Even the UK consumer can not always spend “more more more”

The issue of retail sales is one that has become a signal of our times in various ways. It has long been considered a support for economic growth especially in my home country the UK. However there are places where economics would like more of it such as in the surplus countries Germany and Japan which would then help with rebalancing world trade via higher imports. In more recent times the green agenda clearly implies lower retail sales although something which is likely to be as unpopular is that tends not to get much publicity. Finally there is the issue of the decline of the high street and the rise of online shopping. It is hard for shops to compete with companies willing to deliver even at 9 o’clock on a Sunday evening as I have observed recently.

Measuring such things is complex and let me illustrate with a story which starts well. From the US Census Bureau.

Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for December 2019, adjusted for seasonal
variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $529.6 billion, an
increase of 0.3 percent (±0.4 percent)* from the previous month, and 5.8 percent (±0.7 percent) above
December 2018

I have highlighted the bit which shows that these are turnover or nominal rather than real figures. But there is more to it than meets the eye as whilst these look good there were downwards revisions I gather which mean that the Atlanta Fed GDP Nowcast thinks this.

 After this morning’s retail sales release from the U.S. Census Bureau, the nowcast of fourth-quarter real personal consumption expenditures growth declined from 2.3 percent to 1.6 percent.

As Avril Lavigne pointed out.

Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?

The UK

The background has been provided by the British Retail Consortium.

Total sales for 2019 decreased by 0.1%, compared with 1.2% growth in 2018. This is the worst year on record…………Taking November and December together to iron out the Black Friday distortions, Total sales declined 0.9% compared with the same period in 2018…….Taking November and December together to iron out the Black Friday distortions, Like-for-Like sales declined 1.2% compared with the same period in 2018.

This is what produced the headlines which were copied across social media that this had been the worst year for UK retail since 1995. This was not the media’s finest hour as this was plainly rubbish to anyone who has any knowledge of the official data. Let us be generous and say that such a view is true for some of the department stores and so on struggling to compete with the virtual world.

Today’s data

We have been observing a slowing of the rate of growth as 2019 had developed and this continued in December.

Comparing the three months to December 2019 against the same three months a year ago, growth in the quantity bought increased by 1.6% in December 2019, despite a strong decline of 2.2% for department stores.

Along the way we get a reminder that department stores are essentially in a depression, which is backed up by this next bit,

Online sales as a proportion of all retailing was 19.0% in December 2019, compared with the 18.6% reported in November 2019.

Actually whilst we still have annual growth if we look more recently we have moved into a decline.

Looking at the three-month on three-month growth rate, the quantity bought in retail sales has not experienced growth for three consecutive months. The three months to October 2019 remained flat, while the three months to November and December fell by 0.5% and 1.0% respectively.

Indeed and it was a case of and the beat goes on if we look at December itself.

The quantity bought in December 2019 fell by 0.6% when compared with the previous month; the fifth consecutive month of no growth.

I am not quite sure why they say/write “no growth” when there is a perfectly useful word like decline available. Anyway we get very little detail for December but do from the three-monthly detail get more of a grip about what has happened in 2019.

Declines were seen across most sectors except for household goods stores and fuel. The strong decline of 3.2% in non-store retailing was largely because of a fallback from very strong growth in the previous three months for September at 4.0%, this included large monthly growth in July of 7.3%, which was attributed to large promotions in the sector. The quantity of goods bought in non-store retailing increased on the latest month by 1.0%.

This is a sort of a doppelganger of the situation in the US we observed earlier. There we saw December misleading as the trend whereas in the UK it was the surge in July and subsequent associated fall back which has muddied the water.

Also if we widen our perspective from pure economics perhaps the pressure on providers and sellers of cheap fashion clothing is having an impact.

Clothing experienced strong declines both on the month at negative 2.0% and in the three months to December at negative 2.3%. This is the sixth consecutive month of no growth for clothing stores for the three-month on three-month movement.

Comment

The situation regarding UK Retail Sales has been “slip-sliding away” as Paul Simon put it in the latter part of 2019. Care is needed as it had previously been very strong and it cannot keep surging. Even the UK consumer must tire eventually. But there are consequences from the apparent shift and clear food for thought is provided by the fact that an already weak last quarter of 2019 will have a downwards pull on its GDP of the order of 0.05%.

That then turns eyes to Threadneeedle Street and the Bank of England which told us this earlier this week. From Monday.

Gertjan Vlieghe, an external MPC member, said his view on whether to keep waiting for an economic revival or vote to lower rates from 0.75 per cent to 0.5 per cent would depend on survey data released towards the end of January.

The Retail Sales release is likely to have him at least singing along with Prince.

She’s never satisfied (She’s never satisfied)
Why do we scream at each other
This is what it sounds like
When doves cry

In a more sophisticated world where they are supposed to look forwards they should be noting that the sentiment reports have shown a post election rally. But back in the real world they have an itchy-finger for interest-rate cuts if the summer of 2016 is any guide. Although the Governor’s focus has changed.

Mark Carney said: “It’s an honour to be supporting the Prime Minister as the UK invites almost 200 countries to Glasgow in November to address the climate threat. This COP 26 Summit will be a critical moment for climate action.”

Will they fly in so that they can tell the rest of us not to fly?

If we return to the “worst year since 1995” release then even today’s weak numbers have scotched that. The lust for clickbait so often trumps reasoning and thought.

 

 

 

 

The good news from lower UK inflation ( think real wages) may not last

Today brings the various UK inflation numbers into focus as we get the updates for consumer, producer and house prices. Already though the Bank of England has given its view on the general outlook.

Second, the most likely outlook is a further period of subdued growth, and hence a disinflationary backdrop
of a persistent – albeit modest – output gap.

That is from Michael Saunders who is giving a speech in Northern Ireland and we see him backing up the previously expressed view of UK inflation falling towards 1.25% in the early part of this year. It is sad though that he still uses the “output gap” that has worked so poorly even some ex-central bankers are being forced to admit it has been a failure. Here is the former Vice-President of the ECB ( European Central Bank) Vitor Constancio.

In “FED listens” events, they found that:..”there is more “slack” than the Fed had thought — more people who could still come into the labour force, particularly in poorer areas”. I am sure the same is true in Europe. Forget output gaps

If only those still in power would see the light and accept reality!

There is an irony in all of this as we note that whilst the Bank of England expects lower inflation it is presently trying to raise it and Micheal Saunders has another go.

Fourth, against this backdrop, it probably will be appropriate to maintain an expansionary monetary policy
stance and possibly to cut rates further, in order to reduce risks of a sustained undershoot of the 2% inflation
target. With limited monetary policy space, risk management considerations favour a relatively prompt and aggressive response to downside risks at present.

This is via the impact of their words on the value of the UK Pound £ and the way a lower value ( mostly via the role of the US Dollar in setting commodity prices) tends to raise subsequent inflation. You may note that the bi-polar view of monetary policy space continues to be in play as he joins Mark Carney’s statement that it is limited from last Wednesday which morphed into the equivalent of a Bank Rate cut of 2.5% as quickly as Thursday. What a difference a day made!

twenty four little hours
Brought the sun and the flowers where there use to be rain ( Dinah Washington )

If we complete the points made by Michael Saunders we see something of an obsession with output gap theory.

First, with softer global growth and high Brexit uncertainty, the UK economy has remained sluggish. The
slowdown has created a modest output gap, and there are signs that the labour market is turning.

Also something perhaps even sillier.

Third, the neutral level of interest rates may have fallen further over the last year or two, both in the UK and
externally.

Or, of course, it may not.

Consumer Inflation

The backdrop was worrying because US consumer inflation had risen yesterday and Euro area inflation had risen last week and that is before we get to this.

Also, Zimbabwe’s annual inflation rate (the one that is officially concealed) rose to 521% in December. ( Joseph Cotterill)

But the numbers were good possibly showing that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 1.3% in December 2019, down from 1.5% in November 2019.

There were two main factors at play and I wonder if any of you spotted this one?

Restaurants and hotels, where prices for overnight hotel accommodation fell by 7.5% between November and December 2019, compared with a rise of 0.9% between November and December 2018;

Also the next one may have affects elsewhere because the last time we saw a burst of this as we saw retail sales rise in response ( thank you ladies) which is against the present consensus.

Clothing and footwear, where the largest individual downward contributions came from women’s casual jackets and cardigans, where prices fell between November and December 2019 but rose between the same two months in 2018. There were also small individual downward contributions from formal trousers and formal skirts

Also if we continue to look wider we see a possible impact from the slow down in car sales.

There was also a smaller downward contribution from the purchase of vehicles where prices overall were little changed in 2019 but increased by 0.7% in 2018.

Let us move on but not without noting that the impact of the UK Pound £ is for once zero compared to the Euro as we have the same inflation rate.

Euro area annual inflation is expected to be 1.3% in December 2019,

What Happens Next?

There is still a slight downwards push but the impetus has gone.

The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process was negative 0.1% on the year to December 2019, up from negative 1.9% in November 2019.

Indeed if we switch to output prices we see that there are ongoing albeit small rises in play.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 0.9% on the year to December 2019, up from 0.5% in November 2019.

If we look to future influences we know that 70% of the input number comes from the £ and the oil price. As we stand at US $64.40 for a barrel of Brent Crude that is where it roughly was in mid-December so maybe not much influence. With the Bank of England engaging in open mouth operations against the £ it may come into play.

House Prices

There was a worrying change here.

UK average house prices increased by 2.2% over the year to November 2019, up from 1.3% in October 2019……Average house prices increased over the year in England to £251,000 (1.7%), Wales to £173,000 (7.8%), Scotland to £155,000 (3.5%) and Northern Ireland to £140,000 (4.0%).

This adds a little credibility to the Halifax 4% reading for December although we await the official December data. As to the breakdown we have observed parts of the Midlands leading the line in recent times.

The annual increase in England was driven by the West Midlands and North West…..The lowest annual growth rate was in the East of England (negative 0.7%) followed by London (positive 0.2%).

Although that is for just England so we should also look wider and whilst it looks an anomaly there was this.

House price growth in Wales increased by 7.8% over the year to November 2019, up from 3.6% in October 2019, with the average house price in Wales at £173,000.

Comment

There is some much needed good news in today’s report for real wage growth as we see inflation dip. However we need context because if we switch to the UK’s longest running measure of inflation there is a different story in play.

The all items RPI annual rate is 2.2%, unchanged from last month.

The difference neatly illustrates my major theme in this area.

Other housing components, which increased the RPI 12-month rate relative to the CPIH 12-month rate by 0.06 percentage points between November and December 2019. The effect came mainly from house depreciation.

As you can see our official statisticians are desperate to make everyone look at their widely ignored favourite measure called CPIH which I will cover in a moment. But for now we see that past house prices via depreciation are exerting an upwards pull on the RPI and November’s number suggests this may continue. Most will understand that for many house prices are a big deal but the fact that they usually pull inflation higher means the establishment has launched an increasingly desperate campaign to ignore them.

If we now cover the official CPIH measure it indulges in a fleet of fantasy by assuming that owners pay themselves rent and then includes this fantasy in its inflation reading. Even worse there have been problems in measuring rents so it may well be a fantasy squared should such a thing exist. Anyway the effort to reduce the inflation reading has backfired this month as CPIH is above CPI due to this.

In December 2019, the largest upward contribution to the CPIH 12-month inflation rate came from housing and household services. The division has provided the largest upward contribution since November 2018.

Oh well…..

Even better than expected UK GDP seems unlikely to stop the Bank of England cutting interest-rates

Today brings the UK back into focus as we have what is called a theme day with data across a wide range of economic influences such as production, manufacturing,services ,construction. trade and most of all GDP ( Gross Domestic Product). Yes it is too many in one go and monthly GDP has already demonstrated a track record of being erratic but that has not deterred our official statisticians. But before we get to that the Bank of England has continued its campaign to talk the UK Pound £ lower over the weekend. Here is the Financial Times from yesterday.

An influential member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee has said he would vote for a cut in interest rates later this month if key data do not show a bounce in the economy following the December general election.

Have you guessed who it is? I have to say I would be far from sure as my view is that the other 8 members of the monetary policy committee or MPC exist to say “I agree with Mark (Carney)”. Mind you the Financial Times does love to flatter the establishment as we note that my theme that the other 8 members serve little or no useful purpose these days gets another tick in the box. Anyway here it is.

Gertjan Vlieghe, an external MPC member, said his view on whether to keep waiting for an economic revival or vote to lower rates from 0.75 per cent to 0.5 per cent would depend on survey data released towards the end of January.

That does not rule out a move this month as the meeting is at the end of it with the announcement on the 30th although of course they vote on the evening before. For “live” meetings this so-called improvement by Governor Carney is a really bad idea which has been reinforced recently by the news that hedge funds were receiving an “early wire” during press conferences.

We then get more of an explanation.

“Personally I think it’s been a close call, therefore it doesn’t take much data to swing it one way or the other and the next few [MPC] meetings are absolutely live,” he told the Financial Times. “I really need to see an imminent and significant improvement in the UK data to justify waiting a little bit longer.”

You might think that after the post EU leave vote debacle when it mistakenly rushed to cut interest-rates because of the surveys  the Bank of England might steer clear of relying on them so much.

We will get a lot of information as soon as the end of January,” said Mr Vlieghe. ““We’ll get a lot of business and some household surveys that cleanly relate to the period after the election, so that will give us an initial read as to how people are responding.”

We do get a slightly odd section which suggests that someone at the Financial Times has actually believed all the Forward Guidance mumbo-jumbo.

Financial markets are not currently pricing any movement in rates above the current 0.75 per cent over the next five years.

If you look at the five and two year Gilt yields in a broad sweep they have been suggesting a cut for some months now as regular readers will be aware.

Of course the media keep fooling for this as they get their moment in the headlines as we recall this from Dharshini David of the BBC last May.

Today the Bank of England’s Governor admitted to me that rates are likely to rise faster than the markets expect. So when can we expect the first move? My analysis for 

She fell for the promises of the unreliable boyfriend hook line and sinker and in response has blocked me on Twitter.

Forward Guidance

It is hard not to have a wry smile at the Bank of England moves as the basic data has turned out better than expected. Let is open with today’s main number.

Rolling three-month growth was 0.1% in November 2019, down from an upwardly revised 0.2% in October.

Not much I admit but in the circumstances any growth is okay. Also that sentence is both true and misleading because October was originally reported as 0% but there have been ch-ch-changes since.

The UK economy grew slightly more strongly in September and October than was previously estimated, with later data painting a healthier picture.

We previously were told that both 3 monthly and monthly growth were 0% whereas now they are 0.2% and 0.1% respectively. So we are ahead of where we thought we were in spite of this.

Monthly gross domestic product (GDP) fell by 0.3% in November 2019, driven by falls in both services and production. This followed growth of 0.1% in both September and October 2019.

The monthly numbers are unreliable and are showing hints of a downwards bias as explained below.

However, both September and October 2019 have been revised up by 0.2 and 0.1 percentage points respectively, giving extra strength to the most recent rolling three-month estimate. The revisions to September were predominantly driven by new construction data, whereas October’s revisions were driven by new data in services and production.

It is good that the numbers are improved but the truth is that the variation is presently too high for them to be useful.

As to upwards surprises well the GDP number reinforces one from later on last week.

The latest survey of UK Chief Financial Officers shows an
unprecedented rise in business sentiment. The fourth quarter survey took place in the wake of the UK general election, between 13th December and 6th January. Confidence has seen the largest increase in the 11-year history of the survey taking it to its highest
ever level. ( Deloittes )

Manufacturing

If we look for the other side of the coin there is this from this morning.

The monthly decrease of 1.7% in manufacturing output was because of downward contributions from 10 of the 13 subsectors; led by notable falls from transport equipment (3.4%), chemicals and chemical products (4.7%) and food, beverages and tobacco (1.8%).

The November data meant that the last 3 months were poor too.

 compared with the three months to August 2019; this was led by manufacturing output, which fell by 0.8%.

If we look into the detail of the November data there is more than a little hope that it was driven lower by factors which we have got used to and in the latter case has been doing well overall.

the motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers industry (6.1%), which was impacted by factory shutdowns during November 2019…….widespread weakness from chemicals and chemical products (4.7%), following on from the impact of maintenance and shutdowns.

But the reason I have pointed this out is not only to show the other side of the coin but because this area is seeing quite a severe depression.

Manufacturing output in the UK remained 2.9% lower for the three months to November 2019 than the pre-downturn peak for the three months to March 2008.

It looked for a while that we might escape it but the impact of the trade war left our fingers grasping at air as we now face this.

Additionally, the current three-monthly rolling index level is the lowest since July 2017.

Comment

Regular readers will be aware that I thought the Bank of England was readying itself for an interest-rate cut last year. Now with its usual impeccable timing it seems to be forming up as a group just as the economic news shows a hint or two of being brighter. In addition to the data above this months Markit PMI showed an improvement as well albeit to somewhere around flatlining. The Deloittes survey was potentially especially revelant as it relates to business investment which has been weak and thus could have a spell of “catch up” now the political  and Brexit element looks clearer. As ironically Gerthan Vlieghe pointed out.

His main expectation was that the UK outlook would improve because there was a reduction in no-deal Brexit risks, plans for increased public spending and better news about a stabilised global economy.

But there is more to it than this as there is the fundamental issue of whether another 0.25% cut will make any difference. Having watched the latest prequel to the Alien(s) series of films over the weekend I am reminded of the words of the little girl Newt.

It won’t make any difference.

If we look at the weakest sector manufacturing all the interest-rate cuts we have seen have not turned things around and prevented a depression. Indeed if we look to Germany as we did only last week even an official interest-rate of -0.5% has not shielded its sector from the present trade war.

Podcast

The Bank of England gets ready for another cut interest-rate cut

Yesterday saw Bank of England Governor Mark Carney in full flow at the Bank of England itself in a type of last hurrah. I am grateful to him for being kind enough to exhibit at least 4 of the themes of this blog in one go! That is quite an achievement even for him. I will start by looking at something of a swerve which was introduced by the then Chancellor George Osborne and it has never received the prominence I think it deserves.

A major improvement to the inflation targeting framework itself was to confirm explicitly beginning with the
2013 remit that the MPC is required to have regard to trade-offs between keeping inflation at the target and
avoiding undesirably volatility in output. In other words, the MPC can use the full flexibility of inflation
targeting in the face of exceptionally large shocks to return inflation to target in a manner that provides as
much support as possible to employment and growth or, if necessary, promotes financial stability.

I make the point because you could argue from that date the Bank of England was acknowledging that its priority was no longer inflation targeting. Some of this was accepting reality as back in 2010 it had “looked through” inflation over 5%. To be more specific it is now concerned about inflation under target but much less so if it is above it. This is confirmed in the speech in part of the section on the period after the EU Leave vote.

Inflation rose well above the 2% target, eventually peaking at 3.1% in late 2017, an overshoot entirely due to
the referendum-induced fall in sterling.
UK growth dropped from the fastest to the slowest in the G7.

He cut interest-rates in this period in spite of the fact that the lower UK Pound £ meant that inflation would go in his words well above the 2% target. Actually tucked away on the speech is something of a confession of this.

In the wake of the referendum, the MPC’s
aggressive monetary easing, despite a sharply depreciating currency and rising inflation,

The Unreliable Boyfriend

It seems he cannot escape behaving like this and this week he has given us a classic example. We only need to go back to Wednesday for this.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Financial Times, the outgoing governor warned that central banks were running out of the ammunition needed to combat a downturn.

Yet a mere 24 hours or so later things were really rather different.

Of course, the effectiveness of unconventional policies means that there is considerable total policy space.
In the UK, the MPC can increase its purchases of both gilts and corporate bonds, providing stimulus through
a number of channels including portfolio rebalancing……..All told, a
reasonable judgement is that the combined conventional and unconventional policy space is in the
neighbourhood of the 250 basis points cut to Bank Rate seen in pre-crisis easing cycles.

Glen Campbell must be a bit disappointed as he famously took 24 hours to get to Tulsa whereas Governor Carney has managed the road to Damascus in the same time. Perhaps the new Governor Andrew Bailey had been on the phone. Anyway however you spin it “running out of ammunition” morphed into “considerable total policy space”.

Cutting Interest-Rates

Regular readers will be aware that I have been suggesting for a while now that the next move from the Bank of England will be to return us to a 0.5% Bank Rate. This was regarded as an emergency official interest-rate at the time but as so often language has been twisted and manipulated as it turned out to be long-lasting. I will discuss Forward Guidance in detail in a moment but for the moment let us just remind ourselves that Mark Carney has regularly promised interest-rate rises during his Governorship. Whereas yesterday we were given a hint of another U-Turn.

This rebound is not, of course, assured. The economy has been sluggish, slack has been growing, and
inflation is below target. Much hinges on the speed with which domestic confidence returns. As is entirely
appropriate, there is a debate at the MPC over the relative merits of near term stimulus to reinforce the
expected recovery in UK growth and inflation.

For newer readers central bankers speak in their own language and in it this is a clear hint of what is on its way.

Forward Guidance

The Governor cannot avoid a move which backfired rather quickly in his term.

The message the Committee gave UK households and businesses was simple: the MPC would not even
think about tightening policy at least until the unemployment rate had fallen below 7%, consistent with the creation of around three quarter of a million jobs.

The simple sentence below must have stung as he wrote it and later spoke it.

In the event, the unemployment rate fell far faster than the MPC had expected, falling below 7% in February
2014.

I will spare you the re-writing of history that the Governor indulges in but he cannot avoid confirming another issue I have raised many times.

As part of these exercises, the MPC revised down its (hitherto private) estimate of equilibrium unemployment rate from 6½% in August 2013 to 5½% in August 2014,

Actually the “hitherto private” claim is not true either as we knew. Also the equilibrium unemployment rather according to the Bank of England continued to fall and is now 4.25%. Thus as a concept it is effectively meaningless not only because it became a laughing stock but it’s use as an anchor was undermined by all the changes.

Anyway as we approach the end of the week it is opportune to have some humour, at least I hope this is humour.

 People understood the conditionality of guidance, as they and the MPC had learnt that there was still considerable
spare capacity in the economy.

I do love the idea that the (wo)man on the Clapham Omnibus had any idea of this! For a start it would have left them better informed than the Governor himself.

Inflation Targeting

I have argued many times that it needs reform and a major part of this should be to realise the influence of asset prices both pre and post credit crunch. On that road house prices need to go into the consumer inflation measure.

But apparently things have gone rather well.

This performance underscores that the bar for changing the regime is high.

I am not sure where to start with this.

Inflation expectations have remained anchored to the target, even when CPI inflation has temporarily moved away from it.

After all the Bank of England’s own survey told us this only last month.

 Asked about expectations of inflation in the longer term, say in five years’ time, respondents gave a median answer of 3.6%, up from 3.1% in August.

Comment

We can continue the humour with some number crunching Mark Carney style.

At present, there is sufficient headroom to at least
double the August 2016 package of £60 billion asset purchases, a number that will increase with further gilt
issuance. That would deliver the equivalent of around a 100 basis point cut to Bank Rate on top of the near
75 basis points of conventional policy space. Forward guidance at the ELB adds to this armoury. All told, a
reasonable judgement is that the combined conventional and unconventional policy space is in the
neighbourhood of the 250 basis points cut to Bank Rate seen in pre-crisis easing cycles.

So if 1% is from QE and 0.65% from an interest-rate cut to his “lower bound” of 0.1% then that means he is claiming that Forward Guidance can deliver the equivalent of 0.85% of interest-rate cuts. That really is something from beyond even the outer limits of credibility. Oh and I have no idea why he says “near 75 basis points of conventional policy space” when it is 0.65%.

As I have been writing this article a fifth theme of mine has been in evidence which is that these days Monetary Policy Committee members only seem to exist to say ” I agree with Mark”.

“If uncertainty over the future trading arrangement or subdued global growth continued to weigh on UK demand then my inclination is towards voting for a cut in bank rate in the near term,” she says. ( The Guardian)

That is Silvano Tenreyro who has rushed to be in line and it is especially disappointing as she is an external member. It is the internal members that have historically been the Governor’s lapdogs.

Has there been a more unreliable boyfriend than Mark Carney?

After looking this week at the trend toward negative interest-rates and the establishment lust for higher inflation today we can take a look at some of the case for their defence. It comes from Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and he will be relaxed as he has been able to do so in its house journal the Financial Times. Although I note that even it does not label him as a “rock star” central banker anymore and there does not seem to be any mention of film star good looks. Mind you film stars I guess are not what they were after this from Stella McCartney after the Golden Globes.

This man is a winner… wearing custom Stella because he chooses to make choices for the future of the planet. He has also chosen to wear this same Tux for the entire award season to reduce waste. I am proud to join forces with you… x Stella #JoaquinPhoenix
#GoldenGlobes

Saving the planet one tux at a time.

Monetary Policy

Governor Carney opens with this.

The global economy is heading towards a “liquidity trap” that would undermine central banks’ efforts to avoid a future recession, according to Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England.

As ever he is trying to lay a smoke screen over reality so let us break this down. Actually we have been in a type of “liquidity trap” for quite some time now. A major driver of it has in fact been central banking terror of a future recession which means that zombie companies and especially banks have been propped up. There has been little or none of the “creative destruction” of Josef Schumpeter where capitalism clears up many of its failures. Bad at the time but it also provides some of the fertile ground for new companies and growth. The deflection element is that by claiming a liquidity trip is in the future it deflects from his role in where we are now.

Er, who fired the ammunition?

In a wide-ranging interview with the Financial Times, the outgoing governor warned that central banks were running out of the ammunition needed to combat a downturn.

If we look at it we see that if we just look at interest-rates there is 0.65% left according to Governor Carney. That is the current 0.75% Bank Rate to his view of the lower bound which was 0.5% but is now 0.1%. Sadly he is not challenged on this allowing him to imply this is a worldwide problem.

“It’s generally true that there’s much less ammunition for all the major central banks than they previously had and I’m of the opinion that this situation will persist for some time,” he said.

An opportunity was missed here to expose the Governor’s rather odd thinking. The blanket view that there is less ammunition has sub-plots. For example the European Central Bank or ECB has an interest-rate of -0.5% and considered -0.6% and yesterday we looked at the Swiss National Bank with its -0.75% official interest-rate. So suddenly we have up to an extra 0.85% compared to his “lower bound”. Also the ECB and SNB could cut further.

I am not sure the explanation about a liquidity trap helps much as it describes a situation we have been in for some time.

A liquidity trap occurs on the rare occasions when monetary policy loses all effectiveness to manage economic swings and looser policy does not encourage any additional spending.

Somehow the editor of the FT Lionel Barber and its economics editor Chris Giles seem to have missed that the credit crunch era has seem many examples of a liquidity trap as highlighted by the use of “rare occasions”

Alternatives

Is there any other sphere where people who have asked for tools used them far more than expected but with little success would be given even more powers?

That meant there was a need to look for supplements to monetary tools, including interest rate cuts, quantitative easing and guidance on future interest rates, he said. “If there were to be a deeper downturn, [that requires] more stimulus than a conventional recession, then it’s not clear that monetary policy would have sufficient space.”

It is nice that the FT below confirms the central banking group think or if you prefer they borrow the same brain cell.

Mr Carney echoed other central bankers, such as the European Central Bank’s Mario Draghi and his successor, Christine Lagarde, in recommending that governments consider fiscal policy tools, such as tax cuts or public spending increases when tackling a downturn. However, he accepted “it’s not [central bankers’] job to do fiscal policy”.

Also this is something that Paloma Faith sang about.

I’ll tell you what (I’ll tell you what)
What I have found (what I have found)
That I’m no fool (that I’m no fool)
I’m just upside down (just upside down)

Central banks were supposed to be independent and run monetary policy yet a confession of failure seems to make them think they can tell elected politicians what to do. I would call it mission creep but it is more of a leap than a creep.

But I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here
I don’t belong here ( Radiohead )

Mind you the unreliable boyfriend seems to be having doubts about his commitment to his own statement.

The governor said monetary policy was not yet a spent force internationally, with US and eurozone interest rate cuts last year encouraging borrowing and spending. “We’re starting to see that stimulus flow to the global economy.”

Indeed suddenly we find that his successor has loads of room.

He insisted that he was not leaving his successor, Andrew Bailey, without any tools in the armoury. The BoE could still cut interest rates from 0.75 per cent to close to zero and “supplement monetary policy with macroprudential tools” by relaxing banks’ capital requirements to enable them to lend more.

“The Precious! The Precious!”

Oh and weren’t we raising the banks capital requirements to make the system safer? The unreliable boyfriend does seem to enjoy a U-Turn.

He insisted that he was not leaving his successor, Andrew Bailey, without any tools in the armoury. The BoE could still cut interest rates from 0.75 per cent to close to zero and “supplement monetary policy with macroprudential tools” by relaxing banks’ capital requirements to enable them to lend more.

Being the FT the failures of his initial period of tenure get skated by.

Demand returned in 2013, just as he took up his position.

The 7% unemployment rate debacle gets a new spin.

how many people could be employed without inflation

I am sure that readers think it is really unfair that the Bank of England had to deal with a changing situation.

The monetary policy committee also had to grapple with structural difficulties

I like the use of “grapple” to describe confusion and inertia as it would be hard to be more misleading. The reality is that the chance to raise interest-rates around 2014 was missed and the boat sailed with the Governor still on the shore dithering over whether to buy a ticket.

Comment

It is perhaps most revealing that the Governor sets out the challenges for the Bank of England without mentioning monetary policy at all.

Amid these economic uncertainties, the main task of the BoE, according to the governor, was to finish core reforms to the global financial system and react appropriately to the political upheavals of the Scottish and Brexit referendums and the challenges of climate change. Mr Carney insists that rather than be too political, as his predecessor Mervyn King has suggested, the BoE had to get involved because it now had a duty to preserve financial stability.

Also there seems to be some form of amnesia about the fact that Governor Carney got into trouble for playing politics when he was at the Bank of Canada.

But frustrations of UK life in the crosshairs of polarised political debate will also haunt him in the search of a new job. “This role is just much more public than the same role in Canada,” said Mr Carney.

Oh and did I mention mission creep?

But he was clear that the financial sector could not mitigate global warming alone and without wider agreements to limit global warming and action to enforce targets.

The Investing Channel

Slow house price growth and a fall in credit card borrowing will worry the Bank of England

2020 has only just begun to borrow a phrase from The Carpenters but already the pace has picked up. Should the oil price remain above US $68 for a barrel of Brent Crude there will be consequences and impacts. But also we can look back on the Bank of England’s priority indicator in 2019 and on the subject here is the Nationwide.

Annual UK house price growth edged up as 2019 drew to a
close, with prices 1.4% higher than December 2018, the first
time it been above 1% for 12 months.

I have put in the format that would be most sensible for whoever is presenting the Bank of England Governor’s morning meeting. That is because pointing out the rise was only 0.1% in December does not seem as good and noting that unadjusted average prices fell by £452 may rewarded with an office that neither the wifi nor the cake trolley reach.

Continuing with that theme perhaps looking north of the border will help.

Scotland was the strongest performing home nation in
2019, with prices up 2.8% over the year.

Might be best to avoid this though.

London ended the year as the weakest performing region,
with an annual price decline of 1.8%.

If you are forced into looking at London then the Nationwide has done some PR spinning of the numbers.

While this marks the tenth quarter in row that prices have fallen in the capital, they are still only around 5% below the all-time highs recorded in Q1 2017 and c50% above their 2007 levels (UK prices are only around 17% higher than their 2007 peak).

Best to avoid the fact that London is usually a leader of the pack for the rest of the country.

Affordability

Should our poor graduate find themselves in this area then perhaps a new career might be advisable as even the Nationwide cannot avoid this.

“Even in the North and Scotland, where property appears
most affordable, it would still take someone earning the
average wage and saving 15% of their take home pay each
month more than five years to save a 20% deposit. In Wales
and Northern Ireland, it would take prospective buyers nearly seven years, and almost eight years for people living in the West Midlands.
“Reflecting the trend in overall house prices, the deposit
challenge is most daunting in the South of England, where it would take an average earner almost a decade to amass a 20% deposit. Again, the pressures are most acute in the
capital, where someone earning an average income would
need around 15 years to save a 20% deposit on the typical
London property (this is even longer than was the case
before the financial crisis, when it would have taken around
ten and a half years).”

So houses are very expensive and in many cases effectively unaffordable which contradicts the official measures of inflation which somehow ( somehow of course means deliberately) miss this out. So officially you are richer it is just unfortunate that you cannot afford housing….

Consumer Credit

Our unfortunate trainee cannot catch a break today as we note this.

The net flow of consumer credit was £0.6 billion in November, the smallest flow since November 2013.

Within it was something to send a chill down the spine of a modern central banker. The emphasis is mine and it will also have stood out in capitals to the Bank of England.

The extra amount borrowed by consumers in order to buy goods and services fell to £0.6 billion in November. This is the weakest since November 2013, and below the £1.1 billion average seen since July 2018. Within this, there was a net repayment of credit cards for the first time since July 2013, of £0.1 billion. Net borrowing for other loans and advances also weakened, to £0.7 billion.

Actually the stock of credit card borrowing fell by a larger amount from £72.4 billion to £72.1 billion. However whilst the drop stands out a little care is needed as the October flow was more than has become usual ( +£400 million) so the drop may be a bit of an aberration.

We learn more from the next bit.

These weak flows mean the annual growth rate of consumer credit fell to 5.7% in November, compared to 6.1% in October. It has now fallen 3.7 percentage points since July 2018, when it was 9.4%.

Whilst that may be true ( we recently had some large upwards revisions which reduced confidence in the accuracy of the data series) it dodges some important points. For example 5.7% is still much faster than anything else in the economy and because of the previous high rate of growth had to slow to some extent due to the size of the amount of consumer credit now ( £225.3 billion in case you were wondering). Also the other loans and advances section continues to grow at an annual rate of 6.6% which has not only been stable but seems to be resisting the impact of a weaker car market as car loans are a component of it.

Mortgage Lending

This morning’s release was a case of steady as she goes.

Lending in the mortgage market continued to be steady in November, and in line with levels seen over the past three years. Net mortgage borrowing fell marginally to £4.1 billion, and mortgage approvals for house purchase remained unchanged at 65,000.

The catch is that the push which began with the interest-rate cuts and QE bond buying after the credit crunch and was turbo-charged by the Funding for Lending Scheme in the summer of 2012 is losing its impact on house prices.

For those of you wondering what the typical mortgage rate now is another release today gave us a pointer.

Effective rates on new secured loans to individuals decreased 9bps to 1.87%.

For more general lending they seem a little reticent below so let me help out by saying it is 6.88%.

Effective rates on outstanding other unsecured loans to individuals decreased 4bps

That is another world from a Bank Rate of 0.75%. Meanwhile on that theme I would like to point out that the quoted interest-rate for credit cards is 20.3%. I have followed it throughout the credit crunch era and it is up by 2.5%. Yes I do mean up so relatively it has risen more as official interest-rates declined. This is something that has received a bit of an airing in the United States and some attention but not so here.

Comment

Let me open with two developments in the credit crunch era. The first is that even high interest-rates ( 20%) above do not seem to discourage credit card borrowing these days. I will also throw in that numbers from Sweden and Germany suggest that a combination of zero interest-rates for many and negative ones for some seem to encourage saving. That is a poke in not one but both eyes for the Ivory Towers.

Moving to our trainee at the Bank of England then I suggest as a short-term measure as the Governor is only around until March suggesting a man of international distinction is required to deal with issues like this.

Meteorologists say a climate system in the Indian Ocean, known as the dipole, is the main driver behind the extreme heat in Australia.

However, many parts of Australia have been in drought conditions, some for years, which has made it easier for the fires to spread and grow.

Returning to the economy then there was some better news from the broad money figures as November was a stronger month raising the annual rate of M4 growth to 4%. The catch is that it takes a while to impact and so is something for around the middle of 2021.

Me on The Investing Channel

 

 

Good to see UK wage growth well above house price growth

Today brings the UK inflation picture into focus and for a while now it has been an improved one as the annual rates of consumer, producer and house price inflation have fallen. Some of this has been due to the fact that the UK Pound £ has been rising since early August which means that our consumer inflation reading should head towards that of the Euro area. As ever currency markets can be volatile as yesterdays drop of around 2 cents versus the US Dollar showed but we are around 12 cents higher than the lows of early August. The latter perspective was rather missing from the media reporting of this as “tanks” ( Reuters) and “tanking” ( Robin Wigglesworth of the FT) but for our purposes today the impact of the currency has and will be to push inflation lower.

The Oil Price

This is not as good for inflation prospects as it has been edging higher. Although it has lost a few cents today the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil is at just below US $66 has been rising since it was US $58 in early October. Whilst the US $70+ of the post Aramco attack soon subsided we then saw a gradual climb in the oil price. So it is around US $8 higher than this time last year.

If we look wider then other commodity prices have been rising too. For example the Thomson Reuters core commodity index was 167 in August but is 185 now. Switching to something which is getting a lot of media attention which is the impact of the swine fever epidemic in China ( and now elsewhere ) on pork prices it is not as clear cut as you might think. Yes the Thomson Reuters Lean Hogs index is 10% higher than a year ago but at 1.92 it is well below the year’a high of 2.31 seen in early April

Consumer Inflation

It was a case of steady as she goes this month.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 1.5% in November 2019, unchanged from October 2019.

This does not mean that there were no changes within it which included some bad news for chocoholics.

Food and non-alcoholic beverages, where prices overall rose by 0.8% between October and November 2019 compared with a smaller rise of 0.1% a year ago, especially for sugar, jam, syrups, chocolate and confectionery (which rose by 1.8% this year, compared with a rise of 0.1% last year). Within this group, boxes and cartons of chocolates, and chocolate covered ice cream bars drove the upward movement; and • Recreation and culture, where prices overall rose between October and November 2019 by more than between the same two months a year ago.

On the other side of the coin there was a downwards push from restaurants and hotels as well as from alcoholic beverages and tobacco due to this.

The 3.4% average price rise from October to November 2018 for tobacco products reflected an increase in duty on such products announced in the Budget last year.

Tucked away in the detail was something which confirms the current pattern I think.

The CPI all goods index annual rate is 0.6%, up from 0.5% last month……..The CPI all services index annual rate is 2.5%, down from 2.6% last month.

The higher Pound £ has helped pull good inflation lower but the “inflation nation” problem remains with services.

The pattern for the Retail Prices Index was slightly worse this month.

The all items RPI annual rate is 2.2%, up from 2.1% last month.

The goods/services inflation dichotomy is not as pronounced but is there too.

Housing Inflation ( Owner- Occupiers)

This is a story of many facets so let me open with some good news.

UK average house prices increased by 0.7% over the year to October 2019 to £233,000; this is the lowest growth since September 2012.

This is good because with UK wages rising at over 3% per annum we are finally seeing house prices become more affordable via wages growth. Also you night think that it would be pulling consumer inflation lower but the answer to that is yes for the RPI ( via the arcane method of using depreciation but it is there) but no and no for the measure the Bank of England targets ( CPI) and the one that our statistical office and regulators describes as shown below.

The Consumer Prices Index including owner occupiers’ housing costs (CPIH).

Those are weasel words because they use the concept of Rental Equivalence to claim that homeowners pay themselves rent when they do not. Even worse they have trouble measuring rents in the first place. Let me illustrate that by starting with the official numbers.

Private rental prices paid by tenants in the UK rose by 1.4% in the 12 months to November 2019, up from 1.3% in October 2019.

Those who believe that rents respond to wage growth and mostly real wages will already be wondering about how as wage growth has improved rental inflation has fallen? Well not everyone things that as this from HomeLet this morning suggests.

Newly agreed rents have continued to fall across most of the UK on a monthly basis despite above-inflation annual rises, HomeLet reveals.

Figures from the tenancy referencing firm show that average rents on new tenancies fell 0.6% on a monthly basis between October and November, with just Wales and the north-east of England registering a 1.1% and 0.4% increase respectively.

Both the north-west and east of England registered the biggest monthly falls at 0.8%.

Rents were, however, up 3.2% annually to £947 per month.

This is at more than double the 1.5% inflation rate for November.

As you can see in spite of a weak November they have annual rental inflation at more than double the official rate. This adds to the Zoopla numbers I noted on October 16th which had rental inflation 0.7% higher than the official reading at the time.

So there is doubt about the official numbers and part of it relates to an issue I have raised again with the Economic Affairs Committee of the House of Lords. This is that the rental index is not really November’s.

“The short answer is that the rental index is lagged and that lag may not be stable.I have asked ONS for the detail on the lag some while ago and they have yet to respond.”

Those are the words of the former Government statistician Arthur Barnett. As you can see we may well be getting the inflation data for 2018 rather than 2019.

The Outlook

We get a guide to this from the producer price data.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 0.5% on the year to November 2019, down from 0.8% in October 2019……..The growth rate of prices for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process was negative 2.7% on the year to November 2019, up from negative 5.0% in October 2019.

So the outlook for the new few months is good but not as good as it was as we see that input price inflation is less negative now. We also see the driving force behind goods price inflation being so low via the low level of output price inflation.

Comment

In many respects the UK inflation position is pretty good. The fact that consumer inflation is now lower helps real wage growth to be positive. Also the fall in house price inflation means we have improved affordability. These will both be boosting the economy in what are difficult times. The overall trajectory looks lower too if we add in these elements described by the Bank of England.

CPI inflation remained at 1.7% in September and is expected to decline to around 1¼% by the spring, owing to the temporary effect of falls in regulated energy and water prices.

However as I have described above these are bad times for the Office for National Statistics and the UK Statistics Authority. Not only are they using imaginary numbers for 17% of their headline index ( CPIH) the claims that these are based on some sort of reality ( actual rental inflation) is not only dubious it may well be based on last year data.

The Investing Channel