The UK Public Finances conform to the first rule of OBR club yet again

Not so long ago the UK Public Finances were headline news as we faced the consequences of the recession caused by the credit crunch and the cost of the various banking bailouts. We were promised that by now the situation would be fixed as we would have a surplus it terms of our annual deficit before it transpired that our previous Chancellor George Osborne was of the “jam tomorrow” variety and specifically always promised that success was 3/4 years away from whatever point in time you were at! This meant that what we might call the ordinary national debt has steady risen as whilst much of the bank debt is off our books we have borrowed overall. If we go back to the 2010 Budget forecast we were told this by the Office of Budget Responsibility ( OBR).

public sector net debt (PSND) to increase from 53.5 per cent of GDP in • 2009-10 to a peak of 70.3 per cent in 2013-14, falling to 69.4 per cent in 2014-15 and 67.4 per cent in 2015-16;

So we might expect the national debt to be 63.4% of GDP now. How is that going?

In November we expected public sector net debt (PSND) to peak at 90.2 per cent of GDP in 2017-18, with the August 2016 monetary policy package raising debt significantly in 201617 and 2017-18. We continue to expect debt to peak as a share of GDP in 2017-18, but at a slightly lower 88.8 per cent. As in November, we expect it to fall each year thereafter.

This is one of the factors in my first rule of OBR club ( it is always wrong…) and in a way it is quite touching that they always think that the national debt is about to shrink relative to the size of our economy.

Current issues

The first is that economic growth in the UK has continued but has slowed so that revenue growth may be under pressure. This was highlighted to some extent by yesterday’s retail sales data.

The underlying pattern in the retail industry is one of growth; for the three-months on three-months measure, the quantity bought increased by 0.6%…….Year on year, the quantity bought in the retail sector increased by 1.2%, with non-food (household goods, clothing stores) and non-store retailing all providing growth.

That suggests there is a fading of the consumer sector with implications for revenue although of course Value Added Tax is on value and not volume so will get a boost from this.

Store prices continue to rise across all store types and are at their highest year-on-year price growth since March 2012 at 3.3% (non-seasonally adjusted).

The general picture was summed up in yesterday’s monthly economic review.

GDP growth has slowed in the first two quarters of 2017, while the economy has grown 1.5% compared with the same quarter a year ago – the slowest rate since Quarter 1 2013.

Also in a week where there has been a lot of news on problems with economic statistics there was this.

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

I admire the ambition here but not the brains. I particularly wait to see how the quarterly services surveys will give monthly results! Ironically the same monthly review suggested grounds for caution.

The latest figures include significant revisions due to improvements in the measurement of dividend income, which have led to an upwards revision of the households and NPISH saving ratio by an average of 0.9 percentage points from 1997 to 2016, with a revised 2016 estimate of 7.1% (revised up from 5.2%).

So places like the OBR can produce reports sometimes  hundreds of pages long on the wrong numbers?

Inflation

This is proving expensive because the UK has a large amount of index-linked Gilts which are linked to the Retail Price Index which is currently growing at an annual rate of 3.9%. The effect is described below.

Both the uplift on coupon payments and the uplift on the redemption value are recorded as debt interest paid by the government, so month-on-month there can be sizeable movements in payable government debt interest as a result of movements in the RPI.

Today’s data

The deficit numbers were in fact rather good in the circumstances.

Public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) decreased by £0.7 billion to £5.9 billion in September 2017, compared with September 2016…….Public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) decreased by £2.5 billion to £32.5 billion in the current financial year-to-date (April 2017 to September 2017), compared with the same period in 2016.

The main factor in the improvement is that revenue growth continues to be pretty solid.

In the current financial year-to-date, central government received £334.5 billion in income; including £250.5 billion in taxes. This was around 4% more than in the same period in the previous financial year.

You may have already guessed the best performer which was Stamp Duty on property which has risen from £6 billion in the same period last year to £7 billion this. By contrast Corporation Tax has been a disappointment as it has only risen by £100 million to £29 billion on the same comparison.

The National Debt

Here it is.

The amount of money owed by the public sector to the private sector stood at nearly £1.8 trillion at the end of September 2017, which equates to 87.2% of the value of all the goods and services currently produced by the UK economy in a year (or gross domestic product (GDP)).

Oh and thanks Mark Carney and the Bank of England as yet another bank subsidy turns up in the figures.

£100.3 billion is attributable to debt accumulated within the Bank of England, nearly all of it in the Asset Purchase Facility; including £84.6 billion from the Term Funding Scheme (TFS).

Comment

We see that for all the many reports of woe the UK economy continues to bumble along albeit more slowly than before. We can bring in that theme and also the first rule of OBR club as I expect another wave in November.

The OBR is likely to revise down potential productivity growth in its November forecast, weakening the outlook for the public finances.

As they have been consistently wrong they are also likely to change course at the wrong point so this may be the best piece of news for UK productivity in a while! Actually I think a lot of the problem is in how you measure it at all in the services sector? In fact any resources the ONS has would be much more usefully spent in this area than producing a monthly GDP figure.

For those of you who measure the economy via the tax take then a 4% increase in the year so far is fairly solid. There will be a boost from inflation on indirect taxes but so far not so bad. Also we can look at revenue versus the National Debt where £726 billion last year compares with our national debt of about 1800 billion or around 40%

Meanwhile there was some good news for the UK economy from Gavin Jackson of the Financial Times.

The UK has 6.5 per cent of the global space economy!

Plenty of room for expansion (sorry). Intriguingly it may be led by Glasgow which would be a return to past triumphs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Will car loans be the canary for UK unsecured credit?

Yesterday the news hounds clustered around one piece of economic news as they caught up at least tangentially with something we have been looking at for some time. From the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

UK new car market falls for sixth consecutive month in September – down -9.3% to 426,170 units. First time the important September market has fallen in six years.

This will have had an impact in various areas as for example if you happened to be an unreliable boyfriend style central banker looking for a reason to cancel a proposed Bank Rate rise for the third time you might think you have struck gold. However we were expecting trouble because as I pointed out on the 22nd of August there had to be a reason why manufacturers were offering what they call incentives but we call price cuts?

Ford is the latest car company to launch an incentive for UK consumers to trade in cars over seven years old, by offering £2,000 off some new models.

Unlike schemes by BMW and Mercedes, which are only for diesels, Ford will also accept petrol cars.

That issue has been added to by the uncertainty over what is going to happen to older diesels of the sort I have.

Confusion surrounding air quality plans has inevitably led to a drop in consumer and business demand for diesel vehicles, which is undermining the roll out of the latest low emissions models and thwarting the ambitions of both industry and government to meet challenging CO2 targets.

Back in the day I was told my Astra was efficient and low emission but let us move on whilst noting that official credibility in this area is very low. Registrations had been falling for 6 months compared to the year before so that we now find we have stepped back in time to 2014.

Year-to-date, new car registrations have fallen -3.9%. But, overall, the market remains at a historically high levels with over 2 million vehicles hitting UK roads so far this year.

What does this mean?

This is more of a consumption issue for the UK economy than a production or manufacturing one. You see in the year to August some 78.4% of UK car production was for export so whilst there is a downwards impact it is more minor than might otherwise be assumed. Ironically a fall in UK demand affects producers abroad much more as this from the European body indicates.

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

For example Germany exported 809,853 cars to the UK in 2015 according to its trade body. Actually it may not be the best of times to be a German car manufacturer. From Automotive News Europe.

FRANKFURT — New-car registrations in Germany fell 3.3 percent in September as continued uncertainty over the future of diesel-powered cars hit demand.

The issue is complex as much manufacturing these days is of parts rather than complete cars. For example the UK engine industry has had a good 2017 but it is more domestic based so it will need more months like August if it is to carry on in such a manner.

Engine production rises 11.9% in August with more than 150,000 made for export and home markets. Overseas demand drives growth in the month, up nearly 20% compared with last year.

So we advance on knowing that there will be an effect on consumption and a likely smaller one on manufacturing although the latter is more unpredictable. What we will see is a reduction in imports which will boost GDP in an almost faustian fashion as the other factors lower it.

Car loans

So far there is nothing to particularly worry a central banker as after all it is not as if manufacturing or consumption are as important as banking is to them. However there is a catch and maybe the car manufacturers have been brighter than you might otherwise think. From the 18th of August.

That is partly because car manufacturers and their finance houses are increasingly stimulating private demand by offering cheaper (and new) forms of car finance. As amounts of consumer credit increase, so do the risks to the finance providers. Most car finance is provided by non-banks, which are not subject to prudential regulation in the way that banks are. These developments make the industry increasingly vulnerable  to shocks.

Now if we return to the real world the concept of prudential regulation is of course very different as after all it was not that long ago that so many banks needed large bailouts. But have the car manufacturers been very cunning in making themselves look like “the precious” as in the banks?

So much of the car market has gone this way that you could question what registration actually means? It used to mean a car was bought but these days is vastly more likely to mean it has been leased.

The FLA is the leading trade association for the motor finance sector in the UK. In 2016, members provided £41 billion of new finance to help households and businesses purchase cars. Over 86% of all private new car registrations in the UK were financed by FLA members.

Today we were updated on how this is going?

New figures released today by the Finance & Leasing Association (FLA) show that new business volumes in the point of sale (POS) consumer new car finance market fell by 8% in August, compared with the same month in 2016, while the value of new business was up by 2% over the same period.

So in nominal terms they are doing okay so far but the real numbers are down. The response has been the normal “extend and pretend” of the finance industry where trouble is on the horizon.

finance providers have responded by lengthening loan terms and increasing balloon payments rather than upping monthly repayments.

So as the Bank of England Financial Policy Committee Minutes observed earlier this week if we look back there has been quite a party.

Growth in UK consumer credit had slowed a little in recent months but remained rapid at 9.8% in the year to July 2017. This reflected strong growth of dealership car finance, credit card debt and other borrowing, such as personal loans. Growth of consumer credit remained well above the rate of growth in household disposable income.

So that is now slowing and likely will be accompanied by falling used car prices as time progresses. Whether the price cuts for new models have been picked up by the inflation numbers I am not sure as I wonder if the scrappage schemes are treated separately but the truth is prices are lower. Ironically this could easily be the sort of deflation scenario that central bankers are so afraid of as we note the risk of both falling volumes and prices. That is bad for debt which of course the car companies are carrying plenty of.

Term Funding Scheme

The problem is that the bubble in car finance has been fed by the easy credit policies of the Bank of England. Last August it gave all this another push with its Bank Rate cut and extra QE. But personally I think the real push came from the Funding for Lending Scheme of the summer of 2013 which is now the larger Term Funding Scheme. It went into the mortgage market and some washed into the car market and here we are. Unless we were all going to have 2 cars each there had to be a limit.

Comment

So we see issues in the real economy of a nudge lower to consumption and a smaller impact on production with ironically a fall in imports. However as we see lower prices and lower volumes the real issue is how the credit market which has built up copes. We are of course told it is “resilient” and that the Bank of England is “vigilant” and the latter may for once be true as after all it hardly wants word to get around that it was there 3/4 years ago with some matches and a can of petrol! How about QE for car production? Oh and a government scrappage scheme for diesels as well…….

 

 

What is happening in the UK housing market?

There are always a multitude of factors to consider here but one has changed if the “unreliable boyfriend” can finally go steady. That is the Open Mouth Operations from various members of the Bank of England about a Bank Rate ( official interest-rate) increase in November presumably to 0.5%. This would be the first time since the summer of 2013 and the introduction of the Funding for Lending Scheme that there has been upwards pressure on mortgage rates. Indeed the FLS was designed to drive them lower ( albeit being under the smokescreen of improving small business lending) and if we throw in the more recent Term Funding Scheme the band has continued to play to the same beat. From Bank of England data for July.

Effective rates on new individual mortgages has decreased by 10bps from 2.05% to 1.95%, this is the first time the series has fallen below 2%;

The current table only takes us back to August 2015 but it does confirm the theme as back then the rate was 2.57%. Noticeable in the data is the way that fixed-rate mortgages (1.99%) have become closer to variable-rate ones (1.73%) and if we look at the combination it looks as though fixed-rate mortgages have got more popular. That seems sensible to me especially if you are looking beyond the term of office of the “unreliable boyfriend.” From the Resolution Foundation.

The vast majority (88%) of new loans are taken with fixed interest rates, meaning 57% of the stock of loans are now fixed.

Has Forward Guidance had an impact?

That depends where you look but so far the Yorkshire Building Society at least seems rather unimpressed.

0.89% variable (BoE Base rate + -3.85%) variable (YBS Standard Variable Rate -3.85%) fixed until 30/11/2019

There is a large fee ( £1495) and a requirement for 35% of equity but even so this is the lowest mortgage-rate they have even offered. You can get a fixed rate mortgage for the same term for 0.99% with the same fee if you have 40% of equity.

So we see that so far there has not been much of an impact on the Yorkshire Building Society! Perhaps they had a tranche of funding which has not yet run out, or perhaps it has been so long since interest-rates last rose that they have forgotten what happens next? If we move to market interest-rates Governor Carney will be pleased to see that they have taken more notice of him as the 2 year Gilt yield was as low as 0.15% on the 7th of this month and is now 0.45%. The 5 year Gilt yield rose from 0.39% on the 7th to 0.77% now.

Thus there should be upwards pressure on future mortgage rates albeit of course that funding is still available to banks from the Term Funding Scheme at 0.25%. But don’t take my word for it as here are the Bank of England Agents.

competition remained intense, driven by new market entrants and low funding costs

What about valuations?

There have been a lot of anecdotal mentions of surveyors lowering valuations ( which is a forward indicator of lower prices ahead) but this from the Bank of England Agents is the first official note of this.

There were more reports of transactions falling through due to surveyors down-valuing properties, reflecting concerns about falling prices.

This could also be considered a sign of expected trouble as they discuss mortgages.

However, this competition was mainly concentrated on customers with the cleanest credit history.

Affordability and Quality

This issue has also been in the news with the Resolution Foundation telling us this.

While the average family spent just 6 per cent of their income on housing costs in the early 1960s, this has trebled to 18 per cent. Housing costs have taken up a growing proportion of disposable income from each generation to the next. This is true of private and social renters, but mortgage interest costs have come down for recent generations. However, the proportion of income being spent on capital repayments has risen relentlessly from generation to generation thanks to house price growth.

As someone who can recall his maternal grandparents having an outside toilet and paternal grandmother not having central heating I agree with them that quality improved but is it still doing so?

millennial-headed households are more likely than previous generations to live in overcrowded conditions, and when we look at the distribution of square meterage we see today’s under-45s have been net losers in the space stakes

I doubt many are as overcrowded as the one described by getwestlondon below.

A dawn raid on a three-bedroom property in Brentt found 35 men living inside……..The house was packed wall-to-wall with mattresses, which the men living there, all of eastern European origin, had piled into every room except the bathrooms.

But their mere mention of overcrowded raises public health issues surely? As ever the issue is complex as millennials are likely to be thinking also of issues such as Wi-Fi connectivity and so on. Still I guess the era of smartphones and tablets may make this development more palatable albeit at a price.

More recent generations have also had longer commutes on average than previous cohorts, despite spending more on housing.

Recent Data

The news from LSL Acadata this week was as follows.

House price growth fell marginally in August (0.2%), which left the average England and Wales house price at £297,398. This is still 2.1% higher than this time last year, when the average price was £5,982 lower. In terms of transactions, there were an estimated 80,500 sales completed – an increase of 5% compared to July’s total, and up 6% on a seasonally adjusted basis.

Interesting how they describe a monthly fall isn’t it? The leader of that particular pack is below.

House prices in London fell by an average of 1.4% in July, leaving the average price in the capital at £591,459. Over the year, though, prices are still up by £4,134 or 0.7% compared to July 2016. In July, 21 of the 33 London boroughs saw price falls.

An interesting development

Bloomberg has reported this today.

More home buyers are resorting to mortgages to purchase London’s most expensive houses and apartments as rising prices drag them into higher tax brackets.

Seventy-four percent of homes costing 1 million pounds ($1.3 million) or more in the U.K. capital were bought with a mortgage in the three months through July, up from 65 percent a year earlier, according to Hamptons International. The figure was as low as 31 percent during the depths of the financial crisis in 2009.

Perhaps they too think that over time it will be good to lock in what are historically low interest-rates although that comes with the assumption that they are taking a fixed-rate mortgage.

Comment

As we look at 2017 so far we see that  rental inflation has both fallen and according to most measures so has house price inflation although the official measure bounced in the spring . We have seen some monthly falls especially in London but so far the various indices continue to report positive inflation for house prices on an annual basis. Putting it another way it has been higher priced houses which have been hit the most ( which is why the official data has higher inflation). In general this has worked out mostly as I expected although I did think we might see negative inflation in house prices. Perhaps if Governor Carney for once backs his words with action we will see that as the year progresses. The increasing evidence of “down valuations” does imply that.

If we look at the overall situation we find ourselves arriving at one of the themes of my work as I am not one of those who would see some house price falls as bad. The rises have shifted wealth towards existing home owners and away from first-time buyers on a large-scale and this represents a factor in my critiques of central bank actions. Yes first time buyers see cheaper current mortgage costs but we do not know what they will be for the full term and they are paying with real wages which have fallen. On the other side of the coin existing home owners especially in London have been given something of a windfall if they sell.

What are the problems raised by the unsecured credit boom in the UK?

A feature of the recent economic landscape of the UK has been the rise in unsecured credit which of course raises fears about past problems with it. This morning has seen a new way of looking at the issue and it has been provided by Citizens Advice which for those unaware provides advice on debt and money amongst other things.

Major new research by Citizens Advice finds that nearly 1 in 5 people struggling with debts has had their credit card limit raised without them requesting it -a practice the charity would like to see banned……..The charity’s major new report, Stuck in Debt, reveals that people struggling with long term credit card debt were more likely to have their limit raised. 18% of struggling credit card users had their limit raised in the past year without requesting it, compared to 12% of all credit card holders.

This reads like a chapter of Freakonomics where the bank assumes some of the functions of a drug dealer luring some of its customers in for ever more of their addiction doesn’t it? Citizens Advice does have quite a bit of up to date experience in this area.

Citizens Advice helped nearly 66,000 people with over 140,000 credit card debt problems in the last year.

Also some of the individual instances are shocking although hopefully these are the tip of an iceberg.

One pensioner Citizens Advice helped was repeatedly called by firms offering more credit cards – despite the fact that she could only afford to make minimum repayments on her existing cards. She used the cards to meet her essential bills and ended up with a total of 21 credit cards and debts totaling £70,000…..Another man the charity helped owed £15,000 on four different credit cards, but despite only making minimum repayments on each card which just covered the interest, he was notified by all four providers that they were increasing his credit limit. He turned to Citizens Advice for help when his debts hit £30,000.

Some care is needed here as people have to take at least some responsibility for their actions and the first instance begs the question of why a pensioner needed to borrow to pay essential bills. However there need to be some rules for the lenders as other wise the lenders could lend and lend and lend.

The research also showed that credit card debt led to more problems than personal loans.

People with credit card debts were also more likely to get into long term debt than those with personal loans and were less able to pay their debt down. Only 60% of people struggling with credit card debt were able to reduce it over two years, compared to 72% of people struggling with a personal loan – with credit card borrowers paying off £449 over two years, compared to a drop of £620 for people with personal loans.

This seems to be because the rules for credit card lending are more lax than for personal loans. It is therefore likely that those in the worst circumstances are pushed towards credit card borrowing which is likely to be more expensive as part of a downwards cycle.

The official response

The Financial Conduct Authority will argue it is on the case.

The FCA has announced a range of proposals to help those already in long term credit card debt – who are spending more on credit card interest charges than paying off the total amount they owe.  It says lenders should contact customers who have been in this situation for 3 years to arrange a plan to pay their outstanding balance more quickly.

Do you notice like in the case of Provident Financial that the FCA only ever seems to appear when there is a problem and never seems to be ahead of events?

The Bank of England

It has had a role in pushing unsecured credit growth higher especially if we review these words from its Chief Economist Andy Haldane on the 30th of June last year.

 I would rather run the risk of taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut than taking a miniature rock hammer to tunnel my way out of prison

He continued in the same vein or perhaps wanted to inject in the same vein.

Given the scale of insurance required, a package of mutually-complementary monetary policy easing measures is likely to be necessary. And this monetary response, if it is to buttress expectations and confidence, needs I think to be delivered promptly as well as muscularly.

Back then there was of course a policy move from the Bank of England including a Bank Rate cut, more QE and credit easing via the Term Funding Scheme. It is easy to forget now ( especially) if you listen to the Bank of England but the “Forward Guidance” was for even more easing last November. So if you were a bank you were effectively told that if you went out and lent the Bank of England had your back. As they had already been pushing mortgage lending and business lending is difficult ( I have discussed her many times the failure of efforts in this regard) it was always likely that the lending would spread to other areas. Indeed if you are in the sort of panic Andy was in back then any lending by banks might seem a good idea. On this road unsecured lending by banks and car finance by the manufacturers ( which some think is secured others not so) was likely to rise in what we might call an “unexpected” consequence.

Yes Prime Minister

This excellent television series would of course from time to time involve the apocryphal civil servant Sir Humphrey “solving” a problem he had created in the past. On this road the Bank of England can stoke a boom whilst claiming it is in fact being “vigilant” and then when there is trouble its PR department goes into overdrive pointing out what it is doing to fix the problem. The fact it helped create it gets redacted from the official version of history.

Comment

We are likely to see more of these sort of stories in the months ahead as the issue continues as this morning’s data release from the Bank of England reminds us.

The annual growth rate of consumer credit fell to 9.8%, the lowest since April 2016, as the July flow was a little weaker than recent month.

If we move to credit card lending the annual rate of growth dipped from 9% in June to 8.9% in July which compares to an annual rate of economic growth ( GDP) of 1.7%. Quite a gap isn’t it?! Is it Sledgehammer sized? As to the small and medium-sized business lending we have been promised since the summer of 2013 how is that going?

Loans to small and medium-sized enterprises decreased by £0.2 billion

The Bank of England seems at times rather detached from reality as this below indicates.

How important are good customer relationships to keeping distressed banks stable?

However there may be a little light at the end of the tunnel. We have seen business surveys from the Confederation of British Industry saying manufacturers are exporting well. This has not been matched by the official data until perhaps this morning.

Loans to large non-financial businesses increased by £8.2 billion in July (Table M), with a particularly large increase in the manufacturing sector

Is the J-Curve finally kicking in? Only time will tell.

 

 

What is the state of play in the UK car loan market?

One of the features of the last few years has been the boom in car finance in the UK. This has led to a subsequent rise in car sales leading to something of a boom for the UK automotive sector.  the rate of annual UK car registrations dipped to below 2 million in 2011 and much of 2012 but then accelerated such that the SMMT ( Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) reported this in January last year.

UK new car registrations for 2015 beat 2.6 million units for the first time, sealing four years of consecutive growth. The market has posted increases in all bar one of the past 46 months ………Overall, the market rose 6.3% in 2015 to 2,633,503 units – exceeding forecast and outperforming the last record year in 2003 when 2,579,050 new cars left the UK’s showrooms.

So volumes surged as we note the official explanation of why.

Buyers took advantage of attractive finance deals and low inflation to secure some of the most innovative, high tech and fuel efficient vehicles ever produced.

The “attractive finance deals” attracts my attention as it feeds into one of my themes. This is that the Bank of England loosened up credit availability with its Funding for Lending Scheme in the summer of 2013. This flowed into the mortgage market but increasingly looks as if it flowed into the car finance market as well leading to what are described as “attractive finance deals”. This was added to by the Term Funding Scheme ( £80.4 billion and rising) of last August when the Bank of England wanted a “Sledgehammer” of support for lending. We know from past experience that such actions lead to the funds going to all sorts of places that no doubt will be officially denied, or disintermediation. But the car finance industry has exploded to now be 86% of the new car market. Of course the Bank will also describe itself as being “vigilant” about credit risks.

Bank Underground

This is the blog of the staff of the Bank of England rather than the London Underground station to which I commuted for quite a few years. They point out that the car market is now slowing.

Private demand for new cars slowed in 2016 (Chart 2). New car registrations spiked higher in 2017 Q1 — mostly due to changes in vehicle excise duty — but fell back sharply thereafter. The Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) forecasts registrations declining by 2½% in 2017 and by a further 4% in 2018.

I know that this is being described as a consequence of the EU leave vote but whilst the fall in real wages may have added to it a fall was on its way for a saturated market. How many cars can we all drive on what are often very congested roads? Also the bit about “high-tech” I quoted from the SMMT last January has not worn the passage of time well. Although to be fair the emissions cheating software on many diesels was indeed high-tech. The consequence of that episode has also affected the market as I am sure some are waiting to see if the diesel scrappage scheme that was promised actually appears.

So we had a monetary effort to create a Keynesian effect which is that what was badged as “credit easing” did what it says on the tin. Car manufacturers and others used it to offer loans and contracts which shifted car demand forwards. But the catch is what happened next? The future is supposed to be ready for us to pick up that poor battered can which was kicked forwards but increasingly it does not turn out like that.

What about the finance market?

According to the Bank of England it has responded and below is one of the changes.

Providers are increasingly retailing contracts where consumers have no option to purchase the car at the end.  This avoids some risks associated with voluntary terminations, but it creates new risks around resale value.

Are they avoiding a problem now being creating one at the end of the contract? Anyway that issue is added to by the familiar response of a credit market to signs of trouble which can be described as “extend and pretend”

finance providers have responded by lengthening loan terms and increasing balloon payments rather than upping monthly repayments.

Actually there are a variety of efforts going on in addition to lengthening the loan term.

Manufacturers typically set the GMFV ( Guaranteed Minimum Future Value) at around 90% of the projected second-hand value at the end of the contract, in order to build a safety margin into their calculations. Tweaking the proportion can have a material impact on the cost of car finance. Switching the GMFV from 90% to 95% would likely reduce the consumer’s monthly payment.

Reducing the safety margin at the first sign of trouble is of course covered by one of the Nutty Boys biggest hits.

Madness, they call it Madness

Also there is a switch to PCH or Personal Contract Hire finance where the consumer does not have the option to buy the car. This is presumably to avoid what for them will be a worrying development.

So-called voluntary terminations are increasing, and usually result in losses to the finance houses.

However this comes with quite a price.

Greater use of PCH has certain risks attached for car finance houses. The primary risk inherent in PCP finance (ie the car’s uncertain market value when returned at the end of the contract) is at least as great under PCH. And a business model of increasingly relying on volatile and lower-margin wholesale markets to sell cars adds to the risk.

Oh and when all else fails there is of course ouvert price cuts.

Manufacturers often vary the amount of cash support to car dealers in order to meet sales targets — sometimes referred to as variable marketing programmes….. Our intelligence suggests that dealership incentives have increased over the past year.

So my financial lexicon for these times needs to add “cash support” and “dealership incentives” to its definition of price cuts. As it happens an advert for SEAT came on the radio as I was typing this I looked up the details. This is for an Ibiza SE.

One year’s Free Insurance (from 18 yrs)^

  • £1,500 deposit contribution**
  • 5.9% APR Representative**
  • Plus an extra £500 off when you take a test drive*

Comment

It is hard not to look across the Atlantic and see increasingly worrying signs about the car loans market. There are differences as for example the falling car prices seen in the consumer inflation data are not really being repeated in the UK so far. I checked the July data earlier this week and whilst used car prices fell by 1.1% new car prices rose by 1.3% although of course we wonder if the new offers are reflected in that? However the move towards “extend and pretend” and the use of the word “innovative” is troubling as we know where that mostly ends up. Or if you prefer here is it via the Bank of England private coded language.

That is partly because car manufacturers and their finance houses are increasingly stimulating private demand by offering cheaper (and new) forms of car finance. As amounts of consumer credit increase, so do the risks to the finance providers. Most car finance is provided by non-banks, which are not subject to prudential regulation in the way that banks are. These developments make the industry increasingly vulnerable  to shocks.

Barca

My deepest sympathies go out to those caught up in the terrorist attacks in and around Barcelona yesterday.

 

 

 

The problems of the boy who keeps crying wolf

Yesterday saw the policy announcement of the Bank of England with quite a few familiar traits on display. However we did see something rather familiar in the press conference from its Governor Mark Carney.

The Committee judges that, given the assumptions underlying its projections, including the closure of drawdown period of the TFS and the recent prudential decisions of the FPC and PRA, some tightening of monetary policy would be required in order to achieve a sustainable
return of inflation to target.

Yes he is giving us Forward Guidance about an interest-rate rise again. In fact there was more of this later.

Specifically, if the economy follows a path broadly consistent with the August central projection, then monetary policy could need to be tightened by a somewhat greater extent over the forecast period than the path implied by the yield curve underlying those projections.

Yep not only is he promising an interest-rate rise but he is suggesting that there will be several of them. Actually that is more hype than substance because you see even if you look out to the ten-year Gilt yield you only get to 1.16% and the five-year is only 0.54% so exceeding that is really rather easy. Also as I have pointed out before Governor Carney covers all the bases by contradicting himself in the same speech.

Any increases in Bank Rate would be expected to be at a gradual pace and to a limited extent

So more suddenly becomes less or something like that.

Just like deja vu all over again

If we follow the advice of Kylie and step back in time to the Mansion House speech of 2014 we heard this from Governor Carney.

This has implications for the timing, pace and degree of Bank Rate increases.

There’s already great speculation about the exact timing of the first rate hike and this decision is becoming more balanced.

It could happen sooner than markets currently expect.

The print on the screen does not convey how this was received as such statements are taken as being from a coded language especially if you add in this bit.

Growth has been much stronger and unemployment has fallen much faster than either we or anyone else expected at last year’s Mansion House dinner.

Markets heard that growth had been better and that the Bank of England was planning a Bank Rate rise in the near future followed by a series of them. Tucked away was something which has become ever more familiar.

 we expect that eventual increases in Bank Rate will be gradual and limited

Although to be fair this bit was kind of right.

The MPC has rightly stressed that the timing of the first Bank Rate increase is less important than the path thereafter

Indeed the first Bank Rate increase was so unimportant it never took place.

Ben Broadbent

he has reinforced the new Forward Guidance this morning. Here is the Financial Times view of what he said on BBC Radio 5 live.

“There may be some possibility for interest rates to go up a little,” said Mr Broadbent.

It sounds as though Deputy Governor Broadbent is hardly convinced. This is in spite of the fact he repeated a line from the Governor that is so extraordinary the press corps should be ashamed they did not challenge it.

adding the economy was now better placed to withstand its first interest rate rise since the financial crisis…….Speaking to BBC radio, Mr Broadbent said the UK was able to handle a rate rise “a little bit” better as the economy is still growing, unemployment is at a more than 40-year low, and wages are forecast to rise.

Sadly for Ben he is acting like the absent-minded professor he so resembles. After all on that score he should have raised interest-rates last summer when growth was a fair bit higher than now.Sadly for Ben he voted to cut them! In addition to this there is a much more fundamental point which is if we are in better shape for rate rises why do we have one which is below the 0.5% that was supposed to be an emergency rate and of course was called the “lower bound” by Governor Carney?

Forecasting failures

These are in addition to the Forward Guidance debacle but if we look at the labour market we see a major cause. Although he tried to cover it in a form of Brexit wrap there was something very familiar yesterday from Governor Carney. From the Guardian.

 

We are picking up across the country that there is an element of Brexit uncertainty that is affecting wage bargaining.
Some firms, potentially a material number of firms, are less willing to give bigger pay rises given it’s not as clear what their market access will be over the next few years.

Actually the Bank of England has been over optimistic on wages time and time again including before more than a few really believed there would be a Brexit vote. This is linked to its forecasting failures on the quantity labour market numbers. Remember phase one of Forward Guidance where an unemployment rate of 7% was considered significant? That lasted about six months as the rate in a welcome move quickly dropped below it. This meant that the Ivory Tower theorists at the Bank of England immediately plugged this into their creaking antiquated models and decided that wages would rise in response. They didn’t and history since has involved the equivalent of any of us pressing repeat on our MP3 players or I-pods. As we get according to the Four Tops.

It’s the same old song
But with a different meaning

Number Crunching

This was reported across the media with what would have been described in the Yes Minister stories and TV series as the “utmost seriousness”. From the BBC.

It edged this year’s growth forecast down to 1.7% from its previous forecast of 1.9% made in May. It also cut its forecast for 2018 from 1.7% to 1.6%.

Now does anybody actually believe that the Bank of England can forecast GDP growth to 0.1%? For a start GDP in truth cannot be measured to that form of accuracy but an organisation which as I explained earlier has continuously got both wages and unemployment wrong should be near the bottom of the list as something we should rely on.

Comment

There is something else to consider about Governor Carney. I have suggested in the past that in the end Bank of England Governors have a sort of fall back position which involves a lower level for the UK Pound £. What happened after his announcements yesterday?

Sterling is now trading at just €1.106, down from €1.20 this morning, as traders respond to the Bank of England’s downgraded forecasts for growth and wages…..The pound has also dropped further against the US dollar to $1.3127, more than a cent below this morning’s eight-month high.

They got a bit excited with the Euro rate which of course had been just below 1.12 and not 1.20 but the principle of a Bank of England talking down the Pound has yet another tick in any measurement column. Somewhere Baron King of Lothbury would no doubt have been heard to chuckle. There is a particular irony in this with Deputy Governor Broadbent telling Radio 5 listeners this earlier.

BoE Broadbent: Faster Inflation Fuelled By Pound Weakness ( h/t @LiveSquawk )

Oh and I did say this was on permanent repeat.

BoE Broadbent: Expects UK Wage Growth To Pick Up In Coming Years ( h/t @LiveSquawk )

 

Oh and as someone pointed out in yesterdays comments there has been yet another Forward Guidance failure. If you look back to the first quote there is a mention of the TFS which regular readers will recognise as the Term Funding Scheme. Here are the relevant excerpts from the letter from Governor Carney to Chancellor Hammond.

I noted when the TFS was announced that total drawings would be determined by actual usage of the scheme, and could reach £100bn………. Consistent with this, I am requesting that you authorise an increase in the total size of the APF of £15bn to £560bn, in order to accommodate expected usage of the TFS by the end of the drawdown period.

Who could have possibly expected that the banks would want more of a subsidy?! Oh and the disinformation goes on as apparently they need more of it because of a “stronger economy”.

Also this seems to be something of a boys club again as my title suggests. We have had something of what Yes Minister might call a “woman overboard” problem at the Bank of England.

 

 

 

UK unsecured credit continues to surge

This week will see the anniversary of the Bank of England decision to open the credit and monetary taps to the UK economy. It did so in a panicky response to the EU leave vote and the consequent rather panicky business surveys. It was afraid of an immediate lurch downwards in the UK economy along the lines of the recession and 1% contraction expected by its former Deputy Governor Sir Charlie Bean. Of course that did not happen which if you look at Charlie’s past forecasting record was no surprise but the UK economy was left with a lower interest-rate, an extra £70 billion of QE ( Quantitative Easing) plus a bank subsidy called the Term Funding Scheme which currently amounts to £78.3 billion. As I pointed out at the time this was in addition to the boost provided by the lower value of the UK Pound £ which in spite of a rally to US $1.31 is still equivalent to a Bank Rate cut of 2.75%.

The problem with boosting credit in that manner is that it invariably turns up in all the wrong places. Last week I pointed out the extraordinary way that Alex Brazier of the Bank of England blamed the banks for this whilst forgetting the way the Bank of England lit the blue touch-paper with what it called at the time its “Sledgehammer” of monetary easing. What did they expect the banks to do? Now it is looking into the consequences of its own actions according to The Times.

The Bank of England is demanding detailed information from high street lenders on how they approve loans after sounding the alarm over the consumer borrowing binge.
Within five weeks, banks must provide evidence of how they assess the financial position of their riskiest customers.

The FCA and car loans

The Financial Conduct Authority ( FCA ) has apparently heard a rumour that there may be trouble in the car finance market. Here are the details from this morning’s release.

The majority of new car finance is now in the form of Personal Contract Purchase (PCPs), a form of Hire Purchase. The key feature of a PCP is that the value of the car at the end of the contract is asssessed at the start of the agreement and deferred, resulting in lower monthly repayments.

If we move onto the dangers it tells us this.

The Prudential Regulation Authority notes that a PCP agreement creates an explicit risk exposure to a vehicle’s GFV for lenders. We consider that direct consumer risk exposure may be more limited, but may be heightened where there has been an inadequate assessment of affordability and/or a lack of clarity for the consumer in their understanding of the contract.

All lending scandals involve “an inadequate assessment of affordability” and a “lack of clarity for the consumer” don’t they? This is of course one of the ways the credit crunch began. Anyway there seems to be no apparently hurry as regulation continue to move at the speed of the slow train running of the Doobie Brothers.

We will publish an update on this work in Q1 2018.

It is also concerned about high cost credit too.

The FCA also identified particular concerns in the rent-to-own, home-collected credit and catalogue credit sectors.

I am no expert in this area but did notice Louise Cooper posting a link to this.

This represents a typical cost of using a Very Account.

Representative 39.9% APR variable

So only 39.65% over the Bank of England Bank Rate. But the FCA train runs with all the speed of Southern Railway.

Today’s data

We see that overall unsecured or consumer credit continues to grow strongly.

The flow of consumer credit fell slightly to £1.5 billion in June, and the annual growth rate ticked down to 10.0%

I will leave the Bank of England to decide whether this is a triumph and therefore due to its actions as it claimed for a while or a problem and the fault of the banks as it has said more recently. Its rhetoric may be having some effect as the main banks did cut their monthly lending from £921 million to £324 million. As this is an erratic series that may be a quirk of the data so I will be watching in subsequent months. But the fundamental point is the gap between the annual growth rate of 10% and economic growth (0.5%) or indeed real wage growth which is currently negative. Also the total amount of consumer credit had a big figure change as it rose to £200.9 billion in June.

If we move to the wider money supply there are issues too as aggregate broad money and lending annual growth was 5.3% in June. Whilst that is seemingly slowing it is a long way above the 1.7% annual GDP growth of the UK economy. The rough rule of thumb is that the gap is a measure of inflation or monetary stimulus and if allowed to persist invariably ends up with the sort of consumer credit problems we are facing now.

Meanwhile the stimulus was of course supposed to be for the purpose of boosting business lending to small and medium-sized businesses. If we look at that we see little sign of any great impact.

Loans to small and medium-sized enterprises increased by £0.4 billion, a little higher than the recent average.

The annual growth rate at 1.2% is even below our rate of annual economic growth. Do businesses no longer want to borrow from banks ( and if so why?) or are banks still unwilling to lend to them?

Comment

When it votes on Wednesday on UK monetary policy ( it votes then and announces on what is called Super Thursday) the Bank of England has much to consider. Firstly the way it flooded the UK economy with more QE and monetary easing and the consequences which are becoming ever more apparent. It pushed both unsecured credit and inflation higher just when the UK economy needed neither. The previous PR campaign that this was a recession averted was weak and has now been replaced by blaming the banks which of course were following the central bank’s lead.

Meanwhile the inflation it created has in one sense come home to roost. From the Guardian and the emphasis is mine.

The Bank of England will hold last-ditch talks with the UK’s largest trade union on Monday as the central bank attempts to avert its first strike in 50 years.

The stoppage has been called over a below-inflation pay offer to the Bank’s maintenance, security and hospitality staff, and was originally due to begin on Monday.

Meanwhile this was announced last week.

to appoint Sir David Ramsden as Deputy Governor for Markets and Banking at the Bank of England.

There are two main issues here. The first is that the “Governor for Markets and Banking” role invariably goes to someone who has no experience or much apparent knowledge of them.  The next is related to the first as Sir David ( the existing knighthood is also worrying) comes from HM Treasury which means that all 4 Deputy Governors comes from there now. What was that about inclusive recruitment again? Perhaps his replacement at the organisation below could look into this.

In January 2013 he became Chair of the Treasury’s Diversity Board.

Anyway he will be a busy chap.

Dave will also be a member of the Monetary Policy Committee, the Financial Policy Committee, the Prudential Regulation Committee and the Court of the Bank of England.