Manufacturing and Production help to drive UK GDP growth

Today brings us up to date with the latest monthly data on the UK economy. the problem with this is as I feared that the numbers are in practice rather erratic.

Monthly gross domestic product (GDP) growth was 0.5% in January 2019, as the economy rebounded from the negative growth seen in December 2018.

Actually December recorded a -0.4% GDP growth rate so if you take the figures literally there was quite a wild swing. More likely is that some industries do not conform to a regular monthly pattern in the way we have seen the UK pharmaceutical industry grow overall but with a boom and bust pattern on a monthly basis.

There are areas where we see two patterns at once in the UK economy. For example Tesco has produced good figures already this morning.

Tesco has reported a 28.8% rise in full-year pre-tax profits to £1.67bn with revenue at the supermarket rising 11.2% to £63.9bn ( Sky News)

On the other hand this week has already seen this.

Ailing department store chain Debenhams has been rescued by its lenders after falling into administration.

Three years ago, the 166-strong chain was worth £900m, compared with £20m as of this week. ( BBC News)

Sadly the BBC analysis seems to avoid this issue highlighted by the Financial Times.

Debenhams troubles stem partly from a period of private equity ownership at the start of the millennium, when CVC, Merrill Lynch and TPG sold off freehold property, added debts and paid themselves large dividends.

It looks a case of asset-stripping and greed followed by over expansion which was then hit by nimbler retailers and the switch to online sales. Without the asset-stripping it would be still with us. Meanwhile the BBC analysis concentrates on Mike Ashley who put up £150 million and offered an alternative. I am no great fan of his business model with its low wages and pressure on staff but he does at least have one.

Wages

Speaking of wages there are several strands in the news so let us start with the rather aptly named Mr. Conn.

The chief executive of Centrica, the owner of British Gas, received a 44% pay rise for 2018, despite a difficult year in which the company imposed two bill increases, warned on profits and announced thousands of job cuts.

Iain Conn received a total pay package worth £2.4m last year, up from £1.7m in 2017, according to Centrica’s annual report. His 2018 packet was bolstered by two bonuses, each worth £388,000.  ( The Guardian )

Yet on the other side of the ledger we see things like this. From The Guardian.

Waterstones staff told how they have had to back on food in order to afford rent as they travelled across the country to deliver a 9,300-signature petition to the chain’s London headquarters, calling for the introduction of a living wage.

Mind you we seem to be making progress in one area at least.

Golden goodbyes for public sector workers will be capped at £95,000 in a clamp down on excessive exit payments, the government has confirmed. ( City-AM)

Although I note that it is something planned rather than already done, so the modern-day version of Sir Humphrey Appleby will be doing his or her best to thwart this. Here is his description of the 7 point plan to deal with such matters.

This strategy has never failed us yet. Since our colleagues in the Treasury have already persuaded the Chancellor to spin the process out until 2008, we can be sure that, by then, there will be a new chancellor, a new prime minister and, quite possibly, a new government. At that point, the whole squalid business can be swept under the carpet. Until next time.

As for payoffs it is the ones for those at the top who are quite often switching jobs which need to stop as often it is merely a name change of their employer.

Today’s GDP data

This was good in the circumstances.

Monthly GDP growth was 0.2% in February 2019, after contracting by 0.3% in December 2018 and growing by 0.5% in January 2019. January growths for production, manufacturing, and construction have all been upwardly revised due to late survey returns.

As you can see December was revised up as was January although not enough in January to raise it by 0.1%. But it is an erratic series so let us step back for some perspective.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 0.3% in the three months to February 2019

Whilst we do not yet have the March data regular readers may recall that the first quarter in the UK ( and in the US at times) can be weak so this is better than it may first appear.

As ever services were in the van as we continue to rebalance in exactly the opposite direction to that proclaimed by the former Bank of England Governor Baron King of Lothbury.

The services sector was the largest contributor to rolling three-month growth, expanding by 0.4% in the three months to February 2019. The production sector had a small positive contribution, growing by 0.2%. However, the construction sector contracted by 0.6%, resulting in a small negative contribution to GDP growth.

Inside its structure this has been in the van.

The largest contributor to growth was computer programming, which has performed strongly in recent months.

Production

Thanks to the business live section of the Guardian for reproducing this from my twitter feed.

One possible hint is that production numbers for Italy and France earlier have been strongish, will the UK be the same?

It turned out that this was so.

Production output rose by 0.6% between January 2019 and February 2019; the manufacturing sector provided the largest upward contribution, rising by 0.9%, its second consecutive monthly rise……In February 2019, the monthly increase in manufacturing output was due to rises in 11 of the 13 subsectors and follows a 1.1% rise in January 2019; the largest upward contribution came from basic metals, which rose by 1.6%.

In the detail was something I noted earlier as pharmaceutical production was up by 2.5% in the last 3 months which put it 4.3% higher than a year ago in spite of a 0.1% fall in February.

But whilst this was a welcome development for February the overall picture has not been of cheer in the credit crunch era.

Production and manufacturing output have risen since then but remain 6.1% and 1.9% lower respectively for the three months to February 2019 than the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008.

Things have been singing along with The Beatles since late 2012.

I have to admit it’s getting better (Better)
It’s getting better

but overall we are left mulling the John Lennon counter at the end of this line.

A little better all the time (It can’t get no worse)

Comment

This morning’s numbers were strong in the circumstances and confirm again my theme that we are growing at around 0.3/4% per quarter. Yet again the prediction in the Sunday Times that there would be no growth turned out to be a reliable reverse indicator. Of course there are fears for March after the Markit PMI business survey so as ever we await more detail.

As to stockpiling this has become an awkward beast because I see it being put as the reason for the growth, although if so why did those claiming this not predict it. Anyway I have done a small online survey of what people have been stockpiling.

Okay inspired by and her stockpiling of Scottish water we have from paracetamol for her dad for scare stories and dog has been burying treats

Meanwhile one area which has been troubled for many years continues to rumble on.

The total trade deficit (goods and services) widened £5.5 billion in the three months to February 2019, as the trade in goods deficit widened £6.5 billion, partially offset by a £0.9 billion widening of the trade in services surplus.

Perhaps there was some stockpiling going on there although as any departure from the European Union seems to be at Northern Rail speed those stockpiling may now be wondering why they did it?

 

 

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The economic depression in Greece looks set to continue

A feature of the economic crisis that enfolded in Greece was the fantasy that economic growth would quickly recover. It seems hard to believe now that anyone could have expected the economy to grow at 2% ot so per annum from 2012 onwards but the fans of what Christine Lagarde amongst others called “shock and awe” did. I was reminded of that when I read this from the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday.

Greece has now entered a period of economic growth that puts it among the top performers in the eurozone.

That is to say the least somewhat economical with the truth as this from the Greek statistics office highlights.

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

So actually it may well have left rather than entered a period of economic growth which is rather different. Over the past year it has done this.

in comparison with the 4th quarter of 2017, it increased by 1.6%.

What this showed was another signal of a slowing economy as 2018 overall was stronger.

GDP for 2018 in volume terms amounted to 190.8 billion euro compared with 187.2 billion euro for 2017 recording an increase of 1.9%.

There is a particular disappointment here as the Greek economy had expanded by 1% in the autumn of last year leading to hopes that it might be about the regain at least some of the ground lost in its depression. Now we find an annual rate of growth that is below the one that was supposed to start an up,up and away recovery in 2012. Nonetheless the IMF is playing what for it is the same old song.

We expect growth to accelerate to nearly 2½ percent this year from around 2 percent in 2018. This puts Greece in the upper tier of the eurozone growth table.

Money Supply

This has proved to be a good guide of economic trends in the Euro area so let us switch to the Bank of Greece data set so we can apply it to Greece alone. The recent peak for the narrow money measure M1 was an annual rate of growth of 7.3% in December 2017 and then mostly grew between 5% and 6% last year. But then the rate of growth slowed to 3.8% last December and further to 2.7% in January.

I am sorry to say that a measure which has worked well is now predicting an economic slow down in Greece and perhaps more contractions in the first half of this year. Looking further ahead broad money growth has slowed from above 6% in general in 2018 to 4.2% in December and 3.3% in January. This gives us a hint towards what economic growth and inflation will be in a couple of years time and the only good thing currently I can say is that Greece tends to have low inflation.

The numbers have been distorted to some extent by the developments mentioned by the IMF below but they are much smaller influences now.

 For example, customers are now free to move their cash to any bank in Greece, and the banks themselves have almost fully repaid emergency liquidity assistance provided by the European Central Bank.

The Greek banks

Even in the ouzo hazed world of the IMF these remain quite a problem.

Third, we are urging the government to do more to fix banks, which remain crippled by past-due loans. This will help households and businesses to once again be able to borrow at reasonable interest rates.

They have another go later.

Directors encouraged the authorities to take a more comprehensive, well-coordinated approach to strengthening bank balance sheets and reviving growth-enhancing lending.

There are two issues with this and let me start with how many times can the Greek banks be saved? Money has been poured again and again into what increasingly looks like a bottomless pit. Also considering they think bank lending is weak – hardly a surprise in the circumstances – on what grounds do they forecast a pick-up in economic growth?

Back on the 29th of January I pointed out that the Bank of Greece was already on the case.

An absolutely indicative example can assess the immediate impact of a transfer of about €40 billion of NPLs, namely all denounced loans and €7.4 billion of DTCs ( Deferred Tax Credits).

So the banks remain heavily impaired in spite of all the bailouts and are no doubt a major factor in this.

vulnerabilities remain significant and downside risks are rising……………. If selected fiscal risks materialize, the sovereign’s repayment capacity could become challenged over the medium term.

That would complete the cycle of disasters as about the only bit of good news for the Institutions in the Greek bailout saga is this.

The government exceeded its 2018 primary fiscal balance target of 3.5 percent of GDP,

Moving out of the specific area of public finances we see that money is being sucked out of the economy to achieve this which acts as a drag on economic growth.

The Eurogroup

It does not seem quite so sure that things are going well as it refrains for putting its money behind it at least for now. From Monday.

The finance ministers of the 19-member Eurozone have decided to postpone disbursing 1 billion euros ($1.12 billion) to Greece.

The reason for postponing the payment is that Greece has not yet changed the provisions of a law protecting debtors’ main housing property from creditors to the EU’s satisfaction. ( Kathimerini).

Euro area

The problem with saying you are doing better than the general Euro area is twofold. If we start with the specific then it was not true in the last quarter of last year and if we move to the general Greece should be doing far, far better as it rebounds from the deep recession/depression it has been in. That is not happening.

Also beating the Euro area average is not what it was as this from earlier highlights. From Howard Archer.

Muted news on as German Economy Ministry says economy likely grew moderately in Q1 & warns on industrial sector. Meanwhile, institute cuts 2019 growth forecast sharply to 0.6% from 1.1%, citing weaker foreign demand for industrial goods.

Some have been pointing out that this matches Italy although that does require you to believe that Italy will grow by 0.6% this year.

Comment

Let me shift tack and now look at this from the point of view of how the IMF used to operate. This was when it dealt with trade issues and problems rather than finding French managing directors shifting its focus to Euro area fiscal problems. If you do that you find that the current account did improve in the period 2011-13 substantially but never even got back to balance and then did this.

The current account (CA) deficit was wider than anticipated, reaching 3.4 percent of GDP (though in part due to methodological revisions). Higher export prices and strong external demand were more than offset
by rising imports due to the private consumption recovery, energy price hikes, and the large import share in exports and investment. The primary income deficit widened due to higher payments on foreign investments.

That is quite a failure for the internal competitiveness model ( lower real wages) especially as we noted on January 29th that times were changing there. So the old measure looks grim in fact so grim that I shall cross my fingers and hope for more of this.

The tourism and travel sector in Greece grew 6.9 percent last year, a rate that was three-and-a-half times higher than the growth rate of the entire Greek economy, a survey by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has noted.

The survey illustrated that tourism accounted for 20.6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, against a global rate of just 10.4 percent.

This means that one in every five euros spent in Greece last year came from the tourism and travel sector, whose turnover amounted to 37.5 billion euros. ( Kathimerini ).

The Investing Channel

 

 

UK GDP growth was strong in January meaning we continue to rebalance towards services

This will be an interesting day on the political front but there is also much to consider on the economic one. We have a stronger UK Pound £ this morning with it above US $1.32 and 1.17 versus the Euro which as usual on such days has been accompanied by the currency ticker on Sky News disappearing. We also heard yesterday from the newest member of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee Jonathan Haskel. As it has taken him six months to give one public speech I was hoping for a good one as well as wondering if he might have the cheek to lecture the rest of us on productivity?! So what did we get.

Very early there was an “I agree with Mark (Carney)” as I note this.

see for example speeches by (Carney, 2019) and (Vlieghe, 2019)

The subject was business investment which in the circumstances also had Jonathan tiptoeing around the political world but let us avoid that as much as we can and stick to the economics.

First, as has been widely noted, UK investment has been very weak in the last couple of years, especially
during the last year, see for example speeches by (Carney, 2019) and (Vlieghe, 2019) suggesting that Brexit
uncertainty is weighing on business investment. Second, looking at the assets that make up investment
reveals some interesting patterns: transport equipment has been particularly weak, but intellectual property
products (R&D, software, artistic originals) were somewhat stronger. Third, regarding Brexit, as Sir Ivan
Rogers, the UK’s former representative to the EU, has said (Rogers, 2018), “Brexit is a process not an
event”. That process has the possibility of creating more cliff-edges; the length of the
transitional/implementation period, for example. Since the nature of investment is that it needs payback
over a period of time there is a risk that prolonged uncertainty around the Brexit process might continue to
weigh down on investment.

The issue of business investment is that it has been the one area which has been consistently weak since the EU Leave vote. How big a deal is it?

To fix ideas, Table 1 contains nominal investment
in the UK for 2018. As the top line sets out, it was close
to £360bn. Remembering that nominal GDP is £2.1 trillion, this is around 17% of GDP.

Regular readers will know I am troubled as to how investment is defined and to be fair to Jonathan he does point that out. However this is also classic Ivory Tower thinking which imposes an economic model on a reality which is unknown. Have we see a high degree of uncertainty? Yes and that has clearly impacted on investment but what we do not know is how much will return under the various alternatives ahead. Though from the implications of Jonathan’s thoughts the Forward Guidance of interest-rate increases seems rather inappropriate to say the least.

Raghuram Rajan

There has been a curious intervention today by the former head of the Reserve Bank of India. He has told the BBC this.

“I think capitalism is under serious threat because it’s stopped providing for the many, and when that happens, the many revolt against capitalism,” he told the BBC.

The problem is that a fair bit of that has been driven by central bankers with policies which boost asset prices and hence the already wealthy especially the 0.01%.

The UK economy

The opening piece of official data today was very strong.

Monthly gross domestic product (GDP) growth was 0.5% in January 2019, as the economy rebounded from the negative growth seen in December 2018. Services, production, manufacturing and construction all experienced positive month-on-month growth in January 2019 after contracting in December 2018.

Production data has been in the news as it has internationally slowed so let us dip into that report as well.

Production output rose by 0.6% between December 2018 and January 2019; the manufacturing sector provided the largest upward contribution, rising by 0.8%, its first monthly rise since June 2018……In January 2019, the monthly increase in manufacturing output was due to rises in 8 of the 13 subsectors and follows a 0.7% fall in December 2018; the largest upward contribution came from pharmaceuticals, which rose by 5.7%.

We had been wondering when the erratic pharmaceutical sector would give us another boost and it looks like that was in play during January. For newer readers its cycle is clearly not monthly and whilst it has grown and been a strength of the UK economy it is sensible to even out the peaks and troughs. But in the circumstances the overall figure for January was good.

Some Perspective

This is provided by the quarterly data as whilst the January data was nice we need to recall that December was -0.4% in GDP terms. The -0.4% followed by a 0.5% rise is rather eloquent about the issues around monthly GDP so I will leave that there and look at the quarterly data.

Rolling three-month growth was 0.2% in January 2019, the same growth rate as in December 2018.

This seems to be working better and is at least more consistent not only with its own pattern but with evidence we have from elsewhere.Also there is a familiar bass line to it.

Rolling three-month growth in the services sector was 0.5% in January 2019. The main contributor to this was wholesale and retail trade, with growth of 1.1%. This was driven mostly by wholesale trade.

This shows that we continue to pivot towards the services sector as it grows faster than the overall economy and in this instance it grew whilst other parts shrank exacerbating the rebalancing.

Production output fell by 0.8% in the three months to January 2019, compared with the three months to October 2018, due to falls in three main sectors……The three-monthly decrease of 0.7% in manufacturing is due mainly to large falls of 4.0% from basic metals and metal products and 2.0% from transport equipment.

Continuing the rebalancing theme we have seen this throughout the credit crunch era as essentially the growth we have seen has come from the services sector.

Production and manufacturing output have risen since then but remain 6.8% and 2.7% lower respectively for the three months to January 2019 than the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008.

Overall construction has helped also I think but the redesignation of the official construction data as a National Statistic  after over 4 years is an indication of the problems we have seen here. Accordingly our knowledge is incomplete to say the least.

Returning to the production data this was sadly no surprise.

Within transport equipment, weakness is driven by a 4.0% fall in the motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers sub-industry.

Also I will let you decide for yourselves whether this monthly change is good or bad as it has features of both.

 was a 17.4% rise for weapons and ammunition, the strongest rise since March 2017, when it rose by 25.7%.

Comment

We arrive at what may be a political crossroads with the UK economy having slowed but still growing albeit at a slow rate. There is something of an irony in us now growing at a similar rate to the Euro area although if we look back we see that over the past half-year or so we have done better. That was essentially the third quarter of last year when Euro area GDP growth fell to 0.1% whereas the UK saw 0.6%.

If we look back over the last decade or so it is hard not to have a wry smile at the “rebalancing” rhetoric of former Bank of England Governor Baron King of Lothbury who if we look at it through the lens of the film Ghostbusters seems to have crossed the streams. Speaking of such concepts there was a familiar issue today.

The total trade deficit (goods and services) widened £1.3 billion in the three months to January 2019, as the trade in goods deficit widened £2.4 billion, partially offset by a £1.1 billion widening of the trade in services surplus.

Although we got a clue to a major issue here as we note this too.

Revisions resulted in a £0.8 billion narrowing of the total trade deficit in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2018, due largely to upward revisions to the trade in services surplus.

So in fact we only did a little worse than what we thought we had done at the end of last year. Also one of my main themes about us measuring services trade in a shabby fashion is highlighted yet again as the numbers were revised down and now back up a bit.

In Quarter 4 2018 the trade in services balance contributed £1.1 billion to the upward revision of £0.8 billion in the total trade balance as exports and imports were revised up by £3.3 billion and £2.3 billion respectively.

Pretty much the same ( larger though) happened to the third quarter as regular readers mull something I raised at the (Sir Charlie) Bean Review. This was the lack of detail about services trade. I got some fine words back but note today’s report has a lot of detail about goods trade in 2018 but absolutely none on services.

 

 

Has Portugal escaped its economic depression or not?

We have an opportunity today to look at the Euro area from two different but linked perspectives. The first continues from yesterday’s money supply analysis which tells us that the weaker economic phase looks set to continue overall. The next is that whilst I have pointed out in the past that in terms of economic growth in the Euro area Italy and Portugal have been like twins with it struggling to get above 1% per annum on any sustained basis Portugal has been doing better than that in recent times. Another difference is that whilst Italy has been in the bad boys/girls club Portugal is pretty much a model Euro area nation in terms of doing what it is told.

Looking back

The credit crunch hit Portugal with the annual fall in GDP peaking at 4.3%, however the economy bounced back quickly until the Euro area crisis hit. It was the latter which drove the “lost decade” and indeed depression seen in Portugal as annual GDP growth went negative again at the opening of 2011 and remained there until the last quarter of 2013. Not only that but the last three-quarters of 2012 all saw annual rate of fall in GDP exceeding 4%.

That means that the subsequent recovery had to dig its way out of quite a hole especially as it started slowly. Things picked up late in 2016 and 2017 was strong meaning as I pointed out on the 19th of November last year.

As to a full perspective the previous peak of 45.76 billion Euros for GDP was finally passed in the second quarter with its 45.88 billion.

The catch to the recent good news is that the annual rate of economic growth has been fading from the peak of 3.1% seen in the first half of 2017 with the latest numbers below.

The Portuguese Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased by 1.7% in volume, in the fourth quarter of 2018 (2.1% in the previous quarter…..In comparison with the third quarter of 2018, GDP increased by 0.4% in real terms (0.3% in the previous quarter)

So if we take the second half of the year with ~0.7% GDP growth we can expect a further slowing. So was it to use the words of ECB President Mario Draghi all QE driven?

What changed?

If you look at the past history of Portugal which is littered with interventions by the IMF the issue has been one of balance of payments deficits. This was what the internal competitiveness model ( lower wages) was supposed to improve and there is evidence that it had some success.

The recovery period subsequent to 2013 was characterised by the continued increase in the weight of exports in GDP , a trend that extends to all components, with emphasis on tourism, which presented the greatest cumulative growth. ( Bank of Portugal)

The problem looking ahead is again illustrated by the Bank of Portugal.

chiefly due to a downward revision of export growth. This reflects a revision of the assumptions relating to developments in external demand and the incorporation of the most recent information.

This was added to in the latest national accounts.

Net external demand presented a more negative contribution to year-on-year GDP rate of change, reflecting a reduction in volume exports of goods.

In case you are wondering why this is such a big deal it is driven by this. From the Bank of Portugal a week ago.

The net external debt of Portugal, which is the result of the IIP mostly excluding capital instruments, gold bullion and financial derivatives, reached €179.5 billion in December 2018. Net external debt as a percentage of GDP declined by 2.2 percentage points from the end of 2017 to the end of 2018. Net external debt went from 91.7% to 89.5% during this period, as a result of an increase in GDP that more than offset the nominal increase in debt.

I cancel caution about the accuracy of all this but the principle of a large external debt holds. The issue with accuracy is shown below as  whilst a currency fall is a fact the holdings detailed are an estimate which is unlikely to be that accurate.

In the case of exchange rate changes, a depreciation of the kwanza resulted in a reduction in the value in euro of Angolan assets held by residents.

Returning to possible consequences one have been removed by Euro area membership as a currency collapse could happen but is a long way away if we note the current account surplus driven by Germany. Instead in the Euro area crisis we saw the benchmark ten-year bond yield rise into the high teens. That is a long way away now as the combination of a better economic growth phase and ECB QE means the ten-year yield is a mere 1.47%. Crazy really, but then so many bond yields are these days.

The undercut is that the whole position would likely be much better if Portugal had an external competitiveness measure or its own exchange rate as a new Escudo would be much lower than the Euro.

Car Production

This has been an area driving Portugal’s growth as highlighted by this earlier this month from The Portugal News.

Automotive production in Portugal increased by 68% in 2018 compared to the previous year, to a total of 294,000 vehicles, accentuating the upward trend started in 2017, the Automobile Association of Portugal (ACAP) announced today.

We know, however, that the world automotive market has slowed down and this has especially affected countries which export cars like Portugal. There have been individual changes but no great detail on the overall picture. All we have are the hints from this.

Industrial Production year-on-year change rate was -0.3%, in December (-3.1% in the previous month). Manufacturing
Industry year-on-year change rate was -0.6% (-5.2% in November).

House Prices

This has been “Boom!Boom!Boom!” to quote the black-eyed peas. From the Portugal resident.

There are signs that this may be particularly true of the Portugal real estate market, which, taking its cue from activity in Lisbon, is increasingly an investment of choice for international property investors and property development companies who are looking to take advantage of some of the best returns available in Europe.

If we switch from the hype to the numbers we are told this.

The Confidencial Imobiliário Residential Price Index reports that the cost of Portuguese property was up 15.6% in September 2018 when compared to the same period the previous year. Furthermore, it also reported year-on-year increases of over 10% for every month since July 2017.

I have pointed out before that the Golden Visa system has led to celebrities such as Madonna coming to Lisbon which will create some economic activity. But the Portuguese first-time buyer faces quite a bit of inflation.

Comment

There has been plenty of good news in the past couple of years from the Portuguese economy and let me add another dose just released by Portugal Statistics.

In December 2018, the unemployment rate was 6.6%, down 0.1 percentage points (pp) from the previous month’s level, the same value as in three months before, and down 1.3 pp from the same month of 2017.

Except it came with a troubling kicker which is in line with more recent events.

The provisional unemployment rate estimate for January 2019 was 6.7%, up 0.1 p.p. from the previous month’s level.

We do not yet know whether the last couple of years will be seen by historians as a turn for the better as we hope or just another phase in a long running depression as we fear. If the latter the pumping of house prices will look like something out of a dystopian science-fiction piece where the already wealthy gain but future buyers lose heavily.

Also if we look what the Doobie Brothers called a “long train running” there is this.

In 2018, there were 87,325 live births registered and 113,477 deaths in the national territory……….This resulted in the deterioration of the natural balance (-25,982), which remains negative for the tenth consecutive year.

Another lost decade?

 

UK GDP had a relatively good second half of 2018 but a weak December

Today brings a raft of UK economic data as we look at economic growth ( GDP), trade, production (including manufacturing) and construction data. The good news is that we now take an extra fortnight or so to produce the numbers which are therefore more soundly based on actual rather than estimated numbers especially for the last month in the quarter. The not so good news is that I think that adding monthly GDP numbers adds as much confusion as it helps. Also we get too much on this day meaning that important points can be missed, which of course may be the point Yes Prime Minister style.

The scene has been set to some extent this morning by a speech from Luis de Guindos of the ECB.

Euro area data have been weaker than expected in recent months. In fact, industrial production growth fell in the second half of 2018 and the decline was widespread across sectors and most major economies. Business investment weakened. On the external side, euro area trade disappointed, with noticeable declines in net exports.

Whilst that is of course for the Euro area the UK has been affected as well by a change in direction for production. This is especially troubling as in January we were told this.

Production and manufacturing output have risen since then but remain 6.5% and 2.0% lower, respectively, in the three months to November 2018 than the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008.

It had looked like we might get back to the previous peak for manufacturing but like a Northern rail train things at best are delayed. Production has got nowhere near. There have been positive shifts in it as efficiencies mean we need less electricity production but even so it is not a happy picture.

Gilt Yields

Readers will be aware that I have been pointing out for a while how cheap it is for the UK government and taxpayers to borrow and a ten-year Gilt yield of 1.17% backs that up. A factor in this is the weak economic outlook and another is expectations of more bond buying from the Bank of England. The possibility of the later got more likely at the end of last week as rumours began to circulate of a U-Turn from the US Federal Reserve in this area. Or a possible firing up of what would be called QE4 and perhaps QE to infinity.

The Financial Times has caught up with this to some extent.

Investors’ waning expectations of future rises in interest rates are giving a lift to the UK government bond market.

They note that foreign buyers seem to have returned which is awkward for the FT’s cote view to say the least. Also as we look back to the retirement of Bill Gross his idea that UK Gilts were on a “bed of nitroglycerine” was about as successful as Chelsea’s defence yesterday.Anyway I think it steals the thunder from today’s Institute of Fiscal Studies report.

If the coming spending review is to end austerity Chancellor will need to find extra billions.

I am not saying we should borrow more simply that we could and that we seem keener on borrowing when it is more expensive. The IFS do refer to borrowing costs half way through their report but that relies on people reading that far. They also offered a little insight between economic growth and borrowing.

A downgrade of GDP of 0.5% would reduce annual GDP by around £10 billion and a rule-of-thumb suggests it would add between around £5 billion and £7 billion to the deficit.

Economic growth

The headline was not too bad but it did come with a worrying kicker.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) in volume terms was estimated to have increased by 0.2% between Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2018 and Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2018; the quarterly path of GDP through 2018 remains unrevised.

There were concerns about the third quarter being affected by a downwards revision to trade data but apparently not via the magic of the annual accounts. Bur even so it was far from a stellar year.

GDP growth was estimated to have slowed to 1.4% between 2017 and 2018, the weakest it has been since 2009…….Compared with the same quarter in the previous year, the UK economy is estimated to have grown by 1.3%.

We shifted even more to being a services economy as it on its own provided some 0.35% of GDP growth meaning that production and construction declined bring us back to 0.2%.

The worrying kicker was this.

Month-on-month gross domestic product (GDP) growth was 0.2% in October and November 2018. However, monthly growth contracted by 0.4% in December 2018 . The last time that services, production and construction all fell on the month was September 2012.

I have little faith in the specific accuracy of the monthly data but it does seem clear that there was a weakening in December and it was widespread. Even the services sector saw a decline ( -0.2%) and the production decline accelerated to -0.5%. Construction fell by 2.8% but that has been a series in which we have least faith of all.

Production

We learn from the monthly GDP data that steel and car production had weak December’s which helped lead to this.

Production output fell by 0.5% between November 2018 and December 2018; the manufacturing sector provided the largest downward contribution with a fall of 0.7%.

Although the detail in this section gives a different emphasis.

There is widespread weakness this month, with 9 of the 13 sub-sectors falling. Of these, pharmaceuticals, which can be highly volatile, provided the largest negative contribution, with a decrease of 4.2%. There was also a notable fall of 2.8% from the other manufacturing and repair sub-sector, where four of the five sub-industries fell due to the impact of weakness from large businesses (with employment greater than 150 persons on average).

We have learnt over time that the pharmaceutical sector swings around quite wildly ( although not as much as seemingly in Ireland last month) so that may swing back. Also production was pulled lower by the warmer weather but continuing that theme there is a chill wind blowing for this sector none the less.

If we switch to a wider perspective it seems that the worldwide economic slowing is leading to a few crutches being used.

 underpinned by strong nominal export growth of 18.9% within alcoholic beverages and tobacco products.

Comment

The theme here is of the good, the bad and the ugly. Where the good is the way that the UK outperformed its European peers in the second half of 2018 after underperforming in the first half. The bad is the decline in the quarterly economic growth rate from 0.6% to 0.2%. Lastly the ugly is the plunge in December assuming that the data is reliable. We were never likely to escape the chill economic winds blowing in the production sector and need to cross our fingers about the impact on services. My theme that we are ever more rebalancing towards services continues in spite of the rhetoric of former Bank of England Governor Baron King of Lothbury.

Meanwhile we continue to have a balance of payment deficit.

The total trade deficit widened £8.4 billion to £32.3 billion between 2017 and 2018, due mainly to a £7.2 billion increase in services imports.

Exactly how much is hard to say as I have little faith in the services estimates. But with economic growth as it is let me leave you with some presumably unintentional humour from the Bank of England.

The Committee judges that, were the economy to develop broadly in line with its Inflation Report projections, an ongoing tightening of monetary policy over the forecast period, at a gradual pace and to a limited extent, would be appropriate to return inflation sustainably to the 2% target at a conventional horizon.

Weekly Podcast

 

 

 

Oh Italia!

Sometimes events just seem to gather their own momentum in the way that a rolling stone gathers moss so let me take you straight to the Italian Prime Minister this morning.

Italy Dep PM Di Maio: Low Growth Views `Theater Of The Absurd’: Messaggero ( @LiveSquawk )

I have to confess that after the way that the Italian economy has struggled for the last couple of decades this brought the Doobie Brothers to mind.

What a fool believes he sees
No wise man has the power to reason away
What seems to be
Is always better than nothing
And nothing at all

Then the Italian statistics office produced something of a tour de force.

In December 2018 the seasonally adjusted industrial production index decreased by 0.8% compared with
the previous month. The percentage change of the average of the last three months with respect to the
previous three months was -1.1.

As you can see these numbers are in fact worse than being just weak as they show a monthly and a quarterly fall. But they are in fact much better than the next one which is really rather shocking.

The calendar adjusted industrial production index decreased by 5.5% compared with December 2017
(calendar working days being 19 versus 18 days in December 2017); for the whole year 2018 the
percentage change was +0.8 compared with 2017.
The unadjusted industrial production index decreased by 2.5% compared with December 2017.

Just for clarity output was 2.5% lower but as there was an extra working day this year then on a like for like basis it was some 5.5% lower. I would say that was a depressionary type number except of course Italy has been in a long-standing depression.

Digging deeper into the numbers we see that on a seasonally adjusted basis there was a rally in industrial production as the 100 of 2015 nearly made 110 in November 2017, but now it has fallen back to 103.9. But even that pales compared to the calendar adjusted index which is now at 93.3. So whilst the different indices can cause some confusion the overall picture is clear. We do not get a lot of detail on manufacturing except that on a seasonally adjusted basis output was 5.5% lower in December than a year ago.

The drop is such that we could see a downwards revision to the Italian GDP data for the fourth quarter of last year which was -0.2% as it is. Actually the annual number at 0.1% looks vulnerable and might make more impact if the annual rate of growth falls back to 0%. Production in a modern economy does not have the impact it once did and Italy’s statisticians were expecting a fall but not one on this scale.

Monthly Economic Report

After the above we advance on this with trepidation.

World economic deceleration has spilled over into Q4, particularly in the industrial sector, which has
experienced a broad-based loss of momentum in many economies and a further slowing in global trade growth.
In November, according to CPB data the merchandise World trade in volume decreased 1.6%.

So it is everyone else’s fault in a familiar refrain, what is Italian for Johnny Foreigner? This is rather amusingly immediately contradicted by the data.

In Italy, real GDP fell by 0.2% in Q4 2018, following a 0.1% drop in the previous quarter. The negative result is
mainly attributable to domestic demand while the contribution of net export was positive.

So in fact it was the domestic economy causing the slow down. This thought is added to by the trade data where the fall in exports is dwarfed by the fall in imports at least in November as we only have partial data for December.

As for foreign trade, in November 2018 seasonally-adjusted data, compared to October 2018, decreased both
for exports (-0.4%) and for imports (-2.2%). Exports drop for EU countries (-1.3%) and rose for non EU
countries (+0.6%). However, according to preliminary estimates in December also exports to non-EU
countries decreased by 5.0%.

Now let me give an example of how economics can be the dismal science. Because whilst in isolation the numbers below are welcome with falling output they suggest falling productivity.

In the same month, the labour market, employment stabilized and the unemployment rate decreased only
marginally.

The future looks none too bright either,

In January 2019, the consumer confidence improved while the composite business climate
indicator decreased further. The leading indicator experienced a sharp fall suggesting a
worsening of the Italian cyclical position in the coming months.

Indeed and thank you for @liukzilla for pointing this out the Italian version does hint at some possible downgrades, Via Google Translate.

The data of industrial production amplify the tendency to reduce the rhythms of
activity started in the first few months of 2018 (-1.1% the economic variation in T4).

Also a none too bright future.

Data on industry orders also showed a negative trend, with a decrease for both markets in the September-November quarter (-1.3% and -1.0% respectively on the market).
internal and foreign).

The Consumer

Yesterday’s data provided no cheer either.

In December 2018, both value and volume of retail trade contracted by 0.7% when compared with the previous month. Year-on-year growth rate fell by 0.6% in value terms, while the quantity sold decreased by 0.5%.

Although on a quarterly basis there was a little bit assuming you think the numbers are that accurate,

In the three months to December (Quarter 4), the value of retail trade rose by 0.1%, showing a slowdown
to growth in comparison with the previous quarter (+0.4%), while the volume remained unchanged at
+0.3%.

Actually there was never much of a recovery here as the index only briefing rose to 102 if we take 2015 as 100 and now is at 101.5 according to the chart provided. Odd because you might reasonably have expected all the monetary stimulus to have impacted on consumer spending.

Population

This is now declining in spite of a fair bit of immigration.

On 1 st January 2019, the population was estimated to be 60,391,000 and the decrease on the previous year was
around 90,000 units (-1.5 per thousand)………The net international migration amounted to +190 thousand, recording a slight increase on the previous year (+188
thousand). Both immigration (349 thousand) and emigration (160 thousand) increased (+1.7% and +3.1%
respecitvely).

Bond Markets

I have pointed out many times that Italian bond yields have risen for Italy in both absolute and relative terms. Let me present another perspective on this from the thirty-year bond it issued earlier this week.

Today Italy issued 8bln 30yr BTPs. Had it issued the same bond last April, it would have received around 1.3 bilion more cash from the market. ( @gusbaratta ).

Comment

This is quite a mess in a lovely country. Also the ironies abound as for example expanding fiscal policy into an economic decline was only recently rejected by the Euro area authorities. They also have just ended some of the monetary stimulus by ending monthly QE at what appears to be exactly the wrong time. So whilst the Italian government deserves some criticism so do the Euro area authorities. For example if the ECB has the powers it claims why is it not using them?

Of course I don’t want to speculate about what contingency would call for a specific instrument but if you look at the number of instruments we have in place now, we can conclude that it’s not true that the ECB has run out of fuel or has run out of instruments. We have all our toolbox still available. ( Mario Draghi )

But just when you might have thought it cannot get any worse it has.

Me on The Investing Channel

China may have landed on the moon but its economy is slowing

This morning has brought more news on the economic theme of late 2018 and early 2019 which is of a slowing. As ever at the beginning of the week it comes from the Far East as eyes turn to China. From the South China Morning Post.

Total exports fell to US$221.25 billion in December, down 1.4 per cent from November, and 4.4 per cent from the same month in 2017, according to data from China’s General Administration of Customs.

This is at least party driven by the ongoing trade war.

The December figures give the first indication of the full impact of the US-China trade war.

Exports in previous months were supported by “front loading” of orders by Chinese producers to beat the planned rise in US tariffs to 25 per cent, scheduled to go into effect on January 1 before Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump agreed to a 90-day tariff ceasefire in their meeting on December 1.

So we move on noting that external demand for the Chinese economy is showing a sign of weakening and as usual the experts were whistling in the wind.

The December drop – the biggest since December 2016, when China grew at its slowest pace since 1990 – was unexpected, with analysts forecasting a 2 per cent rise, according to a Bloomberg survey.

However in my opinion there was something even more significant which was this.

Total imports fell to US$164.19 billion, a fall of 10 per cent from last month and down 7.6 per cent a year earlier.

This is because falls in import volumes are usually a sign of a weakening economy as lower consumption leads to lower import demand.  But to see this fully we need to remind ourselves that the Chinese consume in Yuan and that in it the numbers were down 9.7% on a monthly basis but 3.1% on an annual basis with the difference reflecting a fall in the Yuan. This is quite a change as the numbers for 2018 as a whole showed imports to be 12.9% higher. There is of course an irony in this as we note that imports are a subtraction from GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) numbers so this change will boost it as highlighted below.

Those trade flows still resulted in a trade surplus of $57bn in December, the highest in three years. ( Financial Times)

Although of course contrary to the way the media has reported all this it will be reported in the Chinese GDP data in Yuan as 395 billion.

If we switch to the Financial Times I suspect Donald Trump will be focusing on this bit.

China’s annual trade surplus with the US rose to $323bn for 2018, a jump of more than 17 per cent to the highest level on record, according to Reuters data reaching back to 2006.

Meanwhile there was plenty of food for thought for those in the South China Territories ( Australia) from this bit.

Data also showed that China’s imports of iron ore fell for the first time since 2010, a development that will have impacted commodity exporters.

Xinhua News

It is always interesting to see how things are being reported in China itself so here we go.

 China’s foreign trade rose 9.7 percent year on year to a historic high of 30.51 trillion yuan (about 4.5 trillion U.S. dollars) in 2018, the General Administration of Customs (GAC) said Monday……..Exports rose 7.1 percent year on year to 16.42 trillion yuan last year, while imports grew 12.9 percent to 14.09 trillion yuan, resulting in a trade surplus of 2.33 trillion yuan, which narrowed by 18.3 percent.

No mention of any declines but there was space and indeed time to mention something else favourable to China.

Trade with countries along the Belt and Road registered faster-than-average growth, with the trade volume standing at 8.37 trillion yuan, up 13.3 percent year on year.

If we stay with Chinese reporting then we can take a look at the value of the Yuan as well.

The central parity rate of the Chinese currency renminbi, or the yuan, strengthened 349 basis points to 6.7560 against the U.S. dollar Monday, according to the China Foreign Exchange Trade System.

The new rate was the strongest since July 19, 2018, according to data from the system.

Since the beginning of this year, the yuan’s central parity rate has strengthened more than 1.5 percent against the dollar.

Presumably driven by the stronger trade figures… ( sorry couldn’t resist it). But the Bank of China New York branch plays along with the official drumbeat.

China’s economy has been undergoing structural reform with the introduction of various macro-economic policies. The bank believed that the yuan’s strong buying momentum showed world financial markets have restored confidence in the Chinese currency.

“With the deepening of China’s reform and opening-up, steady expansion of the domestic financial market, and the higher status of CNY in the international monetary system, it is expected that investors’ willingness to hold CNY will increase further,” said the bank’s foreign exchange desk.

I must say they do have rather eloquent foreign exchange traders as most of the ones I have met communicate mostly in words with only four letters in them.

Indeed things are even going rather well in space.

To better understand the lunar environment and prepare for a human return to the moon, the Chang’e-4 probe, which has just made the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the moon, carries payloads jointly developed by Chinese, German and Swedish scientists to conduct research.

This of course contrasts with the efforts of the evil capitalist Imperialists.

U.S. space technology firm SpaceX, led by Elon Musk, will lay off about 10 percent of its more than 6,000 employees, according to media reports.

Also there is something which reminds us of the Belt and Road plan.

Passengers waiting to board a train from Nigeria’s capital Abuja on Saturday were wowed when they were informed that the train service had been safely operating for 900 days.

A male voice announced from a public address system that the train service had been in commercial operation for 900 days and without any major accident recorded since its inception.

This Chinese built railway is apparently a modern wonder.

Many looked in amazement, expressing satisfaction at the safe operation of the Abuja-Kaduna train service, the first standard gauge railway in Nigeria and West Africa…..Many looked in amazement, expressing satisfaction at the safe operation of the Abuja-Kaduna train service, the first standard gauge railway in Nigeria and West Africa.

One should not be too churlish as there are plenty of issues both security and otherwise in Nigeria but “many looked in amazement” is the sort of thing written about the first journey’s of George Stephenson and his Rocket back in the day.

Football

Another example of a combination of economics combining with foreign policy is the way Chinese football clubs have been offering very high wages to marquee players. West Ham fans will currently be fearing that Marko Anautovic will leave especially if the rumours of a new £45 million bid plus £300,000 a wage wages are true. But it is hard not to raise a wry smile at this perspective from Barney Ronay of the Guardian.

Marco Arnautović latest: am hearing he will move to a club whose wealth is built on a state-subsidised stadium, owned by “colourful” businessmen and with a manager brought in from Hebei China Fortune… Hang on. No sorry, that’s his current club. My mistake

Comment

It is always difficult to measure an economic slow down because of the way that vested interests and the establishment move to delay and block such efforts. This is how they invariably end up being presented as a surprise. China is of course particularly opaque with much of its data leading people to use alternative measures such as electricity consumption before it too got gamed and manipulated. But we are getting more and more signs of a slowing trend. If we look for other signs then we maybe saw one from Europe earlier as well.

In November 2018 compared with October 2018, seasonally adjusted industrial production fell by 1.7% in the euro
area (EA19) and by 1.3% in the EU28, according to estimates from Eurostat,

Which no doubt reflects this from Reuters.

China car sales fell 13 percent in December, the sixth straight month of declines, bringing annual sales to 28.1 million, down 2.8 percent from a year earlier, China’s Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) said.

This was against a 3-percent annual growth forecast set at the start of 2018 and is the first time China’s auto market has contracted since the 1990s.

Beneath all this though the move into Africa via the Belt and Road policy continues as seemingly does the football combination of economics and diplomacy. They also seem to have been listening to Pink Floyd.

And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear
You shout and no one seems to hear.
And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.