Where next for the economy of Spain?

It has been a while since we have taken a look at the economy of Spain so let us take a moment to reflect on the background here.

The Spanish GDP registered a variation of 0.4% in the fourth quarter of 2020 compared to the previous quarter.

Year-on-year GDP variation stood at ─9.1%, compared with -9.0% in the previous quarter.

Throughout 2020, the GDP at current prices was 1,119,976 million euros, 10.0% lower than in 2019. In terms of volume, the GDP registered a variation of −11.0% in 2020
compared to the previous year. ( INE)

So the economy grew at the end of 2020 but was still 9.1% smaller than when the year began and there had been a sharp dip as we note that if we look at the whole year it was 11% weaker.

This means that as we stand the last decade has turned into a lost one. If we look back to 2010 we see that the economy is now about 1% larger after what has been a tumultuous decade. The Euro area crisis saw a loss of 5% of GDP which was replaced by a strong period with average annual growth peaking at 3.8% and the economy being around 16% larger than at the nadir or 11% from the beginning. So it has been quite a journey.

We can add an extra bit by noting that the construction sector was hit hard again at the end of last year.

The gross value added of Construction varied by -18.2% compared to the same quarter of
2019, which is 7.2 points less than in the previous quarter.

Also let me give INE credit for emphasising this as the impact on the labour market.

In year-on-year terms, the number of hours
actually worked decreased one tenth to -6.3%.

Looking Ahead

Yesterday Markit produced a strong business outlook report.

Spanish companies showed in February a much
greater degree of confidence with regards to the future,
with activity, profitability and employment prospects all
brightening since last year.
“Underpinning the optimism are genuine hopes that the
worst of the pandemic – and the associated economic
restrictions – is coming to an end, with firms widely
expecting a strong economic bounce-back.

However there were worries about tourism.

“That said, there remains inevitable uncertainty on how
the next few months will evolve, especially around
foreign tourism, an important contributor to the Spanish
economy.”

Regular readers will recall that when the pandemic began my major fear for Spain’s economy was tourism. Earlier this month we got a further update on how that was playing out.

Spain received in January the visit of 434,362 international tourists, 89.5% less than in the same month of 2020. ( INE)

So quite a difference to the previous pattern which was for 4.1 to 4.2 million in the two preceding years. Was there a Brexit impact? At first it looks like that as the fall of UK visitors was the largest at 96.7% but it is also true that the Nordic and US falls we very similar so on the end definitely maybe.

In terms of the pandemic Spain has been doing better than other parts of Europe with numbers falling. It was also making better progress with vaccinations but now of course we wait for the implications of this.

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain will stop using AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine for at least two weeks, the government said on Monday, joining a growing list of European countries putting the brakes on the shot over concerns about possible side effects.

Savings

This is a hope for the economy going forwards and the Bank of Spain has been looking into the state of play.

Indeed, from January to September 2020 (the latest available figure), household saving was around 3.5 pp of GDP higher than observed, on average, in the first three quarters of the last five years both in Spain and the euro area.

However they are relatively downbeat on the prospects so let us analyse their thinking.

First, a major portion of unsatisfied consumption in recent
quarters attributable to the restrictions is spending on
services, which generally cannot be deferred.

So it seems they at least will not be making extra restaurant and bar visits.

Second, the extraordinary saving reservoir built up since
the onset of the pandemic is concentrated mainly in
higher incomes, whose marginal propensity to consume is
lower.

I give them credit for this because central bankers normally run away from this sort of thing. Perhaps it is because we are looking at research rather than the pronouncements of leaders. They also have the courage to point out that some will have been hurt badly in economic terms.

Lower-income households do not only have a
lower saving capacity; in fact, the increase in saving over
recent quarters might have been more limited or even, in
some cases, non-existent despite the fact that the public
support measures may have contributed to sustaining
these households’ incomes.

Also there may be concerns that there will be a price to pay.

Lastly, the economic literature also emphasises the
possibility that households may decide to maintain a
relatively high level of saving because they foresee future tax rises in response to the notable increase in public debt
in this crisis (the Ricardian channel)

The whole  position has been really rather like the Helicopter Money we have thought about other the years with one exception.The case for Helicopter Money was that it would be seen as a windfall and  immediately spent.In this instance people have been given the money and stopped from spending it

The Spanish Banks

There is another curiosity from the above.

A significant portion of this excess saving has built up in the
form of bank deposits

In a world of negative interest-rates when the banks can get funding from the ECB at -1% they do not particularly want deposits but have ended up with a bit of a tsunami of them.

They are not getting much relief from house prices.

The annual variation rate of the Housing Price Index (HPI) decreased by two tenths to 1.5% in the fourth quarter of 2020. This is the lowest since the first quarter of 2015.

After the previous boom and bust it may be a case of once bitten and twice shy. Also even those numbers may be flattering as this bit look s odd.

By housing type, the rate of new housing reached 8.2%, seven tenths below that registered in the previous quarter.

I am no expert in the exact details of the Spanish property market but can tell you there have been issues in the UK in dealing with new houses. With an old house you have the benchmark of past prices but new ones of course do not.

Turkey

This is an issue we have noted before has a banking element and the Bank of Spain has been looking into this.

Turkey has been identified as a material country for the Spanish banking system by virtue of BBVA Group’s ownership interest in the Turkish bank Garanti
(49.85% of its capital). Garanti is Turkey’s second largest private bank and the fifth largest if State-owned banks are included. In 2020, Garanti accounted for 8.1% of total BBVA Group assets, while its €563 million contribution to BBVA Group net profit represented 14.3% of total profit generated by the Group’s business areas as a whole (€3.9 billion), excluding the corporate centre.

Comment

As you can see we were in a situation where the outlook looked relatively bright for Spain.The pandemic was improving and the vaccine roll out was progressing raising hopes for tourism later this year. Whilst Spain had a deeper fall than many of its peers we know that it can grow at what is a fast rate for these times. A question mark has been placed against this with the new vaccine decision.

If we now switch to a longer-term analysis though I was reminded of the work of the late Ed Hugh warning about the demographics by this.

While the number of births has shown a constant downward trend for several years now, this
decline was further accentuated nine months after the confinement of the Spanish population
during the first state of alarm due to COVID-19.
Thus, in November 2020 the interannual birth rate fell by more than 10%, reaching decreases
of more than 20% in December 2020 and in January 2021, according to INE estimates.

They went further here.

Specifically, only 23,226 children were born in the month of December 2020. This was 20.4% less than in the same month of 2019 and the lowest monthly value since the INE statistical series began, in the year 1941.

 

 

 

The rise and rise of negative interest-rates

This week is ending with a topic that has become something of a hardy perennial in these times. By these times I mean the way that the Covid-19 pandemic has added to the credit crunch. An example has been provided this morning by Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey.

BoE’s Bailey: As You Go Towards Zero And Into Negative Territory, Academic Research Says Impact Of Structure Of Banking System On Transmission Tends To Increase Most Countries That Have Used Negative Rates Have Not Used Them For Retail Deposits ( @LiveSquawk)

This has reminded markets again about the Bank of England looking at negative interest-rates which as an aside is none too bright at a time when the UK Pound is seeing pressure. Perhaps he has gone native early and started the old tactic of talking it lower. But on the subject of negative interest-rates he is both reinforcing a point made by some of his colleagues and disagreeing with them. The agreement is with this bit from Michael Saunders on the

In my view, there may be some modest scope to cut Bank Rate further but, if we do, it may be preferable to move in relatively small steps.

The disagreement has been over the impact on banks with both Michael Saunders and Silvana Tenreyro claiming they can help them a view which I consider to be evidence free. It is also contradicted by this from the Saunders speech.

For example, if the TFS (or TFSME) interest rate is
below Bank Rate, then banks could borrow funds at the (lower) TFS rate and earn the (higher) interest rate
on reserves. This subsidy for banks would come at the BoE’s expense.

Firstly nice of him to confirm my point that such policies are indeed a bank subsidy. But why so banks need a different interest-rate to everyone else especially if they are unaffected.

But the clear message here has been the development of the effective lower bound or ELB. I still recall Governor Carney telling us this.

The Bank of England’s website says that the “effective lower bound” for the interest rate it sets, Bank Rate, is the current rate of 0.5%.

This is the level, according to the Bank, “below which it cannot be set” – the lowest practicable official interest rate. ( BBC March 2015)

Of course that became 0.1% when we cut to 0.1% and Governor Carney had previously contradicted his own rhetoric by cutting to 0.25% after the EU Leave vote. Well now according to Michael Saunders it has got lower again.

As discussed above, I suspect the ELB is probably somewhat below zero, but there is uncertainty around this. With this uncertainty, it may be preferable to make any further rate cuts in relatively small steps, less than the normal 25bp increments.

So 0.5% became 0.1% ( after they cut to 0.25%) and now it is somewhere below 0%. Were it not so serious this would be a comedy version of central banking 101. The other ridiculous part was claiming it was 0.5% when only across The Channel the ECB had cut below 0%.

The road below zero has been littered with official denials, although the record remains with Governor Kuroda of the Bank of Japan who imposed negative interest-rates only 8 days or a Beatles week after denying any such intention in the Japanese parliament.

Yesterday

We did not get an ECB interest-rate cut partly because they had reined back on that and partly because it looks as though there was some dissension in the camp.

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde brokered a difficult compromise this week to secure backing for a new pandemic-fighting package of measures, but her battle to convince sceptics among her colleagues and investors has only just begun.

Her claim that she had ended dissension has gone the way of well many of her other claims. But there was a nuance to the interest-rate debate as she simultaneously said down and then up.

She starts by saying “we are enlarging the volume of lending that can be obtained at those rates” And then says “we are slightly changing the reference period…. to make it a little more challenging” Seems at cross purposes… ( @LorcanRK)

It has turned out that there has been some potential tightening here, but I would not worry about it too much as once they realise it will hurt The Precious! The Precious! it will be changed. The interest-rate of -1% remains but how much of that banks can access has potentially been reduced.

I would not worry about this too much as once somebody points out to Christine Lagarde that she has made another mistake this will be reversed.

Bond Yields

We can continue the theme of mistakes by President Lagarde as someone was keen in the ECB messaging to make sure there would not be another “we are not here to close bond spreads” debacle.

We will conduct our purchases under the PEPP to preserve favourable financing conditions over this extended period. We will purchase flexibly according to market conditions and with a view to preventing a tightening of financing conditions that is inconsistent with countering the downward impact of the pandemic on the projected path of inflation. In addition, the flexibility of purchases over time, across asset classes and among jurisdictions will continue to support the smooth transmission of monetary policy.

This was a subplot to the main event in this area.

Second, we decided to increase the envelope of the pandemic emergency purchase programme (PEPP) by €500 billion to a total of €1,850 billion. We also extended the horizon for net purchases under the PEPP to at least the end of March 2022.

We can now move to what The Frenchman in the Matrix series of films would call cause and effect.

And BOOM!

The 10-year Spanish bond yield turned negative for the first time ever. Still somewhat of a national embarrassment that Portugal went there first, I suppose. ( @fwred)

Fred has rather stolen my thunder about what had happened in anticipation of the move.

Yesterday Portugal joined the euro zone’s growing pool of negative yields as 10-year YTM dropped to -0.1% for the first time in history.

 

Comment

As I have been typing this there has been a reminder of old times for me and well you can see for yourselves.

Money Markets Assign 65% Probability Of 10 Bps Bank Of England Interest Rate Cut By March 2021 Vs 16% At Start Of Month ( @LiveSquawk)

It is hard not to laugh as a cut of 0.1% after cuts approaching 5% would do what exactly? But it would appear that for rate cuts central bankers keep singing along with the Average White Band.

Let’s go ’round again
Maybe we’ll turn back the hands of time
Let’s go ’round again
One more time (One more time)
One more time (One more time)

In terms of the UK we do already have negative interest-rates as both the two-year ( -0.14%) and the five-year yields ( -0.11%) are already there and as a real world issue they feed into mortgage rates because so many are at a fixed rate these days.

In terms of the world well it is arriving right now in a land down under.

An auction of three-month Australian notes on Thursday saw an average yield of 0.01%, with buyers who bid most aggressively at the sale receiving a yield of minus 0.01%. ( Bloomberg)

Adding in time to this.

 

Hard times for the economy and banks of Spain

We have an opportunity to peer under the economic bonnet of one of the swing states in the Euro area. We have seen Spain lauded as an economic success followed by the bust of the Euro area crisis and then it move forwards again. But 2020 has proven to be another year of economic trouble and that theme has been added to by this morning’s data release.

The monthly variation of the seasonally and calendar adjusted general Retail Trade Index (RTI)
at constant prices between the months of September and August, stood at −0.3%. This rate was 1.7 points lower than the previous month. ( INE)

So we have a fall when if we follow the official view of recoveries from the pandemic we should be seeing the opposite. Then we note that relative to August there has been a much larger decline. The breakdown is below.

By products, Food remained the same (0.0%) and Non-food products declined by 0.6%. If the latter is broken down by type of product, Household equipment decreased the most (−3.7%).

The one category which rose was personal equipment which was up 2.3%.

If we switch to the annual picture we see this.

In September, the General Retail Trade Index, once adjusted for seasonal and calendar effects, registered a variation of −3.3% as compared with the same month of the previous year. This rate was four tenths lower than the one registered in August.

In a by now familiar pattern car fuel sales are down by 9.2% and after them the breakdown is as follows.

If these sales are broken down by type of product, Food
decreased by 2.7%, and Non-food products by 3.1%.

So unlike in the UK the Spanish are not eating more. After the news we have looked it sadly it is no surprise that jobs are declining.

In September, the employment index in the retail trade sector registered a variation of −3.0%
as compared to the same month of 2019. This rate was three tenths above that recorded in August. Employment decreased by −4.9% in Service stations.

If we look at the structure of the sales we see that small chain stores have been hit hard with sales down 14.3% on a year ago meaning they are only 88.3% of what they were in 2015. There has been a switch towards large chain stores who are 2.4% up in September on a year ago and some 17% up on 2015.

Looking at the overall picture the “Euro Boom” has pretty much been erased as we note that retail sales in September are only 2.2% above 2015. These numbers are not seasonally adjusted and may give the best guide because if there has been a year not fitting regular patterns this is it. We get another clue from the numbers from the Canary Islands where volumes are 13.5% below a year ago and the overall index is at 87,5. I am noting that because it gives us a proxy for the tourism effect, or in this instance the lack of tourism effect. Regular readers will recall we feared that this would be in play when the Covid-19 pandemic started and we can see that it has.

Housing Market

The Bank of Spain and the ECB would of course have turned to these figures first.

The number of mortgages constituted on dwellings is 19,825, 3.4% less than in August 2019. The average amount is 134,678 euros, an increase of 4.0%.

They will have been disappointed to see the number of mortgages lower but pleased to see an increase in mortgage size which offers the hope of more business for their main priority which is the banks and may even offer a hint of house price rises.

One factor of note is that if we look at the remortgage figures we see a different pattern in terms of fixed to floating mortgage rates than we have become used to.

After the change of conditions, the percentage of mortgages
fixed interest increases from 19.0% to 31.2%, while that of variable rate mortgages decreases from 80.4% to 59.7%.

As to house prices these are the most recent numbers.

The annual rate of the Housing Price Index (HPI) decreased one percentage point in the
second quarter of 2020, standing at 2.1%.
By housing type, the rate of new housing reached 4.2%, almost two points below that
registered in the previous quarter

So we still have growth and the central bankers will be happy with an index that is at 126.8 when compared with 2015. Their researchers will be busy enhancing their career prospects by finding Wealth Effects from this whilst nobody asks why all the emails from first-time buyers saying they cannot afford anything keep ending up in the spam folder.

Looking Ahead

Last month the Bank of Spain told us this.

Under these considerations, the economy’s output would fall by 10.5% on average in 2020 in scenario 1, and by up to 12.6% in the event that the less favourable epidemiological situation underlying the construction of scenario 2 were to
materialise. That said, the pickup in activity projected for the second half of this year, following the historic collapse recorded in the first half, would have a positive carry-over
effect on the average GDP growth rate in 2021, which would reach 7.3% in scenario 1, while remaining at 4.1% in scenario 2,

With the pandemic storm clouds gathering around Europe we look set for scenario 2 of a larger decline in GDP followed by a weaker recovery. Also if you are in an economic depression then how long it lasts matters as much as how deep the fall is.

In any event, at the end of 2022, GDP would stand some 2 percentage points (pp) below its pre-crisis level in
scenario 1, a gap that would widen to somewhat more than 6 pp in scenario 2.

It is a bit like wars which are always supposed to be over like Christmas and like a banking collapse where we are drip fed bad news. Speaking of the banks there is plenty of bad news around. We can start with the Turkish situation.

Turkish debt held by European banks via BIS – $64 billion in Spanish banks. – $24 billion, in French banks. – $21 billion, in Italian banks. – $9 billion, in German banks. ( DailyFX )

Then there was also this earlier this week. The Spanish consumer association took th banks to court over past mortgage fees.

Those affected do not need to initiate an individual lawsuit, with the costs and time that this entails, but can directly benefit from the success of the Asufin class action lawsuit.

So, as previously indicated, those 15 million mortgages may recover up to an average of 1,500 euros without the need to litigate. ( El Economista)

I doubt that is the end of the story but it is where we presently stand.

Comment

The situation looks somewhat grim right now and it has consequences.If we look at the labour market we have learned that unemployment as a measure is meaningless so here is a better guide.

Total hours worked would fall very sharply on average in 2020: by 11.9% in scenario 1 and 14.1% in scenario 2. Although the rise in this variable, which began
with the easing of lockdown, would continue over the rest of the projection horizon, the total number of hours worked at the end of 2022 would still be 4.5% and 8.3% lower than before the COVID-19 crisis under scenarios 1 and 2, respectively. ( Bank of Spain)

Also the public finances will be doing some heavy lifting.

.As regards public finances, it is estimated that the general government deficit will increase sharply in 2020, to stand at 10.8% and 12.1% of GDP in each of the two scenarios considered…….Public debt, meanwhile, would increase in 2020 by more than 20 pp in scenario 1 and by
some 25 pp in scenario 2, to stand at 116.8% and 120.6% of GDP, respectively.

Of course debt affordability fears are much reduced when some of your bonds can be issued at negative yields and even the ten-year is a mere 0.17%.

As to the banks the eyes of BBVA and Banco Santander will be on developments in Turkey right now.

Me on The Investing Channel

Oh France! Oh Spain! Oh Italy!

After yesterday’s update from Germany we move onto the second, third and fourth largest economies in the Euro area, who rather curiously have produced their figures in that order this morning. So as we mull the fact that Germany accelerated the release of its GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) numbers at exactly the wrong time we also need to be ready for bad news.

In Q2 2020, GDP in volume terms declined: –13.8%, after –5.9% in Q1 2020. It is 19% lower than in Q2 2019.  ( Insee of France)

That is like two explosions going off with the 5.9% being credit crunch like but then it being followed by a much louder bang. The total of -19% is somewhat chilling.

We know the cause.

 GDP’s negative developments in first half of 2020 is linked to the shut-down of “non-essential” activities in the context of the implementation of the lockdown between mid-March and the beginning of May

But the beginning of the recovery seems understated.

The gradual ending of restrictions led to a gradual recovery of economic activity in May and June, after the low point reached in April.

In terms of the detail well everything in the domestic economy fell with one of the components being rather curious.

Household consumption expenditures dropped (–11.0% after –5.8%), as did total gross fixed capital formation in a more pronounced manner (GFCF: –17.8% after –10.3%). General government expenditure also stepped back (–8.0% after –3.5%).

I wonder how they managed to find a category of government spending that fell?! Maybe it was stuff they could not buy as it was out of stock. But it rather sticks out as does this.

 Food expenditure slightly decreased (–0.5% after +2.8%).

In the UK we still seem to be spending more on food whereas France seems to have stocked up and then begun to de-stock.

Although the numbers are larger trade turns out to be a much smaller factor which reminds us that trade numbers are unreliable at the best of times and maybe nearly hopeless right now.

In Q2 2020, imports declined strongly (–17.3% after –10.3%), notably in manufactured goods. Exports fell in a more pronounced manner (–25.5% after –6.1%), in particular in transport equipment. All in all, foreign trade contributed negatively to GDP growth this quarter (–2.3 points after –0.1points).

Make of that what you will.

Spain

This starts especially grimly as the opening page tells us there has been a 22.1% fall in GDP. So let us look more deeply at the state of play.

The Spanish GDP registers a variation of -18.5% in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the previous quarter in terms of volume. This rate is 13.3 points lower than that registered in the first quarter.

which brings us to this.

The year-on-year change in the GDP stood at −22.1%, compared to −4.1% for the quarter
preceding.

That is a bit of a “Boom! Boom! Boom!” moment although notin an economic sense and the breakdown is as follows.

The contribution of domestic demand to year-on-year GDP growth is −19.2 points, 15.5 points lower than that of the first quarter. For its part, external demand represents a contribution of −2.9 points, 2.5 points lower than that of the previous quarter.

We get a sort of confirmation from all of this from the hours worked numbers which at the same time provide a critique of the unemployment data.

In year-on-year terms, hours worked decreased by 24.8%, rate 20.6 points lower than in the first quarter of 2020, and full-time equivalent positions down 18.5%, 17.9 points less than in the first quarter, which represents decrease of 3,394 thousand full-time equivalent jobs in one year.

Some areas saw not far off a collapse in demand, because of past issues the construction numbers stood out to me.

Household final consumption expenditure experiences a year-on-year decrease of 25.7%, 19.9 points less than in the last quarter. For its part, the final consumption expenditure of the Public Administrations presented an inter annual variation of 3.5%, one tenth less than that of the preceding quarter.
Gross capital formation registered a decrease of 25.8%, 20.5 points higher than that of previous quarter. The investment in tangible fixed assets decreases at a year-on-year rate of 30.8%, which it represents 22.4 points more than in the previous quarter. By components, the investment in homes and other buildings and constructions decreased 22.6 points, going from −8.3% to -30.9%, while investment in machinery, capital goods and weapons systems it decreases 23 points when presenting a rate of −32.3%, compared to −9.3% in the previous quarter.

The reason why that sector stands out is the way it affected the economy and the banks as the credit crunch rolled into the Euro area crisis.

Italy

We advance on Italy nervously because of its past record but the fall was in fact the smallest of these three.

 In the second quarter of 2020 the seasonally and calendar adjusted, chained volume measure of Gross
Domestic Product (GDP) decreased by 12.4 per cent with respect to the previous quarter and by 17.3 per
cent over the same quarter of previous year.

As to the breakdown well it was everything if we skip over a slightly bizarre focus on farming.

The quarter on quarter change is the result of a decrease of value added in agriculture, forestry and
fishing, in that of industry as well as in services. From the demand side, there is a negative contribution
both by the domestic component (gross of change in inventories) and the net export component.

Farming is of course very important but it hardly the main player in this context.

Comment

There are a lot of contexts to this so let us start with the national ones. Spain was the main “Euro Boom” beneficiary with annual economic growth reaching 4.2% in early 2015 but now we are reminded that it can be the leader of the pack in down as well as upswings. Italy has lost less but it is hard not to think that is because it has less to lose and this from  @fwred is rather chilling.

As the morning has developed we can now look at the overall picture for the Euro area.

In the second quarter 2020, still marked by COVID-19 containment measures in most Member States, seasonally
adjusted GDP decreased by 12.1% in the euro area and by 11.9% in the EU, compared with the previous quarter,
according to a preliminary flash estimate published by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union.
These were by far the sharpest declines observed since time series started in 1995. In the first quarter of 2020,
GDP had decreased by 3.6% in the euro area and by 3.2% in the EU.

We can use the numbers to compare with the United States as the annual decline of 15% of the Euro area is larger than the 9.5% there. I think this is outside the margin of error but potential errors right now will be large.

There is a collective assumption that these things will bounce back and I am sure that some areas will. But there are others where it will not and if we think of the “girlfriend in a coma” it never seems to do that. Quarterly economic output in Italy was 417 billion Euros at the beginning of 2017 rising to 431 billion and now falling to 356 billion.

In the end this is the problem with all the can kicking. We have arrived at the next storm without fixing the damage caused by the last one. Where do you go when the official interest-rate is -0.6% and of course -1% for the banks?

The Euro area unemployment rate is much higher than the 7.4% reported today

A clear feature of the economic landscape post the Covid-19 pandemic is mass unemployment. We should firstly note that this is and will continue to create quite a bit of suffering and angst. Also that all the easing policies of the central banks over the past decade or so were supposed to avoid this sort of thing. But if the system was a rubber band it had been stretched towards breaking point and now all they can do is pump it all up even more. But for our purposes there is another issue which is that we have little idea of either how much unemployment there is or how long it will last. Let me illustrate by looking at the numbers just release by Italy.

The Italian Job

As you might expect employment fell in May.

On a monthly basis, the decline of employment (-0.4%, -84 thousand) concerned more women ( 0.7%, 65 thousand) than men (-0.1%, -19 thousand), and brought the employment rate to 57.6% (-0.2 p.p.)…….With respect to the previous quarter, in the period March – May 2020, employment considerably decreased (-1.6%, 381 thousand) for both genders.

 

Also unemployment rose.

In the last month, also unemployed people grew (+18.9%, +307 thousand) more among women (+31.3%, +227 thousand) than men (+8.8%, +80 thousand). The unemployment rate rose to 7.8% (+1.2 percentage points) and the youth rate increased to 23.5% (+2.0 p.p.).

Now the problems begin. Firstly I recall that last time around we were told the unemployment rate was 6.3% which has seen a substantial revision to 6.6%. There my sympathy is with the statisticians at a difficult time. But for the next bit we have to suspend credulity.

In the last three months, also the number of unemployed persons decreased (-22.3%, -533 thousand), while a growth among inactive people aged 15-64 years was registered (+6.6%, +880 thousand).

If we look further back we just compound the issue.

On a yearly basis, the decrease of employed people was accompanied by a fall of unemployed persons (-25.7%, -669 thousand) and a growth of inactive people aged 15-64 (+8.7%, +1 million 140 thousand).

As I pointed out last month the issue is how unemployment is defined.

Unemployed persons: comprise persons aged 15-74 who:
were actively seeking work, i.e. had carried out activities in the four week period ending with the reference week
to seek paid employment or self-employment and were available to start working before the end of the two
weeks following the reference week;

The definition fails when you have a lockdown as some cannot go to work and others quite reasonably think that there is no point. If we assume that the rise in activity is all a type of hidden unemployment then we get an unemployment rate of 12.4% in Italy. Our estimate will be far from perfect so let us say we think it has risen from ~11% last in April to more like 12% in May.

An even grimmer situation is shown by youth unemployment. The official reading is bad enough.

the youth rate increased to 23.5% (+2.0 p.p.).

But if we apply the same methodology we get to a rather chilling 46.3%. The inactivity category here is huge at 4.6 million which I hope is pretty much students. I have to confess that I am reminded of the Yes Prime Minister quote from the 1980s that education was mostly extended to reduce the unemployment numbers. Anyway it is a blunt number but frankly will be much nearer than the official one. Also there will be many young Italians who have had little hope of a job post credit crunch as it was and it just got worse.

What we do learn is how few people are surveyed for these numbers.

The number of interviewed households for May 2020 is about 17,000 (almost equal to 35,500 individuals) and is
approximately 10% lower than the average number of interviews used for the production of estimates related to a
four-weeks month.

Spain

If we switch to the Ministry of Labour we get a barrage of numbers.

Unemployment is reduced in all sectors except agriculture and among claimants “without previous employment”
There are fewer unemployed registered in ten autonomous communities
In June 308,985 more contracts were signed than in the previous month
Almost six million people received SEPE benefits in May.

These numbers look both more useful and realistic. Things started to get better last month with around 309,000 new jobs but the Furlough scheme count in May of 6 million gives a perspective. Also unemployment edged higher.

The registered unemployment in the offices of the State Public Employment Service (SEPE) has increased by 5,107 people compared to the previous month. This represents an increase of 0.1%, which deepens the trend of slowing down the growth rate of unemployment that began in May.

So we end up with this.

The total number of unemployed persons registered in the SEPE offices amount to 3,862,883.

There is an irony in using registered unemployment numbers as they fell into disrepute due to the way they can be manipulated and fiddled. But right now they are doing better than the official series. El Pais summarises it like this.

The total number of jobseekers in Spain has risen to 3.86 million, the highest figure registered since May 2016……The rise in unemployment for June is the first increase seen since 2008, just months before the fall of Lehman Brothers and the year of the financial crisis. The increase in contributors to the Social Security system for the month is also the smallest since 2015.

So we see that there are also still around 2.1 million people on the furlough scheme. In total these benefits were paid out.

In May, the SEPE paid 5,526 million euros in benefits, of which 3,318 million were dedicated to paying ERTE benefits and 2,208 million to unemployment benefits, both at the contributory and assistance level.

If we use these numbers are plug them into the official unemployment series we end up with an unemployment rate of 16.8%.

Euro Area

This morning’s official release tells us this.

In May 2020, a third month marked by COVID-19 containment measures in most Member States, the euro area seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was 7.4%, up from 7.3% in April 2020……..Eurostat estimates that 14.366 million men and women in the EU, of whom 12.146 million in the euro area, were unemployed in May 2020. Compared with April 2020, the number of persons unemployed increased by 253 000 in the EU and by 159 000 in the euro area.

Unfortunately we do not have an update on inactivity so we can have a go at getting a better picture. We are promised more but not until next week.

To capture in full the unprecedented labour market situation triggered by the COVID-19 outbreak, the data on
unemployment will be complemented by additional indicators, e.g. on employment, underemployment and potential
additional labour force participants, when the LFS quarterly data for 2020 are published.

Comment

As you have seen earlier this is a “Houston we have a problem moment” for unemployment data as it rigorously calculates the numbers on the wrong football pitch. It creates problems highlighted by this tweet from Silvia Amaro of CNBC.

#unemployment in the euro zone came in at 7.4% in May. At the height of the debt crisis it reached 12.1%. #COVIDー19

That creates the impression things are much better now when in fact they may well be worse. Without the furlough schemes they certainly would be. What we fo not know is how long it will last?

 

Eurobonds To be? Or not to be?

We find that some topics have a habit of recurring mostly because they never get quite settled, at least not to everyone’s satisfaction. At the time however triumph is declared as we enter a new era until reality intervenes, often quite quickly. So last night’s Franco-German announcement after a virtual summit caught the newswires.

France and Germany are proposing a €500bn ($545bn; £448bn) European recovery fund to be distributed to EU countries worst affected by Covid-19.

In talks on Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed that the funds should be provided as grants.

The proposal represents a significant shift in Mrs Merkel’s position.

Mr Macron said it was a major step forward and was “what the eurozone needs to remain united”. ( BBC)

Okay and there was also this reported by the BBC.

Mrs Merkel, who had previously rejected the idea of nations sharing debt, said the European Commission would raise money for the fund by borrowing on the markets, which would be repaid gradually from the EU’s overall budget.

There are a couple of familiar features here as we see politicians wanted to spend now and have future politicians ( i.e not them face the issues of paying for it). There is an undercut right now in that the choice of Frau Merkel reminds those of us who follow bond markets that Germany is being paid to borrow with even its thirty-year yield being -0.05%. So in essence the other countries want a slice of that pie as opposed to hearing this from Germany.

Money, it’s a crime
Share it fairly but don’t take a slice of my pie
Money, so they say
Is the root of all evil today
But if you ask for a raise it’s no surprise that they’re
Giving none away, away, away ( Pink Floyd)

Actually France is often paid to borrow as well ( ten-year yield is -0.04%) but even it must be looking rather jealously at Germany.Here is how Katya Adler of the BBC summarised its significance.

Chancellor Merkel has conceded a lot. She openly agreed with the French that any money from this fund, allocated to a needy EU country, should be a grant, not a loan. Importantly, this means not increasing the debts of economies already weak before the pandemic.

President Macron gave ground, too. He had wanted a huge fund of a trillion or more euros. But a trillion euros of grants was probably too much for Mrs Merkel to swallow on behalf of fellow German taxpayers.

She has made a technical error, however, as Eurostat tends to allocate such borrowing to each country on the grounds of its ECB capital share. So lower borrowing for say Italy but not necessarily zero.

The ECB

Its President Christine Lagarde was quickly in the press.

So there is zero risk to the euro?

Yes. And I would remind you that the euro is irreversible, it’s written in the EU Treaty.

Of course history is a long list of treaties which have been reversed. Also there was the standard tactic when challenged on debt which is whataboutery.

Every country in the world is seeing its debt level increase – according to the IMF’s projections, the debt level of the United States will reach more than 130% of GDP by the end of this year, while the euro area’s debt will be below 100% of GDP.

Actually by trying to be clever there, she has stepped on something of a land mine. Let me hand you over to the French Finance Minister.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Tuesday, the European Union (EU) recovery fund probably will not be available until 2021.

The 500 bln euro recovery fund idea is a historic step because it finances budget spending through debt, he added. ( FXStreet )

So the height of the pandemic and the economic collapse will be over before it starts? That is an issue which has dogged the Euro area response to not only this crisis but the Greek and wider Euro area one too. It is very slow moving and in the case of Greece by the time it upped its game we had seen the claimed 2% per annum economic growth morph into around a 10% decline meaning the boat had sailed. In economic policy there is always the issue of timing and in this instance whatever you think of the details of US policy for instance it has got on with it quickly which matters in a crisis.

Speaking of shooting yourself in the foot there was also this.

Growth levels and prevailing interest rates should be taken into account, as these are the two key elements.

The latter is true and as I pointed out earlier is a strength for many Euro area countries but the former has been quite a problem. Unless we see a marked change we can only expect the same poor to average performance going ahead. Mind you we did see a hint that her predecessor had played something of a Jedi Mind Trick on financial markets.

Outright Monetary Transactions, or OMTs, are an important instrument in the European toolbox, but they were designed for the 2011-12 crisis, which was very different from this one. I don’t think it is the tool that would be best suited to tackling the economic consequences of the public health crisis created by COVID-19.

They had success without ever being used.

Market Response

Things have gone rather well so far. The Euro has rallied versus the US Dollar towards 1.10 although it has dipped against the UK Pound. Bond markets are more clear cut with the Italian bond future rising over a point and a half to above 140 reducing its ten-year yield to 1.62%. The ten-year yield in Spain has fallen to 0.7% as well. It seems a bit harsh to include Spain after the economic growth spurt we have seen but nonetheless maybe it did not reach escape velocity.

Comment

Actually there already are some Eurobonds in that the ESM ( European Stability Mechanism) has issued bonds in the assistance programmes for Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Although they were secondary market moves mostly allowing countries to borrow more cheaply rather than spend more. On that subject I guess life can sometimes come at you fast as how is this going?

Taking into account these measures, the
government remains committed to meeting the
primary fiscal surplus for 2020 and forecasts a
primary surplus at  3.6% of GDP ( Greece Debt Office)

On the other side of the coin it will be grateful for this.

81% of the debt stock is held by official sector creditors,
allowing for long term maturity profile and low interest
rates

On a Greek style scale the 500 billion Euros is significant but now we switch to Italy we see that suddenly the same sum of money shrinks a lot. I notice that Five Star ( political party not the band) have already been on the case.

It’s just too little, too late
A little too long
And I can’t wait ( JoJo)

This brings me to the two real issues here of which the first is generic. In its history fiscal policy finds that it can not respond quickly enough which is why the “first responder” is monetary policy. The problem is that the ECB has done this so much it is struggling to do much more and the European Union is always slow to use fiscal policy. Such as it has then the use has been in the other direction via the Stability and Growth Pact.

Next comes the fact that there are 19 national treasuries to deal with for the Euro and 27 for the European Union as I note that last night’s deal was between only 2 of them. Perhaps the most important ones but only 2.

Where next for the economy of Spain and house prices?

We can pick up on quite a lot of what is happening economically by taking a look at Spain which has been something of a yo-yo in the credit crunch era. It was hit then began to recover then was affected by the Euro area crisis but from around 2014/15 was maybe the clearest case of the Euro boom as it posted GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth as high as 4.2% in late 2015. Since then in something of a contradiction for the policies of the ECB economic growth has slowed but nonetheless Spain was an outperformer. Indeed such that things were quiet on the usual metrics such as national debt and so on. It shows how a burst of GDP growth can change things.

Of course that was this and we are now in the eye of the economic storm of the Covid-19 pandemic. At the end of last month Spain’s official statisticians fired an opening salvo on the state of play.

The Spanish GDP registered a variation of ─5.2% in the first quarter of 2020 with respect to the previous quarter in terms of volume. This rate was 5.6 points lower than that
recorded for the fourth quarter…….. Year-on-year GDP variation of GDP stood at ─4.1%, compared with 1.8% in the previous quarter.

To be fair to them they had doubts about the numbers but felt they had a duty to at least produce some.

Today

Markit INS offered us some thoughts earlier.

Record falls in both manufacturing and service sector output ensured that the Spanish private sector overall experienced a considerable and unprecedented contraction of economic activity during April. After accounting for seasonal factors, the Composite Output Index* recorded a new low of 9.2, down from 26.7 in March.

A single-digit PMI still comes as a bit of a shock as we recall that Greece in its crisis only fell to around 30 on this measure. Here is some more detail from their report.

The sharp contraction was driven by rapid reductions in
demand and new business as widespread government
restrictions on non-essential economic activity – both
at home and abroad – weighed heavily on company
performance. There was a record reduction in composite
new business and overall workloads – as measured by
backlogs of work – during April.

We can spin that round to an estimated impact on GDP.

Allowing for a likely shift in the traditionally strong linear relationship between GDP and PMI data, we estimate the economy is currently contracting at a quarterly rate of around 7%.

They then confess to something I have pointed out before about the way they treat the Euro area.

Whilst startling enough, this figure may well prove
to be conservative, with the depth of the downturn
undoubtedly greater than anything we have ever seen
before.

For our purposes we see that a double-digit fall in GDP seems likely and even this morning’s forecasts from the European Commission are on that road.

For the year as whole, GDP is forecast to
decline by almost 9½%.

I do like the 1/2% as if any forecast is that accurate right now! One element in the detail that especially concerns me is the labour market because it had been something of a laggard in the Spanish boom phase.

The unemployment rate is expected to rise rapidly, amplifying the shock to the economy, although job losses should be partly reabsorbed as activity picks up again. However, the recovery in the labour market is expected to be slower amid high uncertainty, weak corporate balance-sheet positions, and the disproportionate impact of the
crisis on labour intensive sectors, such as retail and
hospitality.

This was the state of play at the end of March.

The unemployment rate increased 63 hundredths and stood at 14.41%. In the last 12 months, this rate decreased by 0.29 hundredths.

Actually if we note the change in the inactivity rate then the real answer was more like 16%. As Elton John would say.

It’s sad, so sad (so sad)
It’s a sad, sad situation.

This bit is like licking your finger and putting it out the window to see how fast your spaceship is travelling.

This, together with a strong positive
carry-over from the last quarters of 2020, would bring annual GDP growth to 7% in 2021, leaving
output in 2021 about 3% below its 2019 level.

Perhaps the European Commission is worried about the effect on its own income which depends on economic output in the member states and does not want to frighten the horses.

ECB

I have already pointed out that Euro area monetary policy has been out of kilter with Spain. In fact the ECB got out the punch bowl when the Spanish economy was really booming in 2015 as an annual economic growth rate of 4.2% was combined with an official interest-rate of -0.2% and then -0.3%. Oh Well! As Fleetwood Mac would say.

One area that will have benefited is the Spanish government via the way that the QE bond buying of the ECB has reduced sovereign bond yields. Thus Spain can borrow very cheaply as it has a ten-year yield of 0.86% which reflects the 271 billion Euro purchased by the ECB. This will have oiled the public expenditure wheels although this gets very little publicity as the official bodies which tend to be copied and pasted by the media have no interest in pointing it out.

Yesterday though there was something to get Lyndsey Buckingham singing.

I should run on the double
I think I’m in trouble,
I think I’m in trouble.

This was when we learnt a couple of things from the German Constitutional Court. Firstly it would appear that judges everywhere were a quite ridiculous garb. Next that they discovered something they had previously overlooked was an issue and posed questions for the ECB QE programme or at least the Bundesbank version of it. This did affect Spain as whilst it still borrows cheaply yields have risen this week.

Comment

The first context is one of sadness as the Spanish economy recovery not only grinds to a halt but engages reverse gear and at quite a rate. As an aside I wonder what those who use “output gap” style analysis are doing now? I would say they would be hoping we have forgotten that but it is like an antibiotic resistant bacteria that keeps coming back. As to 2021 I find it amazing that we have forecasts when we do not even know where we are now!

Switching to the Bank of Spain ( which operates QE in Spain on behalf of the ECB) it must be having a wry smile. I expect a Euro area version of Yes Prime Minister to play out where the German Constitutional Court ends up taking so long to act that by the the new PEPP programme is over. There is a deeper issue though about the fact that the ECB has found itself trapped in a spiders web of QE and negative interest-rates from which it has been unable to escape from.

Also an important area for Spain which will have benefited from the NIRP policy is this.

The annual rate of the Housing Price Index (HPI) in the fourth quarter of 2019 decreased one
percentage point, standing at 3.6%. This was the lowest since the first quarter of 2015.

Let me leave that as a question. What do readers think will happen next?

The Investing Channel

 

What to do when we do not know GDP,Inflation or even Unemployment levels?

Today has brought a whole raft of data for our attention and much of it is eye-catching. So let is begin with La Belle France a subject on my mind after watching the film Waterloo last night.

In Q1 2020, GDP in volume terms fell sharply: –5.8%, the biggest drop in the series’ record, since 1949. In particular, it is bigger than the ones recorded in Q1 2009 (–1.6%) or in Q2 1968 (–5.3%). ( Insee )

I have to confess I am a little in the dark as to 1968 and can only think it may have been related to the student riots of the era. The Covid-19 vibe is established by the way that domestic demand plunged.

Household consumption expenditures dropped (–6.1%), as did total gross fixed capital formation in a more pronounced manner (GFCF: –11.8%). Overall, final domestic demand excluding inventory changes fell sharply: it contributed to –6.6 points to GDP growth.

I guess no-one is going to be surprised by this either.

Overall production of goods and services declined sharply (–5.5%). It fell the hardest in construction (–12,6%), while output in goods declined –4.8% and output in manufactured goods dropped –5.6%. Output in market services declined by –5.7% overall.

Such production as there was seems to have piled up.

Conversely, changes in inventories contributed positively to GDP growth (+0.9 points).

At a time like this GDP really struggles to deal with trade so let me use France as an example on the way to explaining the issue.

Exports also fell this quarter (–6.5%) along with imports (–5.9%), in a less pronounced manner. All in all, the foreign trade balance contributed negatively to GDP growth: –0.2 points, after –0.1 points the previous quarter.

As you can see the net effect here is rather small especially in these circumstances. But there is a lot going on as we see large moves in both exports and imports. Another way of looking at this is provided by the Bureau of Economic Analysis in the US.

Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, decreased

A lot less detail for a start. Let me help out as imports in the US fell heavily by US $140.1 billion in fact and exports only fell by US $56.9 billion. So net exports rose by US $83.3 billion and boosted the numbers. This is really awkward when a signal that the US is doing badly raises GDP by 2.32% on its own and in net terms by 1.3% ( care is needed with US numbers because they are annualised).

So here is a major caveat that the US may appear to be doing better but the trade breakdown hints strongly things are much worse than that.

Spain

Spain had been having a good run but sadly that is now over.

Spanish GDP registers a -5.2% variation in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the previous quarter in terms of volume. This rate is 5.6 points less than the Registered in the fourth quarter. ( INE)

The chart is quite extraordinary as the good run since around 2014 is replaced by quite a plummet. We see that it is essentially a domestic game as like France the international factor small.

For its part, external demand presents a contribution of 0.2 points, three tenths lower than that of the previous quarter.

We do get a hint of what is about to hit the labour market and indeed unemployment which had remained high in Spain.

The employment of the economy, in terms of hours worked, registers a variation of ,5.0% compared to the previous quarter.

Inflation

Let me return to France to illustrate the issues here.

Over a year, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) should rise by 0.4% in April 2020, after +0.7% in the previous month, according to the provisional estimate made at the end of the month. This drop in inflation should result from an accentuated fall in energy prices and a sharp slowdown in service prices.

A problem leaps off the page and ironically they have unintentionally described it

an accentuated fall in energy prices

That is because the weight for energy is too high as for example factories stopped work and there was much less commuting. Then there is this.

Food prices should rebound sharply, due to a strong rise in fresh food product prices.

Fresh food prices rose by 18.1% in March but are weighted at a mere 2.3% as opposed to the 8.1% of energy, when we know that there was heavy demand to stock up. I do not wish to demean their efforts but the claim that other food prices rose by 1.4% compared to 2.3% this time last year looks dodgy and may well be suffering from this

The price collection carried out by collectors on the field (about 40% in the CPI) has been suspended since 16 March:

Also it was a rough month for smokers as tobacco rose by 13.7%.

If we look at Spain we see the energy/fuel problem emerge again.

The preliminary data that is presented today through the leading indicator of the CPI, places its annual variation at –0.7% in April, seven tenths below that registered in March, influenced for the most part by the drop in fuel prices and fuels, compared to the increase registered in 2019.

Also with food prices albeit it on a lower scale.

It is remarkable the behavior of food prices, whose annual rate passes from 2.5% in March to 4.0% in April. Of these, fresh food reaches a rate of 6.9%, three points above that of the previous month, and packaged foods, place their annual rate at 2.2%, six tenths above that of March.

Although to be fair to INE in Spain they are trying to adapt to the new reality.

the prices of the products included in the goods special group COVID-19 increased 1.2% in April, compared to the previous month. While the services COVID-19 decreased 1.4% in April compared to March.

Unemployment

This may well be the biggest statistical fail I have seen in the world of economics.

In March 2020, in comparison with the previous month, employment slightly decreased and unemployment sharply fell together with a relevant increase of inactivity.

Yes you did read the latter part correctly.

In the last month, also the remarkable fall of the unemployed people (-11.1%, -267 thousand) was
recorded for both men (-13.4%, -169 thousand) and women (-8.6%, -98 thousand). The unemployment
rate dropped to 8.4% (-0.9 percentage points) and the youth rate fell to 28.0% (-1.2 p.p.).

They had two issues to contend with but tripped over a theoretical flaw. The issues were having to do the survey by telephone and a sample size some 20% lower. The flaw is that to be unemployed you have to be available for work and in this situation I am sure many reported that they were not. Indeed you can see this below.

In the last three months, also the number of unemployed persons decreased (-5.4%, -133 thousand), while
a growth among inactive people aged 15-64 years was registered (+1.5%, +192 thousand)……..On a yearly basis, the decrease of employed people was accompanied by a fall of unemployed persons
(-21.1%, -571 thousand) and a growth of inactive people aged 15-64 (+4.4%, +581 thousand).

Comment

I summarised the situation on social media yesterday.

Reasons not to trust the US GDP print

1. Advance estimates only have ~50% of the full data

2. Inflation estimates will be nearly hopeless at a time like this.

3. Output of say planes for no one to fly in them has obvious issues….

Let me add a fourth which is the impact of imports that I have described above.

Switching to the unemployment numbers from Italy I do not blame those compiling the numbers and find them helpful when I have an enquiry. But someone higher up the chain should at least have put a large warning on these numbers and maybe even stopped their publication as statistics are supposed to inform not mislead. They seem to have taken Talking Heads a little too literally.

Stop making sense
Quit talking
Stop making sense
Start falling
Stop making sense
Hold onto me
You’re always at your best
When you’re not making sense

Me on The Investing Channel

The spectre of mass unemployment is starting to haunt us

Today’s topic is one that I hoped never to have to write. If we look back to the last century then mass unemployment scarred the economic landscape on several occasions and particularly so in the Great Depression. The credit crunch era initially brought higher unemployment but fortunately we managed to reduce that over time. Indeed from around 2013 we saw considerable improvements on that front in mnay countries. The leader of the pack in this regard has been Japan where the unemployment rate has fallen as low as 2.2%. The UK and US saw strong improvements too with the unemployment rate falling below 4%. More latterly the Euro area has seen unemployment fall too although its progress has been slower leading to its unemployment rate being more like 7%

That was the good news section of the labour market as employment rose and unemployment fell. Although there always was the issue of under employment as a cloud in the sky as we wondered what jobs were being taken and how employment is defined? The waters also had something of a shark in them as the strong quantity numbers were accompanied by at best weak real wage growth something my country the UK has been particularly affected by. Especially troubling is the way the establishment has responded which is to impose poorer measures of inflation  ( the Imputed Rent driven CPIH ) to flatter the figures and mislead the unwary. Along the way the economic Ivory Towers had plenty of troubles too as the unemployment rate fell below their definitions of “full employment ” and made their “output gap” theories crumble. I am sure many of you still remember when Governor Carney of the Bank of England signposted a 7% unemployment rate as significant before exhibiting the sort of behaviour that led to him being called the “Unreliable Boyfriend ”

The US

Last week this provided something of a forerunner of what we can now expect.As Politico points out below even that shock may have been an understatement.

Last week’s headline number of 3.28 million claims — itself a more than 1,000 percent increase — is also expected to be revised upward, in part because of stark discrepancies between data that states reported at the ground level and what the Department of Labor recorded.

Florida’s initial claims hit a record for the week ended March 21, and then tripled to 222,054 for the week ended March 28, according to the state Department of Economic Opportunity.Florida’s initial claims hit a record for the week ended March 21, and then tripled to 222,054 for the week ended March 28, according to the state Department of Economic Opportunity…..Florida’s initial claims hit a record for the week ended March 21, and then tripled to 222,054 for the week ended March 28, according to the state Department of Economic Opportunity.

So as you can see the situation in the United States looks as though it may be even worse than we feared even last week. The old saying that a week is a long time in politics is being outdone by economics at the moment.

The UK

Yesterday brought a moment to the UK which we had feared was about to arrive.

Nearly a million people have successfully applied for universal credit in the last fortnight, in a rush to welfare support that reveals the depth of the jobs crisis caused by the UK’s lockdown.

Despite the government’s job support schemes offering 80% of earnings to employees and the self-employed who cannot work, 950,000 people applied for the main income support benefit between 16 and 31 March. There are normally about 100,000 applicants for the benefit in any given two-week period.

Applications started flooding in as soon as Boris Johnson told the nation to stop non-essential contact with others and cease all unnecessary travel. ( The Guardian)

Care is needed here as these are social security payments rather than a labour force measure or indeed a claimant count but we do get a very string hint from the data here.Out of it there is at least a small positive.

The DWP said it had moved more than 10,000 staff to deal with claims and was recruiting more.

The numbers above compare to a situation only a couple of weeks ago when we were told this by our official statisticians.

For November 2019 to January 2020, an estimated 1.34 million people were unemployed. This is 5,000 more than a year earlier but 515,000 fewer than five years earlier. The small increase on the year is the first annual increase in unemployment since May to July 2012, and it was caused by a 20,000 increase for men.

Sadly we seem set to go through 2 million fairly quickly and maybe 3 million. However the numbers will need some interpreting because it looks as though those who are “furloughed” will continue to be counted as in employment. Personally I think it would be better if a new category was created.

Let me welcome the effort by the Office of National Statistics to produce some new data although sadly even the new weekly measures are of course now well behind the times.

Over a quarter (27%) of responding businesses said they were reducing staff levels in the short term in the period 9 March to 22 March 2020, while 5% reported that they were recruiting staff in the short term.

Spain

This mornings news from Spain was grim too.

MADRID (Reuters) – The rise in Spanish jobless numbers in March is the highest monthly increase ever recorded, Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz said at a news conference on Thursday.

The number of jobless jumped 9.3% from the previous month bringing the total number of unemployed people to around 3.5 million. That total number was still below record highs of 2013.

The recent better phase of economic growth for Spain had played its part in bringing unemployment down from a bit over 5 million to just over 3 million last summer. But sadly the mood music had changed and is now dark.

Comment

This is a grim phase with echoes of the 1920s and 30s. I fear for the unemployment numbers that will come from Italy which had its own economic problems ( the essentially 0% economic growth of our “Good Italy: Bad Italy” theme ) before the pandemic started. Some yesterday were promoting this as good news.

The unemployment rate slightly decreased to 9.7% (-0.1 percentage points) while the youth rate stayed stable to 29.6%.

Sadly they did not seem to have read this bit.

This press release is referred to February 2020, therefore it is related to the pre-COVID-19 health emergency phase.

Italy and many other countries are about to see a tsunami of unemployment and our best hope is that it will be brief.

Meanwhile maybe attitudes will change as the other day I looked up at a residential care home where a worker was assisting an elderly lady on her balcony. As she had no protective clothing I could see she put herself at risk. I was thinking of that as I read this from Sarah O’Connor in the Financial Times.

This precarious army labours around the clock. On Monday I spoke to a domiciliary care worker who visits bed-bound clients in their homes (she did not want to be named for fear of punishment by her employer). She was in the middle of a 10-hour shift, having worked 14 hours on Saturday and 14 on Sunday. “We’re all putting the effort in,” she said. She is paid £9.75 an hour at weekends and £8.75 in the week, which amounts to about £1,700 a month.

It got worse.

Unison, the union for many care staff, has been raising concerns about the lack of personal protective equipment. The care worker I spoke to had gloves but no mask; she had purchased her own hand sanitiser. Her company, which employs her on a zero-hours contract, would only pay statutory sick pay of £94.25 a week if she developed symptoms and had to self-isolate. “Before, I would have gone into work with a cold or a cough — now I’d have to stay off but then I don’t know how I would pay the bills.”

Let me say welcome back from maternity leave to Sarah who is easily the FT’s best journalist.

The Investing Channel

The ECB is now resorting to echoing Humpty Dumpty

Focus has shifted to the Euro area this week as we see that something of an economic storm is building. For a while now we have seen the impact of the trade war which has reduced the Germany economy to a crawl with economic growth a mere 0.4% over the past year. Then both Italy (0.3%) and France ( 0.1%) saw contractions in the final quarter of 2019. Now in an example of being kicked when you are down one of the worst outbreaks of Corona Virus outside of China is being seen in Italy. Indeed the idea of Austria stopping a train with people from Italy suspected of having the virus posed a question for one of the main tenets of the Euro area as well as reminding of the film The Cassandra Crossing.

Tourism

This is a big deal for Italy as The Local explained last summer.

Announcing the new findings, ENIT chief Giorgio Palmucci said tourism accounted for 13 percent of Italy’s gross domestic product.

The food and wine tourism sector continued to be the most profitable of all.

The study’s authors found that “the daily per capita expenditure for a food and wine holiday is in fact in our country is about 117 euros. Meanwhile it was 107 for trips to the mountains and 91 on the coast.”

The numbers were for 2017 and were showing growth but sadly if we look lower on the page we come to a sentence that now rather stands out.

Visitor numbers are only expected to keep growing. Many in the tourism industry predict 2019 will busier than ever in Italy, partly thanks to a growing Chinese tourism market.

Maybe so, but what about 2020? There have to be questions now and Italy is not the only country which does well from tourism.

Tourism plays a major role in the French economy. The accommodation and food  services sector, representing the largest part of the tourism sector, accounts for between
2.5% and 3% of GDP while the knock-on effects of tourism are also felt in other sectors, such as transport and leisure. Consequently, the total amount of internal tourism
consumption, which combines tourism-related spending by both French residents and non-residents, represents around 7.5% of GDP (5% for residents, 2.5% for non-residents). ( OECD)

Spain

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contribution associated with tourism, measured through the total tourist demand, reached 137,020 million euros in 2017. This figure represented 11.7% of GDP, 0.4% more than in 2016. ( INE )

Last summer Kathimerini pointed out that tourism was not only a big part of the Greek economy but was a factor in its recent improvement.

Tourism generates over a quarter of Greece’s gross domestic product, according to data presented on Wednesday by the Institute of the Greek Tourism Confederation (INSETE). The data highlight the industry’s importance to the national economy and employment, as well as tourism’s quasi-monopolistic status in the country’s growth.

According to the latest figures available, at least one percentage point out of the 1.9 points of economic expansion last year came from tourism.

It wondered whether Greece relied on it too much which I suspect many more are worried about today, although fortunately Greece has only had one case of Corona Virus so far. It not only badly needs some good news but deserves it. After all another big sector for it will be affected by wider virus problems.

That also illustrates the country’s great dependence on tourism, as Greece has not developed any other important sector, with the possible exception of shipping, which accounts for about 7 percent of GDP.

Economic Surveys

Italy has released its official version this morning.

As for the business confidence climate, the index (IESI, Istat Economic Sentiment Indicator) improved passing from 99.2 to 99.8.

That for obvious reasons attracts attention and if we look we see there may be a similar problem as we saw on the Markit IHS survey for Germany.

The confidence index in manufacturing increased only just from 100.0 to 100.6. Among the series included
into the definition of the climate, the opinions on order books bettered from -15.5 to -14.3 while the
expectations on production decreased from 5.6 to 4.7

As you can see the expectations  for production have fallen. Perhaps we should note that this index averaged 99.5 in the last quarter of 2019 when the economy shrank by 0.3%

France had something similar yesterday.

In February 2020, households’ confidence in the economic situation has been stable. The synthetic index has stayed at 104, above its long-term average (100).

This continued a theme begun on Tuesday.

In February 2020, the business climate is stable. At 105, the composite indicator, compiled from the answers of business managers in the main market sectors, is still above its long-term mean (100). Compared to January, the business climate has gained one point in retail trade and in services.

Really? This is a long-running set of surveys but we seem to be having a divorce from reality because if we return to household confidence I note that consumption fell in December.

Household consumption expenditure on goods fell in December (–0.3%) but increased over the fourth quarter (+0.4%).

Money Supply

This may give us a little clue to the surveys above. From the ECB earlier.

Annual growth rate of narrower monetary aggregate M1, comprising currency in circulation and overnight deposits, stood at 7.9% in January, compared with 8.0% in December.

Whilst the number has dipped recently from the two 8.4% readings we saw in the latter part of 2019 it is much better than the 6.2% recorded last January. So maybe the surveys are in some sense picking an element of that up as the interest-rate cut and recommencement of QE bond buying feeds into the data.

Comment

If we switch to the ECB looking for clues as to what is happening in the economy then I would suggests it discounts heavily what the European Commission has just released.

In February 2020, the Economic Sentiment Indicator (ESI) increased in both the euro area (by 0.9 points to 103.5) and the EU (by 0.5 points to 103.0).

 

 

That does not fit with this at all.

GERMANY’S VDA SAYS CORONAVIRUS IS AFFECTING SUPPLY CHAINS OF CAR MANUFACTURERS AND SUPPLIERS ( @PriapusIQ )

Anyway the newly appointed Isabel Schnabel of the ECB has been speaking today and apparently it is a triumph that its policies have stabilised economic growth somewhere around 0%.

Although the actions of major central banks over the past few years have succeeded in easing financial conditions and thereby stabilising growth and inflation, current and expected inflation rates remain stubbornly below target, in spite of years of exceptional monetary policy support.

Next she sings along with The Chairmen of the Board.

Give me just a little more time
And our love will surely grow
Give me just a little more time
And our love will surely grow

How?

This implies that the medium-term horizon over which the ECB pursues the sustainable alignment of inflation with its aim is considerably longer than in the past.

Another case of To Infinity! And Beyond! Except on this occasion we are addressing time rather than the amount of the operation which no doubt will be along soon enough.

Indeed she echoes Alice in Wonderland with this.

For the ECB, this means that the length of the “medium term” – which is an integral part of its definition of price stability – will vary over time.

Which sounds rather like.

When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Although briefly she seems to have some sort of epiphany.

central banks often have only a limited understanding of the precise configuration of the forces

But it does not last and as ever I expect the result to be even lower interest-rates and more QE as the “lower bound” she mentions gets well er lower again.

Some of this is beyond the ECB’s control as there is not much it can do about a trade war and nothing about a virus outbreak. But by interfering in so many areas it has placed itself in the game and is caught in a trap of its own making. Or returning to The Chairmen of the Board.

There’s no need to act foolishly
If we part our hearts won’t forget it
Years from now we’ll surely regret it