Where next for UK house prices?

This week has opened in what by recent standards is a relatively calm fashion. Well unless you are involved in the crude oil market as prices have taken another dive. That does link to the chaos in the airline industry where Easyjet has just grounded all its fleet. Although that is partly symbolic as the lack of aircraft noise over South West London in the morning now gives a clear handle on how many were probably flying anyway. So let us take a dip in the Bank of England’s favourite swimming pool which is UK house prices.

Bank of England

It has acted in emergency fashion twice this month and the state of play is as shown below.

Over recent weeks, the MPC has reduced Bank Rate by 65 basis points, from 0.75% to 0.1%, and introduced a Term Funding scheme with additional incentives for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (TFSME). It has also announced an increase in the stock of asset purchases, financed by the issuance of central bank reserves, by £200 billion to a total of £645 billion.

If we look for potential effects then the opening salvo of an interest-rate cut has much less impact than it used to as whilst there are of course variable-rate mortgages out there the new mortgage market has been dominated by fixed-rates for a while now. The next item the TFSME is more significant as both its fore-runners did lead to lower mortgage-rates. Also the original TFS and its predecessor the Funding for Lending Scheme or FLS lead to more money being made available to the mortgage market. This helped net UK mortgage lending to go from being negative to being of the order of £4 billion a month in recent times. The details are below.

When interest rates are low, it is likely to be difficult for some banks and building societies to reduce deposit rates much further, which in turn could limit their ability to cut their lending rates.  In order to mitigate these pressures and maximise the effectiveness of monetary policy, the TFSME will, over the next 12 months, offer four-year funding of at least 10% of participants’ stock of real economy lending at interest rates at, or very close to, Bank Rate. Additional funding will be available for banks that increase lending, especially to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

We have seen this sort of hype about lending to smaller businesses before so let me give you this morning;s numbers.

In net terms, UK businesses borrowed no extra funds from banks in February, and the annual growth rate of bank lending to UK businesses remained at 0.8%. Within this, the growth rate of borrowing from SMEs picked up to 0.7%, whilst borrowing from large businesses remained at 0.9%.

It is quite unusual for it to be that good and has often been in the other direction.

In theory the extra bond purchases (QE) should boost the market although it is not that simple because if the original ones had worked as intended we would not have seen the FLS in the summer of 2012.

Today’s Data

It is hard not to have a wry smile at this.

Mortgage approvals for house purchase (an indicator for future lending) had continued to rise in February, reaching 73,500 . This took the series to its highest since January 2014, significantly stronger than in recent years. Approvals for remortgage also rose on the month to 53,400. Net mortgage borrowing by households – which lags approvals – was £4.0 billion in February, close to the £4.1 billion average seen over the past six months. The annual growth rate for mortgage borrowing picked up to 3.5%.

As you can see the previous measures to boost smaller business lending have had far more effect on mortgage approvals and lending. Also there is another perspective as we note the market apparently picking up into where we are now.

In terms of mortgage rates in February the Bank of England told us this.

Effective rates on new secured loans to individuals decreased 4bps to 1.81%.

So mortgages were getting slightly cheaper and the effective rate for the whole stock is now 2.36%.

The Banks

There is a two-way swing here. Help was offered in terms of a three-month payment holiday which buys time for those unable to pay although in the end they will still have to pay but for new loans we have quite a different situation. From The Guardian on Thursday.

Halifax, the UK’s biggest mortgage lender, has withdrawn the majority of the mortgages it sells through brokers, including all first-time buyer loans, citing a lack of “processing resource”.

In a message sent to mortgage brokers this morning, Halifax said it would no longer offer any mortgages with a “loan-to-value” (LTV) of more than 60%. In other words, only buyers able to put down a 40% deposit will qualify for a loan.

Other lenders have followed and as Mortgage Strategy points out below there are other issues for them and prospective buyers.

Mortgage lenders are in talks with ministers over putting the housing market in lockdown and transactions on hold, according to reports.

Lenders have been withdrawing products and restricting loan-to-values as they are unable to get valuers to do face-to-face inspections.

Property transactions are failing because some home owners in the chain are in isolation and unable to move house or complete on purchases.

Removals firms have been advised by their trade body not to operate, leaving movers in limbo.

So in fact even if the banks were keen to lend there are plenty of issues with the practicalities.

Comment

The next issue for the market is that frankly a lot of people are now short of this.

Money talks, mmm-hmm-hmm, money talks
Dirty cash I want you, dirty cash I need you, woh-oh
Money talks, money talks
Dirty cash I want you, dirty cash I need you, woh-oh ( The Adventures of Stevie V )

I have been contacted by various people over the past few days with different stories but a common theme which is that previously viable and successful businesses are either over or in a lot of trouble. They will hardly be buying. Even more so are those who rent a property as I have been told about rent reductions too if the tenant has been reliable just to keep a stream of income. Now this is personal experience and to some extent anecdote but it paints a picture I think. Those doing well making medical equipment for example are unlikely to have any time to themselves let alone think about property.

Thus we are looking at a deep freeze.

Ice ice baby
Ice ice baby
All right stop ( Vanilla Ice)

Whereas for house prices I can only see this for now.

Oh, baby
I, I, I, I’m fallin’
I, I, I, I’m fallin’
Fall

Podcast

What can the UK do in the face of an economic depression?

We are facing quite a crisis and let us hope that we will end up looking at a period that might have been described by the famous Dickens quote from A Tale of Two Cities.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.

The reason I put it like that is because we have examples of the worst of times from food hoarders to examples of an extreme economic slowdown. On a personal level I had only just finished talking to a friend who had lost 2 of his 3 jobs when I passed someone on the street talking about her friend losing his job. Then yesterday I received this tweet.

Funny, Barclays quoted me 18% interest on a £10k business loan this morning to keep my employees paid, unfortunately the state will now need to pay them. Bonkers! ( @_insole )

If we look at events in the retail and leisure sector whilst there are small flickers of good news there are large dollops of really bad news. Accordingly this is a depression albeit like so many things these days it might be over relatively quickly for a depression in say a few months. Of course the latter is unknown in terms of timing. But people on low wages especially are going to need help as not only will they be unable to keep and feed themselves they will be forced to work if they can even if they are ill. In terms of public health that would be a disaster.

Also I fear this from the Bank of England Inflation Survey this morning may be too low.

Question 2b: Asked about expected inflation in the twelve months after that, respondents gave a median answer of 2.9%, remaining the same as in November.

Whilst there are factors which will reduce inflation such as the lower oil price will come into play there are factors the other way. Because of shortages there will be rises in the price of food and vital purchases as illustrated below from the BBC.

A pharmacy which priced bottles of Calpol at £19.99 has been criticised for the “extortionate” move.

A branch of West Midlands-based chain Jhoots had 200ml bottles of the liquid paracetamol advertised at about three times its usual price.

The UK Pound

If we now switch to financial markets we have seen some wild swings here. The UK Pound always comes under pressure in a financial crisis because of our large financial sector and as I looked at on Wednesday we are in a period of King Dollar strength. Or at least we were as it has weakened overnight with the UK Pound £ bouncing to above US $1.18 this morning. Now with markets as they are we could be in a lot of places by the time you read this but for now the extension of the Federal Reserve liquidity swaps to more countries has calmed things.

Perhaps we get more of a guide from the Euro where as discussed in the comments recently we have been in a poor run. But we have bounced over the past couple of days fro, 1.06 to 1.10 which I think teaches us that the UK Pound £ is a passenger really now. We get hit by any fund liquidations and then rally at any calmer point.

The Bank of England

It held an emergency meeting yesterday and then announced this.

At its special meeting on 19 March, the MPC judged that a further package of measures was warranted to meet its statutory objectives.  It therefore voted unanimously to increase the Bank of England’s holdings of UK government bonds and sterling non-financial investment-grade corporate bonds by £200 billion to a total of £645 billion, financed by the issuance of central bank reserves; and to reduce Bank Rate by 15 basis points to 0.1%.  The Committee also voted unanimously that the Bank of England should enlarge the Term Funding Scheme with additional incentives for SMEs (TFSME).

Let me start with the interest-rate reduction which is simply laughable especially if we note what the business owner was offered above. One of my earliest blog topics was the divergence between official and real world interest-rates and now a 0.1% Bank Rate faces 40% overdraft rates. Next we have the issue that 0.5% was supposed to be the emergency rate so 0.1% speaks for itself. Oh and for those wondering why they have chosen 0.1% as the lower bound ( their description not mine) it is because they still feel that the UK banks cannot take negative interest-rates and is nothing to do with the rest of the economy. So in an irony the banks are by default doing us a favour although we have certainly paid for it!

QE

Let us now move onto this and the Bank of England is proceeding at express pace.

Operations to make gilt purchases will commence on 20 March 2020 when the Bank intends to purchase £5.1bn of gilts spread evenly between short, medium and long maturity buckets.  These operations will last for 30 minutes from 12.15 (short), 13.15 (medium) and 14.15 (long).

But wait there is more.

Prior to the 19 March announcement the Bank was in the process of reinvesting of the £17.5bn cash flows associated with the maturity on 7 March 2016 of a gilt owned by the APF.

As noted above, and consistent with supporting current market conditions, the Bank will complete the remaining £10.2bn of gilt purchases by conducting sets of auctions (short, medium, long maturity sectors) on Friday 20 March and Monday 23 March (i.e. three auctions on each day).

So there will be a total of £10.2 billion of QE purchases today and although it has not explicitly said so presumably the same for Monday. As you can imagine this has had quite an impact on the Gilt market as the ten-year yield which had risen to 1% yesterday lunchtime is now 0.59%. The two-year yield has fallen to 0.08% so we are back in the zone where a negative Gilt yield is possible. Frankly it will depend on how aggressively the Bank of England buys its £200 billion.

The next bit was really vague.

The Committee also voted unanimously that the Bank of England should enlarge the Term Funding Scheme with additional incentives for SMEs (TFSME)……

Following today’s special meeting of the MPC the Initial Borrowing Allowance for the TFSME will be increased from 5% to 10% of participants’ stock of real economy lending, based on the Base Stock of Applicable Loans.

Ah so it wasn’t going to be the triumph they told us only last week then? I hope this will do some good but the track record of such schemes is that they boost the banks ( cheap liquidity) and house prices ( more and cheaper mortgage finance).

We did also get some humour.

As part of the increase in APF asset purchases the MPC has approved an increase in the stock of purchases of sterling corporate bonds, financed by central bank reserves.

Last time around this was a complete joke as the Bank of England ended up buying foreign firms to fill its quota. For example I have nothing against the Danish shipping firm Maersk but even they must have been surprised to see the Bank of England buying their bonds.

Comment

There are people and businesses out there that need help and in the former case simply to eat. So there are real challenges here because if Bank of England action pushes prices higher it will make things worse. But the next steps are for the Chancellor who has difficult choices because on the other side of the coin many of the measures above will simply support the Zombie companies and banks which have held us back.

Also this is a dreadful time for economics 101. I opened by pointing out that unemployment will rise and maybe by a lot and so will prices and hence inflation. That is not supposed to happen. Then the UK announces more QE and the UK Pound £ rises although of course it is easier to state who is not doing QE now! I guess the Ivory Towers who so confidently made forecasts for the UK economy out to 2030 are now using their tippex, erasers and delete buttons. Meanwhile in some sort of Star Trek alternative universe style event Chris Giles of the Financial Times is tweeting this.

In a moment of irritation, am amazed at how little UK public science has learnt from economics – making mistakes no good economist has made in 50 years Economists have been beating themselves up for a decade Shoe now on other foot…

Podcast

 

Unsecured credit and mortgage lending market will be the winners after the Bank of England move

Today has arrived with an event we have been expecting but the timing was a few days early. Those walking past the Bank of England building in Threadneedle Street early this morning may have got a warning from the opening of Stingray being played on the wi-fi stream.

Stand by for action!

Anything can happen in the next 30 minutes

Before the equity and Gilt markets opened it announced this.

At its special meeting ending on 10 March 2020, the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voted unanimously to reduce Bank Rate by 50 basis points to 0.25%. …..The reduction in Bank Rate will help to support business and consumer confidence at a difficult time, to bolster the cash flows of businesses and households, and to reduce the cost, and to improve the availability, of finance.

So we see that yesterday morning’s equity market falls put the Bank of England into a state of panic. We also see why the UK Pound £ was weak on the foreign exchanges late yesterday as the news seems to have leaked giving some an early wire. The “improvement” announced by Governor Carney of voting the night before should be scrapped. But as we look at the statement the “help to” suggests a lack of conviction and was followed by this.

When interest rates are low, it is likely to be difficult for some banks and building societies to reduce deposit rates much further, which in turn could limit their ability to cut their lending rates.  In order to mitigate these pressures and maximise the effectiveness of monetary policy, the TFSME will, over the next 12 months, offer four-year funding of at least 5% of participants’ stock of real economy lending at interest rates at, or very close to, Bank Rate. Additional funding will be available for banks that increase lending, especially to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Experience from the Term Funding Scheme launched in 2016 suggests that the TFSME could provide in excess of £100 billion in term funding.

Okay the first sentence covers a lot of ground. Firstly it implicitly agrees with our theme that banks struggle to reduce interest-rates for ordinary depositors as we approach 0%, we have seen this in places with negative interest-rates. That also means that there is an opportunity to give the banks known under the code phrase “The Precious! The Precious!” at the Bank of England yet another subsidy estimated at the order of £100 billion.

Term Funding Scheme

We have had one of these before as it was initially introduced the last time the Bank of England panicked back in August 2016. It too like its predecessor the Funding for Lending Scheme was badged as being for small and medium-sized businesses but the change of name to the acronym TFSME gives us the clearest clue as to its success. after all successes like Coca-Cola keep the same name whereas leaky nuclear reprocessing plants like Windscale get called Sellafield.

So let me go through the scheme firstly with the Bank of England rhetoric and secondly with what happened last time.

help reinforce the transmission of the reduction in Bank Rate to the real economy to ensure that businesses and households benefit from the MPC’s actions;

Mortgage rates fell to record lows providing yet another boost to house prices, building companies and estate agents.

provide participants with a cost-effective source of funding to support additional lending to the real economy, providing insurance against adverse conditions in bank funding markets;

Unsecured lending went through the roof going on a surge that has continued as can you think of anything else in the economy growing at 6% per annum? You do not need to take my word for it as the Bank of England cake trolley will not be going near whoever wrote this in the latest Money and Credit report.

The annual growth rate of consumer credit (credit used by consumers to buy goods and services) remained at 6.1% in January. The growth rate has been around this level since May 2019, having fallen steadily from a peak of 10.9% in late 2016.

Let me now give you the numbers for business borrowing. Now the FLS and the first TFS are now flowing anymore but the numbers are in fact better than hat we sometimes saw when they were.

Within this, the growth rate of borrowing from large businesses and SMEs fell to 0.9% and 0.5% respectively.

Oh and in line with the dictum that old soldiers never die they just fade away if you look at the Bank of England balance sheet the Term Funding Scheme still amounts to £107 billion.

Numbers bingo!

We can see this from two perspectives as a rather furious soon to be Governor of the Bank of England Andrew Bailey was given this to announce.

The release of the countercyclical capital buffer will support up to £190 billion of bank lending to businesses. That is equivalent to 13 times banks’ net lending to businesses in 2019.

Once I had stopped laughing at the ridiculousness of this number I had two main thoughts. Firstly I guess he had to announce something as he had been robbed of rewarding the government with an interest-rate cut later this month. But next remember how we keep being told how we have more secure and indeed “resilient” banks? That seems to have morphed into this.

To support further the ability of banks to supply the credit needed to bridge a potentially challenging period, the Financial Policy Committee (FPC) has reduced the UK countercyclical capital buffer rate to 0% of banks’ exposures to UK borrowers with immediate effect.  The rate had been 1% and had been due to reach 2% by December 2020.

So yet another disaster for Forward Guidance! It actively misleads…

Comment

After all the Forward Guidance from Bank of England Governor Mark Carney about higher interest-rates he is going to leave them lower ( 0.25%) than when he started ( 0.5%). That about sums up his term in office as those like the Financial Times who called him a “rock star” Governor hope we have shirt memories. Also I have had many debates on social media with supporters of the claims that the Bank of England is politically independent. After an interest-rate cut to record lows on UK Budget Day I suspect they will be very quiet today. After all even Yes Prime Minister did not go quite that far! Indeed the Governor confirmed it in his press conference.

“We have coordinated our moves with the Chancellor in the Budget”

Actually there was also a Dr.Who style vibe going on as we had two Governors at one press conference.

More fundamentally there is the issue that interest-rate cuts at these levels may even make things worse. I am afraid our central planners have little nous and imagination and go for grand public gestures rather than real action. After all if you are short on staff because they are quarantined due to the Corona Virus what use is 0.5% off your borrowing costs? The latter of course assumes the banks pass it on.

As to ammunition left well the present Governor has established the lower bound for them at 0.1% ( hoping we will forget he previously claimed it was 0.5% before cutting below it). Will that survive him? It is hard to say because the real issue here is not you or I ot even business it is “The Precious” who they fear cannot take lower rates. That is the real reason for all the Term Funding Schemes and the like. However Monday did bring a curiosity as the Bank of England bought a Gilt with a yield of -0.025% so maybe it is considering plunging below zero.

Meanwhile there was something else curious today and the PR office of the Bank of England in an unusual turn may be grateful to me for pointing it out, But this was the sort of thing that used to make it cut interest-rates.

Gross domestic product (GDP) showed no growth in January 2020……The economy continued to show no growth overall in the latest three months.

No-one but the most credulous ( Professors of economics and those hoping to or previously having worked at the Bank of England) will believe that was the cause but it is a curious turn of events.

Meanwhile let us look at the term of Mark Carney via some music. Remember when he mentioned Jake Bugg? Well he would hope we would think of today’s move as this.

But that’s what happens
When it’s you who’s standing in the path of a lightning bolt

Whereas most will be humming The Smiths.

Panic on the streets of London
Panic on the streets of Birmingham
I wonder to myself
Could life ever be sane again?