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.

 

 

 

The Bank of England has driven a surge in UK unsecured credit

Today sees the latest UK consumer credit figures and shows us that a week can be a long time in central banking. After all at Mansion House we were told by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney that its surge was in fact a triumph for his policies.

This stimulus is working. Credit is widely available, the cost of borrowing is near record lows, the economy has outperformed expectations, and unemployment has reached a 40 year low.

Happy days indeed although of course his expectations were so low it was almost impossible not to outperform them. But of course it was not long before we saw some ch-ch-changes.

Consumer credit has increased rapidly……….Consumer credit grew by 10.3% in the twelve months to
April 2017 (Chart B) — markedly faster than nominal
household income growth. Credit card debt, personal loans
and motor finance all grew rapidly.

But this is a triumph surely for the last August easing of monetary policy and Sledgehammer QE? Apparently no longer as we note that a week is as long in central banking as it is in politics.

The FPC is increasing the UK countercyclical capital buffer
(CCyB) rate to 0.5%, from 0% (see Box 1). Absent a
material change in the outlook, and consistent with its
stated policy for a standard risk environment and of moving
gradually, the FPC expects to increase the rate to 1% at its
November meeting.

There is something of a (space) oddity here as monetary policy is supposed to be a secret – although if we go back to last July Governor Carney forgot that – whereas we see that the same institution is happy to pre announce financial policy moves. Also we need a explanation as to why financial policy was eased in a boom and now tightened in a slow down

But that was not the end of it as yesterday Governor Carney went into full “unreliable boyfriend” mode.

Some removal of monetary stimulus is likely to become necessary if the trade-off facing the MPC continues
to lessen and the policy decision accordingly becomes more conventional.

This saw the UK Pound £ as the algo traders spotted this and created a sort of reverse “flash crash” meaning that it is at US $1.298 as I type this. Maybe they did not read the full piece as there was some can kicking involved.

These are some of the issues that the MPC will debate in the coming months.

So not August then? Also the Governor loaded the dice if you expect consumption to struggle and wage growth to be negative in real terms.

The extent to which the trade-off
moves in that direction will depend on the extent to which weaker consumption growth is offset by other
components of demand including business investment, whether wages and unit labour costs begin to firm,
and more generally, how the economy reacts to both tighter financial conditions and the reality of Brexit
negotiations.

Indeed as this week has been one for talk of central banks withdrawing stimulus let us return to reality a little. From @DeltaOne.

BOJ HARADA: NOT PLANNING TO REDUCE ETF PURCHASES UNTIL 2% INFLATION TARGET ACHIEVED – DJN

So it would appear that you might need to “live forever” Oasis style to see the Bank of Japan reverse course although they will run out of ETFs to buy much sooner.

Pinocchio

I spotted that Governor Carney told us this as he relaxed in the Portuguese resort of Sintra.

Net lending to private companies is been growing
following six years of contraction. Corporate bond spreads are well below their long-run averages.. And credit conditions among SMEs have been steadily improving.

Regular readers of my work will be aware that I have for several years now criticised policy on the ground that it has boosted consumer credit and mortgage lending but done nothing for smaller businesses. I will let today’s figures do they talking for me especially as they follow a long series.

Loans to small and medium-sized enterprises were broadly
unchanged

Also I have spotted that of the total of £164.3 billion to SMEs some £64.5 billion is to the “real estate” sector. Is that the property market again via the corporate buy to let sector we wondered about a couple of years ago?

Buy To Lets

Sometimes it feels like we are living in one of those opposite universes where everything is reversed like in Star Trek when Spock becomes emotional and spiteful. This happened to the max this week when former Bank of England policymaker David “I can see for” Miles spoke at New City Agenda this week about the house price boom. Yep the same one he created, anyway as you look at the chart below please remember that the “boost to business lending” or Funding for Lending Scheme started in the summer of 2013.

Today’s data

There is little sign of a slow down in this.

Annual growth in consumer credit remained strong at 10.3% in May, although below its peak in November 2016

I have been asked on Twitter how QE has driven this as the interest-rates are so high? Let me answer by agreeing with the questioner and noting that low interest-rates are for the banks not the borrowers as we note this from today’s data.

Effective rates on Individual’s and Individual trusts new ‘other loans’ fixed 1-5 years increased by 3bps to 7.68%,
whilst on outstanding business, effective rates decreased by 4bps to 7.38%.

I had to look a lot deeper for the credit card rate but it is 17.9% so in spite of all the interest-rate cuts it is broadly unchanged over our lost decade. My argument is that we need to look at the supply of credit which has been singing along to “Pump It Up” by Elvis Costello as we note £445 billion of QE, the FLS and now the £68.7 billion of the Term Funding Scheme. My fear would be why people have been so willing to borrow at such apparently high interest-rates?

The picture is not simple as some are no doubt using balance transfers which as people have pointed out in the comments section can be at 0%. But they do run out as we reach where the can is kicked too and a section of our community will then be facing frankly what looks like usury. The only thing which makes it look good is the official overdraft rate which is 19.7% according to the Bank of England.

Comment

The Bank of England is lost in its own land of confusion at the moment and this has been highlighted by its chief comedian excuse me economist Andy Haldane this morning.

Bank of England chief economist Andy Haldane said on Thursday that the central bank needs to “look seriously” at raising interest rates to keep a lid on inflation, even though he was happy with their current level.

Did anybody ask whether would also “look seriously” at cutting them too? Meanwhile for those of you who have read my warnings about consumer credit let me give you the alternative view from the Bank of England house journal called the Financial Times. Here is its chief economics editor Chris Giles from January 2016.

Britain is gripped by unsustainable debt-fuelled consumption. So fashionable has this charge become that Mark Carney was forced this week to deny that the Bank of England was responsible. The governor is right.

Indeed he took a swipe at well people like me.

Even armed with these inconvenient facts,ill-informed commentary accuses George Osborne of seeking to ramp up household debt.

As we make another addition to my financial lexicon for these times there was this which I will leave to you to consider.

Official figures show that after deducting debt, net household assets stood at 7.67 times income in 2014, a stronger financial position than at any point in almost 100 years.

The UK housing market looks ever more dysfunctional

Today has opened with some more news on the UK housing market so let us take a look at one perspective on it from The Express newspaper.

Britain’s property market booming as house prices hit record highs
BRITAIN’S property market is booming with house prices hitting a record high – and sales at their highest level for a decade, figures show today…..
Rightmove’s director and housing market analyst Miles Shipside said: “High buyer demand in most parts of the country has helped to propel the price of newly marketed property to record highs. There are signs of a strong spring market with the number of sales agreed achieved at this time of year being the highest since 2007.”

It is hard to know what to say about this bit.

Experts last night hailed the bricks-and-mortar bonanza as a key marker of the nation’s prosperity as we head towards the General Election.

What were the numbers?

Let us first remind ourselves that the Rightmove survey is based on asking rather than actual sale prices and then take a look via Estate Agent Today.

The price of property coming to the market has hit anoher record high, up 1.1 per cent over the past month according to Rightmove.

The increase is equivalent to £3,547 and takes the average asking price for homes new to the market to £313,655, exceeding the previous high of £310,471 set in June 2016.

The £3,547 in a month is of course much more than the average person earns although if we look back we see that it is lower than last year as Rightmove points out.

This month’s 1.1 per cent rise is also weaker than the average 1.6 per cent spring-boosted surge of the last seven years.

Why might that be?

“Strong buyer activity this month has led to 10 per cent higher numbers of sales agreed than in the same period in 2016. This large year-on-year disparity should be viewed cautiously as the comparable timespan in 2016 saw a drop in buy to let activity with the additional second home stamp duty” says Shipside ( of Rightmove)

Actually the year on year rate of increase has fallen to 2.2% although as pointed out earlier first-time buyers are facing a 6.5% rise. The idea that house price growth is fading is one of my 2017 themes and adds to this from the listings website Home earlier this month.

Overall, the website claims price rises are much more subdued this year than last. In April 2016 the annualised rate of increase of home prices was 7.5 per cent; today the same measure is just 3.0 per cent.

London

Here asking prices are falling according to Rightmove.

The price of property coming to market in Greater London is now an average of 1.5% cheaper than this time a year ago, a rate of fall not seen since May 2009. The fall is mainly driven by Inner London, down by 4.2% (-£35,504), while Outer London is up 1.7% (+£9,017). Since last month, asking prices in both Inner and Outer London have fallen, though again it is Inner London with a monthly fall of 3.6% that is dragging the overall average down. Outer London remains broadly flat, down 0.2% (-£1,177) on the month.

The prices of larger houses are seeing a drop.

The fall of 11.9% this month reflects volatility in one month’s figures in a smaller section of the market, but the annual rate of fall of 7.3% is a more reliable longer-term indicator of the challenges that this sector is facing.

but first-time buyers seem to be in the opposite situation.

Typical first-time buyer properties (two bedroom or fewer) are both up for the month (+1.3%) and for the year (+0.5%).

Perhaps the house price forecasts of former Chancellor George Osborne were for the sort of houses he and his friends live in.

However before I move on we do learn something from these asking prices but as Henry Pryor shows they seem to be a long way from actual sale prices.

Record lows for UK mortgage rates

There was this from Sky News on Friday.

A building society is launching Britain’s cheapest ever mortgage deal with a rate of 0.89% as competition between lenders intensifies.

The two-year deal offered by Yorkshire Building Society requires a deposit worth at least 35% of the value of the property. There is also a product fee of £1,495……Moneyfacts said the 0.89% rate was the lowest on its records going back to 1988.

This is a variable rate and a little care is needed as whilst it is an ex ante record it is not an ex post one. What I mean by that is that there were rates fixed to the Bank of England Bank Rate which ended up below this as it slashed interest-rates in response to the credit crunch. One from Cheltenham and Gloucester actually went very slightly negative.

The Mail Online seems to be expecting even more.

Experts say lenders are so desperate for business that rates could fall to as low as 0.5 per cent……..Santander’s cuts are expected to trigger an all-out price war, and deals will be slashed over the next fortnight as the big names fight for business.

Santander has not actually cut yet and we will have to wait until tomorrow. If we look back the record low for a five-year fixed rate mortgage of 1.29% from Atom Bank lasted for about a week before the supply was all taken.

These mortgage rates have been driven by the policies of the Bank of England when it decided in the summer of 2013 that a Bank Rate of 0.5% and QE bond purchases were not enough. It began the Funding for ( Mortgage) Lending Scheme which has now morphed into the £55 billion Term Funding Scheme.  Thus banks do not need to compete for savers deposits leading to ever lower savings rates and they can offer ever cheaper mortgages. This is the reality regardless of the Forward Guidance given by Michael Saunders of the Bank of England on Friday. He gave vague hints of a possible Bank Rate rise, how did that work out last time? Oh yes they ended up cutting it!

Throughout this period we have been told that this is to benefit business lending so what happened to terms for it in February?

Effective rates on SMEs new loans increased by 11 basis points to 3.22% this month.

Also there was more financial repression for savers.

Effective rates on Individuals new fixed-rate bonds fixed 1-2 years fell by 19 basis points to 0.85%

Comment

The official view on the UK house price boom is that it has led to economic growth and greater prosperity. However that is for some as those who sell tale profits and of course there is some building related work. But for many it is simply inflation as they see unaffordable house prices and also rents. So there is a particular irony in some of the media cheerleading for higher prices for first time-buyers. With real wages now stagnating and likely to dip again how can they face rises in prices which are already at all-time highs.

The dysfunctional housing market seems to have some very unpleasant consequences foe those left out as the BBC reported earlier this month.

Young, vulnerable people are being targeted with online classified adverts offering accommodation in exchange for sex, a BBC investigation has found…….Adverts seen by BBC South East included one posted by a Maidstone man asking for a woman to move in and pretend to be his girlfriend, another publicising a double room available in Rochester in exchange for “services” and one in Brighton targeting younger men.

The UK National Debt rises to pay for yet another bank subsidy

The credit crunch era has seen two opposing schools of thought on the public finances. One side labelled as austerity is where the deficits which appeared and rose are then cut back and the other side labelled as stimulus was happy to let deficits flow anticipating that they would create economic growth in the future to solve the problem. Actually these were mostly theories as practice remained different as for example the UK looked to restrain the growth of public expenditure rather than actually reduce it. The one place where austerity was clearly applied was on Greece and that went badly as it was already slipping into depression and received a further push downwards,

More recently fiscal stimulus came back en vogue. To some extent this began back in 2013 with this mea culpa of sorts from the IMF (International Monetary Fund).

We find that, in advanced economies, stronger planned fiscal consolidation has been associated with lower growth than expected, with the relation being particularly strong, both statistically and economically, early in the crisis.

In 2016 we saw more and more calls for fiscal stimulus from the IMF and other global institutions with something of a U-Turn on Japan. From Reuters.

The International Monetary Fund said Tuesday Japan should coordinate fiscal stimulus with further central bank easing measures that could include rate cuts and more asset purchases.

Although maybe not quite a U-Turn.

Japan needs to show it will regain fiscal discipline with gradual increases in the consumption tax and an explicit cap on social security spending, he said.

So actually rather confused but the mood music did switch towards stimulus of a fiscal nature as we looked at the plans of both US Presidential candidates and the UK.  But whilst it is still very early days for President Trump some of the pressure for a fiscal boost seems to have eased so bond markets have rallied. The UK has seen one or two small piecemeal schemes but these have seemed ad hoc political moves rather than any sort of coherent plan. Although yesterday’s industrial strategy did repeat a past promise of more spending. From the Financial Times.

A government promise made in November to increase infrastructure investment by 60 per cent from £14bn in 2016 to £22bn in 2021 was reiterated in the document.

But the hints of more fiscal expansionism seem otherwise to have faded somewhat.

Today’s data

We see a familiar marginal improvement in the monthly data.

Public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) decreased by £0.4 billion to £6.9 billion in December 2016, compared with December 2015.

If we look into the detail of the numbers we see that there was a 2.2% increase in spending but that it was lower than this.

Central government receipts in December 2016 were £53.8 billion, an increase of £2.9 billion, or 5.6%, compared with December 2015.

The particular areas which were strong are shown below.

Social (National Insurance) contributions increased by £1.0 billion, or 10.1%, to £10.6 billion….. Income Tax-related payments increased by £0.7 billion, or 5.8%, to £13.3 billion……Corporation Tax increased by £0.4 billion, or 12.4%, to £4.0 billion.

It doesn’t seem that much of an improvement considering the strength of those receipts does it? Also it relies somewhat on the increase in some National Insurance rates.

Some Perspective

We get a better idea of the trends if we look at the performance in the UK fiscal year to date.

In the financial year-to-date (April to December 2016), public sector net borrowing excluding public sector banks (PSNB ex) was £63.8 billion; a decrease of £10.6 billion, or 14.3% compared with the same period in 2015.

So an improvement but along the lines of edging forwards especially as we note that the economy continued to growth through this period. We see some confirmation of the fact that the economy has been growing by the tax receipt figures.

Central government receipts for the financial year-to-date (April to December 2016) were £476.8 billion, an increase of £21.9 billion, or 4.8%, compared with the same period in the previous financial year.

As we look into the numbers we see that income tax receipts rose by 2.6% and Value Added Tax ( a consumption tax) rose by 3.2% broadly confirming the economic growth. There is also a ying and yang to the numbers as an area for which government’s are often criticised  performed well.

Corporation Tax increased by £3.3 billion, or 9.9%, to £36.2 billion

I suppose there is an irony in such news coming on the day that we find out that less Corporation Tax will be paid by BT after its corruption problems in Italy which seem to have risen to £530 million from £145 million. But the real yang to the ying above is the sort of last hurrah we are seeing for Stamp Duty receipts.

Stamp Duty on land and property increased by £0.8 billion, or 9.4%, to £9.5 billion

With the prospects for UK house prices and activity the surge looks set to end. Actually Stamp Duty full stop has been in a boom.

Stamp Duty on shares increased by £0.5 billion, or 23.7%, to £2.8 billion

So not a bad set and I have put the 9.2% increase in National Insurance contributions at the end because they were also driven by a rise in contribution rates for some.

By contrast central government expenditure rose by 1.4% of which the fastest rising component was this.

debt interest increased by £2.4 billion, or 6.7%, to £38.1 billion; of this £38.1 billion,

That is too soon to be the rise in Gilt yields having an impact and is much more likely to be the impact of the rise in the cost of UK Index-Linked Gilts which pay out relative to the Retail Price Index.

National Debt

The numbers continue to rise.

Public sector net debt (excluding public sector banks) was £1,698.1 billion at the end of December 2016, equivalent to 86.2% of gross domestic product (GDP); an increase of £91.5 billion, or an average of £251 million each day over the last year.

There was something new in the rise however as the Bank of England move in August helped push the national debt higher. Here is the impact of the Term Funding Scheme or TFS.

By the end of December 2016, the Bank of England had made £20.1 billion of loans through the Term Funding Scheme.

Thanks Mark Carney! Raising the national debt to subsidise the banks.

Also as we move forwards we need to note that the international standard for what is the size of the national debt is different so here are the UK numbers on that basis.

general government gross debt was £1,652.0 billion at the end of March 2016, equivalent to 87.6% of gross domestic product (GDP); an increase of £47.9 billion on March 2015.

Comment

It is easy to forget that we were supposed to be basking in a fiscal surplus now under the original plans of the coalition government back in the summer of 2010. The colder harder reality is that whilst we have made considerable progress in reducing the deficit it remains a substantial sum. As time passes the danger rises of us seeing another slow down and perhaps recession and upwards pressure going back on the numbers.A challenge will be posed at 2017 develops by the rise of consumer inflation.

Meanwhile the national debt continues to rise. In terms of debt costs that has not been much of an issue so far because of the extraordinary falls in UK Gilt yields. But they are now back to similar levels to when the Bank of England began its new QE operations and of course index-linked Gilts are becoming more expensive to finance due to the rise in inflation. It has been quite a while since government’s have felt a squeeze from this area as the QE era has brought them plenty of windfalls, and this of course just illustrates another area where QE is like a spider’s web.

Mind you compared to some forecasts we have ended 2016 in pretty good shape! So we should perhaps be grateful for that….

What are the prospects for UK house prices?

This year has the potential to be one where there are ch-ch-changes in the UK housing market. What I mean by that is that the rise in house prices looks set to fade and be replaced by house price falls. Even the estate agent sector has shifted to suggesting only minor price increases and of course they have a large moral hazard of never being keen to forecast price declines! Back on November 4th last year I offered a critique of this as Savills told us this.

London tenants face a 25 per cent increase to their rents during the next five years, said Savills, the listed estate agency group. Renters elsewhere in the country will not fare much better, it said, with a predicted 19 per cent rise.

They were telling us this in my opinion because otherwise the forecast below would not do business much good.

Savills said (house) prices would be flat in 2017 in the capital and elsewhere…

Actually as I pointed out on the 8th of December house prices in central London had already gone from the only way is up to fallin’.

On Monday, property firm Knight Frank said prices in prime London postcodes had fallen by 4.8% in the year to November, and were set to end the year 6% down. In Chelsea, prices have dropped by 12.6% over the past year, it said, while around Hyde Park values are down by 11.2%. It forecast that across the market prices will remain flat in 2017.

I plan to cycle past the large Nine Elms development later which stretches from Battersea Dogs Home to Vauxhall and includes the new American and Dutch embassies and it will provide food for further thought. I would like to know for example the exact numbers behind this being reported by the Foxtons estate agency.

Property prices in Nine Elms have increased by 3.58% over the past year.

Should someone want to take the advice of Blur below there are also challenges ahead.

City dweller, successful fella
Thought to himself oops I’ve got a lot of money
I’m caught in a rat race terminally………….

He lives in a house, a very big house in the country

That plan seems to have trouble ahead if this from KnightFrank is any guide.

Prime country property values fell by 0.4% between October and December, the third consecutive quarter in which prices have fallen……As a result values ended 2016 marginally lower, falling by around 0.4% on average compared with the 12 months to December 2015.

Will this spread wider?

I think so although there are different issues as we move from prices which are in effect set internationally these days to ones which are much more domestic.

Inflation and hence real wages

The likely trend for real wages is down this year and that will pose its own problems for house prices and affordability. We got quite a strong hint from Germany yesterday as shown below from Destatis.

The inflation rate in Germany as measured by the consumer price index is expected to be 1.7% in December 2016. Compared with November 2016, consumer prices are expected to increase by 0.7%.

As you can see there was quite a pick-up and whilst there are domestic issues the international ones will be stronger for the UK because the UK Pound fell against the Euro overall last year. Accordingly unless wages can increase we will see real wage falls in 2017 in the UK putting a squeeze on budgets.

Mortgage Rates

Last year we one of record lows for mortgage rates in the UK as the Bank of England under Governor Carney added further to the measures reducing them. The ongoing £60 bank mortgage lending subsidy called the Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS) found itself accompanied by a 0.25% Bank Rate cut, an extra £60 billion of QE ( Quantitative Easing) and some corporate bond QE. Thus Mark Carney and his colleagues had a go at emptying the house price support cupboard. Actually they also added the Term Funding Scheme to give another bank subsidy which so far has provided some £20.7 billion to them.

But the winds of change have blown as we note the international trend to higher bond yields and hence mortgage rates. This has been led by the impact of the expected policies of President-Elect Trump and the December interest-rate rise of the US Federal Reserve. As ever the short-term picture is complex as a bond market rally at the end of 2016 was followed by falls this week but the UK ten-year Gilt yield was driven down to nearly 0.5% by the “Sledgehammer” of the Bank of England is now 1.32% which gives the bigger picture of rises. Also it means that our “dedicated follower of fashion” Mark Carney picked an out of date line.

Government policy

This has shifted in a couple of ways. Firstly we saw changes in Stamp Duty on second homes then we saw changes in affordability criteria for buy-to-let mortgages. In April we will see tax relief on mortgage interest payments reduced to being only at the basic rate as well. More generally much of the Help To Buy policy ended with 2016.

We do not know how the new government would respond to house price falls but so far it does not seem as obsessed with the housing market as its predecessor.

Starter Homes

One area where the current government is following past policy is in the rehash and reannouncement of the Starter Homes policy and the announcement of the new Garden Villages. The simple truth is that governments of all types in the UK have made loads of similar proclamations but very little extra building if any has actually taken place.

Today’s data

The latest Bank of England numbers show that the market is trying to hang on in there.

The number of loan approvals for house purchase was 67,505 in November, compared to the average of 64,178 over the previous six months…….Lending secured on dwellings increased by £3.2 billion in November, broadly in line with the average over the previous six months. The three-month annualised and twelve-month growth rates were 3.0% and 3.1% respectively

That would not be far off a steady as she goes position if we missed that this was for November and so the main changes are still in the future.

Unsecured credit

Here we find yet another side-effect of the housing friendly policies of the Bank of England. Please do not adjust your sets and I hope you are sitting comfortably.

Consumer credit increased by £1.9 billion in November, compared to an average monthly increase of £1.6 billion over the previous six months. The three-month annualised and twelve-month growth rates were 11.4% and 10.8% respectively.

This is a clear consequence of the Bank of England opening the monetary taps and in the past has led us into trouble. We do not get a breakdown of what the lending if for but I believe a lot of it goes into the record numbers for motor car registrations. Although I do recall the claim a while back that this was in fact secured credit. An odd description where the first drive alone is accompanied by a boot full of depreciation.

Comment

We see that it is not just the weather which is producing some chill winds right now as the outlook for the housing market is the same. Not perhaps the plummet predicted by our £30,000 a speech former Chancellor but a fading then stagnation then fall. Even the Consumer Price Index is likely to exceed house price growth this year.

However I am someone who would welcome a phase of mild house price falls. Why? Well the official house price series explains as I note that an average house price of £150,633 in January 2005 was replaced by one of £216,674 last October. There are of course many regional differences with Central London leading and Northern Ireland lagging but overall we see an asset price which has completely decoupled from the real economy. Of course this is Bank of England policy and an area where I strongly disagree with them. Actually as this from Mark Carney implies they are trying to have their cake and eat it.

Moreover, rising real house prices between the mid-1990s and the late 2000s has created a growing disparity between older home owners and younger renters.

Why have you pushed them further up then Mark?