The US Repo cavalry arrives with the “Lagarde bond yield bounce”

This has been an extraordinary week, so much so that I am going to relegate the shambles that was the ECB action yesterday as President Lagarde lived down to all my criticisms of her to second place. This is because at around 5pm London time yesterday the US Cavalry arrived so let me hand you over to the New York Federal Reserve,

As a part of its $60 billion reserve management purchases for the monthly period beginning March 13, 2020 and continuing through April 13, 2020, the Desk will conduct purchases across a range of maturities to roughly match the maturity composition of Treasury securities outstanding.  Specifically, the Desk plans to distribute reserve management purchases across eleven sectors, including nominal coupons, bills, Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities, and Floating Rate Notes

So most of the “not QE” is now outright QE ar least for now and we know what tends to happen to such temporary moves. After all weren’t the daily Repos supposed to be temporary when they started last September?

Also in another very familiar theme we see that any attempt at a “taper” seems to morph into an expansion.

Today, March 12, 2020, the Desk will offer $500 billion in a three-month repo operation at 1:30 pm ET that will settle on March 13, 2020.  Tomorrow, the Desk will further offer $500 billion in a three-month repo operation and $500 billion in a one-month repo operation for same day settlement.  Three-month and one-month repo operations for $500 billion will be offered on a weekly basis for the remainder of the monthly schedule.

There is a lot of numbers bingo there and many on social media either fell for it or chose to fall for it by declaring an extra US $1.5 trillion of QE. But let us take the advice of Kylie Minogue.

I’m breaking it down
I’m not the same

We had to wait less than an hour to discover that the first Repo was for US $78.4 billion. So we saw that the Fed has in fact finally taken my advice and made sure it was offering too much to find out as much as possible what the true state of play is. Rather late in the day though as it is doing it in an equity market inspired panic as opposed ti thinking ahead. As to QE we have something of a US $78.4 as an 84 day Repo qualifies for me in spite of officially being “not QE” plus we have an Operation Twist style extension of average maturity on the existing US $60 billion a month.

I do not know what today’s Repo allocations will be only that bids will be filled in full up to the US $500 billion maximum. Should they be like last night’s then we will see a US $225 billion increase in QE which is quite some distance from many claims. Of course more or less might be taken.

What is really happening here?

There is an elephant in the room and it was sung about by Aloe Blacc

I need a dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
Hey hey
Well I need a dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
Hey hey
And I said I need dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
And if I share with you my story would you share your dollar with me

Indeed he was especially prescient here.

Bad times are comin’ and I reap what I don’t sow
Hey hey
Well let me tell you somethin’ all that glitters ain’t gold
Hey hey

Actually at US $1583 gold is not glittering much either with rumours abounding that it is being sold to help settle margin payments elsewhere. In a crisis people want the security of King Dollar or the world’s reserve currency. This adds to the existing dollar shortage which I wrote about on the 25th of September 2018, and to the issue last September when a Euro area bank had to go to the US Federal Reserve for dollars.

This brings us to the banks who are the drivers of this. The suspicion is that at a minimum some cannot get dollars in the usual way via markets and thus have to go to the US Federal Reserve. With markets being as they have ( oil, bonds and equities) frankly I would not be surprised if some banks are in trouble. On that note I see one at least has made an official denial of such problems already today.

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Deutsche Bank’s <DBKGn.DE> top executives sought to assure employees and investors over its ability to weather the coronavirus as shares in the German lender hit a new low on Thursday amid a wider stock market sell-off.

Christian Sewing, chief executive of Germany’s largest bank, told employees in a memo seen by Reuters that Deutsche Bank’s business was in “good shape as the positive momentum of the fourth quarter has continued”.

A Communications Break Down at the ECB

There was some surprise at the lack of much action from the ECB yesterday highlighted by the fact that even more bank subsidies were accompanied by further falls in bank share prices. But it got worse and then much worse. The worse bit was when the ECB press officer had to correct President Lagarde about the size of the extra QE announced as it was 120 billion Euros and not 100 billion. So the claim that Christine Lagarde was good at reading off a teleprompter crashed and burned, But then things got even worse.

Well, we will be there, as I said earlier on, using full flexibility, but we are not here to close spreads[1]. This is not the function or the mission of the ECB.

Curious because you could summarise the term of her “Whatever it takes” predecessor as doing exactly that. Rather than me describe the issue let me hand you over to the correction issued by the ECB.

[Statement in CNBC interview after press conference:] I am fully committed to avoid any fragmentation in a difficult moment for the euro area. High spreads due to the coronavirus impair the transmission of monetary policy. We will use the flexibility embedded in the asset purchase programme, including within the public sector purchase programme.

By down she meant up etc….

This was issued because the statement detonated across Euro area bond markets with the Italian ten-year yield going from 1.3% to 1.8%. Actually as a result of what no doubt will be called “The Lagarde Bounce” the ten-year yield is now 1.88%. So just as the corona virus ravaged Italy needs a helping hand Christine Lagarde has kicked it in the teeth. In fact just like she did to Greece and Argentina. You might think there was a theme there and that such a theme would have stopped her appointment. But no and of course so much of the media joined in by lauding it. Sadly we have a sort of Marie Antoinette theme in play.

Meanwhile two bank subsidies were announced. Firstly the new liquidity measures announced that via the TLTRO banks will be able to get cash at interest-rates as low as -0.75% compared to the -0.5% of everyone else. As Gollum would say.

We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious.

Also there was something tucked away in the rules so let me hand you over to JohannesBorgen on twitter

As pointed out by @borisg_work I forgot to remove our Brexited friends, so RWA are more likely around 14tn now (anyone has an accurate recent # i’m interested) which suggest between 500bn and 600bn – still very big!

Changes in the Risk Weighted Assets rules meant a boost of around 500 billion Euros of capital relief. He got a boost as the ECB press officer retweeted him so perhaps he explained their own policy to them.

Comment

As you can see this is a bit of a shambles. If you argue that this could be like 2008 then the central planners at least managed a concerted fusillade. This time around they are taking individual pop shots and in at least one case have shot themselves in the foot. Actually at the ECB things are going from bad to worse.

@bancaditalia  governor #Visco @ecb  will do more if needed and can front load purchases if needed. Thursday decision was “not the final word” and ECB policy is aimed to ensure adequate liquidity. in exclusive interview with @BloombergTV

Let me deal with it in terms of bullet points.

  1. Presumably the Governor of the Bank of Italy is furious
  2. What is the point of declaring a number and then saying not only it might be larger but also the timing could be faster only 24 hours later?
  3. Actually they declared the next meeting would not be until April Fools Day less then 24 hours ago.
  4. QE reduces bond market liquidity.

Looking at markets then equity markets are surging as I type this because the stimulus fairy has been deployed. Is that the same stimulus fairy that was supposed to appear in the Euro area yesterday or a different one please? But that is my point because as the swings get wider I am more concerned about a fund or funds blowing up. This week alone we have seen wild swings in the bond,oil,equity and gold markets so in fact I am surprised it has not happened and wonder if we are being told the whole truth?

What can the ECB and European Commission do to help the Euro area economy?

Today our focus switches to the Euro area and the European Central Bank as we await a big set piece event from the ECB. However as is his wont The Donald has rather grabbed the initiative overnight. From the Department of Homeland Security.

(WASHINGTON) Today President Donald J. Trump signed a Presidential Proclamation, which suspends the entry of most foreign nationals who have been in certain European countries at any point during the 14 days prior to their scheduled arrival to the United States. These countries, known as the Schengen Area, include: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

I have pointed it out in this manner as sadly the mainstream media is misreporting it with Beth Rigby of Sky News for example tweeting it as Europe. Much of it yes but not all of it. Moving on to our regular economics beat this will impact on an area we looked at back on the 27th of February.

Announcing the new findings, ENIT chief Giorgio Palmucci said tourism accounted for 13 percent of Italy’s gross domestic product…… tourism-related spending by both French residents and non-residents, represents around 7.5% of GDP (5% for residents, 2.5% for non-residents)…..This figure represented 11.7% of GDP, 0.4% more than in 2016.  ( Spain)

Numbers must have been hit already in what is as you can see an important economic area. One sector of this is illustrated by the German airline Lufthansa which has a share price dipping below 9 Euros or down 11% today as opposed to over 15 Euros as recently as the 19th of February. There are the beginnings of an official response as you can see from @LiveSquawk below.

Spanish Foreign Minister Gonzalez: Spain To Special Steps To Support Tourism

I presume the minister means the tourism sector here as there is nothing that can be done about current tourism as quarantines and the like move in exactly the opposite direction.

There is also the specific case of Italy where it is easier now I think to say what is open rather than closed. As the economic numbers will be out of date we can try and get a measure from the stock market. We see that the FTSE MIB index is at 17,000 as I type this as opposed to 25,477 on the 19th of last month. It is of course far from a perfect measure but it is at least timely and we get another hint from the bond market. Here we see for all the talk of yield falls elsewhere the ten-year yield has risen to 1.3% as opposed to the 0.9% it had fallen to. That is a signal that there are fears for how much the economy will shrink and how this will affect debt dynamics albeit we also get a sign of the times that an economic contraction that looks large like this only raises bond yields by a small amount.

Meanwhile actual economic data as just realised was better.

In January 2020 compared with December 2019, seasonally adjusted industrial production rose by 2.3% in the euro area (EA19) and by 2.0% in the EU27, according to estimates from Eurostat, the statistical office of the
European Union. In December 2019, industrial production fell by 1.8% in the euro area and by 1.6% in the EU27.

The accompanying chart shows a pick-up in spite of this also being true.

In January 2020 compared with January 2019, industrial production decreased by 1.9% in the euro area and by
1.5% in the EU27.

The problem is that such numbers now feel like they are from a different economic age.

The Euro

This has been strengthening through this phase as we note that the ECB effective or trade weighted index was 94.9 on the 19th of February and was 98.14 yesterday. So if there is a currency war it is losing.

As to causes I think there is a bit of a Germany effect an the interrelated trade surplus. But the main player seems to be the return of the carry trade as Reuters noted this time last year.

On the other hand, the Japanese yen, Swiss franc and euro tend to be carry traders’ funding currencies of choice, as their low yields make them attractive to sell.

Yields in Switzerland on the benchmark bond return -0.35 percent; in Germany barely 0.07 percent. But the euro has been particularly popular this year as the struggling economy has further delayed policy tightening plans in the bloc.

Of course both Euro interest-rates and yields went lower later in the year as the ECB eased policy yet again. But can you spot the current catch as Reuters continues?

Should U.S. growth deteriorate, international trade conflicts escalate or the end of the decade-long bull run crystallise, the resulting volatility spike can send “safe” currencies such as the yen, euro and Swiss franc shooting higher, while inflicting losses on riskier emerging markets.

Comment

There is quite an economic shock being applied to the Euro area right now and it is currently being headlined by Italy. In terms of a response the Euro area has been quiet so far in terms of action although ECB President Christine Lagarde has undertaken some open-mouth operations.

Lagarde, speaking on a conference call late on Tuesday, warned that without concerted action, Europe risks seeing “a scenario that will remind many of us of the 2008 Great Financial Crisis,” according to a person familiar with her comments. With the right response, the shock will likely prove temporary, she added. ( Bloomberg).

 

I have no idea how she thinks monetary action will help much with a virus pandemic but of course in places she goes ( Greece, Argentina) things often get worse and indeed much worse. She has also rather contradicted herself referring to the great financial crisis because she chose not to coordinate her moves with the US Federal Reserve as happened back then. Also all her hot air contrasts rather with her new status as a committed climate change warrior.

A real problem is the limited room for manoeuvre she has which was deliberate. In my opinion she was given the job and was supposed to have a long honeymoon period because her predecessor Mario Draghi had set policy for the early part of her term. But as so often in life  we are reminded of the Harold MacMillan statement “events, dear boy, events” and now Christine Lagarde has quite a few important decisions to make. Even worse she has limited room. It used to be the case that the two-year yield of Germany was a guide but -1% seems unlikely and instead we may get a frankly ridiculous 0.1% reduction to -0.6% in the Deposit Rate.

The ECB may follow the Bank of England path and go for some credit easing to rev up the housing market, so expect plenty of rhetoric that it will boost smaller businesses. We may see the credit easing TLTRO with a lower interest-rate than the headline to boost the banks ( presented as good for business borrowers).

However the main moves now especially in the Euro area are fiscal even more than elsewhere as the monetary ones have been heavily used. So the ECB could increase its QE purchases to oil that wheel. Eyes may switch to European Commission President Von der Leyen’s statement yesterday.

These will concern in particular how to apply flexibility in the context of the Stability and Growth Pact and on the provision of State Aid.

I expect some action here although it is awkward as again President Von der Leyen had a pretty disastrous term as German Defence Minister. Although not for her, I mean for the German armed forces. So buckle up and let’s cross our fingers.

Also do not forget there may be a knock on effect for interest-rates in Denmark and Switzerland in particular as well as Sweden.

The Investing Channel

Italy exits recession but sadly continues its economic depression

Today brings Italy into focus as we find out how it did in the first three months of this year. The mood music has been okay ( 0.3% GDP growth in France) and really rather good ( 0.7% GDP growth in Spain) but we are of course looking at the country described in economic terms as a girlfriend in a coma. The situation has recently deteriorated yet again as highlighted below.

As you can see there has been quite a plunge which illustrates part of the girlfriend in a coma issue. This is that in any economic slow down Italy participates but in a period of growth it grows much less than its peers. So it has for the whole of this century been “slip-sliding away” as Paul Simon would say. Putting that into numbers in the better periods it struggles to grow at more than 1% per annum on average. An example of that has been provided by the last six years as if we look at the period from the beginning of 2013 to the end of 2018 we see that GDP growth was less than 5%. This means that the 402.8 billion Euros of quarterly economic output at the end of 2018 was still a long way short of a number that according to the chart nudged over 425 billion early in 2008. Putting it another way it has joined in with the drops including the Euro area crisis of 2010-12 but not shown anything like the same enthusiasm for the rallies.

Fiscal Problems

This was something of a headliner last autumn as the Italian government pressed the Euro area authorities for some more laxity on the annual deficit before mostly being forced back. But this is not really the problem as Italy has not been an over spender and let me highlight with the data.

The government deficit to GDP ratio decreased from 2.5% in 2016 to 2.4% in 2017. In 2018, the Government deficit to Gross Domestic Product ratio was 2.1%

The primary surplus as a percentage of GDP was 1.4% in 2017, unchanged with respect to 2016.

In 2015 the deficit was 2.6% so we can see that Italy had behaved according to Euro area rules by being below 3% on an annual basis and furthermore had been trimming it.

The catch is that with the low level of economic growth even that has led to this as Eurostat lists those who fail the Maastricht criteria.

Greece (181.1%), Italy (132.2%), Portugal (121.5%), Cyprus (102.5%), Belgium (102.0%), France (98.4%) and Spain (97.1%)

The total has risen from 2.173 trillion Euros at the end of 2015 to 2.32 trillion Euros at the end of last year. As it happens that is nearly exactly the same size as France and the catch is that the French national debt has been rising faster which creates its own worries. But the Italian problem is the way that its debt relates to the lack of economic growth which means that relatively it poses a bigger question.

The dog that has not barked has been the issue of debt costs which would have made all of this much worse if we lived in a bond vigilantes world. But instead the advent of Euro area QE from the ECB means that debt costs have fallen for Italy. In 2015 they cost 68.1 billion Euros or 4.1% of GDP as opposed to 65 billion Euros or 3.7% of GDP last year. Extraordinary really! How? Here you go.

Italian version. Excluding QE, Italy‘s public debt ratio is 110% of GDP. ( @fwred )

Also via cheaper borrowing costs which have risen over the past year  but were believe it or not negative at the short-end for a while. Back in the Euro area crisis I recall the benchmark ten-year yield reaching 7% which puts the current 2.63% into perspective.

I note that this issue reappears from time to time. From Lorenzo Codogno earlier.

My op-ed written with ⁦⁩ on “Italydebt restructuring would do enormous damage” published today in Italy’s business daily Il Sole 24 Ore.

In some ways Euro area membership might help. What I mean by that is if the Bank of Italy wrote off its holdings of Italian bonds then the Euro as a currency might not be affected all that much as it reflects the overall area and especially a fiscally conservative Germany.

On the other side of the coin there is something which is a hardy perennial.

Euro area banks sold domestic government bonds in March (-€13bn net). The total over the past 12-month is still positive (+€23bn) but that’s all due to Italy where banks have started to increase their sovereign exposure again over the past year or so. ( @fwred )

Perhaps they are hoping there will be another ECB inspired party along the lines of this described in Il Sole 24 Ore. The emphasis is mine.

Although these loans are tied to loans to the real economy, it is expected that there will be some flexibility in its implementation in such a way as to allow banks to use the funds to buy government bonds, earning money on the rate differential (“carry trade” in jargon) ). Only when the ECB publishes the details of the transaction in June will we know how generous the new Tltro will be.

Perhaps it will be a leaving gift from Mario Draghi to the banks he used to supervise meaning Grazie Mario may be a new theme. It makes me wonder if profits from what has been called “gentlemen of the spread” maybe the only profits Italian banks these days? Also let me apologise to female traders on behalf of the author of that phrase.

Labour Market

This has brought some welcome news today.

In March 2019, the number of employed people increased compared with February (+0.3%, +60 thousand); the employment rate rose to 58.9% (+0.2 percentage points)…..The number of unemployed persons fell by 3.5% (-96 thousand); the decline involved men and women and all age classes. The unemployment rate dropped to 10.2% (-0.4 percentage points), the youth rate decreased to 30.2% (-1.6 percentage points).

As a headline the rising employment rate and falling unemployment and especially youth unemployment rates are welcome. But sadly we only have to look back to February and recall the unemployment rate was published at 10.7% to see a sadly familiar issue. It is unreliable as January was revised down by 0.5% as was March last year but February last year was revised up by 0.9%.

There is also this highlighted a year ago by a paper for the Swiss National Bank.

An exception is Italy where productivity growth started to stagnate 25 years ago

Okay why?

We find that resource misallocation has played a sizeable role in slowing down Italian productivity growth. If misallocation had remained at its 1995 level, in 2013 Italy’s aggregate productivity would have been 18% higher than its actual level. Misallocation has mainly risen within
sectors than between them, increasing more in sectors where the world technological frontier has
expanded faster.

Comment

There was both good and nor so good news in the mid-morning release.

In the first quarter of 2019 it is estimated that the gross domestic product (GDP), expressed in chained values ​​with reference year 2010, adjusted for calendar effects and seasonally adjusted, increased by 0.2% compared to the previous quarter and by 0, 1% in tendential terms.

The good news is that Italy has recovered the ground lost in the second half of last year but the kicker is that it has grown by only 0.1% in a year, which is well within the margin of error. Or if you prefer it has escaped recession but remains stuck in a depression.

Another perspective is provided by the fact that this is the first time quarterly economic growth has risen since the end of 2016. As to the productivity problem I think that it is linked to the weakness of the banking sector which needs to look beyond punting Italian bonds as a modus operandi if Italy is to improve and escape its ongoing depression.

Mario Draghi and the ECB look for more expansionary Euro area fiscal policy

As we travel the journey that is the credit crunch era we pick up some tasty morsels of knowledge along the way. Some were provided by Mario Draghi and the European Central Bank yesterday which announced this.

we decided to launch a new series of quarterly targeted longer-term refinancing operations (TLTRO-III), starting in September 2019 and ending in March 2021, each with a maturity of two years. These new operations will help to preserve favourable bank lending conditions and the smooth transmission of monetary policy.

As ever “the precious” otherwise known as the banks is prioritised ahead of everything else. Also I was asked if this meant the ECB “knew something” to which the answer is simple, if they did then they would have done it last summer. But there was a much bigger pivot.

This happens in a context where the debt to GDP ratio in the eurozone is actually falling.

There was a move towards making a broad hint for more fiscal policy or easing here. Mario also went out of his way to point out that borrowing for Euro area governments is very low.

The simple action of maintaining the stock unchanged in this context actually is a continuous easing because interest rates are pushed downward by this action. You can see this because since we decided in June last year, interest rates have gone down, they keep on going down, the term premium is negative, so conditions are very, very accommodative.

Not only that but he intends to keep it that way.

If you add to this what I’ve just said, it’s the chained element of this, of the horizon over which we’ll carry out purchases to keep the stock unchanged moves together with the forward guidance.

So Mario is pointing out to government’s that if they borrow the ECB will in general be there to help keep borrowing costs low or as we shall see in a bit negative. After all we now live in a world where even Greece can do this.

On Tuesday 5thMarch the Hellenic Republic, rated B1 Moody’s/ B+ S&P/ BB- Fitch/ BH DBRS (stb/ pos/ stb/ pos), priced a €2.5 billion 10-year Government Bond (GGB) due 12th March 2029. The new benchmark carries a coupon of 3.875% and reoffer yield of 3.900%, equating to a reoffer price of 99.796%. Joint bookrunners on the transaction were BNP Paribas, Citi, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs Intl, HSBC and J.P. Morgan. ( Note the past behaviour of Goldman Sachs in relation to Greece seems to be no barrier at all to future business…..)

Why so cheap? Well there are two main factors. One is that it is looking to run fiscal surpluses and the other is that whilst it is not in the ECB QE programme it may well be in a future one and that is looking more likely by the day. As to the economy it is with a heavy heart that I point out this which speaks for itself.

The available seasonally adjusted data
indicate that in the 4 th quarter of 2018 the Gross Domestic
Product (GDP) in volume terms decreased by 0.1% in comparison with the 3rd quarter of 2018,
while in comparison with the 4th quarter of 2017, it increased by 1.6%.

Mario also gave us a reminder of the scale of Euro area bond buying so far.

Just to give you an idea, the balance sheet of the ECB is about 42 – 43% of the eurozone GDP. The Fed is about half of it now. In order to keep this stock unchanged, we continue purchasing something in the order of €20 billion a month of bonds.

Here are more hints on the subject with also I think a nod to his home country Italy.

Regarding fiscal policies, the mildly expansionary euro area fiscal stance and the operation of automatic stabilisers are providing support to economic activity. At the same time, countries where government debt is high need to continue rebuilding fiscal buffers. All countries should continue to increase efforts to achieve a more growth-friendly composition of public finances.

Bond Yields

Let us start with the largest Euro area economy with is Germany. We saw bond prices rise and yields fall quite quickly in response to this. The German ten-year yield fell from 0.12% to 0.06% which makes us wonder if we may see another spell of it going negative like it did in the summer and autumn of 2016? It would not take a lot as the nine-year yield is now -0.1%.

So Germany can borrow essentially for nothing should it so choose over a ten-year horizon. That is in nominal terms and if we see inflation in this period then the real cost will be negative. Yet if you read through the cheerleading it is aiming for a fiscal surplus.

The general government budget surplus
will fall from roughly 1½% of GDP in
2018 to roughly 1% of GDP in 2019.
In 2019 and subsequent years, a fiscal
impact will be made in particular by
the priority measures contained in the
Coalition Agreement and other measures.
The implementation of these measures
will reduce the federal budget surplus. ( Draft Budget October 2018).

Although those numbers are already suffering from the TalkTalk critique and on that subject RIP Mark Hollis.

Baby, life’s what you make it
Celebrate it
Anticipate it
Yesterday’s faded
Nothing can change it
Life’s what you make it

Why? Well we have indeed moved on since this as the German economy shrank in the second half of 2018.

which forecasts a real growth rate of 1.8% in both 2018 and
2019. This means that Germany’s economy is expected to keep growing at a pace that slightly exceeds potential output.

Also if we look around we see that European supranational bodies can borrow very cheaply too. Maybe not at German rates but often pretty near. After considering that now let us return to Mario Draghi yesterday.

Now, Philip Lane is an excellent acquisition for the ECB but we are not going to ask him about this Eurobond thing. The Eurobond is again not something that the ECB can force or just decide about; again it’s an inherently political decision. And of course this doesn’t detract at all from the argument that it’s absolutely rational to have a safe asset at European level.

We have seen the Eurobond case made many times and so far Germany keeps torpedoing it, but we also know that in Europe these sort of things tend to happen eventually after of course a forest of denials and rejections.

Comment

We have seen quite a few phases now of the Euro area crisis. For a while it looked like “escape velocity” had been achieved but now we see to be facing many of the same problems with quarterly economic growth having gone 0.1%, 0.2% and looking like being around 0.2% in the first quarter of this year. Although he tried to downplay such thoughts yesterday it is hard not to think of this from Mario Draghi last November.

 I’ll be briefer than I would like to be, but certainly especially in some parts of this period of time, QE has been the only driver of this recovery.

Ironically he is avoiding the subject just as the evidence is pointing that way. For the moment monetary policy is to coin a phrase “maxxed out” although in this instance it is more timing than not being able to do more, as it would be an embarrassing U-Turn. So for now if Euro area government’s and especially Germany were to embark on a fiscal stimulus the ECB would turn its blind eye towards it I think.

 

 

When will the ECB ease monetary policy again?

Sometimes life catches up with you really fast and we have seen another example of this in the last 24 hours, so let;s get straight to it.

Analysts at Deutsche Bank say European Central Bank’s Mario Draghi indicated the possibility of a one-off interest rate hike at his last press conference. With his next appearance due on Thursday, the president may choose to feed or quell that speculation. ( Bloomberg)

I found this so extraordinary that I suggested on social media that Deutsche Bank may have a bad interest-rate position it wants to get rid of. After all at the last press conference we were told this and the emphasis is mine.

Based on our regular economic and monetary analyses, we decided to keep the key ECB interest rates unchanged. We continue to expect them to remain at their present levels at least through the summer of 2019, and in any case for as long as necessary to ensure the continued sustained convergence of inflation to levels that are below, but close to, 2% over the medium term.

Now Forward Guidance by central banks is regularly wrong but it is invariably due to a cut in interest-rates after promising a rise rather than an actual rise. The latter seems restricted to currency collapses. So let us move onto the economic situation which has been heading south for a while now as the declining money supply data we have been tracking has been followed by a weakening economic situation.

France

This morning brought more worrying news from the economy of France from the Markit PMI business survey. It started well with the manufacturing PMI rising to 51.2 but then there was this.

Flash France Services Activity Index at 47.5 in January (49.0 in December), 59-month low.

So firmly in contraction territory as we look for more detail.

Private sector firms in France reported a further
contraction in output during the opening month of
2019. The latest decline was the fastest for over four
years, even quicker than the fall in protest-hit
December. The strong service sector that had
supported a weak manufacturing sector in the
second half 2018 declined at a faster rate in January.
Meanwhile, manufacturers recovered to register
broadly-unchanged production.

These numbers added to the official survey released only yesterday.

In January 2019, the balances of industrialists’ opinion on overall and foreign demand in the last three months have recovered above their long-term average – they had significantly dropped over the past year.

They record a manufacturing bounce too, but the general direction of travel is the same as the number for foreign demand has fallen from 21.8 at the opening of 2018 to 3.6 now and the number for global demand has fallen from 21.7 to 1.0 over the same timescale.

Perhaps we get an idea of a possible drop from wholesale trade.

The composite indicator has fallen back by five points compared to November 2018. At 99, it has fallen below its long-term average (100) for the first time since January 2017.

But in spite of a small nudge higher in services the total picture for France looks rather poor as we note that it looks as though it saw a contraction in December and that may well have got worse this month.

Germany

There was little solace to be found in the Euro area’s largest economy.

“The Germany PMI broke its recent run of
successive falls in January thanks to a stronger
increase in service sector business activity, but the
growth performance signalled by the index was still
one of the worst over the past four years.
“Worryingly for the outlook, the recent soft patch in
demand continued into the New Year.”

So some growth but not very much and I note Markit are nervous about this as they do not offer a suggestion of what level of GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) grow is likely from this. This of course adds to the flatlining we seem to have seen for the second half of 2018 as around 0.2% growth in the fourth quarter merely offset the 0.2% contraction seen in the third quarter.

Also the recovery promised by some for the manufacturing sector does not seem to have materialised.

Manufacturing fell into contraction in January as
the sector’s order book situation continued to
worsen, showing the steepest decline in incoming
new work since 2012.

The driving force was this.

Weakness in the auto industry was once again widely reported, as was a slowdown in demand from China.

Euro area

The central message here followed that of the two biggest Euro area economies we have already looked at. The decline in the composite PMI suggests on ongoing quarterly GDP growth rate of 0.1%. Added to it was the suggestion that the future is a lot less than bright.

New orders for goods fell for a fourth successive
month, declining at a rate not seen since April
2013, while inflows of new business in the service
sector slipped into decline for the first time since
July 2013

Inflation

The target is just below 2% as an annual rate so we note this.

The euro area annual inflation rate was 1.6% in December 2018, down from 1.9% in November

Of course being central bankers they apparently need neither food nor energy so they like to focus on the inflation number without them which is either 1.1% or 1% depending exactly which bits you omit, But as you can see this is hardly the bedrock for an interest-rate rise which is reinforced by this from @fwred of Bank Pictet.

More bad news for the ECB. Our PMI price pressure gauge fell by the largest amount since mid-2011, to levels consistent with monetary easing along with activity indicators.

Comment

The situation has become increasingly awkward for Mario Draghi and the ECB as a slowing economy and lower inflation have been described by them as follows.

When you look at the economy, well, you still see the drivers of this recovery are still in place. Consumption continues to grow, basically supported by the increase in real disposable income, which, if I am not mistaken, is at the historical high since six years or something, and households’ wealth. Business investments continue to grow, residential investment, as I said in the IS [introductory statement] is robust. External demand has gone down but still grows.

Yet as we can see the reality is that economic growth looks like it has dropped from the around 0.7% of 2017 to more like 0.1% now. If we were not where we are with a deposit rate of -0.4% and monthly QE having only just ended they would be openly looking at an interest-rate cut or more QE.

Whilst we have been observing the slow down in the M1 money supply from just under 10% to 6.7% the ECB has lost itself in a world of “ongoing broad-based expansion”. It is not impossible we will see some liquidity easing today via a new TLTRO which would also help the Italian banks but we will have to see.

As to why there has been talk about an interest-rate rise well it is not for savers it is for the precious and the emphasis is mine.

As a result, reductions in
rates can end up having a similar effect as a flattening of the yield curve, as banks interest
revenue drops along with rates, but interest costs only adjust partially because of the zero
lower bound on retail deposits. In this situation, lowering rates below zero can pose a
threat to banks’ profitability. ( ECB November 2018)

Now we can’t have that can we?

Me on The Investing Channel

 

Slowing growth and higher inflation is a toxic combination for the Euro area

Sometimes life comes at you fast and the last week will have come at the European Central Bank with an element of ground rush. It was only on the 30th of last month we were looking at this development.

Seasonally adjusted GDP rose by 0.2% in the euro area (EA19) and by 0.3% in the EU28 during the third quarter
of 2018,

Which brought to mind this description from the preceding ECB press conference.

Incoming information, while somewhat weaker than expected, remains overall consistent with an ongoing broad-based expansion of the euro area economy and gradually rising inflation pressures. The underlying strength of the economy continues to support our confidence ……..

There was an issue with broad-based as the Italian economy registered no growth at all and the idea of “underlying strength” did not really go with quarterly growth of a mere 0.2%. But of course one should not place too much emphasis on one GDP reading.

Business Surveys

However this morning has brought us to this from the Markit Purchasing Managers Indices.

Eurozone growth weakens to lowest in over two years

The immediate thought is, lower than 0.2% quarterly growth? Let us look deeper.

Both the manufacturing and service sectors
recorded slower rates of growth during October.
Following on from September, manufacturing
registered the weaker increase in output, posting its
lowest growth in nearly four years. Despite
remaining at a solid level, the service sector saw its
slowest expansion since the start of 2017.

There is a certain sense of irony in the reported slow down being broad-based. The issue with manufacturing is no doubt driven by the automotive sector which has the trade issues to add to the ongoing diesel scandal. That slow down has spread to the services sector. Geographically we see that Germany is in a soft patch and I will come to Italy in a moment. This also stuck out.

France and Spain, in contrast, have
seen more resilient business conditions, though both
are registering much slower growth than earlier in
the year.

Fair enough for Spain as we looked at only last Wednesday, but France had a bad start of 2018 so that is something of a confused message.

Italy

The situation continues to deteriorate here.

Italy’s service sector suffered a drop in
performance during October, with business activity
falling for the first time in over two years. This was
partly due to the weakest expansion in new
business in 44 months.

Although I am not so sure about the perspective?

After a period of solid growth in activity

The reality is that fears of a “triple-dip” for Italy will only be raised by this. Also the issue over the proposed Budget has not gone away as this from @LiveSquawk makes clear.

EU’s Moscovici: Sanctions Can Be Applied If There Is No Compromise On Italy Budget -Policy In Italy That Entails Higher Public Debt Is Not Favourable To Growth.

Commissioner Moscovici is however being trolled by people pointing out that France broke the Euro area fiscal rules when he was finance minister. He ran deficits of 4.8% of GDP, followed by 4.1% and 3,9% which were above the 3% limit and in one instance double what Italy plans. This is of course awkward but not probably for Pierre as his other worldly pronouncements on Greece have indicated a somewhat loose relationship with reality.

Actually the Italian situation has thrown up another challenge to the Euro area orthodoxy.

 

Regular readers will be aware I am no fan of simply projecting the pre credit crunch period forwards but I do think that the Brad Setser point that Italy is nowhere near regaining where it was is relevant. If you think that such a situation is “above potential” then you have a fair bit of explaining to do. Some of this is unfair on the ECB in that it has to look at the whole Euro area as if it was a sovereign nation it would be a situation crying out for some regional policy transfers. Like say from Germany with its fiscal surplus. Anyway I will leave that there and move on.

Ch-ch-changes

This did the rounds on Friday afternoon.

ECB Said To Be Considering Fresh TLTRO – MNI ( @LiveSquawk )

Targeted Long-Term Refinancing Operation in case you were wondering and as to new targets well Reuters gives a nod and a wink.

Euro zone banks took up 739 billion euros at the ECB’s latest round of TLTRO, in March 2017. Of this, so far 14.6 has been repaid, with the rest falling due in 2020 and 2021.

This may prove painful in countries such as Italy, where banks have to repay some 250 billion euros worth of TLTRO money amid rising market rates and an unfavorable political situation.

So the targets of a type of maturity extension would be 2020/1 in terms of time and Italy in terms of geography. More generally we have the issue of oiling the banking wheels. Oh and whilst the Italian amount is rather similar to some measures of how much they have put into Italian bonds there is no direct link in my view.

Housing market

If you give a bank cheap liquidity then this morning’s ECB Publication makes it clear where it tends to go.

The upturn in the euro area housing market is in its fourth year. Measured in terms of annual growth rates, house prices started to pick up at the end of 2013, while the pick-up in residential investment started somewhat later, at the end of 2014. The latest available data (first quarter of 2018) indicate annual growth rates above their long-term averages, for both indicators.

How has this been driven?

 In addition, financing conditions remained favourable, as reflected in composite bank lending rates for house purchase that have declined by more than 130 basis points since 2013 and by easing credit standards. This has given rise to a higher demand for loans for house purchase and a substantial strengthening in new mortgage lending.

Indeed even QE gets a slap on the back.

Private and institutional investors, both domestically and globally based, searching for yield may thus have contributed to additional housing demand.

It is at least something the central planners can influence and watch.

Housing market developments affect investment and consumption decisions and can thus be a major determinant of the broader business cycle. They also have wealth and collateral effects and can thus play a key role in shaping the broader financial cycle. The housing market’s pivotal role in the business and financial cycles makes it a regular subject of monitoring and assessment for monetary policy and financial stability considerations.

 

Comment

The ECB now finds itself between something of a rock and a hard place. If we start with the rock then the question is whether the shift is just a slow down for a bit or something more? The latter would have the ECB shifting very uncomfortably around its board room table as it would be facing it with interest-rates already negative and QE just stopping in flow terms. Let me now bring in the hard place from today’s Markit PMI survey.

Meanwhile, prices data signalled another sharp
increase in company operating expenses. Rising
energy and fuel prices were widely reported to have
underpinned inflation, whilst there was some
evidence of higher labour costs (especially in
Germany).

Whilst there may be some hopeful news for wages tucked in there the main message is of inflationary pressure. Of course central bankers like to ignore energy costs but the ECB will be hoping for further falls in the oil price, otherwise it might find itself in rather a cleft stick. It is easy to forget that its “pumping it up” stage was oiled by falling energy prices.

Yet an alternative would be fiscal policy which hits the problem of it being a bad idea according to the Euro area’s pronouncements on Italy.