The UK Public Finances conform to the first rule of OBR club yet again

Not so long ago the UK Public Finances were headline news as we faced the consequences of the recession caused by the credit crunch and the cost of the various banking bailouts. We were promised that by now the situation would be fixed as we would have a surplus it terms of our annual deficit before it transpired that our previous Chancellor George Osborne was of the “jam tomorrow” variety and specifically always promised that success was 3/4 years away from whatever point in time you were at! This meant that what we might call the ordinary national debt has steady risen as whilst much of the bank debt is off our books we have borrowed overall. If we go back to the 2010 Budget forecast we were told this by the Office of Budget Responsibility ( OBR).

public sector net debt (PSND) to increase from 53.5 per cent of GDP in • 2009-10 to a peak of 70.3 per cent in 2013-14, falling to 69.4 per cent in 2014-15 and 67.4 per cent in 2015-16;

So we might expect the national debt to be 63.4% of GDP now. How is that going?

In November we expected public sector net debt (PSND) to peak at 90.2 per cent of GDP in 2017-18, with the August 2016 monetary policy package raising debt significantly in 201617 and 2017-18. We continue to expect debt to peak as a share of GDP in 2017-18, but at a slightly lower 88.8 per cent. As in November, we expect it to fall each year thereafter.

This is one of the factors in my first rule of OBR club ( it is always wrong…) and in a way it is quite touching that they always think that the national debt is about to shrink relative to the size of our economy.

Current issues

The first is that economic growth in the UK has continued but has slowed so that revenue growth may be under pressure. This was highlighted to some extent by yesterday’s retail sales data.

The underlying pattern in the retail industry is one of growth; for the three-months on three-months measure, the quantity bought increased by 0.6%…….Year on year, the quantity bought in the retail sector increased by 1.2%, with non-food (household goods, clothing stores) and non-store retailing all providing growth.

That suggests there is a fading of the consumer sector with implications for revenue although of course Value Added Tax is on value and not volume so will get a boost from this.

Store prices continue to rise across all store types and are at their highest year-on-year price growth since March 2012 at 3.3% (non-seasonally adjusted).

The general picture was summed up in yesterday’s monthly economic review.

GDP growth has slowed in the first two quarters of 2017, while the economy has grown 1.5% compared with the same quarter a year ago – the slowest rate since Quarter 1 2013.

Also in a week where there has been a lot of news on problems with economic statistics there was this.

we will move to using the new GDP publishing model in 2018, with the first estimate of monthly GDP (for the reference month of May) being introduced in July 2018

I admire the ambition here but not the brains. I particularly wait to see how the quarterly services surveys will give monthly results! Ironically the same monthly review suggested grounds for caution.

The latest figures include significant revisions due to improvements in the measurement of dividend income, which have led to an upwards revision of the households and NPISH saving ratio by an average of 0.9 percentage points from 1997 to 2016, with a revised 2016 estimate of 7.1% (revised up from 5.2%).

So places like the OBR can produce reports sometimes  hundreds of pages long on the wrong numbers?

Inflation

This is proving expensive because the UK has a large amount of index-linked Gilts which are linked to the Retail Price Index which is currently growing at an annual rate of 3.9%. The effect is described below.

Both the uplift on coupon payments and the uplift on the redemption value are recorded as debt interest paid by the government, so month-on-month there can be sizeable movements in payable government debt interest as a result of movements in the RPI.

Today’s data

The deficit numbers were in fact rather good in the circumstances.

Public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) decreased by £0.7 billion to £5.9 billion in September 2017, compared with September 2016…….Public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) decreased by £2.5 billion to £32.5 billion in the current financial year-to-date (April 2017 to September 2017), compared with the same period in 2016.

The main factor in the improvement is that revenue growth continues to be pretty solid.

In the current financial year-to-date, central government received £334.5 billion in income; including £250.5 billion in taxes. This was around 4% more than in the same period in the previous financial year.

You may have already guessed the best performer which was Stamp Duty on property which has risen from £6 billion in the same period last year to £7 billion this. By contrast Corporation Tax has been a disappointment as it has only risen by £100 million to £29 billion on the same comparison.

The National Debt

Here it is.

The amount of money owed by the public sector to the private sector stood at nearly £1.8 trillion at the end of September 2017, which equates to 87.2% of the value of all the goods and services currently produced by the UK economy in a year (or gross domestic product (GDP)).

Oh and thanks Mark Carney and the Bank of England as yet another bank subsidy turns up in the figures.

£100.3 billion is attributable to debt accumulated within the Bank of England, nearly all of it in the Asset Purchase Facility; including £84.6 billion from the Term Funding Scheme (TFS).

Comment

We see that for all the many reports of woe the UK economy continues to bumble along albeit more slowly than before. We can bring in that theme and also the first rule of OBR club as I expect another wave in November.

The OBR is likely to revise down potential productivity growth in its November forecast, weakening the outlook for the public finances.

As they have been consistently wrong they are also likely to change course at the wrong point so this may be the best piece of news for UK productivity in a while! Actually I think a lot of the problem is in how you measure it at all in the services sector? In fact any resources the ONS has would be much more usefully spent in this area than producing a monthly GDP figure.

For those of you who measure the economy via the tax take then a 4% increase in the year so far is fairly solid. There will be a boost from inflation on indirect taxes but so far not so bad. Also we can look at revenue versus the National Debt where £726 billion last year compares with our national debt of about 1800 billion or around 40%

Meanwhile there was some good news for the UK economy from Gavin Jackson of the Financial Times.

The UK has 6.5 per cent of the global space economy!

Plenty of room for expansion (sorry). Intriguingly it may be led by Glasgow which would be a return to past triumphs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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UK wage and employment growth has been remarkably stable overall

Today brings new data on what is the most important economic number in the UK right now. This has been added to by the way that some Bank of England policymakers has plugged what some might call a bigly improvement in UK wage growth. Although of course you could say there is an element of deja vu all over again in that. But the issue did come up yesterday at the Treasury Select Committee interviews. This is the new policymaker Silvana Tenreyro quoted in the Guardian.

My position now is that if the data outturns are consistent with the picture i’ve just described, of an output gap going towards zero, then i would be minded to vote for a bank rate increase in the coming months.

The “output gap going towards zero” would be signalled by a sustained increase in wage growth. It used to be signalled also by the unemployment rate but the Bank of England has been in disarray on that subject since its Forward Guidance highlighted a 7% unemployment rate as significant. It is also very disappointing to see a policymaker continuing with the “output gap” theory which has failed so utterly in the credit crunch era but I guess that is simply a consequence of recruiting from an Ivory Tower. Also it seems that she knows better than the Bank of England’s own research on the subject of QE.

It’s far from evident that QE has contributed to higher inequality ( h/t Positive Money).

And whilst some loved it as it suited their particular views this was none too bright. Her words from the Financial Times about her suitability for the role.

I grew up in a developing country, subject to many crises

The pay squeeze

There is a nice chart showing the position from the Resolution Foundation albeit that it underplays the situation by being one of the few places that takes the CPIH ( H = Imputed Rents) inflation measure seriously.

There is the obvious issue that real wages have fallen according to the official data but there are two other consequences which pose problems for both the Bank of England and the Ivory Towers. Firstly as we have had nearly five years of economic growth the last shaded area should simply not exist as the claimed “output gap” seems to be operating both inversely and perversely. Also real wage growth did best in the period when inflation was low suggesting that it would be better to keep inflation low rather than aiming at a target of 2% annual growth in the Consumer Prices Index or CPI. Even worse of course the Bank of England helped to drive current inflation higher with its promises of “muscular” monetary easing post the EU leave vote which it acted upon in August 2016.

Self-employed

These do not matter for the official wages series as they are simply ignored as are smaller businesses. If I remember correctly the cut-off point is twenty employees. This has been an issue of increasing significance in the credit crunch era as the number of self-employed has risen especially as it approaches the same number as those who work in the public-sector.

self-employed people increased by 70,000 to 4.86 million (15.1% of all people in work)

There has been some potentially better news for self-employed earnings in the latest revisions to the UK economic data set. From Monday.

In 2016, the Blue Book 2017 dividends income from corporations is £61.7 billion, compared with £12.2 billion for households and NPISH as previously published

As this follows other revisions in this area we see two things. Firstly that we have no reliable up to date data on the subject and secondly we have just been through a spell where dividend income was massively underestimated. So the news for the self-employed may well have been better than it may have appeared to be. Of course such large revisions whilst signs of a welcome look into the issue also pose questions about the credibility of the data.

Today’s data

Quantity

The numbers here continue to be very good.

There were 32.10 million people in work, 94,000 more than for March to May 2017 and 317,000 more than for a year earlier……..The employment rate (the proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 who were in work) was 75.1%, up from 74.5% for a year earlier……..Between March to May 2017 and June to August 2017, total hours worked per week increased by 4.6 million to 1.03 billion.

This has had a consequence for those out of work too.

There were 1.44 million unemployed people (people not in work but seeking and available to work), 52,000 fewer than for March to May 2017 and 215,000 fewer than for a year earlier. The unemployment rate (the proportion of those in work plus those unemployed, that were unemployed) was 4.3%, down from 5.0% for a year earlier and the joint lowest since 1975.

So good news on this front with the only caveat being that we find out little about any issues with underemployment.

Average earnings or Quality

The Ivory Towers will be expecting a surge in wages as the “output gap” in the labour market continues its collapse. So let us take a look.

Between June to August 2016 and June to August 2017, in nominal terms, total pay increased by 2.2%, the same as the growth rate between May to July 2016 and May to July 2017.

So yet again they are disappointed. Actually as July was a weak month ( 1.4%) then August must have been better but I cannot say how much at this stage as the Office of National Statistics has forgotten to update the data set. Perhaps bonuses bounced back as we mull the (non)sense of monthly figures in this area.

If we move onto real wages we see this.

Comparing the three months to August 2017 with the same period in 2016, real AWE (total pay) fell by 0.3%, the same as the three months to July 2017. Nominal AWE (total pay) grew by 2.2% in the three months to August 2017, while the CPIH increased by 2.7% in the year to August 2017.

So we have seen yet another small decline in the official series for real wages with the caveat that the situation is worse if you use other inflation measures such as CPI and particularly the Retail Prices Index.

Comment

What we see yet again is quite remarkable stability in the UK labour market where employment rises but wage growth is weak considering that. For wages the summary of the Bank of England Agents continues to be accurate.

Growth in labour costs per employee had been subdued, with settlements clustered around 2% to 3%. Recruitment difficulties remained elevated, with conditions becoming very tight for some skills.

The Bank of England faces two problems here. Firstly its theoretical basis has all the stability of the Titanic and secondly there is the issue of its promised interest-rate rise. It is not the fact of one which is an issue it is the timing as why now and not before as not much has changed? On that road the monetary easing of August 2016 looks ever more a panic move.

Meanwhile the underlying picture for real wages continues on its not very merry way.

average total pay (including bonuses) for employees in Great Britain was £488 per week before tax and other deductions from pay, £34 lower than the pre-downturn peak of £522 per week recorded for February 2008

 

 

Imputed Rent is doing its job of reducing UK consumer inflation

Today is inflation day in the UK where we receive numbers for consumer, producer and house price inflation. As there were quite a few new readers yesterday let me open today in that spirit and explain the rotten heart of the UK inflation infrastructure. It comes via the issue of the housing sector and in particular people who own their own house or flat. What this involves is paying a large sum if you are lucky enough to be able to do so or taking a mortgage and paying it off in monthly instalments over years and indeed decades or some combination of the two. This presents us with two actual numbers which can be used in the inflation process which is house prices and mortgage payments.

Instead the UK authorities have chosen to make up their own number based on what are called imputed rents. They choose to assume that someone who lives in their own property rents it out ( of course they do not) and put that rental number in the inflation figures for the index which is called CPIH. There is an obvious issue in this which is the making up of the number when you have real ones to use! Even worse they have had a lot of trouble with the rental series based on those who do rent and in fact scrapped their first effort as it went so badly. So their number series has proven unreliable but they have ploughed on anyway and if you take the case to the National Statistician I am sorry to have to tell you that the response is much more like propaganda that reasoned argument. Why do they do it? Well I doubt it is a coincidence that it leads to a lower inflation number.

The trends

We know that there was some building producer price pressure last month although September itself saw some amelioration of that as the UK Pound £ had a better month against the US Dollar ( the currency in which most commodities are priced). So it will depend on which day they did the survey. But the price of crude oil was rising and has continued to do so since September ended with Brent crude oil above US $58 per barrel as I type this so that there is some inflationary pressure again from this source.

The producer price data today indicated a sort of steady as she goes position with a hint of a dip.

The headline rate of inflation for goods leaving the factory gate (output prices) rose 3.3% on the year to September 2017, from 3.4% in August 2017…….Prices for materials and fuels (input prices) rose 8.4% on the year to September 2017, which is unchanged from August 2017.

 

What about the impact of inflation?

This sadly tends to hit the poorest the hardest as this from the BBC indicates.

Benefit freezes combined with the predicted rise in inflation could set some low-income households back £300 next year, a think tank has warned.

September’s inflation data will be released on Tuesday, and some analysts predict the Consumer Price Index (CPI) will be 2.9%……….The Resolution Foundation’s analysis found that a single unemployed person would be £115 worse off, a single parent in work with one child would be £225 worse off, and a single earner couple with two children would be £305 worse off.

You may note that the analysis concentrates on our previous inflation measure and not the new CPIH version in yet another embarrassment for the Office for National Statistics.

Today’s numbers

The headline number will capture the er headlines.

The all items CPI annual rate is 3.0%, up from 2.9% in August.

Actually it was a very marginal shift as if we look into the detail the rate was in fact 2.9593%. Also I did point out above that the CPI was what everyone still concentrates on as this from the Financial Times whose economics editor Chris Giles was one of those who argued strongly for the CPIH inflation measure shows.

How times change! Back in the day he and I were taking opposite sides at the Royal Statistical Society and it is nice to see the implied view that he now agrees with me. This leaves the Office for National Statistics somewhat short of friends for its propaganda on the subject of CPIH.

The Consumer Prices Index including owner occupiers’ housing costs (CPIH) is the most comprehensive measure of inflation.

The CPIH number gets so few mentions our statistics authority sends out its staff to get the numbers up.

You might think that after the problems with the UK trade figures I highlighted yesterday the staff there might be too busy to be on social media plugging the new inflation measure but apparently not. James has contacted me to say he is working in the prices division at the moment which gives a partial answer although if he is tweeting official information he might want to use a more accurate title.

The housing problem

Let me explain with the relevant numbers why this is an issue. Firstly let me bring the house price numbers up to date.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 5.0% in the year to August 2017 (up from 4.5% in July 2017). The annual growth rate has slowed since mid-2016 but has remained broadly under 5% during 2017.

Now let us look at the data on which the Imputed Rental numbers for owner-occupied housing is based.

Private rental prices paid by tenants in Great Britain rose by 1.6% in the 12 months to September 2017; this is unchanged from August 2017.

Which leads to this.

The OOH component annual rate is 1.9%, unchanged from last month.

So the machinations of the UK statisticians do the following. Firstly they are using a method which reduces the annual rate of inflation from 3% to 2.8% if we use their favoured CPI series. Even worse a previous change meant that the Retail Price Index was abandoned and it is at 3.9%. Those buying a house may reasonably wonder how annual price inflation which has been circa 5% ends up reducing the inflation rate!

If you wish to follow the timing of this there was a rush late last year from the Office for National Statistics to bring CPIH ignoring some of its own guidelines as it was “not a national statistic” at that point. I did tell the National Statistician John Pullinger that doing this at a time inflation was higher but rental inflation was likely to fall ( based on wages growth) was playing with fire as regards both his personal and the body’s overall credibility in my opinion.

Comment

So we have headlines of 3% consumer inflation in the UK in spite of the official machinations to keep it below by changing the measure. The latter may strengthen in influence if London continues its pattern of being a leading indicator in this regard.

London private rental prices grew by 0.9% in the 12 months to August 2017, which is 0.7 percentage points below the Great Britain 12-month growth rate.

Those of you who pointed out that owner occupied housing would only go into UK inflation when it lowered the numbers have been proven correct so well-played.

An impact of all of this is to widen the intergenerational issue as the basic state pension will rise next year by 3% which is higher than the wage growth we have seen. Of course Bank of England pensioners will do even better as theirs are linked to the higher Retail Price Index. If we stay with the Bank of England Governor Mark Carney does not have to get out his fountain pen and headed notepaper as the remit was eased and he only has to write if it exceeds 3% on the CPI measure.

Moving onto the detail we see that there has been a strong impact from the rising price of butter we have previously looked at as the oils and fats section has risen by 14.9% on a year ago. Will we now get Imputed Butter prices?

Meanwhile our old inflation target of RPIX is at 4.1% which poses a question for the “improved” measures.

Has the UK just lost £490 billion as claimed in the Daily Telegraph?

As someone who pours over the UK’s economic statistics this from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Telegraph yesterday was always going to attract my attention.

Global banks and international bond strategists have been left stunned by revised ONS figures showing that Britain is £490bn poorer than had been ­assumed and no longer has any reserve of net foreign assets, depriving the country of its safety margin as Brexit talks reach a crucial juncture.

It is presented as the sort of thing we in the UK should be in a panic about like being nuked by North Korea or back in the day Iraq. Although the global strategists cannot have been much good if they missed £490 billion can they? Anyway there is more.

A massive write-down in the UK balance of payments data shows that Britain’s stock of wealth – the net international investment position – has collapsed from a surplus of £469bn to a net deficit of £22bn. This transforms the outlook for sterling and the gilts markets.

Okay so we have a transformed outlook for the Pound £ and Gilt market so let us take a look.

GBP/USD +0.10% @ 1.33010 as UK’s May and Davis meet EU’s Juncker and Barnier in Brussels. . ( DailyFX)

I am not sure that this is what Ambrose meant! It gets even worse if we look at the exchange rate against the Euro which has risen to 1.128 or up 0.4%. I will let you decide whether it is worse for a journalist not to be read or to be read and ignored! The UK 10 year Gilt yield has risen from 1.37% to 1.38% but that is hardly being transformed and in fact simply follows the US Treasury Note of the same maturity as it so often does.

Before we move on there is more.

“Half a trillion pounds has gone missing. This is equivalent to 25pc of GDP,” said Mark Capleton, UK rates strategist at Bank of America.

Okay so we have moved onto to comparing a stock (wealth) with an annual flow ( GDP) . I kind of like the idea of “gone missing” though should we start a search on the moors or perhaps take a look behind our sofas? If nothing else we might find some round £1 coins to take to the bank as they are no longer legal tender.

What has happened here?

If we move on from the click bait and scaremongering the end of September saw not only the usual annual revision of the UK national accounts but also the result of some “improvements”. The latter do not happen every year but they are becoming more frequent as it becomes apparent that much of our economic data is simply not fit for purpose. Part of the issue is simply that the credit crunch has put more demands on the data with which it cannot cope and part of it is that the data was never really good enough.

The data

Here is what was announced.

From 2009 onwards, the total revisions to the international investment position (IIP) are negative with the largest revision occurring in 2016.

So let us look at what it means.

In contrast, the IIP is the counterpart stock position of these financial flows. The IIP is a statement of:

  • the holdings of (gross) foreign assets by UK residents (UK assets)
  • the holdings of (gross) UK assets by foreign residents (UK liabilities)

The difference between the assets and liabilities shows the net position of the IIP and represents the level of UK claims on the rest of the world over the rest of the world’s claims on the UK. The IIP therefore provides us with the UK’s external financial balance sheet at a specific point in time. The net IIP is an important barometer of the financial condition and creditworthiness of a country.

Well it would be an important barometer if we could measure it! Some investments are clear such as Nissan in Sunderland but others will be much more secretive. This leads to problems as I recall back in the past the data for the open interest in the UK Gilt futures contract being completely wrong allowing the Prudential which was on the ball to clean up. Such things do not get much publicity as frankly who wants to admit they have been a “muppet”? There was an international example of this around 3 years ago when Belgian holdings of US Treasury Bonds apparently surged to US $381 billion before it was later realised that it was much more likely to be a Chinese change. If we look at the City of London such things can happen on an even larger scale in the way that overseas businesses in Ireland may be little more than a name plate. What does that tell us? That the scope for error is enormous.

Specific ch-ch-changes

Corporate bonds are one area.

improvements made to the corporate bonds interest, which has led to an increase in the amount of income earned on foreign investment in the UK (liabilities).

Which leads to this.

The largest negative revision occurs in 2016 (£27.3 billion) and includes improvements to corporate bond interest and late and revised survey data.

So as yields have collapsed all over the world as ELO might point out foreign investors have earned more in the UK from them? Also what about those who sold post August 2016 to the Bank of England? But that is a flow with only an implied stock impact so let us look at the main player on the pitch.

caused mainly by the share ownership benchmarking that has led to a greater allocation of investment in UK equities to the rest of the world. The largest downward revision is in 2016 (negative £489.8 billion) and includes these improvements, as well as the inclusion of revised data.

Share ownership benchmarking

Regular readers of my work in this area will be familiar with the concept that big changes sometimes come from a weak base and here it is.

The benchmarks were last updated in 2012, when the 2010 Share Ownership Survey was available. Since that time, we have run the 2012 and 2014 Share Ownership Surveys and reprocessed the 2010 survey.

So the numbers being used in 2016 are from 2014 at best and the quality and reliability of the numbers is such that the 2010 ones are still be reprocessed in 2017. On that basis the 2014 survey will still be open for change until at least 2021. Or to put it another way they simply do not know.

Comment

So in essence the main changes in the recent UK numbers for the stock and flow of our international position depend on assumptions about foreign holding of equities and corporate bonds respectively. There are a range of issues but let us start with the word assumption which means they do not know and could be very wrong. This is an area where a UK strength which is the City of London is an issue as the international flows in and out will be enormous and let us face the fact that a fair bit of it will be flows which are the equivalent of the “dark web”. So we have a specific problem in terms of scale compared to the size of our economy.

Before we even get to these sort of numbers we have a lot of issues with our trade data. You do not have to take my word for it as here is the official view from the UK Statistics Authority.

For earlier monthly releases of UK Trade Statistics that have also been affected by this error, the versions on the website should be amended to make clear to users that the errors led the Authority to suspend the National Statistics designation on 14 November 2014.

So this is balanced let me give you an example in the other direction from the same late September barrage of data.

In 2016, the Blue Book 2017 dividends income from corporations is £61.7 billion, compared with £12.2 billion for households and NPISH as previously published

Or the way our savings data surged!

I do not mean to be critical of individual statisticians many of whom no doubt do their best and work hard. But sadly much of the output simply cannot be taken at face value.

 

 

The outlook for UK house prices is turning lower

Today brings together two strands of my life. At the end of this week one of my friends is off to work in the Far East like I did back in the day. This reminds me of my time in Tokyo in the 1990s where Fortune magazine was reporting this at the beginning of the decade.

The Japanese, famous for saving, are now loading their future generations with debt. Nippon Mortgage and Japan Housing Loan, two big home lenders, are offering 99- and 100-year multigeneration loans with interest rates from 8.9% to 9.9%.

Back then property prices were so steep that these came into fashion and to set the scene the Imperial Palace and gardens ( which are delightful) were rumoured to be worth more than California. Younger readers may have a wry smile at the interest-rates which these days they only see if student loans are involved I guess. But this feature of “Discovering Japan” or its past as Graham Parker and the Rumour would put it comes back into mind as I read this earlier. From the BBC.

The average mortgage term is lengthening from the traditional 25 years, according to figures from broker L&C Mortgages. Its figures show the proportion of new buyers taking out 31 to 35-year mortgages has doubled in 10 years.

We have noted this trend before which of course is a consequence of ever higher house prices which is another similarity with Japan before the bust there. Although there is an effort to deflect us from that.

Lenders have been offering longer mortgage terms, of up to 40 years, to reflect longer working lives and life expectancy.

Let us look into the detail.

The average term for a mortgage taken by a first-time buyer has risen slowly but steadily to more than 27 years, according to the L&C figures drawn from its customer data.
More detailed data shows that in 2007, there were 59% of first-time buyers who had mortgage terms of 21 to 25 years. That proportion dropped to 39% this year.
In contrast, mortgage terms of 31 to 35 years have been chosen by 22% of first-time buyers this year, compared with 11% in 2007.

Should the latest version of “Help To Buy” push house prices even higher then we may well see mortgage terms continue to lengthen. This issue will be made worse by the growing burden of expensive student debt and the struggles and travails of real wages.

If you extend a mortgage term the monthly payment will likely reduce but the capital sum which needs to be repaid rises.

The total cost of a £150,000 mortgage with an interest rate of 2.5% would be more than £23,000 higher by choosing a 35-year mortgage term rather than a 25-year term.
The gain for the borrower would be monthly repayments of £536, rather than £673.

House Prices

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors or RICS has reported this morning.

Prices also held steady in September at the national level, with 6% more respondents seeing a rise in prices demonstrating a marginal increase. Looking across the regions, London remains firmly negative, while the price balance in the South East also remains negative (but to a lesser extent than London) for a fourth consecutive month.

“firmly negative” is interesting isn’t it as London is usually a leading indicator for the rest of the country? Although care is needed as the RICS uses offered prices rather than actual sales prices. Looking ahead it seems to be signalling a bit more widespread weakness in prices.

new buyer enquiries declined during September, as a net balance of -20% more respondents noted a fall in demand (as opposed to an increase). Not only does this extend a sequence of negative readings into a sixth month, it also represents the weakest figure since July 2016,

It is noticeable that there are clear regional influences as some of the weaker areas are seeing house price rises now, although of course that may just mean that it takes a while for a new trend to reach them.

That said, Northern Ireland and Scotland are now the only two areas in which contributors are confident that prices will rise meaningfully over the near term.

The Bank of England

This morning has seen a signal of a possible shift in Bank of England policy. If we look at its credit conditions survey we see that unsecured lending was supposedly being restricted.

Lenders reported that the availability of unsecured credit to households decreased in Q3 and expected a significant decrease in Q4 (Chart 2). Credit scoring criteria for granting both credit card and other unsecured loans were reported to have tightened again in Q3, while the proportion of unsecured credit applications being approved fell significantly.

As demand was the same there is a squeeze coming here and this could maybe filter into the housing market as at a time of stretched valuations people sometimes borrow where they can. Care is needed here though as the figures to August showed continued strong growth in unsecured credit making me wonder if the banks are telling the Bank of England what they think it wants to hear.

Also we were told this about mortgages.

Overall spreads on secured lending to households — relative to Bank Rate or the appropriate swap rate — were reported to have narrowed significantly in Q3 and were expected to do so again in Q4.

However on the 6th of this month the BBC pointed out that we are now seeing some ch-ch-changes.

The cost of taking out a fixed-rate mortgage has started to rise, even though the Bank of England has kept base rates at a record low.

Barclays and NatWest have become the latest lenders to increase the cost of some of their fixed-rate products.

At least nine other banks or building societies have also raised their rates in the past few weeks.

Business lending

This is an important issue and worth a diversion. The official view of the Bank of England is that its Funding for Lending Scheme and Term Funding Scheme prioritise lending to smaller businesses and yet it finds itself reporting this.

Spreads on lending to businesses of all sizes widened in Q3 (Chart 5). They were expected to widen further on lending to small and large businesses in Q4.

This no doubt is a factor in this development.

Lenders reported a fall in demand for corporate lending for businesses of all sizes — and small businesses in particular (Chart 3). Demand from all businesses was expected to be unchanged in Q4.

The Bank of England will no doubt call this “counterfactual” ( whatever the level it would otherwise have been worse) whereas the 4 year record looks woeful to me if we compare it to say mortgages or even more so with unsecured lending.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here especially if we do see something of a squeeze on unsecured lending as 2017 closes. That would be quite a contrast to the ~10% annual growth rate we have been seeing and would be likely to wash into the housing market as well. Some will perhaps borrow extra on their mortgages if they can whilst others may now be no longer able to use unsecured lending to aid house purchases. These things often turn up in places you do not expect or if you prefer we will see disintermediation. It is hard not to wonder about the car loans situation especially as it is mostly outside the conventional banking system.

So we see an example of utter failure at the Bank of England as it expanded policy and weakened the Pound £ as the economy was doing okay but is now looking for a contraction when it is weaker. We will need to watch house prices closely as we move into 2018.

Meanwhile people often ask me about how much buy-to-let lending goes vis businesses so this from Mortgages for Business earlier made me think.

Last quarter nearly four out of every five pounds lent for buy to let purchases via Mortgages for Business was lent to a limited company. With strong limited company purchase application levels throughout Q2, and the softer affordability testing that is commonly applied to limited companies leading to higher-than -average loan amounts, it is no surprise to see them take such a large slice of buy to let purchase completions in Q3.

Now this is something of a specialist area so the percentages will be tilted that way but with”softer affordability testing” and “higher than average loan amounts” what could go wrong?

 

 

 

A solid day for the UK economy or another trade disaster?

Today has opened with some positive news for the UK economy. The opening salvo was fired just after midnight by the British Retail Consortium.

In September, UK retail sales increased by 1.9% on a like-for-like basis from September 2016, when they had increased 0.4% from the preceding year……..On a total basis, sales rose 2.3% in September, against a growth of 1.3% in September 2016. This is above the 3-month and 12-month averages of 2.1% and 1.7% respectively.

So we have had 2 months now of better news on this indicator although it is a far from perfect guide to the official data series mostly because it combines both volumes and prices as hinted below.

September saw a second consecutive month of relatively good sales growth which should indicate welcome news for retailers and the economy alike. Looking beneath the surface though, we see that much of this growth is being driven by price increases filtering through, particularly in food and clothing, which were the highest performing product categories for the month.

Anyway for all the talk of price increases if you look at the figures they cannot have been that high and we have also got a small bit of good news on that front. From the BBC.

Car insurance premiums have dipped for the first time in more than three years, but the respite for drivers will be short-lived, analysis suggests.

Prices fell by 1%, or £9, in the third quarter of the year compared with the previous three months, according to price comparison website Confused.com.

Tourism

The lower value of the UK Pound £ seems to have given the UK economy something of a boost as well.

Tourism is booming in the UK with nearly 40 million overseas people expected to have visited the country during 2017 – a record figure.

Tourist promotion agency VisitBritain forecasts overseas trips to the UK will increase 6% to 39.7 million with spending up 14% to £25.7bn this year.

Also we seem to be holidaying more at home ourselves.

Britons are also holidaying at home in record numbers.

British Tourist Authority chairman Steve Ridgway said tourism was worth £127bn annually to the economy……From January to June this year, domestic overnight holidays in England rose 7% to a record 20.4 million with visitors spending £4.6bn – a rise of 17% and another record.

Over time this should give a boost to the UK trade figures which feel like they have been in deficit since time began! Especially if numbers like the one below continue.

Spending on UK debit cards overseas was down nearly 13% in August compared with the same month in 2016.

Production

If we move to this morning’s official data series we see that production is in fact positive.

In August 2017, total production was estimated to have increased by 0.2% compared with July 2017………In the three months to August 2017, the Index of Production was estimated to have increased by 0.9%……Total production output for August 2017 compared with August 2016 increased by 1.6%.

It is being held back by North Sea Oil & Gas output.

The fall of 2.0% in mining and quarrying was due mainly to oil and gas extraction, which fell by 2.1%. This was largely due to maintenance during August 2017.

The maintenance season is complex is we had a good June followed by weaker months so we do not know if this is part of the long-term decline in the area or simply the ebb and flow of the summer maintenance schedule.

Tucked away in the revisions was some good news as new data sources raised the index for the second quarter of 2017 from 101.6 to 102.1. We also saw a continuing of the trend towards services as production’s weighting in the UK economy fell from 14.65% to 13.95% or another example of the trend is your friend.

Manufacturing

This was the bright spot in the production data set with it rising by 0.4% on a monthly basis and by the amount below on an annual one.

with manufacturing providing the largest upward contribution, increasing by 2.8%

We actually beat France (2.7%) on a year on year and monthly basis which poses food for thought for the surveys telling us it was doing “far,far better ” as David Byrne would say. A driver of this is shown below and the numbers are on a three-monthly basis.

other manufacturing and repair provided the largest contribution, rising by 3.8%, due mainly to an increase of 13.1% in repair and maintenance of aircraft and spacecraft.

We are repairing spacecraft, who knew? If we look at the pattern we see that the official data seems to be catching up with what had previously been much more optimistic survey data from the CBI and the Markit business surveys.

Here is the overall credit crunch era situation which is now a little better than we thought before due to revisions and the recent manufacturing growth.

both production and manufacturing output have risen but remain below their level reached in the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008, by 6.9% and 3.0% respectively in the three months to August 2017.

Construction

There were even some better numbers from this sector.

Construction output grew 0.6% month-on-month in August 2017, predominantly driven by a 1.7% rise in all new work……Compared with August 2016, construction output grew 3.5%

However I have warned time and time again about this data set and tucked away in the detail was a clear vindication of my scepticism.

The annual growth rate for 2016 has been revised from 2.4% to 3.8% and the leading contribution to this increase is infrastructure, which itself has been revised from negative 9.2% to negative 3.2%.

The ch-ch-changes are far too high for this series to be taken that seriously and this is far from the first time that this has happened.

Trade

This invariably brings bad news as here we go again.

Between the three months to May 2017 and the three months to August 2017, the total UK trade (goods and services) excluding erratic commodities deficit widened by £2.9 billion to £10.8 billion.

The bit that has me bothered about this series apart from its “not a national statistic” basis is this when we have reports from elsewhere that exporting is doing well as we have seen earlier today from the manufacturing and tourism news.

total trade (goods and services) exports decreased by 1.4% (£2.1 billion) ( in the latest 3 months).

Also it is hard to have much faith in primary income and investment position data which has been revised enormously especially in the latter case. I know we have got used to large numbers but a change of £500 billion?

The trade figures themselves have been less affected but surely the tuition fees change was known and should have been anticipated?

The biggest revision is in 2012 (£4.0 billion), with the inclusion of tuition fees having the greatest impact, followed by the inclusion of drugs data into the estimates of illegal activities.

Comment

Let us start with the good news which is that the data in the last 24 hours for the UK economy has been broadly positive. This is especially true if we compare it with the REM style “end of the world as we know it” which manifests itself in so much of the media. Also it is good that the UK Office for National Statistics has a policy of reviewing and trying to improve its data.

The bad news is that some of the large revisions lately bring into question the whole procedure. I mentioned last week the large upwards revision in UK savings which changed the picture substantially there which was followed by unit on labour costs being estimated as growing annually by 1.6% and then 2.4%. We now look at the construction sector which has given good news today and the balance of payments bad news. Both however have seen such large revisions that the true picture could be very different.

It is hard to believe that even those in the highest Ivory Towers could have any faith in nominal GDP targeting after the revisions but it pops up with regularity.

 

When will the UK banks ever fully recover from the credit crunch?

We are now more than a decade away from the first real crisis of the credit crunch era in the UK. That came on the 14th of September 2007 when Northern Rock applied for and received a liquidity support facility from the Bank of England as customers queued at its various branches in an effort to withdraw their deposits. Let us have a brief smile at this from the statement back then.

The FSA judges that Northern Rock is solvent, exceeds its regulatory capital requirement and has a good quality loan book.

It was in fact so solvent that it was nationalised early in 2008! In fact we see another feature of the crisis highlighted by this from the BBC back then.

Northern Rock is to be nationalised as a temporary measure, Chancellor Alistair Darling has said.

Hence the advent of more modern definitions of the word temporary as of course the bad part of Northern Rock still is in public hands.

Royal Bank of Scotland

In October 2008 RBS joined the bail out party. From the UK Government.

The Government is making capital investments to RBS, and upon successful merger, HBOS and Lloyds TSB, totaling £37 billion.

“Successful merger” eh?! I will look at Lloyds later but let us continue with RBS which in a clear example of failure was never actually nationalised as the UK establishment indulged its fantasy that enormous investments could be at arm’s-length. Indeed as the National Audit Office ( NAO ) tells us below the government in fact ended up have to have other goes at backing RBS,

To maintain financial stability at the height of the financial crisis, the government injected a total of £45.5 billion into the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) between October 2008 and December 2009.

Oh and….

The government intended to return RBS to the private sector as soon as possible

The NAO also calculated a cost for the investment.

The overall investment was equivalent to 502 pence per share.

Although if all the costs are factored in the cost gets even higher.

We have calculated that if the costs of financing the intervention are also taken into account, the government would have had to sell the shares at 625 pence each to break even.

Still with the UK economy having had 4 years of solid economic growth and stock markets around the world at or near all time highs then RBS must be benefiting surely? No as the price this morning is 272 pence per share. This makes even the 2015 sale of some shares look good.

On 4 August 2015, the government sold 630 million shares in RBS (5.4% of the bank) to institutional investors, reducing government’s holding to 72.9%.1 The shares sold for 330 pence each. This represented a 2.3% discount to the market price and raised £2.1 billion.

So a loss but less of a loss than we would see now. Except let us return to a fundamental problem which is that things are supposed to be better now! Or as the International Financing Review put it back in 2012.

In some ways, however, RBS is well ahead of the pack…….RBS was forced to concentrate on what it was good at and should come out of its current (second) restructuring as one of the more efficient banks in the industry.

Still along the way some have at least managed to keep a sense of humour as I pointed out on the 30th of November last year.

Dear Dragons Den, I have 80% share. Losses this year are £8 billion. I am paying out £0.5 billion in bonuses. Would you like to invest? #RBS ( @BlueBullet January 2014).

Yesterday we saw a change in the official response as Sky News reported this.

RBS Chairman has told Sky News taxpayers will not get all of their money back from Government’s bailout following the 2008 financial crisis.

I have a real problem with this which is that any form of honesty takes about a decade. This is far from a UK only problem as foreign bank bailouts have seen their share of misrepresentations and outright lies as well. The problem is the cost as let us start with the £12 billion Rights Issue of 2012 which was based on a prospectus that must have had more holes in it than a swiss cheese. We have seen many scandals which never seem to quite come to fruition as official reports remain a secret. Yet we are forever told that the bailouts were to raise trust in the banks.

Lloyds Bank

This had a more successful effort at selling the shares previously owned by the UK taxpayer. We even got our money back although care is needed as saying that assumes the money was pretty much free which back then it certainly was not. However over the weekend other problems have dogged Lloyds Bank and we are back to bailed out banks behaving badly. Here is the Financial Times on the financial scandal that unfolded at the Reading HBOS  ( Halifax Bank of Scotland) branch.

Yet Lloyds showed little interest in finding out what happened. Not only did the bank brush off Reade’s warnings at the time, but other victims who unearthed evidence of wrongdoing were treated equally dismissively. Far from calling in the police or regulatory authorities, Lloyds maintained right up until the trial’s conclusion that its own internal inquiries had revealed no sign of any criminality.

In other words the bank was able to behave for quite a long time as it was above the law and in fact even now seems able to be its own judge and jury in spite of the fact that it is plainly unfit to do so.

Nothing else can explain the fact that the task of examining Lloyds’ conduct has been given to . . . Lloyds. The bank has commissioned a former judge, Dame Linda Dobbs, to review its response to the Reading incident and whether it complied with all applicable rules and regulations. When complete, this will not be made public and will go only to the board, with a copy being dispatched to the Financial Conduct Authority.

Simply shameful.

Barclays

Barclays escaped an explicit bailout via an investment from the Qataris. That investment provoked all sorts of issues as it appeared some shareholders (them) were more equal than others. As Reuters put it in June.

The SFO charged Varley, Jenkins, the ex-chairman of its Middle East investment banking arm, Kalaris, a former CEO of the bank’s wealth division and Boath, a former European head of financial institutions, after investigating a two-part fundraising that included a $3 billion loan to Qatar.

What could go wrong with lending to someone who buys your shares? Oh and you pay some sweeteners as well. Let us move on noting that Barclays is also in court with Amanda Staveley who arranged another share deal with Abu Dhabi. Added to this is the fact that the current chief executive Jes Staley responded to a whistle-blower by attempting to unmask the person making the claim, thus breaking the most basic tenet of how to deal with such a situation.

The current state of play is summed up by this in the Financial Times.

Two years ago, Mr McFarlane set a target of doubling Barclays’ share price. But since then it has fallen by more than a quarter. The chairman has told colleagues he aims to stay at least until the shares regain their lost ground.

The words of Lawrence Oates seem both appropriate and inappropriate.

“I am just going outside and may be some time.”

As he faced troubles with courage and self-sacrifice we watch bankers facing trouble with denial and self-aggrandisement.

Comment

The bank bailouts were presented as saving the economy but as time has gone by we are increasingly faced with the issue that in many ways “the precious” has been prioritised over the rest of the economy. The claim of building trust in the system has had Fleetwood Mac on the sound system.

Tell me lies
Tell me sweet little lies
If I could turn the page
In time then I’d rearrange just a day or two
Close my, close my, close my eyes
But I couldn’t find a way
So I’ll settle for one day to believe in you
Tell me, tell me, tell me lies
Tell me lies

Now we find that there has been some progress ( Lloyds back in the private sector and some parts of Northern Rock and Bradford and Bingley sold) but also a long list of failures. How was nobody at the top responsible for some of the largest examples of fraud in human history? We are forever being told the world was “saved” but the reality was that it was what continue to look like zombie banks were saved at the cost of ossifying our economic system. To my mind it is one of the causes of our productivity problem.

It is clear to me that this industry has seen one of the clearest cases of regulatory capture that you could wish not to see.