Of UK Austerity and the Queen’s Speech

Today in a happy coincidence we get both the future plans of the current government in the Queen’s Speech as well as the latest public finances data. It looks as though the atmosphere is for this at least according to the Financial Times.

But he (the Chancellor) is coming under growing pressure from some Tory MPs — who are reeling from the loss of the party’s majority in the House of Commons at the June 8 election — to learn lessons and increase public spending.

Why? Well this happened.

The opposition Labour party pulled off surprise gains in the UK general election by offering voters a vision of higher public spending funded by increased taxes on companies and the rich.

So there is likely to be pressure on this front especially as we will have a government that at best will only have a small majority.

Mansion House

The Chancellor Phillip Hammond also spoke at Mansion House yesterday and told us this.

And higher discretionary borrowing to fund current consumption is simply asking the next generation to pay for something that we want to consume, but are not prepared to pay for ourselves, so we will remain committed to the fiscal rules set out at the Autumn Statement which will guide us, via interim targets in 2020, to a balanced budget by the middle of the next decade.

Is that an official denial? Because we know what to do with those! But in fact setting a target of the middle of the next decade (so 2025) gives enormous freedom of movement in practical terms. You could forecast pretty much anything for then and the Office for Budget Responsibility or OBR probably has. If we look back over its lifespan we see that one error which is that forecasting wage inflation now would be 5% per annum as opposed to the current 2% has had enormous implications. Also we only need to look back to the 3rd of October to see the Chancellor giving himself some freedom of manoeuvre.

“As we go into a period where inevitably there will be more uncertainty in the economy, we need the space to be able to support the economy through that period,” he said. “If we don’t do something, if we don’t intervene to counteract that effect, in time it would have an impact on jobs and growth.”

As later today the media will no doubt be using OBR forecasts as if they are some form of Holy Grail lets is remind ourselves of the first rule of OBR club. That is that the OBR is always wrong.

A 100 Year Gilt

You might think that with all the political uncertainty and weakness from the UK Pound that the Gilt market would be under pressure. My favourite comedy series Yes Minister invariably had the two falling together. But nothing is perfect as that relationship is not currently true. It raises a wry smile each time I type it but the UK 10 year Gilt yield is blow 1% ( 0.98%) as I type this. In terms of recent moves the market was boosted yesterday by the words of Bank of England Governor Mark Carney who with his £435 billion of holding’s is by far its largest investor. In essence the likelihood of more purchases of that sort nudged higher yesterday and thus the market rallied and yields fell.

Also we live in a world summarised by this from Lisa Abramowicz of Bloomberg.

Argentina has defaulted on its external debt seven times in the past 200 years. It just sold 100-year bonds.

Actually it was oversubscribed I believe and I will let readers decide if they think a yield of 7.9% was enough. The UK however could borrow much more cheaply than that as according to the Debt Management Office the yield on our longest Gilt (2068) is 1.52%. Actually as we move from the 2040s to the 2060s the yield gets lower but I will not extend that and simply suggest we might be able to borrow for 100 years at 1.5% which seems an opportunity.

Actually quite a historical opportunity and we could go further as this from the Economist from 2005 ( h/t @RSR108 ) hints.

In 1751 Henry Pelham’s Whig government pulled together the lessons learnt on bonds to create the security of the century: the 3% consol. This took its name from the fact that it paid 3% on a £100 par value and consolidated the terms of a variety of previous issues. The consols had no maturity; in theory they would keep paying £3 a year forever.

I have a friend who has always wanted to own a piece of Consols to put the certificate on his wall so he would be pleased. Assuming of course they still do certificates…..

Today’s data

It was almost a type of Groundhog Day.

Public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) decreased by £0.1 billion to £16.1 billion in the current financial year-to-date (April 2017 to May 2017), compared with the same period in 2016; this is the lowest year-to-date net borrowing since 2008.

So the financial year so far looks rather like its predecessor. Although below the surface there were some changes as for example it is hard to put a label of austerity on this.

Over the same period, central government spent £123.5 billion; around 4% more than in the same period in the previous financial year.

In case you were wondering on what? Here it is.

Of this amount, just below two-thirds was spent by central government departments (such as health, education and defence), around one-third on social benefits (such as pensions, unemployment payments, Child Benefit and Maternity Pay)

This meant that tax revenue had to be pretty good.

In the current financial year-to-date, central government received £110.2 billion in income; including £79.1 billion in taxes. This was around 5% more than in the same period in the previous financial year.

In case you are wondering about the gap some £20 billion or so is National Insurance which is not counted as a tax.

How much debt?

The amount of money owed by the public sector to the private sector stood at just above £1.7 trillion at the end of May 2017, which equates to 86.5% of the value of all the goods and services currently produced by the UK economy in a year (or gross domestic product (GDP)).

Actually some of this is due to the Bank of England something which we did not hear about yesterday from Governor Carney.

£86.8 billion is attributable to debt accumulated within the Bank of England, nearly all of it in the Asset Purchase Facility. Of this £86.8 billion, £63.3 billion relates to the Term Funding Scheme (TFS).

Comment

There is much to consider about austerity UK style. Ironically in the circumstances we would qualify under one part of the Euro area rules as our deficit is less than 3% of GDP. But of course that is a long way short of the horizon of surpluses we were promised back in the day. Please remember that later today as all sorts of forecasts appear, as the George Osborne surplus remained 3/4 years away regardless of what point in time you were at. As we have run consistent deficits is that austerity? For quite a few people the answer is yes as some have lost jobs or seen very low pay rises as we note it represented a switch. The switch concept starts to get awkward if we look at the Triple Lock for the basic state pension for example.

Moving onto other matters it was only yesterday that Governor Carney was boasting about the credit boom and I pointed out the unsecured portion. Well already the news has not gone well for him.

Provident Financial said recent collections performance had “deteriorated”, particularly in May. ( New York Times)

Presumably they mean the month and not Theresa. Also there was this in the Agents Report about the car market.

Increases in the sterling cost of new cars and decreases in the expected future residual values of many used cars had put some upward pressure on monthly finance payments on Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) plans.

If there was a canary in this coal mine well look at this.

Car companies had sought to offset this in a
number of ways, including increasing the length of PCP
contracts.

As the can gets solidly kicked yet again we wait to see if finance in this area is as “secured” as Governor Carney has assured us.

The Longest Day

The good news for us in the Northern Hemisphere is that this is the longest day although the sweltering heat in London it felt like a long night! So enjoy as for us it is all downhill now if not for those reading this Down Under. I gather it is also the Day of Rage apparently which may be evidenced when the Donald spots this.

Ford Motor Co (F.N) said on Tuesday it will move some production of its Focus small car to China and import the vehicles to the United States ( Reuters )

Problems mount for Mark Carney at Mansion House

The UK’s central bank announces its policy decision today and it faces challenges on several fronts. The first was highlighted yesterday evening by the US Federal Reserve.

In view of realized and expected labor market conditions and inflation, the Committee decided to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 1 to 1-1/4 percent. The stance of monetary policy remains accommodative, thereby supporting some further strengthening in labor market conditions and a sustained return to 2 percent inflation.

UK monetary policy is normally similar to that in the US as our economies often follow the same cycles. This time around however the Bank of England has cut to 0.25% whilst the Federal Reserve has been raising interest-rates creating a gap of 0.75% to 1% now. In terms of the past maybe not a large gap but of course these days the gap is large in a world of zero and indeed negative interest-rates. Also we can expect the gap to grow in the future.

The Committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant gradual increases in the federal funds rate;

There was also more as the Federal Reserve made another change which headed in the opposite direction to Bank of England policy.

The Committee currently expects to begin implementing a balance sheet normalization program this year, provided that the economy evolves broadly as anticipated.

So the Federal Reserve is planning to start the long journey to what used to be regarded as normal for a central bank balance sheet. Of course only last August the Bank of England set out on expanding its balance sheet by another £70 billion if we include the Corporate Bond purchases in what its Chief Economist Andy Haldane called a “Sledgehammer”. So again the two central banks have been heading in opposite directions. Also on that subject Mr.Haldane was reappointed for another three years this week. Does anybody know on what grounds? After all the wages data from yesterday suggested yet another fail on the forecasting front in an ever-growing series.

Andrew Haldane, Executive Director, Monetary Analysis and Statistics, and Chief Economist at the
Bank of England, has been reappointed for a further three-year term as a member of the Monetary Policy
Committee with effect from 12 June 2017.

For those interested in what Andy would presumably call an anti-Sledgehammer here it is.

( For Treasury Bonds) the Committee anticipates that the cap will be $6 billion per month initially and will increase in steps of $6 billion at three-month intervals over 12 months until it reaches $30 billion per month…… ( for Mortgage Securities) the Committee anticipates that the cap will be $4 billion per month initially and will increase in steps of $4 billion at three-month intervals over 12 months until it reaches $20 billion per month.

Whilst these really are baby steps compared to a balance sheet of US $4.46 trillion they do at least represent a welcome move in the right direction.

The Inflation Conundrum

This has several facets for the Bank of England. The most obvious is that it eased policy last August as inflation was expected to rise and this month we see that the inflation measure it is supposed to keep around 2% per annum ( CPI ) has risen to 2.9% with more rises expected. It of course badged the “Sledgehammer” move as being expansionary for the economy but I have argued all along that it is more complex than that and may even be contractionary.

Today’s Retail Sales numbers give an example of my thinking so let me use them to explain. Here they are.

In May 2017, the quantity bought in the retail industry was estimated to have increased by 0.9% compared with May 2016; the annual growth rate was last lower in April 2013…..Month-on-month, the quantity bought was estimated to have fallen by 1.2% following strong growth in April 2017.

So after a strong 2016 UK retail sales have weakened in 2017 but my argument is that the main driver here has been this.

Average store prices (excluding fuel) increased by 2.8% on the year; the largest growth since March 2012.

It has been the rise in prices or higher inflation which has been the main driver of the weakness in retail sales. A factor in this has been the lower value of the Pound which if you use the US inflation numbers as a control has so far raised UK inflation by around 1%. This weakness in the currency was added to by expectations of Bank of England monetary easing which of course were fulfilled. You may note I say expectations because as some of us have been discussing in the comments section the main impact of QE on a currency happens in the expectations/anticipation phase.

On the other side of the coin you have to believe that a 0.25% cut in interest-rates has a material impact after cuts of over 4% did not! Also that increasing the Bank of England’s balance sheet will do more than adding to house prices and easing the fiscal deficit. A ten-year Gilt yield of 0.96% does not go well with inflation at 2.9% ( CPI) and of course even worse with RPI ( 3.7%).

House Prices

I spotted this earlier in the Financial Times which poses a serious question to Bank of England policy.

Since 1980, the compounded inflation-adjusted gain for a UK homeowner has been 212 per cent. Before 1980 house price gains were much tamer over the various cycles either side of the second world war. Indeed, in aggregate, prices were largely unchanged over the previous 100 years, once inflation is accounted for.

A change in policy? Of course much of that was before Mark Carney’s time but we know from his time in Canada and here that house price surges and bubbles do happen on his watch. The article then looks at debt availability.

The one factor that did change, though, and marked the start of that step change in 1980, is the supply of mortgage debt……….has resulted in a sevenfold increase in inflation-adjusted mortgage debt levels since then.

This leads to something that I would like Mark Carney to address in his Mansion House speech tonight.

Second an inflation-targeting central bank, which has delivered a more aggressive monetary response to each of the recent downturns, because of that high debt burden.

On that road we in the UK will see negative interest-rates in the next downturn which of course may be on the horizon.

Comment

There is much to consider for the Governor of the Bank of England tonight. If he continues on the current path of cutting interest-rates and adding to QE on any prospect of an economic slow down then neither he nor his 8 fellow policy setting colleagues are required. We could replace them with an AI ( Artificially Intelligent ) Robot although I guess the danger is that it becomes sentient Skynet style ( from The Terminator films ) and starts to question what it is doing?

However moving on from knee-jerk junkie culture monetary policy has plenty of problems. It first requires both acknowledgement and admittal that monetary policy can do some things but cannot do others. Also that international influences are often at play which includes foreign monetary policy. I have looked at the Federal Reserve today well via the Far East other monetary policy applies. Let me hand you over to some research from Neal Hudson of Residential Analysts on buyers of property in London from the Far East.

However, anecdotal evidence suggests that many of these buyers have been using local mortgages to fund their purchases.  The limited evidence I have suggests that around half of Hong Kong and Singaporean buyers use a local mortgage while the majority of mainland Chinese buyers use one.

Okay on what terms?

The main difference is that the mortgage rate tends to be slightly higher (London Home Loan comparison) and local lenders allow borrowers to have far higher debt multiples.

These people are not as rich as might previously have been assumed and we need to throw in changes in the value of the UK Pound £ which are good for new buyers but bad for existing ones. Complicated now isn’t it?

On a personal level I was intrigued by this.

Last year I visited a development in Nine Elms and the lobby felt more like a hotel than a residential block. There were significant numbers of people appearing to pick up and drop off keys with suitcases in tow.

You see I live in another part of Battersea ( the other side of the park) and where i live feels like that as well.

 

 

 

UK Real Wages took quite a dip in April

As we looked at the inflation data yesterday it was hard not to think of the implications for real or inflation adjusted wages from the further rise in inflation. There were quite a few such stories in the media about a fall in real wages although they were a little ahead of events because the inflation data was for May and even today we will only get wages data up to April. However there is an issue here that has been building in the credit crunch era where real wages fell heavily as the Bank of England looked the other way as inflation went above 5% in the autumn of 2011. Sadly they relied in their Ivory Tower models which told them that wages would rise in response. Not only did that not happen but the recovery since has been weak and was in fact driven much more by low inflation than wage growth. This is different to past recessions as this from the Resolution Foundation shows.

As you can see the pattern has been very different from past recessions. Real pay rebounded very strongly after 1979 and did well after 1990 but on the same timescale in remains in negative territory this time around. A lot of care is required with long term data like this but this is a performance that looks the worst for some time.

The Napoleonic war period seems especially grim for real wages. If I recall correctly we were imposing a blockade on much of Europe which seems to have our economy hard as well.

Today’s data

We see that wage growth has faded a bit in the latest numbers.

Between February to April 2016 and February to April 2017, in nominal terms, regular pay increased by 1.7%, slightly lower than the growth rate between January to March 2016 and January to March 2017 (1.8%)……..Between February to April 2016 and February to April 2017, in nominal terms, total pay increased by 2.1%, lower than the growth rate between January to March 2016 and January to March 2017 (2.3%). The annual growth rate for total pay, in nominal terms, has not been lower than 2.1% since October to December 2015.

This is of course happening at the same time that inflation is rising and leads to this situation.

The rate of wage growth slowed in the 3 months to April 2017; adjusted for inflation, annual growth in total average weekly earnings turned negative for the first time since 2014.

That is rather ominous when we consider the first chart above as it means that we are getting further away from regaining where we were in 2008 rather than nearer so let us look deeper. The emphasis is mine.

Average weekly earnings, including bonuses, grew by 2.1% in the same period and are the weakest since the December to February 2016 period. Taking into account recent increases in inflation, real average weekly earnings decreased by 0.4% including bonuses and by 0.6% excluding bonuses in the 3 months to April 2017 compared with the same period a year earlier. This is the first annual decline in total real average weekly earnings since 2014.

Of course they are using the new lower headline measure of inflation called CPIH which uses Imputed Rents to estimate owner-occupied housing costs. So the goal posts have been moved a little and this happens so often these days that we should be grateful that so many goal posts now come with wheels.

Where does this leave us overall?

The situation is as follows according to our official statisticians. They are using constant 2015 prices so they are real numbers.

average total pay (including bonuses) for employees in Great Britain was £487 per week before tax and other deductions from pay, £35 lower than the pre-downturn peak of £522 per week recorded for February 2008.

Number Crunching

We can go deeper because there are numbers for the month of April on its own. In that month total pay only rose at an annual rate of 1.2% because whilst regular pay rose by 1.8% bonuses fell by 5.8%. Care is needed as if we look back April has been an erratic month for bonuses but we see that real wages were falling at an annual rate of 1.5% if we use CPI inflation. 1.4% if we use CPIH and 2.3% if we use RPI. Even if we ignore the bonus numbers we see -0.9% for CPI, -0.8% for CPIH and -1.5% for RPI.

The sectors which seem to have impacted in April are the finance and construction ones which both saw total pay fall at an annual rate of 0.5%.

Is the UK labour market tight

Conventional analysis based on such theories as the Phillips Curve will be telling us that the UK labour market is “tight”. An example of this is below from Andy Verity of the BBC.

Unemployment: a 42-year low (1.53m, 4.6%); work force: another record high (31.95m people). But tight labour market isn’t pushing up pay.

If we put some more meat on those bones there are things heading in that direction as this shows below.

The number of people in work increased by 109,000 in the 3 months to April 2017 compared with the previous 3 months, to 31.95 million, with an increase in full-time employment (162,000) partly offset by a fall in part-time employment (53,000) . The employment rate reached a joint record high of 74.8%.

This looks good and indeed is but questions remain. For example having checked I know that there is not a clear definition of full-time work it is something that responders to the survey decide for themselves. Added to this is the issue of self-employment and how much work they are actually doing.

self-employed people increased by 103,000 to 4.80 million (15.0% of all people in work).

Just as a reminder the self-employed are excluded from the official wages data. There is more reinforcement for the labour market being tight here.

Total hours worked per week were 1.03 billion for February to April 2017. This was 0.7 million more than for November 2016 to January 2017 and 15.4 million more than for a year earlier.

We are left with the concept of underemployment here I think which measures the gap between the work that people are doing and what they would like to do. Sadly the UK does not have an official measure of this unlike the US with its U-6 data. We only have flickers of insight via the growth of self-employment which needs to be sub-divided into positive and negative and the rise of zero hours contracts. In terms of influencing pay there seems to have been an associated rise in job insecurity but we have no clear measure of this.

Comment

The real wage squeeze we feared for this year is now upon us and we face the grim reality that it has been more than a lost decade for them.

Looking at longer term movements, average total pay for employees in Great Britain in nominal terms increased from £376 a week in January 2005 to £502 a week in April 2017; an increase of 33.5%. Over the same period the Consumer Prices Index including owner occupiers’ housing costs (CPIH) increased by 31.8%.

The cross-over was in early 2006. This poses all sorts of problems for the Ivory Towers who will look at the employment numbers and forecast much stronger wage growth. Of course they were usually responsible for the increasingly inadequate employment data as we note that one thing they are certainly very poor at is adapting to ch-ch-changes.

Grenfell Tower

Let me express my deepest sympathies for anyone involved in the dreadful fire there which started this morning.

 

 

Imputed Rents do their job of slowing rises in UK inflation

Today we find ourselves reviewing the data on the rise in inflation in the UK in 2017. This has been caused by a couple of factors. The first is something of a world-wide trend where the price of crude oil stopped falling and being a disinflationary influence. The second has been the fall in the value of the UK Pound which accelerated following the vote for the UK to leave the European Union just over a year ago. If we look back a year then the current US $1.269 has replaced the US $1.411 back then. So the inflation which was supposedly dead ( if you recall the Deflation hype and paranoia..) came back on the menu.

The UK establishment responds

If you do not want the public to realise that inflation is rising but do not wish to introduce any policies to stop it then the only option available to you is to change the way the numbers are measured. Last Autumn the UK statistical establishment began quite a rush to increase the use of rents in  a new headline UK inflation measure. There is of course a proper use for rents which is for those who do rent, however the extension was for those who own their house and do not actually rent it out. So yes imputed rents were required to fill the gap. Here is the official explanation.

However, it does not include the costs associated with owning a home, known as owner occupier housing costs. ONS decided that the best way to estimate these costs is a method known as ‘rental equivalence’. This estimates the cost of owning a home by calculating how much it would cost to rent an equivalent property. A new index based on CPI but including owner occupier housing costs – CPIH – was launched in 2013.

How has that gone?

This new index had some problems in 2014,

Also there is this.

We have still not yet addressed all of the necessary requirements for CPIH to become a national statistic.

So why the rush? Well last week’s numbers on rents from Homelet will have raised a wry smile for many.

UK rental price inflation fell for the first time in almost eight years in May, new data from HomeLet reveals. The average rent on a new tenancy commencing in May was £901, 0.3% lower than in the same month of 2016. New tenancies on rents in London were 3% lower than this time last year…..May’s decrease in average rental values marks a significant moment for the rented property sector. This is the first time since December 2009 the HomeLet Rental Index has reported a fall in rents on an annualised basis.

So rents were rushed in as part of the “most comprehensive measure” of UK inflation just in time for them to fall! Those who believe that rental inflation is related to wage growth will no doubt be thinking that wage growth and hence likely rental growth is lower these days. This is all rather different to house prices where lower mortgage rates can set off more price rises and inflation. I have met those responsible for this and pointed out that the word “comprehensive” is misleading as they do not actually measure the owner occupied housing market they simply impute from the rental one.

Today’s data

We see this.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 2.9% in May 2017, up from 2.7% in April………The Consumer Prices Index including owner occupiers’ housing costs (CPIH, not a National Statistic) 12-month inflation rate was 2.7% in May 2017, up from 2.6% in April.

So not only is the new measure again below the older one we see that the gap has now widened from 0.1% to 0.2%. As the difference must be the imputed rental section let us take a look.

Private rental prices paid by tenants in Great Britain rose by 1.8% in the 12 months to May 2017; this is unchanged from April 2017.

As you can see whilst the official data does not have the falls indicated by Homelet it is a drag on the overall inflation measure. Sir Humphrey Appleby would have a broad smile on his face right now. Oh and the reason why it is not showing falls is that the numbers are what might be called “smoothed”. The actual monthly  numbers are quite erratic ( which of course would lead to doubts if people saw them) so in fact the numbers are over a period of time and then weighted. The ONS has been unwilling to reveal the length of the period used but it used to be around 18 months. This is of course another reason why this methodology is flawed and a bad idea because rents from a year ago should be in last years indices not this months.

I have argued for a long time ( this debate began in 2012) that house prices should be used as they are of course actually paid rather than being imputed. Also they behave very differently to rents as a pattern and are more timely which is important. So what are they doing?

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 5.6% in the year to April 2017 (up from 4.5% in the year to March 2017).

As you can see house price inflation is currently treble that of rental inflation. Can anybody think why the UK establishment wanted rents rather than house prices used in the consumer inflation measure?

Our past measure

The Retail Price Index used to be used in the UK.

The all items RPI annual rate is 3.7%, up from 3.5% last month.

So the pattern of higher inflation measures being retired continues. Although it does at least serve two roles. The first is for indexation of things people pay such as mobile phone bills as my contract rises by it as of course do student loans. The second is for the indexation of Bank of England pensions where it seems strange that the establishment attack on RPI somehow got forgotten

Looking ahead

Fortunately we see that the main push is beginning to fade.

The annual rate of factory gate price inflation (output prices) remained at 3.6% for the third consecutive month and slowed on the month to 0.1%, from 0.4% in March and April……….The annual rate of inflation for materials and fuels (input prices) fell back to 11.6% in May, continuing its decline from 19.9% in January 2017 following the recent strength of sterling.

There is still momentum to push the annual rate of inflation higher which will not be helped if the post General Election dip in the value of the UK Pound persists. But the main push has now been seen. We should be grateful that the price of crude oil is around US $48 per barrel in Brent Crude terms.

Comment

The latest attempt by the UK establishment to “improve” the UK measurement of consumer inflation is being shown up for what it is, an attempt to manipulate the numbers lower. I guess things we receive will no longer be indexed to CPI they will be switched to CPIH! Also will the Bank of England switch its inflation target? If so it will complete a journey which has lowered the measure from 3.9% ( where what is called RPIX now is) to 2.7% or a 1.2% change when the target was only moved by 0.5%. In these times of lower wage rises, interest-rates and yields then 0.7% per annum matters quite a bit over time.

An answer to this would be to put the asset price which the Bank of England loves to inflate, house prices, in the inflation index. Let me leave you today with the price of a few basic goods if they had risen in line with them.

 

As I am off later to buy a chicken for dinner I am grateful it has not risen at such a rate.

Where does the events of last night leave the UK economy?

That was an extraordinary night as yet again much of the polling industry was completely wrong and the UK electorate turned up quite a few surprises. In fact it was not only the political world which spun on its axis because financial markets had cruised into this election as if asleep as I pointed out only on Wednesday. Against the US Dollar the UK Pound £ had been above US $1.29 for a while and had if anything nudged a little higher. Oh and Wednesday suddenly seems like a lifetime away doesn’t it as we sing along to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

Oh, I felt a rush like a rolling bolt of thunder
Spinning my head around and taking my body under
Oh, what a night (Do do do do do, do do do do)
Oh, what a night (Do do do do do, do do do do)

The Exchange Rate

It was not quite like the EU leave vote night which if you recall saw a sharp rally to US $1.50 before plunging as actual results began to come in. But the UK Pound did drop a couple of cents to US $1.275 in a flash. Since then it has drifted lower and is at US $1.27 as I type this. There was a similar move against the Euro as a bit above 1.15 found itself replaced with 1.135 as Sterling longs ended the night with singed fingers.

This means that UK monetary conditions have loosened again and should the fall in the Pound be sustained then we have just seen the equivalent of a 0.5% Bank Rate cut.

Government Bonds

In spite of the fact that there has been something of a shift in the UK political axis and hence potential changes in the economy and fiscal deficit this market has met such a reality with something of a yawn. The ten-year Gilt yield is currently 1.03% meaning there is zero political risk priced into the market there and if we look at what might happen over the next 2 years an annual return of 0.08% barely covers a toenail of it in my opinion!

What we are seeing her in my opinion is how central banks have neutralised bond markets as a signal of anything with their enormous purchases. In this instance it is the £435 billion of UK Gilt purchases by the Bank of England which seem to have left it becalmed in the face of not only higher political risk but also higher inflation.

FTSE 100

This too fell in response to the exit poll forecasting a hung parliament and quickly dropped around 70 points. However then things changed and a rally started and as I type this it is up nearly 50 points around 7500. Why the change? Well there has been an inverse relationship between the value of the Pound and the FTSE 100 for a while now due to the fact that many of the larger UK companies have operations overseas.

By contrast the UK FTSE 250 has fallen by 0.9% to 19,576 on the basis that it is much more focused on the domestic economy. Again though the moves are small compared to the political shift as we mull yet another implication of the expanded balance sheets of central banks. As I wrote only a few days ago are equity markets allowed to fall these days?

Today’s Data

Production

The numbers here start with some growth albeit not much of it.

In April 2017, total production was estimated to have increased by 0.2% compared with March 2017, due to rises of 2.9% in energy supply and 0.2% in manufacturing.

So better than last month, but once we go to the annual comparison we see a decline has replaced the rise.

Total production output for April 2017 compared with April 2016 decreased by 0.8%, with energy supply providing the largest downward contribution, decreasing by 7.4%.

Those who are familiar with the poor old weather taking the blame may have a wry smile at the fact that of a 0.75% fall some 0.74% was due to lower electricity and gas production presumably otherwise known as warmer weather.

Manufacturing

As you can see above this was up by 0.2% on a monthly basis but was in fact unchanged on a year ago with its index being at 104.5 in both April 2016 and 17. You could claim some growth if you go to a second decimal place but that is way to far into spurious accuracy territory for me.

As we look into the detail we see something familiar which is that the erratic and volatile path of the pharmaceutical industry has been in play one more time.

Within manufacturing, there were increases in 10 of the 13 sub-sectors, but this was offset by the weakness within the volatile pharmaceutical industry, which provided the largest downward contribution, decreasing by 12.2%, the weakest month-on-same month a year ago growth since February 2013.

It has yo-yo’d around for a while now albeit with a rising trend but we will have to wait until next month to see if that continues. However there is of course the issue of what the Markit PMI ( Purchasing Managers Index) told us.

The UK manufacturing PMI sprung back to a three
year high in April after a brief blip in March…….“The British manufacturing industry is moving at
such a pace that suppliers are struggling to keep up
with demand.

The “growth spurt” with a reading of 57.3 does not fit well with an annual flatlining does it?

Trade

Again there was a monthly improvement to be seen.

The UK’s total trade deficit (goods and services) narrowed by £1.8 billion between March and April 2017 to £2.1 billion…….Imports fell across most commodity groups between March and April 2017, the largest of which were mechanical machinery, oil and cars;

This was needed as March was particularly poor leading to bad quarterly data.

Between the 3 months to January 2017 and the 3 months to April 2017, the total trade deficit (goods and services) widened by £1.7 billion to £8.6 billion;

Thus the underlying theme here is of yet more deficits. Maybe not the “thousands of them” of the film Zulu but definitely in the hundreds.

An upgrade of the past

The first quarter saw a couple of minor upgrades as the data filtered through this morning.

The total trade in goods and services balance in Quarter 1 2017 has been revised up by £1.3 billion, to £9.3 billion.

They mean revised up to -£9.3 billion and also there was this.

there has been an upward revision of 0.9 percentage points to growth in total construction output – from 0.2% to 1.1%. The potential upward impact of this revision to the previously published gross domestic product (GDP) is 0.05 percentage points.

Comment

So many areas need a slice of humble pie this morning that a large one needs to be baked to avoid running out. As ever I will avoid individual politics and simply point out that there will be quite a lot of uncertainty ahead although of course if you recall that seemed to actually help Belgium’s economy when it had some 18 months or so of it.

As to the economy this is the difficult patch that I have feared where higher inflation impacts. As usual there is a lot of noise as for example the April manufacturing figure is very different to the Markit  business survey. Also we have the impact of warmer weather on production ( whatever the weather is it gets blamed for something) and more wild swings in the pharmaceutical sector which must represent a measurement issue. Meanwhile as I have pointed out before I have little faith in the official construction series but this rather stands out.

a fall in private housing new work

That fits with neither what we have been promised nor the construction business surveys.

 

The economics of the 2017 General Election

Tomorrow the United Kingdom goes to the polls for a General Election. Yesterday’s anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy in France reminded us that the ability to vote is a valuable thing that people have fought and died for. Let me repeat my usual recommendation to vote albeit with the realisation that as far as I can see it has been an insipid and uninspiring campaign. Time for “none of the above” to be on the ballot box I think.

Moving to economics there have been a couple of reminders over the past 24 hours that some themes remain the same. From BBC News.

RBS has finally reached a £200m settlement with investors who say they were duped into handing £12bn to the bank during the financial crisis.

The RBS Shareholders Action Group has voted to accept a 82p a share offer.

The amount is below the 200p-230p a share that investors paid during the fundraising in 2008, when they say RBS lied about its financial health.

If you look at the sums you see that the compensation is nowhere near the problem if you feel that there was a misrepresentation back then. Also as there was a 1:10 stock split back in 2012 is this not really an 8.2p offer? As to the theme of there being no punishment for bank directors there is also this.

A settlement means that the disgraced former chief executive of RBS, Fred Goodwin, will not appear in court.

Of course the UK is not alone in such machinations as I note this from Spain today. From Bloomberg.

Banco Popular Espanol SA was taken over by larger Spanish competitor Banco Santander SA after European regulators determined that the bank was likely to fail…..

The purchase price was 1 euro, according to the statement.

Santander plans to raise about 7 billion euros ($7.9 billion) of capital as part of the transaction. ( Bloomberg ).

That much? The situation has been summed up rather well in a reply to the article.

Santander could be buying a time bomb filled with bad debt. What is the CEO thinking? Why should shareholders bail out Popular?! ( @ ken_tex )

We are left with a general theme that the banking sector carries on regardless and simply ignores things like elections. Democracy has not reached the banking sector. There is a British implication as of course Santander is a big player in UK banking and as an aside this sees the first bail-in of a so-called Co-Co bond.

How is the economy doing?

We have the Bank of England with its foot hard down on the monetary policy pedal with a Bank Rate of 0.25% which as far as I can recall has barely merited a mention in the campaign! Amazing how that and £445 billion of QE ( including the Corporate Bonds) can be treated as something to be pretty much ignored isn’t it? Partly as a result of this we are facing a spell of higher consumer inflation which will lead to a contractionary effect on the economy due to the way it seems set to reduce real wages. But again this seems to have been ignored. Of course the Bank of England will be happy to be outside of the political limelight but when it is such a major part of economic policy there should at least be a debate.

Fortunately the edge has been taken off things by the decline in the price of crude oil back towards US $50 in Brent Crude terms and the rally of the UK Pound to US $1.29. This is a factor in the Markit business survey telling us this on Monday.

The three PMI surveys are running at levels that are historically consistent with GDP growing at a robust 0.5% rate, albeit with the slowing in May posing some downside risks to the near-term outlook.

So the economy continues to grow but at a slow pace overall. Of course the Bank of England will be concerned about this reported this morning by the Halifax.

House prices in the last three months
(March-May) were 0.2% lower than in
the previous three months (DecemberFebruary).

The mood of Bank of England Governor Mark Carney will not be improved by this as it refers back to a time before it began its house price policy push in the summer of 2013.

Prices in the three months to May
were 3.3% higher than in the same
three months a year earlier. This was
lower than April and is the lowest annual
rate since May 2013 (2.6%). The annual
rate is around a third of the 10.0% peak
reached in March 2016.

The Bank of England will also be worried by this signal that emerged yesterday. From Homelet.

UK rental price inflation fell for the first time in almost eight years in May, new data from HomeLet reveals. The average rent on a new tenancy commencing in May was £901, 0.3% lower than in the same month of 2016. New tenancies on rents in London were 3% lower than this time last year…….This is the first time since December 2009 the HomeLet Rental Index has reported a fall in rents on an annualised basis. The pace of rental price inflation across the UK has been slowing in recent months, having peaked at 4.7% last summer.

Of course whilst there will be concern and maybe some panic at the Bank of England that the £63 billion of the banking subsidy called the Term Funding Scheme has run out of puff. Meanwhile over at HM Treasury someone will be having a champagne breakfast as they slap themselves on the back for starting a rush to get rents in the official UK consumer inflation measure ( CPIH) last Autumn.

Fiscal policy

Back on the 23rd of May I looked at this.

Labour promised £75 billion a year in additional spending and £50 billion of additional taxes. The Liberal Democrats are also aiming for tens of billions of pounds in extra spending partially funded by more tax. Yesterday’s Conservative manifesto was much more, well, conservative………The Conservatives do not appear to have felt the need to spell out much detail. But they have left themselves room for manoeuvre.

Whoever wins we seem set for a period of higher taxation and higher expenditure but we remain in a situation where there is a lot of smoke blowing across the battlefield. There is of course also this from Labour.

we will establish a National Investment Bank that will bring in private capital finance to deliver £250 billion of lending power.

Comment

This has been an election where the economy has been out of the limelight. In a way this is summarised  by the fact that we have heard so little from the current Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond. This means that many important matters get ignored such as the apparent devolution of so much economic power to the Bank of England. An issue which is important as in my opinion it was captured by the UK establishment and now pursues policies that politicians would be afraid to implement.

Other important issues such as problems with productivity and real wages which have bedevilled us in the credit crunch era get little debate or mention. To that list we can add the ongoing current account deficit.

Yet some markets are at simply extraordinary levels and it is hard not to raise a wry smile at the ten-year Gilt yield being a mere 0.99%! Whatever happened to pricing an election risk? It also provides quite a boost over time to the fiscal numbers as it is well below the rate of inflation.

 

 

With UK house prices falling and manufacturing booming are we rebalancing?

This morning has brought news which will send a chill down the spine of the Bank of England. This was from the Nationwide Building Society.

House prices show third consecutive monthly
decline for the first time since 2009.

Over the past three months house prices have gone -0.3% ( March), -0.4% ( April) and now -0.2% in May. For quite a few economic variables we look at the three monthly average to get an idea of trend and if we do that here we see that we can see which way the wind is currently blowing according to the Nationwide. If we look further back we see this.

The annual rate of growth slowed to 2.1%, the weakest in almost four years.

That time scale takes us back to pretty much the time that the Bank of England stepped in to boost the housing market with its Funding for ( Mortgage ) Lending Scheme or FLS. It led to a decline in mortgage interest-rates which was pretty quickly of the order of 1% per annum and according to the Bank of England itself reached a peak of 2%. Initially it was high equity to loan mortgages which benefited but this later spread to the lower equity value ones. This fed through into house prices as higher prices became more affordable due to lower mortgage rates. The house price rise over this period has been from £169,000 to just under £209,000 or around 24% which has allowed the Bank of England to claim that wealth effects have spread through the economy. Thus it will not be pleased to see that fading away and indeed showing signs of a reversal.

The other side of the argument is that much of this has been inflation as first time buyers face house price inflation and this is one I support strongly. In my world a fall in house price growth to around 2% is something to welcome and not to fear as it brings it pretty much into line with both economic growth and wage rises. Indeed I could go further and say that we need house price falls to bring things back into line. The argument for that goes as follows we see that house price growth was 24% but real wage growth according to official data was less than one tenth of that as the index has risen from 98.6 to 100.9. Let me give you two extra thoughts on that which is that the real wages number is in my opinion too high as the impact of higher house prices is excluded. But as an aside even on the favourable basis on which it is calculated to me what leaps off the page/screen is how little real wage growth we have had in what has been a good period for economic growth .

Regular readers will be aware that I have been expecting a house price slow down for a while as this from the 4th of January indicates.

What I mean by that is that the rise in house prices looks set to fade and be replaced by house price falls.

Take care

Just to say that the UK has several house price indices all of which give is different answers. The Nationwide should have actual trading prices but will be limited to Nationwide customers which tend to be more from the south. One thing it does offer is the timely nature of the data and this does fit with what we see from the less timely official series.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 4.1% in the year to March 2017 (down from 5.6% in the year to February 2017). This continues the general slowdown in the annual growth rate seen since mid-2016.

Looking ahead there was also this message sent to me by Dan Cookson.

The non-seasonally adjusted mortgage approvals data took quite a drop in April 

I wonder if there has been something of an Easter effect like we saw in the retail sales data? We will know more next month.

Nine Elms

If there is somewhere which is the leader of the pack right now it looks rather like Nine Elms. That is both convenient as I live near to it and of course inconvenient as I consider the likely impact! For newer readers this is the scale of what is going on there. From Bloomberg.

Almost 20,000 homes are planned for the Nine Elms district, a regeneration site that extends from Lambeth Bridge in the north to Chelsea Bridge in the south.

I can tell you that it takes quite a while to pass it if you are on a Boris bike and actually due to the traffic scheme not a lot less by car. This led to quite a boom.

Prices for existing homes in Nine Elms, where most of the transactions took place, have risen by an average of 43 percent over the same period.

But now something of a bust.

Homes in SW8 postcode district had annual drop of 16% in March.

By some calculations there is a fair bit more to go or as Tube station announcements remind us “Mind the gap”.

Neal Hudson, founder of research firm Residential Analysts Ltd., said in a telephone interview, “Investors have dried up and the bulk of demand for London homes is now from owner-occupiers who can only afford” to pay 450 pounds per square foot.

The Nine Elms homes are priced between 750 pounds and 1,500 pounds a square foot, he said. The apartments are often sold with facilities including gyms, swimming pools and 24-hour concierge services.

Manufacturing

If we switch to a different part of the UK economy then we have just seen some good news. From Markit and its monthly business survey or PMI.

Manufacturing production and new orders both
expanded at above survey average rates.
Companies benefited most from the continued
strength of the domestic market. There was also a
solid increase in new export business as well.

This means that we can hope for a much better performance this quarter than last.

The strong PMI numbers suggest the
manufacturing sector has gained growth
momentum in the second quarter after the sluggish
start of the year.

If we look at the minutiae then the reading dipped from 57.3 in April to 56.7 in May but I doubt anyone believes the measure is that accurate. One intriguing reflection of this if we consider how strong UK employment has been is this.

These underlying dynamics are proving to be a real boon for the manufacturing labour market, with May seeing jobs
added at the fastest pace since mid-2014.

In ordinary times  we would expect to be seeing rises in wage growth and no doubt the Ivory Towers are on the case but the sad reality of the credit crunch era is that we have been singing along with Bob Marley.

I don’t wanna wait in vain.

Comment

As we have had a couple of months of house price falls and a rise in manufacturing then let me take you back to April 2002.

For the Monetary Policy Committee the
challenge is to keep inflation close to the target during a period in which a significant re-balancing of
the British economy will take place.

Sadly for the speaker it took another 15 years for us to have a hint of this and long after his role had ended. Still let me welcome even a flicker of a rebalancing of the UK economy but of course a genuine change would take years. The speaker for those of you who have not guessed was the then Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King who is now Baron King of Lothbury.

Meanwhile at the Bank of England.

Staff at the Bank of England will begin voting on Thursday on whether to hold a strike this year in protest at below-inflation pay rises, union sources told Reuters.

If only there was an organisation which could help by keeping inflation low……

Sgt Peppers

Fifty years ago this album ( for younger readers music back then came on a piece of circular plastic which had to be put in a protective sleeve which led to some extraordinary and now famous artwork) was released by the Beatles and in my opinion deserves a doff of the cap. Plenty of great songs but my favourite is A Day In The Life.