Manufacturing and Production help to drive UK GDP growth

Today brings us up to date with the latest monthly data on the UK economy. the problem with this is as I feared that the numbers are in practice rather erratic.

Monthly gross domestic product (GDP) growth was 0.5% in January 2019, as the economy rebounded from the negative growth seen in December 2018.

Actually December recorded a -0.4% GDP growth rate so if you take the figures literally there was quite a wild swing. More likely is that some industries do not conform to a regular monthly pattern in the way we have seen the UK pharmaceutical industry grow overall but with a boom and bust pattern on a monthly basis.

There are areas where we see two patterns at once in the UK economy. For example Tesco has produced good figures already this morning.

Tesco has reported a 28.8% rise in full-year pre-tax profits to £1.67bn with revenue at the supermarket rising 11.2% to £63.9bn ( Sky News)

On the other hand this week has already seen this.

Ailing department store chain Debenhams has been rescued by its lenders after falling into administration.

Three years ago, the 166-strong chain was worth £900m, compared with £20m as of this week. ( BBC News)

Sadly the BBC analysis seems to avoid this issue highlighted by the Financial Times.

Debenhams troubles stem partly from a period of private equity ownership at the start of the millennium, when CVC, Merrill Lynch and TPG sold off freehold property, added debts and paid themselves large dividends.

It looks a case of asset-stripping and greed followed by over expansion which was then hit by nimbler retailers and the switch to online sales. Without the asset-stripping it would be still with us. Meanwhile the BBC analysis concentrates on Mike Ashley who put up £150 million and offered an alternative. I am no great fan of his business model with its low wages and pressure on staff but he does at least have one.

Wages

Speaking of wages there are several strands in the news so let us start with the rather aptly named Mr. Conn.

The chief executive of Centrica, the owner of British Gas, received a 44% pay rise for 2018, despite a difficult year in which the company imposed two bill increases, warned on profits and announced thousands of job cuts.

Iain Conn received a total pay package worth £2.4m last year, up from £1.7m in 2017, according to Centrica’s annual report. His 2018 packet was bolstered by two bonuses, each worth £388,000.  ( The Guardian )

Yet on the other side of the ledger we see things like this. From The Guardian.

Waterstones staff told how they have had to back on food in order to afford rent as they travelled across the country to deliver a 9,300-signature petition to the chain’s London headquarters, calling for the introduction of a living wage.

Mind you we seem to be making progress in one area at least.

Golden goodbyes for public sector workers will be capped at £95,000 in a clamp down on excessive exit payments, the government has confirmed. ( City-AM)

Although I note that it is something planned rather than already done, so the modern-day version of Sir Humphrey Appleby will be doing his or her best to thwart this. Here is his description of the 7 point plan to deal with such matters.

This strategy has never failed us yet. Since our colleagues in the Treasury have already persuaded the Chancellor to spin the process out until 2008, we can be sure that, by then, there will be a new chancellor, a new prime minister and, quite possibly, a new government. At that point, the whole squalid business can be swept under the carpet. Until next time.

As for payoffs it is the ones for those at the top who are quite often switching jobs which need to stop as often it is merely a name change of their employer.

Today’s GDP data

This was good in the circumstances.

Monthly GDP growth was 0.2% in February 2019, after contracting by 0.3% in December 2018 and growing by 0.5% in January 2019. January growths for production, manufacturing, and construction have all been upwardly revised due to late survey returns.

As you can see December was revised up as was January although not enough in January to raise it by 0.1%. But it is an erratic series so let us step back for some perspective.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 0.3% in the three months to February 2019

Whilst we do not yet have the March data regular readers may recall that the first quarter in the UK ( and in the US at times) can be weak so this is better than it may first appear.

As ever services were in the van as we continue to rebalance in exactly the opposite direction to that proclaimed by the former Bank of England Governor Baron King of Lothbury.

The services sector was the largest contributor to rolling three-month growth, expanding by 0.4% in the three months to February 2019. The production sector had a small positive contribution, growing by 0.2%. However, the construction sector contracted by 0.6%, resulting in a small negative contribution to GDP growth.

Inside its structure this has been in the van.

The largest contributor to growth was computer programming, which has performed strongly in recent months.

Production

Thanks to the business live section of the Guardian for reproducing this from my twitter feed.

One possible hint is that production numbers for Italy and France earlier have been strongish, will the UK be the same?

It turned out that this was so.

Production output rose by 0.6% between January 2019 and February 2019; the manufacturing sector provided the largest upward contribution, rising by 0.9%, its second consecutive monthly rise……In February 2019, the monthly increase in manufacturing output was due to rises in 11 of the 13 subsectors and follows a 1.1% rise in January 2019; the largest upward contribution came from basic metals, which rose by 1.6%.

In the detail was something I noted earlier as pharmaceutical production was up by 2.5% in the last 3 months which put it 4.3% higher than a year ago in spite of a 0.1% fall in February.

But whilst this was a welcome development for February the overall picture has not been of cheer in the credit crunch era.

Production and manufacturing output have risen since then but remain 6.1% and 1.9% lower respectively for the three months to February 2019 than the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008.

Things have been singing along with The Beatles since late 2012.

I have to admit it’s getting better (Better)
It’s getting better

but overall we are left mulling the John Lennon counter at the end of this line.

A little better all the time (It can’t get no worse)

Comment

This morning’s numbers were strong in the circumstances and confirm again my theme that we are growing at around 0.3/4% per quarter. Yet again the prediction in the Sunday Times that there would be no growth turned out to be a reliable reverse indicator. Of course there are fears for March after the Markit PMI business survey so as ever we await more detail.

As to stockpiling this has become an awkward beast because I see it being put as the reason for the growth, although if so why did those claiming this not predict it. Anyway I have done a small online survey of what people have been stockpiling.

Okay inspired by and her stockpiling of Scottish water we have from paracetamol for her dad for scare stories and dog has been burying treats

Meanwhile one area which has been troubled for many years continues to rumble on.

The total trade deficit (goods and services) widened £5.5 billion in the three months to February 2019, as the trade in goods deficit widened £6.5 billion, partially offset by a £0.9 billion widening of the trade in services surplus.

Perhaps there was some stockpiling going on there although as any departure from the European Union seems to be at Northern Rail speed those stockpiling may now be wondering why they did it?

 

 

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The UK productivity puzzle is mostly a result of outdated economics and statistics

Today has brought us two flashes of indirect insight on the issue of productivity and what has become called the productivity puzzle. In case you are wondered what that is here is the OECD from August last year.

Since the start of the Great Recession, labour productivity growth has been weak in the United Kingdom, weaker than in many other OECD countries. The productivity shortfall, defined as the gap between actual productivity and the level implied by its pre-crisis trend growth rate, was nearly 20% for output per hour at the end of 2016.

I am dubious about measures which use the bubbilicious boom for their trend but Ivory Towers love that. Also there is clearly an issue to consider and the OECD had a go at a breakdown.

Most of the UK productivity underperformance is structural rather than cyclical. Half of the productivity shortfall is explained by non-financial services (with information and communication being the largest contributor), a fourth by financial services, and another fourth by manufacturing, other production and construction.

Clearly the 5% productivity shortfall explained by the financial sector needs a much more thorough investigation as the ongoing weak state of the banks is due to the fact that their position was over reported on the pre crisis boom and thus so was productivity. Or as the OECD put it.

its steep increases in the run-up to the crisis.

But they do at least manage a minor swipe at the Zombie business era that has been supported by central bank QE.

weak corporate restructuring have both held back productivity improvements in the manufacturing sector.

Output Gap

Economic theory has had a real problem with this and let me give an example from Japan this morning. The Ivory Towers will tell you that wages should be soaring due to a tight labour market with unemployment at 2.3% and a number of jobs to applicants at a more than forty-year high. Meanwhile back on Earth.

Labour cash earnings dropped 0.8 per cent from a year ago, the ministry reported on Friday, compared with projections for them to advance 0.9 per cent. The reading for January was revised down to -0.6 per cent from 1.2 per cent………..

Real wages, which are adjusted for inflation, fell 1.1 per cent, compared with economists’ median forecast of 0.8 per cent.

The real wages figure for January was revised down to -0.7 per cent from 1.1 per cent. ( Business Times)

As you can see the output gap theory has had another complete failure as wages have failed to increase. This makes us mull productivity which is supposed to be strongly linked to wage growth and real wage growth especially. Also I am afraid we have another problem with official statistics as there has been a major revision after clear flaws were discovered such as only a third of the businesses in Tokyo with over 500 employees that were claimed to be sampled actually were. That adds to the problems seen elsewhere with official Japanese data such as the GDP numbers which is completely the opposite of stereotypes.

UK House Prices

These are beginning to offer a more hopeful perspective. The reason why I argue this is that in my opinion way too much economic effort in the UK has gone towards the housing sector where in many areas substantial capital gains have been available via owning a house. This led for quite some time to the boom in the buy-to-let sector and took both investment, attention and effort from other parts of the economy. This was fed by the various “Help To Buy” policies of the government and the multitude of efforts by the Bank of England to reduce mortgage rates and raise mortgage lending to get house prices higher.

Thus the numbers from the Halifax this morning are welcome as they show that things have slowed down.

The average UK house price is now £233,181 following a 1.6% monthly fall in March…….The more stable measure of annual house price growth rose slightly to 3.2% and is still within our expectation for the year.

You need to go through their numbers carefully to get to that as the monthly UK house prices series of the Halifax has become very erratic and has now gone 2.5%, -3% ,6% and now -1.6%. We thought the 5.9% rise in February was extraordinary at the time yet we now discover it was 6%! If we look at March compared to a year ago we see that there has been a 2.4% rise which seems to reflect better the numbers we get from elsewhere.

As to the overall reliability of the Halifax data well let me quote anteos who commented on the last set of numbers from them as follows.

So, just as the annual indicie was heading towards negative territory, up comes a 5.9% increase.
Very similar to Decembers figures which were then reversed the following month. If I was a betting man, a big negative value will pop up next month.

Chapeau.

Productivity Data

There was something of an irony as I searched for the update here.

404 – The webpage you are requesting does not exist on the site

That was not entirely hopeful for productivity as the UK Office for National Statistics and leads into the official enquiry into out data which is ongoing. Sadly the leadership seem lost in a world of click bait and telling us that tractor production is rising. When we got the numbers they posed another problem.

Labour productivity for Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2018, as measured by output per hour, decreased by 0.1% compared with the same quarter a year ago; this is the second successive quarterly fall following the decrease of 0.2% seen for the previous quarter.

If we look back it is the fall in the third quarter which is the most concerning as GDP growth was particularly strong at 0.7%. For the year just gone we had some growth but not much.

In 2018, labour productivity measured as output per hour grew by 0.5% compared with the previous year, with increases in both services and manufacturing of 0.8% and 0.3% respectively.

This meant that the overall picture in the credit crunch era is this.

Labour productivity increased by 0.3% in Quarter 4 2018 compared with the previous quarter. This increase left productivity 2.0% above its pre-downturn peak in Quarter 4 2007,

So not much allowing us to update the OECD style analysis above.

Productivity in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2018, as measured by output per hour, was 18.3% below its pre-downturn trend – or, equivalently, productivity would have been 22.5% higher had it followed this pre-downturn trend.

Comment

The first problem with the productivity puzzle is whether we can measure it with any degree of accuracy. As we have seen from the Japanese wages and UK house price data above both official and private-sector data have serious issues. This spreads wider and in my opinion is highlighted by this.

In Q4, public service productivity increased by 0.8% on the previous quarter, driven by unusually strong growth in output (1.3%)

It is my opinion that we have very little idea about public sector output and therefore even less about its productivity. Also there are areas we might not always be keen on higher productivity. Returning to the numbers I helped Pete Comley with some technical advice when he wrote his book on inflation and here is what he discovered about the government sector.

The upshot of that review is that estimates inflation on government expenditure no longer use real cost inflation (like wage increases, rises in raw materials costs, etc.) but instead use measures of quality (such as the number of GCSE grades A-C) to calculate the deflator.

So that is a mess.

Also there is a clear problem with the concept of productivity in the services sector. This is because we are often measuring intangible things rather than the tangible of manufacturing. The extraordinary changes for example in the world of information and communications are mostly only captured if there is a price change. I note the paper from Diane Coyle and others that suggested even these were wrong and the situation was much better ( lower prices and higher output). Also I have pointed out before as well as giving evidence to the Sir Charles Bean enquiry, that the UK trade release has at most a couple of pages on services out of the 30 or so with no geographical or sectoral breakdown. This matters even more as we rebalance towards services with growth in the index of services some 21% over the past decade.

Also there has been a shift towards self-employment which makes the numbers less reliable as we know even less about that area.

Finally it would be nice for us to get some capital productivity figures to compare with the labour ones.

Me on The Investing Channel

 

 

 

UK GDP growth was strong in January meaning we continue to rebalance towards services

This will be an interesting day on the political front but there is also much to consider on the economic one. We have a stronger UK Pound £ this morning with it above US $1.32 and 1.17 versus the Euro which as usual on such days has been accompanied by the currency ticker on Sky News disappearing. We also heard yesterday from the newest member of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee Jonathan Haskel. As it has taken him six months to give one public speech I was hoping for a good one as well as wondering if he might have the cheek to lecture the rest of us on productivity?! So what did we get.

Very early there was an “I agree with Mark (Carney)” as I note this.

see for example speeches by (Carney, 2019) and (Vlieghe, 2019)

The subject was business investment which in the circumstances also had Jonathan tiptoeing around the political world but let us avoid that as much as we can and stick to the economics.

First, as has been widely noted, UK investment has been very weak in the last couple of years, especially
during the last year, see for example speeches by (Carney, 2019) and (Vlieghe, 2019) suggesting that Brexit
uncertainty is weighing on business investment. Second, looking at the assets that make up investment
reveals some interesting patterns: transport equipment has been particularly weak, but intellectual property
products (R&D, software, artistic originals) were somewhat stronger. Third, regarding Brexit, as Sir Ivan
Rogers, the UK’s former representative to the EU, has said (Rogers, 2018), “Brexit is a process not an
event”. That process has the possibility of creating more cliff-edges; the length of the
transitional/implementation period, for example. Since the nature of investment is that it needs payback
over a period of time there is a risk that prolonged uncertainty around the Brexit process might continue to
weigh down on investment.

The issue of business investment is that it has been the one area which has been consistently weak since the EU Leave vote. How big a deal is it?

To fix ideas, Table 1 contains nominal investment
in the UK for 2018. As the top line sets out, it was close
to £360bn. Remembering that nominal GDP is £2.1 trillion, this is around 17% of GDP.

Regular readers will know I am troubled as to how investment is defined and to be fair to Jonathan he does point that out. However this is also classic Ivory Tower thinking which imposes an economic model on a reality which is unknown. Have we see a high degree of uncertainty? Yes and that has clearly impacted on investment but what we do not know is how much will return under the various alternatives ahead. Though from the implications of Jonathan’s thoughts the Forward Guidance of interest-rate increases seems rather inappropriate to say the least.

Raghuram Rajan

There has been a curious intervention today by the former head of the Reserve Bank of India. He has told the BBC this.

“I think capitalism is under serious threat because it’s stopped providing for the many, and when that happens, the many revolt against capitalism,” he told the BBC.

The problem is that a fair bit of that has been driven by central bankers with policies which boost asset prices and hence the already wealthy especially the 0.01%.

The UK economy

The opening piece of official data today was very strong.

Monthly gross domestic product (GDP) growth was 0.5% in January 2019, as the economy rebounded from the negative growth seen in December 2018. Services, production, manufacturing and construction all experienced positive month-on-month growth in January 2019 after contracting in December 2018.

Production data has been in the news as it has internationally slowed so let us dip into that report as well.

Production output rose by 0.6% between December 2018 and January 2019; the manufacturing sector provided the largest upward contribution, rising by 0.8%, its first monthly rise since June 2018……In January 2019, the monthly increase in manufacturing output was due to rises in 8 of the 13 subsectors and follows a 0.7% fall in December 2018; the largest upward contribution came from pharmaceuticals, which rose by 5.7%.

We had been wondering when the erratic pharmaceutical sector would give us another boost and it looks like that was in play during January. For newer readers its cycle is clearly not monthly and whilst it has grown and been a strength of the UK economy it is sensible to even out the peaks and troughs. But in the circumstances the overall figure for January was good.

Some Perspective

This is provided by the quarterly data as whilst the January data was nice we need to recall that December was -0.4% in GDP terms. The -0.4% followed by a 0.5% rise is rather eloquent about the issues around monthly GDP so I will leave that there and look at the quarterly data.

Rolling three-month growth was 0.2% in January 2019, the same growth rate as in December 2018.

This seems to be working better and is at least more consistent not only with its own pattern but with evidence we have from elsewhere.Also there is a familiar bass line to it.

Rolling three-month growth in the services sector was 0.5% in January 2019. The main contributor to this was wholesale and retail trade, with growth of 1.1%. This was driven mostly by wholesale trade.

This shows that we continue to pivot towards the services sector as it grows faster than the overall economy and in this instance it grew whilst other parts shrank exacerbating the rebalancing.

Production output fell by 0.8% in the three months to January 2019, compared with the three months to October 2018, due to falls in three main sectors……The three-monthly decrease of 0.7% in manufacturing is due mainly to large falls of 4.0% from basic metals and metal products and 2.0% from transport equipment.

Continuing the rebalancing theme we have seen this throughout the credit crunch era as essentially the growth we have seen has come from the services sector.

Production and manufacturing output have risen since then but remain 6.8% and 2.7% lower respectively for the three months to January 2019 than the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008.

Overall construction has helped also I think but the redesignation of the official construction data as a National Statistic  after over 4 years is an indication of the problems we have seen here. Accordingly our knowledge is incomplete to say the least.

Returning to the production data this was sadly no surprise.

Within transport equipment, weakness is driven by a 4.0% fall in the motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers sub-industry.

Also I will let you decide for yourselves whether this monthly change is good or bad as it has features of both.

 was a 17.4% rise for weapons and ammunition, the strongest rise since March 2017, when it rose by 25.7%.

Comment

We arrive at what may be a political crossroads with the UK economy having slowed but still growing albeit at a slow rate. There is something of an irony in us now growing at a similar rate to the Euro area although if we look back we see that over the past half-year or so we have done better. That was essentially the third quarter of last year when Euro area GDP growth fell to 0.1% whereas the UK saw 0.6%.

If we look back over the last decade or so it is hard not to have a wry smile at the “rebalancing” rhetoric of former Bank of England Governor Baron King of Lothbury who if we look at it through the lens of the film Ghostbusters seems to have crossed the streams. Speaking of such concepts there was a familiar issue today.

The total trade deficit (goods and services) widened £1.3 billion in the three months to January 2019, as the trade in goods deficit widened £2.4 billion, partially offset by a £1.1 billion widening of the trade in services surplus.

Although we got a clue to a major issue here as we note this too.

Revisions resulted in a £0.8 billion narrowing of the total trade deficit in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2018, due largely to upward revisions to the trade in services surplus.

So in fact we only did a little worse than what we thought we had done at the end of last year. Also one of my main themes about us measuring services trade in a shabby fashion is highlighted yet again as the numbers were revised down and now back up a bit.

In Quarter 4 2018 the trade in services balance contributed £1.1 billion to the upward revision of £0.8 billion in the total trade balance as exports and imports were revised up by £3.3 billion and £2.3 billion respectively.

Pretty much the same ( larger though) happened to the third quarter as regular readers mull something I raised at the (Sir Charlie) Bean Review. This was the lack of detail about services trade. I got some fine words back but note today’s report has a lot of detail about goods trade in 2018 but absolutely none on services.

 

 

UK GDP had a relatively good second half of 2018 but a weak December

Today brings a raft of UK economic data as we look at economic growth ( GDP), trade, production (including manufacturing) and construction data. The good news is that we now take an extra fortnight or so to produce the numbers which are therefore more soundly based on actual rather than estimated numbers especially for the last month in the quarter. The not so good news is that I think that adding monthly GDP numbers adds as much confusion as it helps. Also we get too much on this day meaning that important points can be missed, which of course may be the point Yes Prime Minister style.

The scene has been set to some extent this morning by a speech from Luis de Guindos of the ECB.

Euro area data have been weaker than expected in recent months. In fact, industrial production growth fell in the second half of 2018 and the decline was widespread across sectors and most major economies. Business investment weakened. On the external side, euro area trade disappointed, with noticeable declines in net exports.

Whilst that is of course for the Euro area the UK has been affected as well by a change in direction for production. This is especially troubling as in January we were told this.

Production and manufacturing output have risen since then but remain 6.5% and 2.0% lower, respectively, in the three months to November 2018 than the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008.

It had looked like we might get back to the previous peak for manufacturing but like a Northern rail train things at best are delayed. Production has got nowhere near. There have been positive shifts in it as efficiencies mean we need less electricity production but even so it is not a happy picture.

Gilt Yields

Readers will be aware that I have been pointing out for a while how cheap it is for the UK government and taxpayers to borrow and a ten-year Gilt yield of 1.17% backs that up. A factor in this is the weak economic outlook and another is expectations of more bond buying from the Bank of England. The possibility of the later got more likely at the end of last week as rumours began to circulate of a U-Turn from the US Federal Reserve in this area. Or a possible firing up of what would be called QE4 and perhaps QE to infinity.

The Financial Times has caught up with this to some extent.

Investors’ waning expectations of future rises in interest rates are giving a lift to the UK government bond market.

They note that foreign buyers seem to have returned which is awkward for the FT’s cote view to say the least. Also as we look back to the retirement of Bill Gross his idea that UK Gilts were on a “bed of nitroglycerine” was about as successful as Chelsea’s defence yesterday.Anyway I think it steals the thunder from today’s Institute of Fiscal Studies report.

If the coming spending review is to end austerity Chancellor will need to find extra billions.

I am not saying we should borrow more simply that we could and that we seem keener on borrowing when it is more expensive. The IFS do refer to borrowing costs half way through their report but that relies on people reading that far. They also offered a little insight between economic growth and borrowing.

A downgrade of GDP of 0.5% would reduce annual GDP by around £10 billion and a rule-of-thumb suggests it would add between around £5 billion and £7 billion to the deficit.

Economic growth

The headline was not too bad but it did come with a worrying kicker.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) in volume terms was estimated to have increased by 0.2% between Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2018 and Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2018; the quarterly path of GDP through 2018 remains unrevised.

There were concerns about the third quarter being affected by a downwards revision to trade data but apparently not via the magic of the annual accounts. Bur even so it was far from a stellar year.

GDP growth was estimated to have slowed to 1.4% between 2017 and 2018, the weakest it has been since 2009…….Compared with the same quarter in the previous year, the UK economy is estimated to have grown by 1.3%.

We shifted even more to being a services economy as it on its own provided some 0.35% of GDP growth meaning that production and construction declined bring us back to 0.2%.

The worrying kicker was this.

Month-on-month gross domestic product (GDP) growth was 0.2% in October and November 2018. However, monthly growth contracted by 0.4% in December 2018 . The last time that services, production and construction all fell on the month was September 2012.

I have little faith in the specific accuracy of the monthly data but it does seem clear that there was a weakening in December and it was widespread. Even the services sector saw a decline ( -0.2%) and the production decline accelerated to -0.5%. Construction fell by 2.8% but that has been a series in which we have least faith of all.

Production

We learn from the monthly GDP data that steel and car production had weak December’s which helped lead to this.

Production output fell by 0.5% between November 2018 and December 2018; the manufacturing sector provided the largest downward contribution with a fall of 0.7%.

Although the detail in this section gives a different emphasis.

There is widespread weakness this month, with 9 of the 13 sub-sectors falling. Of these, pharmaceuticals, which can be highly volatile, provided the largest negative contribution, with a decrease of 4.2%. There was also a notable fall of 2.8% from the other manufacturing and repair sub-sector, where four of the five sub-industries fell due to the impact of weakness from large businesses (with employment greater than 150 persons on average).

We have learnt over time that the pharmaceutical sector swings around quite wildly ( although not as much as seemingly in Ireland last month) so that may swing back. Also production was pulled lower by the warmer weather but continuing that theme there is a chill wind blowing for this sector none the less.

If we switch to a wider perspective it seems that the worldwide economic slowing is leading to a few crutches being used.

 underpinned by strong nominal export growth of 18.9% within alcoholic beverages and tobacco products.

Comment

The theme here is of the good, the bad and the ugly. Where the good is the way that the UK outperformed its European peers in the second half of 2018 after underperforming in the first half. The bad is the decline in the quarterly economic growth rate from 0.6% to 0.2%. Lastly the ugly is the plunge in December assuming that the data is reliable. We were never likely to escape the chill economic winds blowing in the production sector and need to cross our fingers about the impact on services. My theme that we are ever more rebalancing towards services continues in spite of the rhetoric of former Bank of England Governor Baron King of Lothbury.

Meanwhile we continue to have a balance of payment deficit.

The total trade deficit widened £8.4 billion to £32.3 billion between 2017 and 2018, due mainly to a £7.2 billion increase in services imports.

Exactly how much is hard to say as I have little faith in the services estimates. But with economic growth as it is let me leave you with some presumably unintentional humour from the Bank of England.

The Committee judges that, were the economy to develop broadly in line with its Inflation Report projections, an ongoing tightening of monetary policy over the forecast period, at a gradual pace and to a limited extent, would be appropriate to return inflation sustainably to the 2% target at a conventional horizon.

Weekly Podcast

 

 

 

Chinese economic growth looks set to slow further in 2019

This morning brings us up to date on what has been a theme for a little while now as we have observed one of the main engines of world economic growth starting to miss a beat or two. This from Bloomberg gives us some context and perspective.

China accounted for more than 36% of global GDP growth in 2016.

That sort of growth has led to this according to the Spectator Index.

China’s GDP as a share of US GDP. (nominal) 2009: 35.4% 2019: 65.8%

This has led to all sorts of forecasts around China overtaking the US in terms of total size of its economy with of course the same old problem so familiar of simply projecting the past into the future. Let us know switch to the official view published this morning.

In 2018, under the strong leadership of the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core, all regions and departments implemented the decisions and arrangements made by the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, adhered to the general working guideline of making progress while maintaining stability, committed to the new development philosophy, promoted high quality development, focused on the supply-side structural reform, stayed united and overcame difficulties.

And I thought I sometimes composed long sentences! It also provokes a wry smile if we convert that to the country where we are in as I mull Theresa May telling the UK we “stayed united and overcame difficulties.”

Gross Domestic Product

Firstly we are told a version of tractor production being on target.

According to the preliminary estimation, the gross domestic product (GDP) of China was 90,030.9 billion yuan in 2018, an increase of 6.6 percent at comparable prices over the previous year, achieving the set target of around 6.5 percent growth for the year.

But then we get a version of slip-sliding away.

Specifically, the year-on-year growth of GDP was 6.8 percent for the first quarter, 6.7 percent for the second quarter, 6.5 percent for the third quarter, and 6.4 percent for the fourth quarter.

The trend is exactly as we have been expecting. Also let us take a moment to note how extraordinary it is that a nation as described below can produce its economic output data in only 21 days. There’s mud in the eye of the western capitalist imperialists.

By the end of 2018, the total population of mainland China was 1,395.38 million  an increase of 5.30 million over that at the end of 2017.

That brings us to a clear problem which is that we can I think have confidence in the GDP trend but not in the outright number. Not everyone seems to believe that as many have repeated this sort of line.

According to just-released official statistics, ‘s grew 6.6% in 2018. While it’s the lowest annual annual expansion in almost 30 years, it still is quite a robust rate for an that faced — and is facing — several internal and external uncertainties.

That was Mohammed El-Erian of Allianz.

Industrial Production

Perspective is provided as I note that 6.2% growth is described as “slow but stable” and we remain on message with this.

the value added of the state holding enterprises was up by 6.2 percent……. and enterprises funded by foreign investors or investors from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, up by 4.8 percent.

A clear superiority of the state over foreign private investors and especially the pesky Taiwanese. But they cannot hide this.

In December, the total value added of the industrial enterprises above the designated size was up by 5.7 percent year-on-year, 0.3 percentage point higher than that of last month, or up by 0.54 percent month-on-month.

We are told about the monthly improvement which is welcome but it is still below the average.

The real growth of the total value added of the industrial enterprises above the designated size in 2018 was 6.2 percent, with slow yet stable growth.

So with 6.2% being slow and stable if 5.7% just slow? Many countries would love such a rate of growth but not China.

Services

Again we see a monthly rise being reported.

In December, the Index of Services Production was up by 7.3 percent year-on-year, 0.1 percentage point higher than that of last month.

However this is also against a backdrop of a weakening over the full year.

In 2018, the Index of Services Production increased by 7.7 percent over that of last year, maintained comparatively rapid growth.

That theme continues as we note that year on year growth was 8.3% in December of 2017.

Retail Sales

We find ourselves in familiar territory.

In 2018, the total retail sales of consumer goods reached 38,098.7 billion yuan, up by 9.0 percent over last year which kept fast growth……..In December, the growth of total retail sales of consumer goods was 8.2 percent year-on-year, or 0.55 percent month-on-month.

If we look back the reported growth rate in December 2017 was 10.2%.

Property

This has been an area that has fueled growth in China but Reuters now have their doubts about it.

Real estate investment, which mainly focuses on the residential sector but includes commercial and office space, rose 8.2 percent in December from a year earlier, down from 9.3 percent in November, according to Reuters calculations based on data released by National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Monday.

That was just ahead of the slowest pace of growth last year at 7.7 percent recorded for October.

So the two lowest numbers were at the end of the year and compare to this.

For the full year, property investment increased 9.5 percent from the year-earlier period, down from 9.7 percent in January-November.

I note that in the official data whilst prices are still rising volume growth has slowed to a crawl in Chinese terms.

The floor space of commercial buildings sold was 1,716.54 million square meters, up by 1.3 percent. Specifically, the floor space of residential buildings sold was up by 2.2 percent. The total sales of commercial buildings were 14,997.3 billion yuan, up by 12.2 percent, among which the sales of residential buildings were up by 14.7 percent.

Trade

This was a factor in things slowing down as we note the faster import growth over 2018 as a whole.

The total value of exports was 16,417.7 billion yuan, up by 7.1 percent; the total value of imports was 14,087.4 billion yuan, up by 12.9 percent.

Those who consider the trade surplus to be one of the world’s economic imbalances should echo the official line.

the Trade Structure Continued to Optimize

Comment

So we find that the official data is catching up with our view of an economic slow down in China. Those late to the party have the inconvenience of December showing some data a little better on a monthly basis but the trend remains clear. Looking ahead then even the official business survey shows a decline because the 54s and 53s were replaced by 52.6 in December.

However if we switch to my favourite short-term indicator which is narrow money we see that the economic brakes are still on. The M1 money supply statistics show us that growth was a mere 1.5% over 2018 which is a lot lower than the other economic numbers coming out of China and meaning that we can expect more slowing in the early part of 2019. No wonder we have seen some policy easing and I would not be surprised if there was more of it.

Still it is not all bad news as it has been a while since there has been so little publicity about the annual shindig in Davos. Perhaps someone has spotted that flying to an Alpine resort to lecture others about climate change has more than a whiff of hypocrisy about it.

UK production falls but GDP is doing relatively well

Today brings us the latest official data on the UK economy as the monthly GDP number for November is announced. It comes from a weak international backdrop as we have been observing as Germany and France have already released weak numbers for that time period.

In November 2018, production in industry was down by 1.9% from the previous month on a price, seasonally and calendar adjusted basis ( Germany). In November 2018, output slipped back sharply in the manufacturing industry (−1.4% after +1.4% in October) as well as in the
whole industry (−1.3% after +1.3%)….Manufacturing output went down over the last three months (−1.0%), as well as in the whole industry (−0.9%).  ( France )

Just to add to the party this has just been released.

Italian Industrial Production (M/M) Nov: -1.60% (est -0.30% ; prev -0.10%) Italian Industrial Production WDA (Y/Y) Nov: -2.60% (est 0.40% ; prev 1.00%) (@LiveSquawk )

So the background is rather grim as the pattern for 2018 had been for a nudge higher in industrial production which is now replaced by a 2.6% year on year fall. Even a country which has been doing well like Spain has also reported a 1.5% monthly fall.

UK Production

In the circumstances described above the first response to the UK data was one of relief.

In November 2018, total production output fell by 0.4%, compared with October 2018, due to a fall of 0.3% in manufacturing, supported by falls of 1.1% electricity and gas and 1.3% in mining and quarrying. The monthly decrease in manufacturing output of 0.3% was due to 8 of the 13 sub-sectors falling; the largest downward contribution came from basic metals and metal products, falling by 3.6%.

Obviously one does not welcome falls but in relative terms those were good numbers. I have no idea how the consensus forecast was for a rise as you would need to be locked in a dark internet free cellar to think that in my opinion. However if we look for some perspective we have not escaped the global trend in this area.

In the three months to November 2018, total production output decreased by 0.9% compared with the same three months to November 2017; this is the weakest growth in total production output since November 2012 and the first time since October 2012 there has been widespread weakness across all four sectors.

If we go back to yesterday these numbers take us back to a period when the UK establishment changed tack in terms of economic policy. For example the Bank of England produced some credit easing via the Term Funding Scheme which reduced mortgage rates quite quickly by 1% and the government loosened the fiscal purse strings. Yet we are supposed to believe that the Bank of England currently plans to increase interest-rates.

If we look for causes one has become rather familiar and seems set to stay for a bit.

Providing the largest downward contribution was transport equipment, which fell by 1.1% due to a fall of 2.4% in motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers. The weakness was driven by the impact of shutdowns within this industry in October 2018 in addition to reduced production in November 2018.

Another factor has been the mild winter which has reduced electricity and gas output. In many ways this is a good thing as lower demand means that restrictions are unlikely but it reduces the output numbers. This also is something which has continued up until now.

There remains a chilling kicker to all of this, however. If this is another cyclical downturn then it will be from a level well below the previous peak or we are in the lost decade zone.

Production and manufacturing output have risen since then but remain 6.5% and 2.0% lower, respectively, in the three months to November 2018 than the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008.

UK GDP

The headline was good.

Monthly gross domestic product (GDP) growth was 0.2% in November 2018, following flat growth in September 2018 and growth of 0.1% in October 2018.

Actually I doubt anyone really believes that UK economic growth has been picking up over this period as we get a real life demonstration of why the numbers are a bad idea. They are simply too erratic. If we look deeper we get a better idea of the trajectory from this.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 0.3% in the three months to November 2018.

This gives us two themes of which the first is that in international terms with many of the main European economies flirting with recession that is a good performance. It is also true that we have not escaped the chill winds as growth has slowed since the summer. I spotted an interesting perspective the other day which suggested that the boom in areas like cars had the UK at a relative disadvantage to places like Germany and we may now be in a phase where the UK is stronger but that remains to be seen.

As so often the growth mostly came from the services sector.

The services sector rolling three-month growth to November 2018 was 0.3%. Professional and scientific activities was the largest contributor, with a contribution of 0.14 percentage points to gross domestic product (GDP) growth. Other notable contributors were information and communication, and human health activities.

Tucked away in there may be another good effort by the UK film industry so whilst “luvvies” may be annoying please be nice to them as they have been playing a blinder in economic terms recently.

Construction

There was also some good news from this sector.

Construction output recorded an all-time level high in November 2018 in the chained volume measure seasonally adjusted series; the month-on-month series grew by 0.6%, resulting in the total value of construction output exceeding £14 billion for the first time since monthly records began in 2010.

So it is now in line with my Nine Elms crane count which is now 40. But this series has been unreliable after problems with the deflator and the switching of companies between it and services. So make of it what you will.

Trade

The problem with these so-called theme days for UK statistics is that we get too much information and some bits like the trade figures get ignored. Of course that may be the plan as they continue to be in deficit!

The total trade deficit (goods and services) narrowed £0.2 billion to £7.9 billion in the three months to November 2018 as both goods and services exports each increased £0.1 billion more than their respective imports.

There is something else troubling about the data which emphasises my theme that we know much less than we should about services trade.

The total UK trade deficit (goods and services) widened £4.1 billion to £28.6 billion in the 12 months to November 2018. The widening of the trade deficit was due mainly to a £4.4 billion narrowing in the trade in services surplus; the goods deficit narrowed by a lesser £0.3 billion.

We were told that our trade position in services had improved but that has then been more quietly revised away. For newer readers I made the point to the Sir Charlie Bean review of economic statistics that our data in this area was woeful. But nothing seems to have changed.

Comment

We find ourselves at something off a turning point but not the one that the media and chattering classes have obsessed about. In terms of today’s data Brexit is still in the distance but the world economic slow down is happening and seems set to impact more over the winter and into the spring. We should be grateful I think that we have retained at least some economic growth momentum as others look like they have lost it but these sort of slow downs tend to sing along with Muse.

Into the supermassive
Supermassive black hole
Supermassive black hole
Supermassive black hole
Supermassive black hole

So let us cross our fingers.

Andy Murray

Sad news about his injuries today so let me wish him well for the future as he has been a great champion and it may be a very long time before we see his like again.

Podcast

This week provides some answers to questions I have been asked.

China adds to the list of slowing economies

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Data

Industrial Production

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

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

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

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

Retail Sales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Service Sector

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

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

Taxes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Money Supply

Reuters updated us earlier this week.

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

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

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

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

Comment

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

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

And so it begins?

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