Where next for UK house prices?

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

Bank of England

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Data

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Banks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment

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

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

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

Thus we are looking at a deep freeze.

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

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

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

Podcast

The UK government plans to rip us all off

This morning has seen the publishing of some news which feels like it has come from another world.

The all items CPI annual rate is 1.7%, down from 1.8% in January…….The all items RPI annual rate is 2.5%, down from 2.7% last month.

Previously we would have been noting the good news and suggesting that more is to come as we look up the price chain.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 0.4% on the year to February 2020, down from 1.0% in January 2020. The price for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process displayed negative growth of 0.5% on the year to February 2020, down from positive growth of 1.6% in January 2020.

There is something that remains relevant however as I note this piece of detail.

Petroleum products made the largest downward contribution to the change in the annual rate of output inflation. Crude oil provided the largest downward contribution to the change in the annual rate of input inflation.

That is something which is set to continue because if we look back to February the base for the oil price ( Brent Crude) was US $50 whereas as I type this it is US $27.50. So as you can see input and output costs are going to fall further. This will be offset a bit by the lower UK Pound £ but I will address it later. In terms of consumer inflation the February figures used are for diesel at 128.2 pence per litre whereas the latest weekly number is for 123.4 pence which is some 7.7% lower than a year ago. So there will be a downwards pull on inflation from this source.

There is a bit of an irony here because the Russo/Saudi turf war which began the oil price fall on the supply side has been overtaken by the large falls in demand we are seeing as economies slow. According to The Guardian we may run out of spaces to put it.

Analysts at Rystad estimate that the world has about 7.2bn barrels of crude and products in storage, including 1.3bn to 1.4bn barrels onboard oil tankers at sea.

In theory, it would take nine months to fill the world’s remaining oil stores, but constraints at many facilities will shorten this window to only a few months.

The Rip-Off

The plan hatched by a combination of HM Treasury and its independent puppets the UK Statistics Authority and the Office for National Statistics is to impose a type of stealth tax of 1% per annum. How?

In drawing up his advice, the National Statistician considered the views of the Stakeholder Advisory Panel on Consumer Prices (APCP-S). The Board accepted his advice and that was the basis of the proposals we put to the Chancellor to cease publication of RPI and in the short term to bring the methods of CPIH into RPI.The Chancellor responded that he was not minded to promote legislation to end RPI, but that the Government intended to consult on whether to bring the methods in CPIH into RPI between 2025 and 2030, effectively aligning the measures.

The emphasis is mine and the plan is to put the fantasy Imputed Rents that are used in the widely ignored CPIH into the RPI. There is good reason that the CPIH has been ignored so let me explain why. In the UK the housing market is a big deal and so you might think what owner-occupiers pay would be a considerable influence on inflation. But in 2002 a decision was made to completely ignore it in the new UK inflation measure called CPI ( Consumer Prices Index).

Putting it in was supposed to be on its way but plans took a decade and the saga took a turn in 2012 when the first effort to use Imputed Rents began. It got strong support from the Financial Times economics editor Chris Giles at the time. He stepped back from that when it emerged that there had been a discontinuity in the numbers, which in statistical terms is a disaster. So the fantasy numbers ( owner-occupiers do not pay rent) are based on an unproven rental series.

Why would you put a 737 Max style system when you have a reliable airplane? You would not, as most sensible people would be debating between the use of the things that are paid such as house prices and mortgage payments. That is what is planned in the new inflation measure which has been variously called HII and HCI. You may not be surprised to learn that there have been desperate official efforts to neuter this. Firstly by planning to only produce it annually and more latterly by trying to water down any house price influence.

At a time like this you may not think it is important but when things return to normal losing around 1% per year every year will make you poorer as decisions are made on it. Also it will allow government’s to claim GDP and real wages are higher than they really are.

Gold

There is a lot going on here as it has seen its own market discontinuity which I will cover in a moment. But we know money is in the offing as I note this from the Financial Times.

Gold continued to push higher on Tuesday as a recent wave of selling dried up and Goldman Sachs told its clients the time had come to buy the “currency of last resort”. Like other asset classes, gold was hit hard in the recent scramble for US dollars, falling more than 12 per cent from its early March peak of around $1,700 a troy ounce to $1,460 last week.  The yellow metal started to see a resurgence on Monday, rising by more than 4 per cent after the Federal Reserve said it would buy unlimited amounts of government bonds and the US dollar fell.

So we know that the blood funnel of the Vampire Squid is up and sniffing. On its view of ordinary clients being “Muppets” one might reasonably conclude it has some gold to sell.

Also there have been problems in the gold markets as I was contacted yesterday on social media asking about the gold price. I was quoting the price of the April futures contact ( you can take the boy out of the futures market but you cannot etc….) which as I type this is US $1653. Seeing as it was below US $1500 that is quite a rally except the spot market was of the order of US $50 below that. There are a lot of rumours about problems with the ability of some to deliver the gold that they owe which of course sets alight the fire of many conspiracy theories we have noted. This further went into suggestions that some banks have singed their fingers in this area and are considering withdrawing from the market.

Ole Hansen of Saxo Bank thinks the virus is to blame.

Having seen 100’s of anti-bank and anti-paper #gold tweets the last couple of days I think I will give the metal a rest while everyone calm down. We have a temporary break down in logistics not being helped by CME’s stringent delivery rules of 100oz bars only.

So we will wait and see.

Ah, California girls are the greatest in the world
Each one a song in the making
Singin’ rock to me I can hear the melody
The story is there for the takin’
Drivin’ over Kanan, singin’ to my soul
There’s people out there turnin’ music into gold ( John Stewart )

 

Comment

Quite a few systems are creaking right now as we see the gold market hit the problems seen by bond markets where prices are inconsistent. Ironically the central banks tactics are to help with that but their strategy is fatally flawed because if you buy a market on an enormous scale to create what is a fake price ( lower bond yields) then liquidity will dry up. I have written before about ruining bond sellers ( Italy) and buyers will disappear up here. Please remember that when the central banks tell us it is nothing to do with them and could not possibly have been predicted. Meanwhile the US Federal Reserve will undertake another US $125 billion of QE bond purchases today and the Bank of England some £3 billion. The ECB gives fewer details but will be buying on average between 5 and 6 billion Euros per day.

Next we have the UK deep state in operation as they try to impose a stealth tax via the miss measurement of inflation. Because they have lost the various consultations so far and CPIH has remained widely ignored the new consultation is only about when and not if.

The Authority’s consultation, which will be undertaken jointly with that of HM Treasury, will begin on 11 March. It will be open to responses for six weeks, closing on 22 April. HM Treasury will consult on the appropriate timing for the proposed changes to the RPI, while the Authority will consult on the technical method of making that change to the RPI.

Meanwhile for those of you who like some number crunching here is how a 123.4 pence for the price of oil gets broken down. I have done some minor rounding so the numbers add up.

Oil  44.9 pence

Duty 58 pence

VAT 20.5 pence

The first business surveys about this economic depression appear

This morning has seen the first actual signals of the scale of the economic slow down going on. One of the problems with official economic data is the  time lag before we get it and this has been exacerbated by the fact that this has been an economic contraction on speed ( LSD). By the time they tell us how bad it has been we may be in quite a different world! It is always a battle between accuracy and timeliness for economic data. Thus eyes will have turned to the business surveys released this morning.

Do ya do ya do ya do ya
Ooh I’m looking for clues
Ooh I’m looking for clues
Ooh I’m looking for clues ( Robert Palmer)

Japan

The main series began in Japan earlier and brace yourselves.

#Japan‘s economic downturn deepens drastically in March, dragged down by a sharp contraction in the service sector, according to #PMI data as #coronavirus outbreak led to plummeting tourism, event cancellations and supply chain disruptions. ( IHS Markit )

The composite output index was at 35.8 which indicates an annualised fall in GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) approaching 8% should it continue. There was a split between manufacturing ( 44.8) and services ( 32.7) but not the way we have got used to. The manufacturing number was the worst since April 2009 and the services one was the worst since the series began in 2007.

France

Next in the series came La Belle France and we needed to brace ourselves even more.

March Flash France PMI suggest GDP is collapsing at an annualised rate approaching double digits, with the Composite Output PMI at an all-time low of 30.2 (51.9 – Feb). Both services and manufacturers recorded extreme drops in output on the month.

There was more to come.

French private sector activity contracted at the
sharpest rate in nearly 22 years of data collection
during March, amid widespread business closures
due to the coronavirus outbreak.

There are obvious fears about employment and hence unemployment.

Amid falling new orders, private sector firms cut
their staff numbers for the first time in nearly threeand-a-half years during March. Moreover, the rate
of reduction was the quickest since April 2013.

I also noted this as I have my concerns about inflation as the Ivory Towers work themselves into deflation mode one more time.

Despite weaker demand conditions, supply
shortages drove input prices higher in March…….with
manufacturers raising output prices for the first time
in three months

We could see disinflation in some areas with sharp inflation in others.

Germany

Next up was Germany and by now investors were in the brace position.

The headline Flash Germany
Composite PMI Output Index plunged from 50.7 in
February to 37.2, its lowest since February 2009.
The preliminary data were based on responses
collected between March 12-23.

This led to this analysis.

“The unprecedented collapse in the PMI
underscores how Germany is headed for recession,
and a steep one at that. The March data are
indicative of GDP falling at a quarterly rate of
around 2%, and the escalation of measures to
contain the virus outbreak mean we should be
braced for the downturn to further intensify in the
second quarter.”

You may be thinking that this is better than the ones above but there is a catch. Regular readers will recall that due to a problem in the way it looks at supply this series has inflated the German manufacturing data. This has happened again.

The headline Flash Germany
Manufacturing PMI sank to 45.7, though it was
supported somewhat by a further increase in
supplier delivery times – the most marked since
July 2018 – and a noticeably slower fall in stocks of
purchases, both linked to supply-side disruption

So the truth is that the German numbers are closer to France once we allow for this. We also see the first signals of trouble in the labour markets.

After increasing – albeit marginally – in each of the
previous four months, employment across
Germany’s private sector returned to contraction in
March. The decline was the steepest since May
2009 and was underpinned by similarly sharp drops
in workforce numbers across both manufacturing
and services.

Also we note a continuing pattern where services are being hit much harder than manufacturing, Of course manufacturing had seen a rough 2019 but services have essentially plunged at a rapid rate.

The Euro Area

We do not get much individual detail but you can see that the other Euro area nations are doing even worse.

The rest of the euro area reported an even
steeper decline than seen in both France and
Germany, led by comfortably the sharpest fall in
service sector activity ever recorded, though
manufacturing output also shrank at the steepest
rate for almost 11 years.

I am trying hard to think of PMI numbers in the 20s I have seen before.

Flash Eurozone Services PMI Activity Index(2)
at 28.4 (52.6 in February). Record low (since
July 1998)

Putting it all together we get this.

The March PMI is indicative of GDP slumping at a
quarterly rate of around 2%,

The UK

Our numbers turned up to a similar drum beat and bass line.

At 37.1 in March, down from 53.0 in February, the seasonally adjusted IHS Markit / CIPS Flash UK Composite Output Index – which is based on approximately 85% of usual monthly replies – signalled the fastest downturn in private sector business activity since the series began in January 1998. The prior low of 38.1 was seen in November 2008.

This was supported by the manufacturing PMI being at 48 but it looks as though we have at least some of the issues at play in the German number too.

Longer suppliers’ delivery times are typically seen as an
advance indicator of rising demand for raw materials and
therefore have a positive influence on the Manufacturing PMI index.

The numbers added to the household finances one from IHS Markit yesterday.

UK consumers are already feeling the financial pinch of
coronavirus, according to the IHS Markit UK Household Finance Index. With the country on the brink of lockdown during the survey collection dates (12-17 March), surveyed households reported the largest degree of pessimism towards job security in over eight years,
with those employed in entertainment and manufacturing sectors deeming their jobs to be at the most risk.

Comment

So we have the first inklings of what is taking place in the world economy and we can add it to the 40.7 released by Australia yesterday. However we need a note of caution as these numbers have had troubles before and the issue over the treatment of suppliers delivery times is an issue right now. Also it does not appear to matter if your PMI is 30 or 37 we seem to get told this.

The March PMI is indicative of GDP slumping at a
quarterly rate of around 2%,

Now I am slightly exaggerating because they have said 1.5% to 2% for the UK but if we are there then France and the Euro area must be more like 3% and maybe worse if the series is to be consistent.

Next I thought I would give you some number-crunching from Japan.

TOKYO (Reuters) – The Bank of Japan on Tuesday acknowledged unrealized losses of 2-3 trillion yen ($18-$27 billion) on its holdings of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) after a rout in Japanese stock prices, raising the prospect it could post an annual loss this year.

Our To Infinity! And Beyond! Theme has been in play for The Tokyo Whale and the emphasis is mine.

Its stock purchase started at a pace of one trillion yen per year in 2013 when the Nikkei was around 12,000. The buying expanded to 3 trillion yen in 2014 and to 6 trillion yen in 2016, ostensibly to boost economic growth and lift inflation, but many investors view the policy as direct intervention to prop up share prices.

Surely not! But the taxpayer may be about to get a warning of sorts.

The unrealized loss of 2-3 trillion yen would wipe out about 1.7 trillion yen of recurring profits the BOJ is estimated to make this year from interest payments on its massive bond holdings, said Hiroshi Ugai, senior economist at J.P. Morgan.

For today that will be on the back burner as the Nikkei 225 equity index rose 7% to just above 18,000 which means that its purchases of over 200 billion Yen yesterday will be onside at least as we note the “clip size” has nearly trebled for The Tokyo Whale.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The UK Pound

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

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

The Bank of England

It held an emergency meeting yesterday and then announced this.

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

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

QE

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

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

But wait there is more.

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

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

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

The next bit was really vague.

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

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

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

We did also get some humour.

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

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

Comment

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

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

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

Podcast

 

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

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

Stand by for action!

Anything can happen in the next 30 minutes

Before the equity and Gilt markets opened it announced this.

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

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

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

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

Term Funding Scheme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Numbers bingo!

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

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

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

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

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

Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whereas most will be humming The Smiths.

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

UK Budgets end up having no fiscal rules

This morning has seen something of a think tank old reliable in play. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has put out a press release on the issue of fiscal rules in the UK so let us take a look. The emphasis is theirs.

On current policy borrowing next year could be £63 billion, £23 billion more than the most recent official forecast and £19 billion more than our estimate of borrowing this year. With borrowing not forecast to fall before 2022–23 it is not clear that the manifesto pledge to target current budget balance three years out would be met even under current policy.

The drama fades with the use of could which reminds me of this from Scritti Politti.

Nothing, oh nothing
Because baby, baooo
I’m a would be
W. O. O. D
I’m a would be would be
B. E. E. Z

Actually if you look at the numbers the situation has improved by £4 billion as one of my themes is in play.

If the pattern observed in the first ten months of the financial year continues for the next two, government borrowing will be £44 billion this year. This would be £3.5 billion lower than implied by the OBR’s restated March 2019 forecast.

Yes the first rule of OBR club is that the OBR is always wrong. In fact the accuracy of its forecasts is the exact opposite of the seriousness with which its missives are received by the chattering and think tank classes. The problem here is partly one of spurious accuracy as the numbers are far more doubtful than it implies. Also a collective one that it gives the impression that it knows things that it would be more honest to say are unknown and indeed unknowable. I did warn at its inception that it would turn out to be like the Congressional Budget Office which in theory is a great idea, but in practice I simply note that it has changed its forecasts recently by one trillion dollars due to lower US Bind yields and hence debt costs. Or the size of President Trump’s fiscal boost.

Indeed the IFS press release shows a clear case of theory crumbling in practice. So let us start with the theory.

Fiscal targets can help guide and constrain policy and ensure sustainability.

And now the practice.

 There have now been 16 fiscal targets announced over the last decade.

Actually it gets worse.

 If the target to balance the current budget were abandoned in this Budget it would be the shortest lived of them all. Abandoning it now would surely undermine any credibility attached to fiscal targets set by this government.

Now  the second sentence just looks silly after the one in bold above. Actually it has its problems even without that as there have been two major changes for the government. Firstly that Chancellor who set the rules has departed and secondly we have a government with a solid parliamentary majority as opposed to being a minority one.

Whilst I am looking at the problems here let me slay another beast.#

The Chancellor has a fiscal target to ensure that current spending is no higher than tax receipts, and so borrowing is for investment only.

Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the public finances will know that “current spending” is a vague, vacuous beast hard to specify. Indeed both Goodhart’s Law and the Lucas Critique imply that under such a rule investment may not be what we think it is.Some bright spark will be dispatched to make sure that favourite schemes qualify.

The Trend

The IFS have picked out the nearest date to the EU Leave vote they can without being too indiscreet and calculated this.

Then, the Government was forecasting an overall budget surplus of £10 billion in 2019–20, whereas we are now on course for borrowing to run at around £44 billion: an increase of almost £55 billion.

Along the way they are kind enough to demonstrate again my first rule of OBR Club.

back in March 2016, the OBR was assuming that growth would by now have returned to the robust real growth rates of about 2% annually that were considered normal before the crisis.

There are all sorts of begged questions here. For example did the EU Leave vote reduce growth? Probably via the higher inflation that the Bank of England encouraged. But it is also true that we have seen growth slow downs elsewhere and more recently we have seen a fiscal boost.

Although I note the IFS is unable to avoid a point I have been making which is that another indicator tax revenues suggest the economy has been doing better than the GDP numbers imply.

Instead, revenues have held up remarkably well in the face of low growth since the 2016 referendum.

Indeed in one of its never-ending investigations into its own mistakes the OBR has been on the case too.

 They highlight that household spending has proved more robust than expected, boosting VAT revenues, and capital allowances have been used less, increasing corporation tax revenues.

Although care is needed as whilst bad is bad so can good be.

While this has actually worked to boost tax revenues in the short run, it will disguise a negative long-run effect as depressed investment now gradually feeds into lower growth and therefore reduced tax revenues in the future.

In fact in the IFS world good may be even worse than bad. I would simply point out that whilst in theory we want higher investment we learn again and again that such definitions can be unreliable in practice.

A Missing Piece

My jigsaw would start with this piece as opposed to it being tucked away towards the bottom of the monthly report and only 3 words in the press release.

On the other hand, the cost of servicing the UK’s debt has been lightened by enduring record-low interest rates. As a consequence, debt interest spending is on course to be over £4 billion lower than what the OBR forecast in March 2016. And this is despite higher than forecast borrowing in the intervening period.

Let me put this another way. I recall the original OBR forecasts and they would have the Gilt yield they use about 4% higher than what it is now. Typically they look at a 15 year yield which is 0.67% as I type this as opposed to more like 5%. Of course for infrastructure purposes we should be looking much longer but these days that does not make the difference it used to as the 50 year yield is 0.76%. Or if you prefer the yield curve is pretty flat.

Whatever happened to those who were all over social media about the yield curve?

We can out it another way which is the longest-dated UK Gilts yield the same as Bank Rate if you are willing to overlook 0.01% which is an extraordinary development when it is a mere 0.75%.

Comment

There are several lessons here and let me do a song from think tanks like the IFS and Resolution Foundation to government about fiscal rules.

Here I am, I’m playing daydreaming fool again
My favourite game
And you are the one who’s got my head in the clouds above
You’re the one that I love and
You’re my-i-i-i-i-i, baby, you’re my favourite waste of time
My-i-i-i-i-i, baby, you’re my favourite waste of time ( Owen Paul)

Next comes the extraordinary gift that “independent” central banks have given to governments and public finances. Both new borrowing and refinancing have been done on ever more favourable terms. Let me give you an example as in just over a week a UK Gilt with a coupon of 4.75% will mature and even if we borrow for 50 years we will pay 4% less than that for the £32 billion. Actually for the bit the Bank of England will buy even less but let’s not over complicate the issue.

Also there is the issue that we are entering a phase which may be ever more uncertain than usual. What I mean by that is that a pick-up in the UK economy looks set to be overrun at the pass by the impact of the Corona Virus. Of course the latter is extremely uncertain by virtue of being new. The only thing we can be reasonably certain of is this.

While taxes are already high by UK historical standards, they are often increased in the first year of a parliament. ( @IFS )

 

Can QE defeat the economic impact of the Corona Virus?

The weekend just passed has seen more than a few bits of evidence of the spread of the Corona Virus especially in Japan, South Korea, Italy and Iran. It has been a curious phase in Japan where on that quarantined cruise ship they have seemed determined to follow as closely as they can to the plot of the film Alien. Even China has been forced to admit things are not going well. This is President Xi Jinping in Xinhua News.

The epidemic situation remains grim and complex and it is now a most crucial moment to curb the spread, he noted.

Yet later in the same speech we are told this.

Stressing orderly resumption of work and production, Xi made specific requirements to that end.

Back on February 3rd we looked at the potential impact on the economy of China but today we can look wider. Let us open by seeing the consequences of some of the rhetoric being deployed.

Bond Markets

UST 30-Year yield falls to an all-time low 1.83 ( @fullcarry )

So we see an all-time low for the long bond in the worlds largest sovereign bond market. Rallies in bond markets are a knee-jerk response to signs of financial turmoil except it is supposed to be for the certainty of yield or if you prefer  interest. The catch is that there is not much to be found even in the US now and if we look wider afield we see that in one of the extreme cases of these times there is none to be found at all. This is because even the thirty-year yield in Germany is now -0.04% so in fact it is being paid to borrow all along its maturity spectrum.

It was only on Friday that I pointed out some were suggesting that the “bond vigilantes” might return to the UK whereas the UK Gilt market has surged also today with the 50 year Gilt at a mere 0.76%.

These are extraordinary numbers which come on the back of all the interest-rate cuts and all the central bank QE bond buying. Of course the latter is ongoing in the Euro area and in Japan. So let us look at them in particular.

The ECB has already hinted in the past that a reduction in its deposit rate to -0.6% could be deployed but frankly their situation is highlighted by talking about a 0.1% move. After all if full percentage points have not helped then how will 0.1%? Even they are tilling the ground on this front as they join the central banking rush to claim lower interest-rates are nothing to do with them at all.

Interest rates in advanced economies have been on a broad downward path for more than three decades
and remain close to historical lows.[5]
As has been highlighted in many studies, the drivers of this long-term pattern largely boil down to
demographics, productivity and the elevated net demand for safe assets. ( ECB Chief Economist Lane on Friday )

Next comes the issue that an extension of QE is limited by that fact that there are not so many bonds to buy on Germany and the Netherlands. But the reality is that under pressure this “rules based organisation” has a habit of changing the rules.

Switching to Japan we see that Governor Kuroda has been speaking too.

RIYADH (Reuters) – The Bank of Japan will be fully prepared to take necessary action to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on the world’s third-largest economy, its Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said.

Okay what?

He also repeated the view that, while the central bank stands ready to ease monetary policy further “without hesitation”, it saw no immediate need to act.

That reminds me of the time he denied any plans to move to negative interest-rates and a mere eight days later he did. The next bit seems to be from a place far,far,away.

Kuroda said there was no major change to the BOJ’s projection that Japan’s economy would keep recovering moderately thanks to an expected rebound in global growth around mid-year.

Perhaps he was hoping that people would forget that GDP fell by 1.6% in the last quarter of 2018 meaning that the economy was 0.4% smaller than a year before.Or that Japanese plans for this year involved an Olympics in Tokyo that is now in doubt, after all the Tokyo Marathon has been dramatically downsized. I write that sadly as there are a couple of people who train at Battersea Park running track with hopes of competing in the Olympics.

But the grand master of expectations here was this from the G 20 conference over the weekend.

“I’m not going to comment on monetary policy, but obviously central bankers will look at various different options as this has an impact on the economy,” Mnuchin said.

Gold

There have been various false dawns for the price of gold and of course enough conspiracy theories about this for anyone. But gold bugs will be singing along with Spandau Ballet as they note a price of US $1688 is up over 23% on a year ago.

Gold
(Gold)
Always believe in your soul
You’ve got the power to know
You’re indestructible, always believe in, ‘cos you are ( Spandau Ballet )

Equity Markets

This have faced something of a conundrum as fears of a slowing world economy have been been by the hopium of even more central bank easing. Last week the Dax 30 of Germany hit an all-time high and today it is down 3.6% at 13,070 as I type this. So for all the media panic today it remains close to its highest ever.

Currencies

There are two main trends here I want to mark. The first is that we seem to be again in a period of what might be called King Dollar. Also there is this.

SNB propping up 1.0600 in $EURCHF ( @RANSquawk )

Trying that at 1.20 imploded rather spectacularly in January 2015. For newer readers the Swiss Franc (CHF) has been strong as the reversal of the pre credit crunch carry trade has been added to by the perceived strength of Switzerland. This was exacerbated as its neighbour the Euro area kept cutting interest-rates and went negative. So the Swiss National Bank are presently intervening against a safe haven flow towards the Swissy.

I have suggested for a while now I could see the Swiss National Bank cutting interest-rates to -1% and expect not to be “so lonely” as The Police put it. Also I would remind you that 20% of the intervention will be reinvested in the US equity market.

Comment

Who knew that interest-rate cuts and QE could be effective cures for the Corona Virus? Especially as they have not worked for much else. Although there are also whispers that it can cure climate change too. This highlights the moral and intellectual bankruptcy at play as central bankers try to offer more central planning to fix the problems of past central planning. The Corona Virus is of course not their fault but anything unexpected was always going to be a problem for a group determined not to allow a recession and thus any reform under creative destruction.

Meanwhile the rest of us wait to see the full economic impact as we mull the flickers of knowledge we get. For example Jaguar Land Rover saying it only has 2 weeks supply of some parts or reports that for some US pharmaceuticals 80% of the basic ingredients come from China. So the latter could see large demand they cannot supply and higher prices just as we see lower demand and inflation elsewhere. More conventionally there is this for France which must send a chill down the spine of Italy to its boot.

The drop off in tourist numbers is an “important impact” on France’s economy, Bruno Le Maire, the country’s finance minister, said…….France is one of the most visited countries in the world, and tourism accounts for nearly 8% of its GDP.

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