some more relatively good news for the UK economy. The pattern for production and manufacturing has been relatively solid if erratic on a monthly basis and if we add in the noted improvement to services trade there is good news here. The worry ahead is of course the impact of inflation on the economy mostly via its impact on real wages. I note that according to the Bank of England’s latest survey the ordinary person is noticing it.

Asked to give the current rate of inflation, respondents gave a median answer of 2.7%, compared to 2.3% in November………. Median expectations of the rate of inflation over the coming year were 2.9%, compared with 2.8% in November.

They seem much more in touch with reality than the 2.4% for 2017 forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility on Wednesday.

For those who follow the UK construction sector the numbers are below, but take them with not just a pinch of salt and maybe the whole salt-cellar.

Construction output fell by 0.4% in January 2017, following consecutive rises in November and December 2016 (0.8% and 1.8% respectively).

UK GDP growth continues to be both steady and strong

Today we find out how the UK economy performed in the last quarter of 2016 or at least the official version of that as the preliminary GDP report is issued. We can be sure that it will be rather different to that implied by one of our official seers as the person who signed this off ( Professor Sir Charles Bean) is now part of the OBR or Office for Budget Responsibility.

I am grateful to Professor Sir Charles Bean, one of our country’s foremost economists and a former Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, who has reviewed this analysis and says that it “provides reasonable estimates of the likely size of the short-term impact of a vote to leave on the UK economy”.

I have looked at before the woeful effort which stated that the economy would shrink by between 0.1% and 1% in the quarter following an EU leave vote so let us pick something else out.

Businesses and households would start to adjust to being permanently poorer in the future by reducing spending immediately.

Actually in spite of a weaker December household spending seems to have soared.

Estimates of the quantity bought in retail sales increased by 4.3% compared with December 2015………The underlying trend remains one of growth with the 3 month on 3 month movement in the quantity bought increasing by 1.2%.

Accordingly our good Professor has ended up looking a right Charlie and of course will fit in well at the OBR. But wait there was worse as all sort of doom and gloom was predicted for our automotive sector as well. Here is this morning’s update from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders or SMMT.

UK car production achieved a 17-year high in 2016, according to the latest figures published by SMMT. 1,722,698 vehicles rolled off production lines last year from some 15 manufacturers, an 8.5% uplift on total production in 2015 – and the highest output since 1999.

I guess Charlie has a different definition of “reasonable” from the rest of us! Up seems to be the new down for him. But wait there was more good news.

More cars are now being exported from Britain than ever before, the result of investments made over recent years in world-class production facilities, cutting-edge design and technology and one of Europe’s most highly skilled and productive workforces.

The UK Pound £

This has been a powerful driving force as I have argued all along and the establishment have ignored. It has been nice to see the UK Pound rebound to above US $1.26 over the past week or so but the truth is that it is now lower and the cumulative effect if we use the old Bank of England rule of thumb is of a 2.6% reduction in the official Bank Rate since EU leave vote night. This has given the economy a boost as I have explained in my articles on the money supply and the surge in unsecured credit. It is also why the Bank of England’s “Sledgehammer” was both relatively puny and a policy error.

This morning has brought some confirmation of the logic behind this from company results. From the Guardian on Diageo.

It is estimated to have boosted net sales by about £1.4bn and operating profits by £460m in the year to 30 June. The maker of Johnnie Walker whiskey and Smirnoff vodka toasted a 28% rise in first-half operating profits to £2.06bn and hiked its interim dividend by 5%. Diageo’s shares rose 4.8% on the news.

There was more in the Financial Times.

Jimmy Choo continued to shrug off difficulties in the wider luxury sector in the second half of 2016, reporting “solid growth” across most regions and enjoying a big boost from the weak pound. In a trading update ahead of its full-year results, the company said total revenues increased 15 per cent to £364m.

The GDP data

This was if you take the view that we have received a strong monetary stimulus from the weaker UK Pound no great surprise.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated to have increased by 0.6% during Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2016, the same rate of growth as in the previous 2 quarters.

So the establishment and media line of volatility and panic faces a reality of what has in fact been extraordinary stability! No doubt the Ivory Towers will blame the ordinary person. Indeed as we look further we see examples of well “same as it ever was”.

Growth during Quarter 4 was dominated by services, with a strong contribution from consumer-focused industries such as retail sales and travel agency services.

Whether the travel agents were seeing a flood of people departing the UK (remember when the media headlines screamed that?) or holidaymakers coming here because the lower £ makes it cheaper is not explained. However the march of the services continues. Indeed the general pattern continued as well.

UK GDP was estimated to have increased by 2.0% during 2016, slowing slightly from 2.2% in 2015 and from 3.1% in 2014.

The Service Sector

As this is our main player let us look into the detail we get.

Within the services aggregate, the distribution, hotels and restaurants industry performed strongly, increasing by 1.7%, which contributed 0.24 percentage points to quarter-on-quarter GDP growth. Retail trade, wholesale trade and the trade and repair of motor vehicles were all strong performers.

The business services and finance industries also performed strongly, increasing by 0.9% in Quarter 4 2016, which contributed 0.28 percentage points to quarter-on-quarter GDP growth. A particularly strong performer was the travel agency industry, which increased by 7.3%, contributing 0.05 percentage points to headline GDP growth.

Thus there was a hint that it was travellers to the UK boosting travel agencies but just a hint. Also let us check in on the main player last time around.

Growth in transport, storage and communications slowed to 0.3% in Quarter 4 2016, following growth of 2.6% in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2016.

Manufacturing

This had a good quarter although the overall picture is one which seems pretty much to be following the ebbs and flows of the volatile pharmaceutical industry.

manufacturing increased by 0.7% in Quarter 4 2016, mainly due to a large rise in the erratically performing pharmaceuticals industry, after a fall of 0.8% in Quarter 3 2016;

Production flatlined but was heavily affected by this.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy advised the decrease can largely be attributed to continued maintenance to the Buzzard oil field in the North Sea.

Comment

If we look back we see that the UK economy has managed several years in a row of economic growth now. The media and establishment panic over the EU leave vote has in fact been replaced by a period of extraordinary economic stability and what is described officially as “steady growth”. In any ordinary line of work people would be disciplined for such gross mistakes but of course different rules apply to the establishment. In essence the UK economy has relied on the consumer (again) so thank you ladies one more time, and rebalanced even further towards the service sector as we are reminded yet again of the “rebalancing” in the other direction promised by former Bank of England Governor Baron King of Lothbury and the “march of the makers” of the current darling of the expensive speech circuit George Osborne.

Yet there are disturbing sounds below the surface such as the return of inflation and another ongoing issue.

GDP per head was estimated to have increased by 0.4% during Quarter 4 2016 and by 1.3% during 2016.

So it continues to underperform the overall or aggregate numbers leading to this as summarised by the Guardian.

It is now 8.7% higher than its pre-crisis peak in 2008. But on a per capita basis (adjusted for population changes), it’s only 1.9% larger.

Also let me offer my usual critique of GDP data. It is in no way accurate to 0.1% especially on the preliminary report and has been boosted in recent years by substituting a lower for a higher inflation measure ( CPI for RPI). As the gap between the two widens that becomes a bigger issue and it is currently ~1% per annum. Regular readers will be aware that there are plenty of other flaws too.

 

 

 

 

 

The UK economy has rebalanced towards services and away from production

Today gives us an opportunity to look more deeply into the way that the UK economy has been rebalancing in the credit crunch era and indeed before it. The concept was first introduced all the way back in 2002 by the then Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King.

The strength of consumption and the weakness of net exports have led to an imbalance between manufacturing and services………The need to rebalance the British economy is clear.

He even told us how this could be achieved.

There are four key prices that will determine the extent of the re-balancing that occurs. They are the sterling exchange rate, the oil price, real wages, and interest rates. It is these prices that will provide the incentives for the required shift in resources.

Some perspective is provided by the fact that an oil price of US $26 per barrel was considered high then ( it had risen from US $10) although there was something more familiar which was worries about wages.

For the economy as a whole, average earnings rose by only 0.9% in the year to February – the lowest figure recorded since April 1967.

But the issue here is that in essence that whilst the Bank of England had control over some interest-rates the main player was always likely to be the currency. In spite of this Governor King seemed confident.

This would permit the stabilisation and eventual reduction of the trade deficit, while maintaining low and stable inflation, and high and stable employment, at the same time as resources move from private consumption to the provision of better public services.

The trouble is that much of that could be written today! Over time Governor King became increasingly keen on a lower value for the UK Pound as an aid to his mythical rebalancing a path which his replacement Mark Carney seems to have adopted too.

Rebalancing in reverse

After that speech the UK Pound was stable overall but Mervyn King got his fall in 2008/09 and of course interest-rates are in general much much lower as are bond yields. Not all as I observed yesterday about credit card interest-rates but most. Also post the EU vote the UK Pound has seen a substantial fall. It is too early to fully review the impact of the latter but the latest UK GDP data provided a problem for the philosophy of Mervyn King.

In Quarter 3 2016, the services industries increased by 0.8%. In contrast, output decreased in the other 3 main industrial groups with construction decreasing by 1.4%, agriculture decreasing by 0.7% and production decreasing by 0.4%, within which manufacturing decreased by 1.0%.

As you can see not only did we rebalance towards the service sector in fact it gave an upwards push to GDP of 0.67% when it only rose by 0.5% so everything else shrunk. This is also a feature of the whole phase of economic growth we have seen since 2013.

Over the last 3 years, the services industries have driven GDP growth, growing by 9.7% since Quarter 1 2013.

That means that the service sector has provided around 7.6% of GDP growth through this period which does not leave much else.

The latest quarter marks the 15th consecutive quarter of positive growth since the beginning of 2013 with the level of GDP now 8.2% above its pre-downturn peak (Quarter 1 2008).

We can go further back and it provides really bad news for Baron King of Lothbury. At the start of 2002 UK GDP was 86.1 whereas at the start of 2015 it was 106.9 ( 2011 = 100) so the story starts well. A growing economy driven by production, er well no, as it went from 110.3 to 98.5 over the same time period. Some of this will be the decline in North Sea Oil & Gas which more than halved but over the same time period manufacturing shrank by 2% . But services growth has just gone on and on and on to coin a phrase, it was 80.6 back then and was 109 at the start of 2015 so the rebalancing was in reverse.

What about now?

Today’s data release gives us a counterpoint to the strong services performance in the credit crunch era.

In the 3 months to September 2016, production and manufacturing were 7.9% and 5.5% respectively below their level reached in the pre-downturn GDP peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008.

I can bring the numbers above up to date which is that since the beginning of 2015 North Sea Oil and Gas has risen, manufacturing has slipped backwards slightly. One sector has performed well pretty much whatever time period and I will let readers add their own jokes to this.

Looking over the entire period (Quarter 2 1997 to Quarter 3 2016), the water supply, sewerage and waste management  sector grew fastest, at a compound average growth rate of 0.5%

Today’s headline numbers

These were something of a mixed bag.

The monthly picture shows a decrease of 0.4% compared with August 2016. Mining and quarrying was the main sector to show a fall of 3.8%, partially offset by an increase in manufacturing of 0.6%.

Okay so maybe maintenance in the North Sea which the seasonality adjustments never seem to get a grip on partly because I am told it runs a 3 year cycle. The quarterly numbers were simply disappointing.

Quarterly estimate for production output decreased by 0.5% in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2016. The largest downward pressure came from manufacturing, which fell by 0.9%, partially offset by a rise in mining and quarrying of 4.3%.

That’s a nudge downwards but not by enough to effect the GDP release on its own.

Looking forwards there was optimism in the latest Markit PMI business survey.

The UK manufacturing sector remained on a firm footing in October and should return to growth in the fourth quarter.

Not everything is bright in services

Marks and Spencer has shown that within services there are ch-ch-changes going on as we see a rebalancing from actual stores to virtual ones. From the BBC.

Marks and Spencer has announced it will close 30 UK clothing and home shops and convert dozens more into food stores………It also plans to shut 53 international stores, including all 10 in China, half of its stores in France and all its shops in Belgium, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

It seems particularly odd to be departing China. I was always somewhat dubious about the lauding of the now Baron Rose of Monewden although to be fair those in the M&S pension scheme may have cause to be grateful he fought off take-over attempts by Phillip Green.

Toblerone

Another burst of shrinkflation has reached my attention. From the BBC.

Mondelez International, the company behind the product, has increased the gap between the peaks to reduce the weight of what were 400g and 170g bars………The move has resulted in the weight of the 400g bars being reduced to 360g and the 170g bars to 150g, while the size of the packaging has remained the same.

I am pleased to see that the BBC covers shrinkflation so enthusiatically these days although “triangle change” and “the look” are curious ways of expressing it. This leaves chocoholics in particular singing along with Muse.

Can’t you see it’s over?
Because you’re the god of a shrinking universe.

Comment

If we look back over the 14 years or so of the rebalancing promised by Baron King we see that in fact it was always in reverse gear. The service sector has continued what appears to be an inexorable march and production and manufacturing have shrunk. Actually the official numbers are out of date but the pull is two ways. If we take their own logic and data then the service sector must now be at least 80% of the UK as opposed to the official 78.8%.

However there is a pull in the other direction as I contacted the UK ONS ( Office for National Statistics) about how industries get classified. My concern was for example that manufacturers now outsource ever more and the same work will have been reclassified whereas reality may be little changed. After looking at the classifications it is clear to me that whilst the statisticians do their best this has clearly happened. On what scale though is hard to measure particularly as some of the official criteria are inconsistent.

The truth is that a lower exchange-rate is no panacea for this.

Meanwhile it is kind of Mark Carney and the Bank of England to help us out today on defining two subjects. Firstly how far away is the long grass? And secondly how far that poor battered can can still be kicked…

Bank of England extends deadline for major banks to meet too big to fail to 2022 (from 2020)

Meanwhile if you have a vote today let me wish you good luck!