UK employment trends will worry the Bank of England

Today moves us on from the output situation of the UK economy to the employment and wages situation. On the latter we have already received some good news this week. From the BBC.

Thousands of UK workers will enjoy a pre-Christmas pay bump if their employer is a member of the “real living wage” campaign.

Businesses who have signed up to the voluntary scheme will lift their UK hourly rate by 30p to £9.30.

People living in London will see their hourly pay rise by 20p to £10.75.

The scheme is separate to the statutory National Living Wage for workers aged 25 and above which currently stands at £8.21 an hour.

The Living Wage Foundation said its “real” pay rate – which applies to all employees over 18 – is calculated independently and is based on costs such as food, clothing and household bills.

If we look at the wider pay picture we see from the Bank of England that it has been really rather good.

Pay growth has increased steadily over the past few years as the labour market has tightened. Private sector regular
pay growth was 4.0% in the three months to August, as high as it has been in over a decade. The
strength in pay growth has been broadly based, with growth picking up in both the private and public sectors in recent years.

I am not so sure about their “increased steadily” as they have been like the boy ( and occasional girl) who cried wolf on this subject. But we have seen a better phase and it is this that has been a major factor in keeping us away from recession and seeing some economic growth. The fear looking ahead is that it may fade.

A number of indicators suggest that pay pressures are no longer building, and pay growth may cool over the coming
months . The Bank’s settlements database suggests pay awards are clustering between 2% and 3%, slightly
lower than a year ago. Surveys by the REC and the Bank’s Agents also suggest pay growth is stabilising a little below
the pace of growth in the official data.

This may not be as bad for real pay growth as you might think because there are grounds for thinking inflation will decline. The rally in the UK Pound £ will help bring it lower and I note that having improved against the Euro to over 1.16 we should head towards the inflation rate there.

Euro area annual inflation is expected to be 0.7% in October 2019, down from 0.8% in September according to a
flash estimate from Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union.

Today’s Data

If we start with the wages data then maybe the Bank of England has been right for once. It does not happen often so let’s give them a little credit.

In the year to September 2019, nominal total pay (which includes bonus payments) grew by 3.6% to reach £542 per week. Over the same period, nominal regular pay (which excludes bonus payments) grew by 3.6% to reach £508 per week.

The nuance to this is that it was not so long ago we would be quite happy with this and there were suspicions that the numbers had been boosted by the timing of NHS settlements. The official view on the impact of this is shown below.

Total and regular pay can be expressed in real terms when they have been deflated. We deflate them using the Consumer Prices Index including owner occupiers’ housing costs (CPIH) (2015=100). After adjustment, real total pay increased by 1.8% over the year to £502 in September 2019. Real regular pay increased by 1.7% over the year to £470.

I am pleased they have switched to “we deflate them” which at least gives some sort of hint of the woeful inflation measure they use as it is driven ( 17%) by imputed rents. As it happens because house price growth has fallen back it is not as wrong as usual but is still an over estimate of real wage growth in my opinion.

There was a counter current in the detail because September wage growth at 3.6% was better than the 3.4% of August. The sector pulling it higher was construction at 6%.

A Wages Depression?

If we move to the bigger picture then even using such a flattering and favourable view of inflation cannot escape this reality.

real regular pay was £3 (or 0.63%) lower than the pre-downturn peak of reached in the three months to April 2008 (£473). The real total pay value of £502 in September was £23 (or 4.38%) lower than the peak reached in the three months to February 2008 (£525).

In spite of the recovery we have seen in other areas particularly output and employment those numbers are a stark reminder that the credit crunch era has brought ch-ch-changes. Even at the current rate of real wage growth it will be more than a couple of years before we do a Maxine Nightingale and get right back where we started from.

Employment

The Resolution Foundation have summed it up here.

it’s clear that there is no bigger change to our economy over this period than the employment boom. Over 3 million more people are in work and the working-age employment rate is around 3 percentage points higher than when we were last broadly at full employment in 2008.

They however find themselves in some theoretical quicksand highlighted by their use of “full employment” when it was a fair bit lower than now and the use of “broadly” does not cut it. They are in the same quicksand with wages as higher labour supply has apparently kept it low and yet in the past we recall being told that higher migration ( higher labour supply) did not affect wage growth.

But the picture here has been like the “Boom! Boom! Boom!” of the Black-Eyed Peas as we note that now the winds of change might be blowing.

The latest UK Labour Force Survey (LFS) estimates for Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2019 saw employment decline by 58,000 to 32.75 million, the second rolling quarterly decrease. However, in the year to September 2019, employment increased by 323,000.

This is consistent with a slowing economy and high levels of employment. We will have to see if the numbers will ebb and flow or have now turned lower. Also the mixture has changed as recent years have been a case of let’s hear it for the girls.

The fall in employment in Quarter 3 was driven by the fall in the number of women in employment, down by 93,000 to 15.46 million. Over the same period, the number of employed men increased by 35,000 to 17.3 million.

Comment

Let me now switch to the best part of today’s report which is this.

The level of unemployment fell by 23,000 to 1.31 million in Quarter 3 2019, while the unemployment rate fell by 0.1 percentage point to 3.8%. Compared with Quarter 3 2018, the level of unemployment decreased by 72,000.

For newer readers unemployment and employment can both rise or as they have in this instance fall. It seems illogical but there is also an inactive category, but the specific move at this time of year is probably related to students.

The mixed picture we have today of slowing wage growth with employment falling will be noted at the Bank of England. Already 2 have voted for an interest-rate cut and more much of these will see that number rise. Of course the Bank of England is in quite a mess as Samuel Tombs of Pantheon inadvertently pointed out.

And at 3.8%, the u/e rate is well below the MPC’s estimate of its sustainable level, 4.25%.

So wage growth should be rising. Oh well! Also that is before we get to them thinking it was 4.5%, 5%, 5.5% and 6.5%. So they do not know what they are doing which usually in their case means another interest-rate cut is in the offing.

That would be curious as we are in a phase where bond yields generally have been backing up. The UK 5 and 2 year yields have risen in response to 0.55%, who said markets were always right? Or indeed always logical?

 

 

 

 

 

Sadly a strong UK trade performance (for once) gets overlooked by the GDP release

Late on Friday the credit ratings agency Moodys offered its latest opinion on the state of play on the UK.

Leading ratings agency Moody’s has signalled it is poised to downgrade the credit rating on Britain’s government debt, warning that Brexit has triggered an “erosion in institutional strength” that threatens the UK’s financial credibility.

The ratings agency, which scores debt on the basis of how likely they are to default, changed the outlook on its Aa2 rating on the debt issued by the UK government from “stable” to “negative”.

That implies a cut to the actual rating could be coming imminently. ( Sky News)

Unfortunately for Sky News they went wrong with the first word in two respects. These days there is no such thing as a leading ratings agency and of course their operations are lagging and not leading. Also if it was going to be imminent they would have actually done it.

Indeed the crux of the matter was rather curious.

Moody’s said: “In the current political climate, Moody’s sees no meaningful pressure for debt-reducing fiscal policies.”

That was an odd statement because as I pointed out on social media the falls in bond yields have changed matters on this subject. The UK fifty-year Gilt yield closed the week at 1.23% whereas the Moodys report and some of the reporting seemed to be from an era where it was say 4% or 5% so if you like in one of the forecasts by the Office for Budget Responsibility or OBR.

Moody’s said Britain’s £1.8trn of public debt – more than 80% of annual economic output – risked rising again and the economy could be “more susceptible to shocks than previously assumed”.

Indeed Moodys seemed to be playing politics.

Moody’s said that “Brexit has been the catalyst for [an] erosion in institutional strength” which helped explain the change in outlook.

It said the main rationale for the change of view was firstly that “UK institutions have weakened as they have struggled to cope with the magnitude of policy challenges that they currently face, including those that relate to fiscal policy”.

What we do know is that fiscal policy is set to be looser like er France and well.

At Aa2, Britain is on the same level as France but below Germany’s AAA rating.

GDP Growth

The X-Factor in all of this is how the economy grows which is where today’s news comes in. It was hard not to have a wry smile at the Moodys report arriving just a say after the Bank of England had raised its growth estimate.

Bank staff’s estimate for GDP growth in 2019 Q3 as a whole had been revised up to 0.4%, from 0.2%
at the time of the Committee’s previous meeting. This was largely the result of an upward revision to estimates
of service sector output for June and July.

If we move to the actual numbers released this morning we were told this.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) in volume terms was estimated to have increased by 0.3% in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2019. When compared with the same quarter a year ago, UK GDP increased by 1.0% in Quarter 3 2019; this is the slowest rate of quarter-on-year growth since Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2010.

So some growth but the annual number has been pulled lower by the contraction in the second quarter. Overall we are very similar to the Euro area where annual growth is 1.1% and quarterly 0.2%. The breakdown was familiar for the UK as well.

The service and construction sectors provided positive contributions to GDP growth, while output in the production sector was flat in Quarter 3 2019.

We got more detail here.

Manufacturing was flat in Quarter 3 2019, as was production. Services output increased by 0.4% in Quarter 3 2019, following the weakest quarterly figure in three years in the previous quarter. Construction output experienced a pickup following a weak Quarter 2, increasing by 0.6%.

Regular readers will know that I have long argued that we have in fact had a “march of the services” rather than a “march of the makers” and that the services sector is probably above 80% of the economy now. On a quarterly basis we saw this.

Information and communication was the largest contributing sector to growth in the latest quarter. It increased by 0.8% and contributed 0.08 percentage points.

On an annual basis we saw this.

In the three months to September 2019, services output increased by 1.4% compared with the three months ending September 2018; public sector dominated industries accounted for one-third of this growth.

Maybe a flicker of Brexit preparations there in the annual numbers. Also if you see a Luvvie today please be nice to them/

Long-term strength within the computer programming and the motion pictures industries are the main reasons for the sectors strong performance from Quarter 1 2015.

On the other side of the coin it was always going to be a difficult spell for manufacturing.

The 0.4% monthly decrease in manufacturing output was widespread with falls in 8 of the 13 subsectors; the largest downward contribution came from a 5.1% fall in basic pharmaceutical products.

The September numbers above do at least have the caveat that pharmaceutical products do not run to a monthly cycle and have wide swings. In fact if you will indulge me for a hundredth of s decimal point the UK fall in industrial production in September was the pharmaceutical industry.

I am afraid that there is no other way of describing this than calling it a depression.

Manufacturing output in the UK remained 3.2% lower in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2019 than the pre-downturn peak for Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008.

Comment

In terms of the Goldilocks the UK GDP story is of lukewarm porridge. We have some growth but not much as we edge forwards. The pattern is erratic on a quarterly basis ( 0.6%,-0.2%,0.3%) providing yet more evidence that the introduction of monthly GDP numbers was a mistake. If we switch to Moodys well we continue to be able to inflate our debt away.

Nominal GDP increased by 0.5% in Quarter 3 2019, down from 0.7% in Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2019.

But as ever there are caveats and here is one from an area that did really rather well.

In Quarter 3 2019, the UK trade deficit narrowed to 1.2% of nominal GDP……..The narrowing of the trade deficit largely reflects strong export volume growth of 5.2% in Quarter 3 2019. Trade in goods exports grew 5.0%, reflecting increases in machinery and transport equipment and chemicals, while trade in services exports grew 5.3%; this was a result of “other business services”.

But this does not count as it goes in the expenditure and not the output version of GDP so we need to cross our fingers that it will be picked up there. When the numbers are tallied the income and expenditure versions are usually aligned with the output one which kind of begs the question of why have them?

Also there is this.

education, 68.9% public sector and 31.1% market sector

human health activities, 85.4% public sector and 14.6% market sector

residential care activities, 51.1% public sector and 48.9% market sector

social work activities without accommodation, 49.6% public sector and 50.4% market sector

Best of luck with really knowing what has gone on in those areas as government collides with the private-sector. There are plenty of issues here.

Finally there was this highlighted by the Bank of England.

The Committee discussed the recent Blue Book revisions to estimates of the household saving ratio. The
level of the saving ratio since the start of 2017 had been revised up by 1.4 percentage points on average to
reach just under 7% in 2019 Q2, primarily reflecting new HMRC data on self-employment income.

The truth is that we need a touch of humility as we know a fair bit less than we often think we do.

Podcast

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What next for the Bank of England?

Today is what used to be called Super Thursday for the Bank of England. It was one of the “improvements” of the current Governor Mark Carney which have turned out to be anything but. However he is not finished yet.

Starting on 7 November, the Bank of England Inflation Report is to become the Monetary Policy Report. The Report is also to undergo some changes to its structure and content.

These changes are part of the Bank’s ongoing efforts to improve its communications and ensure that those outside the institution have the information they need in order to understand our policy decisions and to hold us to account.

Really why is this?

The very latest changes represent the next step in the evolution of our communications.

I suppose when you tell people you are going to raise interest-rates and then end up cutting them you communication does need to evolve!

Communication let me down,
And I’m left here
Communication let me down,
And I’m left here, I’m left here again! ( Spandau Ballet )

The London Whale

There was so news this morning to attract the attention of a hedge fund which holds some £435 billion of UK Gilt securities as well as a clear implication for its £10 billion of Corporate Bonds. From the Financial Times.

Pimco, one of the world’s largest bond investors, is giving UK government debt a wide berth, reflecting concerns that a post-election borrowing binge promised by all the major political parties could add to pressure on prices. Andrew Balls, Pimco’s chief investment officer for global fixed income, said the measly yields on offer from gilts already makes them one of Pimco’s “least favourite” markets. The prospect of increased sales of gilts to fund more government spending makes the current high prices even less attractive, he said, forecasting that the cost of UK government borrowing would rise.

Yes Andrew Balls is the brother of Ed and he went further.

“Gilt yields look too low in general. If you don’t need to own them it makes sense to be underweight,” he told the Financial Times.

Actually pretty much every bond market looks like that at the moment. Also as I pointed out only yesterday bond markets have retraced a bit recently.

The cost of financing UK government debt has been rising over the past month. The 10-year gilt yield has reached 0.76 per cent, from 0.42 per cent in early October. That remains unattractive compared with the 1.84 per cent yield available on the equivalent US government bond, according to Mr Balls,

Mind you there is a double-play here which goes as follows. If you were a large holder of Gilts you might be pleased that Pimco are bearish because before one of the biggest rallies of all time they told us this.

Bond king Bill Gross has highlighted the countries investors should be wary of in 2010, singling out the UK in particular as a ‘must avoid’, with its gilts resting ‘on a bed of nitroglycerine.’ ( CityWire in 2010 ).

Also there is the fact that the biggest driver of UK Gilt yields is the Bank of England itself with prospects of future buying eclipsing even the impact of its current large holding.

House Prices

As the Bank of England under Mark Carney is the very model of a modern central banker a chill will have run down its spine this morning.

Average house prices continued to slow in October, with a modest rise of 0.9% over the past year. While
this is the lowest growth seen in 2019, it again extends the largely flat trend which has taken hold over
recent months ( Halifax)

Indeed I suggest that whoever has to tell Governor Carney this at the morning meeting has made sure his espresso is double-strength.

On a monthly basis, house prices fell by 0.1%

This is the new reformed Halifax price index as it was ploughing rather a lonely furrow before. We of course think that this is good news as it gives us another signal that wages are gaining ground relative to house prices whereas the Bank of England has a view similar to that of Donald Trump.

Stock Markets (all three) hit another ALL TIME & HISTORIC HIGH yesterday! You are sooo lucky to have me as your President (just kidding!). Spend your money well!

The Economy

This is an awkward one for the Bank of England as we are on the road to a General Election and the economy is only growing slowly. Indeed according to the Markit PMI business survey may not be growing at all.

The October reading is historically consistent with GDP
declining at a quarterly rate of 0.1%, similar to the pace
of contraction in GDP signalled by the surveys in the third
quarter

Although even Markit have had to face up to the fact that they have been missing the target in recent times.

While official data may indicate more robust growth
in the third quarter, the PMI warns that some of this could
merely reflect a pay-back from a steeper decline than
signalled by the surveys in the second quarter, and that the
underlying business trend remains one of stagnation at
best.

The actual data we have will be updated on Monday but for now we have this.

Rolling three-month growth was 0.3% in August 2019.

So we have some growth or did until August.

The international environment is far from inspiring as this just released by the European Commission highlights.

Euro area gross domestic product (GDP) is now forecast to expand by 1.1% in 2019 and by 1.2% in 2020 and 2021. Compared to the Summer 2019 Economic Forecast (published in July), the growth forecast has been downgraded by 0.1 percentage point in 2019 (from 1.2%) and 0.2 percentage points in 2020 (from 1.4%).

The idea that they can forecast to 0.1% is of course laughable so it is the direction of travel that is the main message here.

Comment

If we move on from the shuffling of deckchairs at the Bank of England we see that its Forward Guidance remains a mess. From the September Minutes.

In the event of greater clarity that the economy is on a path to a smooth Brexit, and assuming some recovery in global growth, a significant margin of excess demand is likely to build in the medium term. Were that to occur, the Committee judges that increases in interest rates, at a gradual pace and to a limited extent, would be appropriate to return inflation sustainably to the 2% target.

Does anybody actually believe they will raise interest-rates? If we move to investors so from talk to action we see that in spite of the recent fall in the Gilt market the five-year yield is 0.53% so it continues to suggest a cut not a rise.

More specifically there was a road to a Bank of England rate cut today as this from the 28th of September from Michael Saunders highlights and the emphasis is minr.

In such a scenario – not a no-deal Brexit, but persistently high uncertainty – it probably will be
appropriate to maintain an expansionary monetary policy stance and perhaps to loosen further.

He was an and maybe the only advocate for higher interest-rates so now is a categorised as a flip-flopper. But it suggested a turn in the view of the Bank in general such that this was suggested yesterday by @CNBCJou.

Looking forward to the BOE tomorrow where the new MONETARY POLICY REPORT will be presented (not to be confused with the now defunct INFLATION REPORT). A giant leap for central banking. * pro tip: watch out for dovish dissenters (Saunders, Vlieghe?) $GBP

The election is of course what has stymied the road to a return to the emergency Bank Rate of 0.5% as we wait to see how the Bank of England twists and turns today. Dire Straits anyone

I’m a twisting fool
Just twisting, yeah, twisting
Twisting by the pool

The Investing Channel

 

 

Fiscal expansionism is on the menu for the UK

Today has opened with UK future fiscal policy taking some headlines. This is the result of various factors of which the most obvious is that we are in an election campaign with politicians competing to win the fiscal equivalent of kissing the most babies. But there is more to it than that as we have been observing over the past few years. Underlying the situation has been a shift in the general establishment view bring expansionary fiscal policy back into favour. This was reflected last week by the valedictory speech of outgoing ECB President Mario Draghi.

In other regions where fiscal policy has played a greater role since the crisis, we have seen that the recovery began sooner and the return to price stability has been faster. The US had a deficit of 3.6% on average from 2009 to 2018, while the euro area had a surplus of 0.5%.

That baton was rapidly taken up by his successor Christine Lagarde who was perhaps hoping that people would forget she was responsible for disastrously introducing exactly the reverse in Greece and Argentina.

Christine Lagarde has asked Germany and the Netherlands to use their budget surpluses to fund investments that would help stimulate the economy. The soon-to-be president of the ECB said there ‘isn’t enough solidarity’ in the single currency area. ( Financial Times)

Back in the UK

The Resolution Foundation gives us a new perspective on the post credit crunch era and a new definition of austerity.

The austerity programme delivered since 2010 has produced an unprecedentedly long pause in the real-terms spending growth that has characterised the majority of the post-WWII period. Total managed expenditure (TME) increased by just £5 billion (or 0.6 per cent) between 2010-11 and 2018-19, with this eight-year flatlining eclipsing the six-year pause recorded in the 1980s and far outstripping any other previous period of austerity.

As you can see austerity is defined as government spending not growing in real terms or very little. Looking at their chart the 1980s actually looks more severe so I am not sure about “far outstripping” although there is a difference here.

Government spending per person is set to
come very slightly under £13,000 in 2019-20 (in 2018-19 prices), which remains 3.6 per cent down on the 2010-11 peak of £13,465.

On that basis there has been so more genuine austerity. Let me welcome their use of the GDP deflator as the inflation measure which has a couple of flaws ( it can be erratic and is prone to revisions) but is better than the woeful CPIH.

Looking Ahead

The current government has announced ch-ch-changes already.

The current plans result in spending rising
to 40.6 per cent of GDP; still well down on the immediate postcrisis peak of 46.6 per cent, but slightly above the ratio recorded just before the crisis struck, and well up on the 37.4 per cent of GDP logged between 1985-86 and 2007-08.

So austerity is over and they think more might come from any Conservative victory as Chancellor Javid is a fan of this.

In more concrete terms, during his bid for the Conservative
Party leadership back in the summer he outlined plans for a
£100 billion (multi-year) “National Infrastructure Fund” targeted outside London.

So as you can see the trajectory looks upwards.

They point out that Labour looks even more ambitious.

Its 2017 election manifesto included more than £70
billion in new spending pledges, comprising £48.6 billion of dayto-day spending (covering both departmental spend and social security payments) and £25 billion of capital (as part of a pledge to deliver a ten-year £250 billion “National Transformation Fund”).

They are not entirely sure it will repeat this but think it will in terms of spending totals.

But the party has outlined a range of additional
ambitions in recent months that imply that it intends to set out a 2019 manifesto pledge that is similar in scale to the 2017 one.

If we switch to comparing with the size of the economy we are told this.

Our modelling suggests that a ‘Conservative’ approach that
delivers on the Spending Round commitments on current
spending and thereafter maintains the value of that expenditure as a share of GDP, alongside delivering a £20 billion annual boost to the capital budget (on the assumption that something along the lines of the proposed “National Infrastructure Fund” is delivered over five years), would lift TME to 41.3 per cent of GDP
by 2023-24.

And the alternative.

Following a Labour approach that tops up the post-Spending Round baseline to the tune of £49 billion of current spending and £25 billion of capital spending by 2023-24, lifts TME to 43.3 per cent of GDP. That would take us back to 1982-83, and would stand as the ninth highest spending total in the entire post-war period.

So both will be opening the fiscal taps the difference simply being how much.

We then arrive at an issue which leaves the Resolution Foundation in something of a class of one ( h/t Brian Clough).

Even before accounting for any post-election spending surge, the fiscal rules look set to be broken, leaving the UK effectively without a fiscal anchor.

Maybe it bothers you if you live in the political world but as we have observed over the past decade they end up singing along with Earth Wind and Fire.

Every man has a place, in his heart there’s a space,
And the world can’t erase his fantasies
Take a ride in the sky, on our ship fantasii
All your dreams will come true, right away

Comment

The conventional view is to then ask how this can be afforded or paid for? We are all familiar with the question how will this be funded? But times are different now driven by factors such as this.

Bank of America sees a risk that yields on some Treasuries will go negative by 2021 as the Fed cuts rates all the way to zero ( Bloomberg )

In such a scenario then the UK would if market relationships stay as they are have its whole yield curve go negative, or if you prefer be paid to borrow at all maturities.

That may or may not happen but we do know that we can borrow very cheaply right now. The UK benchmark ten-year Gilt yield is a mere 0.7% and even if we borrow for fifty years the yield is only 1.1%. Thus borrowing as a means of financing deficits is quite plausible in a world where there is a hunt for yield. The only issue is how much we would be able to borrow? With a sub-plot that hopefully we would borrow over the very long-term to trim the future risks of doing so. Just to be clear I am not advocating large extra borrowing just observing that circumstances have changed. That reinforces even further my point about fiscal rules.

Also it would be helpful to note the plans of the Liberal Democrats and the nationalist parties. The SNP in Scotland seem set to have some role to play and whilst winning seems unlikely for the Lib Dems they could quite easily find themselves in a coalition government again.

The rub as Shakespeare would put it is that we now seem hooked on stimulus and as the monetary injections fail to give much of a hit we are now searching for a new high. This brings us back to economic growth as it lack of it and of course in the “green era” whether we should have any at all?

Podcast

 

NB

The fiscal numbers quoted by Mario Draghi were on this basis.

Average cyclically adjusted primary balance as a percentage of potential GDP

 

Why Minouche Shafik would be a bad choice as Bank of England Governor

The appointment of the next Governor of the Bank of England has become quite a merry-go-round. It reminds me rather of the Grand National at Aintree where we see many horses take the lead in the race but very few survive. This morning’s suggestion was even by these standards something of a surprise so let me hand you over to Simon Jack of the BBC.

NEW: told that Minouche Shafik is THIS govt’s preferred candidate for next Bank of England Governor. No announcement this side of election – cos it would be “politically messy” but if (a big if) this government secures majority – Egyptian born Minouche is current favourite.

For newer readers the surprise element comes from her past track record on the Monetary Policy Committee but two other issues are raised so let me address them. The first I have done so already on Twitter.

Just so I am not misunderstood having a woman as Bank of England Governor is a good idea but sticking to past policymakers the competent and intelligent Kristin Forbes would be much better than the incompetent Shafik,

Next is the issue of her nationality as the Bank of England has developed a habit of only employing women from abroad for such roles. This is an issue I raised when she was first appointed to the MPC as I found myself being criticised by @ToryTreasury which described her as British. They went rather quiet though when I quoted her describing herself as Egyptian and asked if they thought she knew better than they did? But both Kristin Forbes and the present Silvano Tenreryo were and are from abroad. I have no issue with appointing some from abroad but the occasional British woman would not go amiss! Also should they appoint a British woman perhaps they could look a little wider than they did last time. From Wiki.

The Hon Charlotte Hogg was born on 26 August 1970 in London, England. Both her parents hold peerages in their own right: her father is the 3rd Viscount Hailsham, a former Member of Parliament and hereditary peer as well as being a life peer, and her mother is the Baroness Hogg, a life peer . She was brought up on the family estate of Kettlethorpe Hall in Kettlethorpe, Lincolnshire.

Monetary Policy

If we step back in time to the 28th of September 2016 Minouche Shafik gave a speech at Bloomberg.

the process of adjustment can sometimes be painful. That’s where monetary policy can help, and it seems likely to me that further monetary stimulus will be required at some point in order to help ensure that a slowdown in economic activity doesn’t turn into something more pernicious.

As I pointed out the next day this was a case of toeing the Governor Carney line. As I  had pointed out 2 weekend’s  before on BBC Radio 4’s Money Box the simple fact was that the fall in the UK Pound £ was a much bigger factor for the UK economy than the Bank of England moves. As of the latest update on our effective or trade weighted exchange rate back then we had received the equivalent of a 2.5% cut in Bank Rate or as I put it on the radio a “Bazooka” compared to the “peashooter” she and her colleagues deployed with a 0.25% cut. The £60 billion of QE was pretty much been offset by a rise in pension fund deficits and the Corporate Bond QE seems to be as much for foreign firms as UK ones.

She in fact highlighted the problem herself but rather oddly chose to ignore it with her policy prescription above.

For example, Bank staff have revised up their forecast for the mature estimate of GDP growth in Q3 to 0.3% from 0.1% at the time of the August Inflation Report.

So thing’s are better but the prescription is the same! Even worse she was unable to grasp that the situation she described was ( and still is ) part of the problem.

What is unusual about this particular loosening relative to previous cycles is its starting point. Despite many real economic variables having returned to around normal levels following the financial crisis the absence of any signs of overheating or inflationary pressure meant that at the time of the referendum Bank Rate was already at an all-time low of 0.5% and we held a stock of £375bn gilts on our balance sheet.

As to “any signs of overheating” she missed this as I pointed out.

UK broad money, M4ex, is defined as M4 excluding intermediate other financial corporations (OFCs)……The three-month annualised and twelve-month growth rates were 10.9% and 7.3% respectively.

Oh and something else was red-lining too.

Consumer credit increased by £1.6 billion in August, broadly in line with the average over the previous six months. The three-month annualised and twelve-month growth rates were 10.4% and 10.3% respectively.

In fact in spite of the fact that the estimates for GDP growth had been revised up Minouche could nor resist this.

Asked by Bloomberg Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait if there was any positive impact from Brexit, Shafik paused. Her offering? The sunny summer enjoyed by Britain.

“The weather’s been really good since the referendum,” she told the audience at the Bloomberg Markets Most Influential Summit in London.

Time passes and it is easy to forget. But this was part of warming the UK up or giving Forward Guidance for a further Bank Rate cut to 0.1% and yet more QE in November. This did not happen because by then it was obvious even to those trying to turn a blind eye to it that the economic situation has been completely misread by the Bank of England. Those policy moves went into the recycling bin.

In an unusual development if we read between the lines it looks as though even the Financial Times agrees with me. This below from economics editor Chris Giles is some distance from the “rock star central banker” that Mark Carney was welcomed with.

With today’s perfectly reasonable BBC speculation that Minouche Shafik is a front runner for ⁦@bankofengland

⁩ governor, I am reminded how difficult it was to extract a clear view from her in an interview when deputy governor.

The latter sentence evokes memories of how Yes Prime Minister described such matters.

Doesn’t it surprise you? – Not with Sir Desmond Glazebrook as chairman.

– How on earth did he become chairman? He never has any original ideas, never takes a stand on principle.

As he doesn’t understand anything, he agrees with everybody and so people think he’s sound.

Is that why I’ve been invited to consult him about this governorship?

 

Comment

The situation is that we have had something of a litany of front-runners. This government is supposed to have favoured Gerard Lyons and Dame Helena Morrisey and Andrew Bailey was supposed to be a shoe-in before that. So the Shafik Surprise may quickly fade in the way she was moved out of the MPC to my alma mater the LSE. For these purposes I have ignored the rubbish she spoke about QE because pretty much everyone at the Bank of England quotes that and back in September 2016 she did perhaps inadvertently get something right.

BOE SHAFIKQE UNWIND DOES LOOK A VERY LONG WAY AWAY

Ever further away as we mull whether we will get weekly, then daily then hourly extensions of the term of Governor Carney?

 

What are the economic consequences of Brexit?

After all the uncertainty in the UK we will have some sort of progress in that we will have an election putting the voters at least briefly in charge. Whether that will solve things is open to debate but let us take a look at what the economic situation will be should the UK start to actually Brexit from the European Union. The NIESR has looked at it and the BBC has put it in dramatic terms.

Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal will leave the UK £70bn worse off than if it had remained in the EU, a study by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) has found.

That is a rather grand statement which fades a little if we read the actual report which starts like this.

The economic outlook is clouded by significant economic and political uncertainty and depends critically on the United Kingdom’s trading relationships after Brexit. Domestic economic weakness is further amplified by slowing global demand.

The latter is somewhere between very little and nothing to do with Brexit. We are in a situation where the 0.3% quarterly GDP growth declared by France this morning looks good in the circumstances.

This brings us to the first problem which is that the NIESR is predicting that sort of growth for the UK.

On the assumption that chronic uncertainty persists but the terms of EU trade remain unchanged, we forecast economic growth of under 1½ per cent in 2019 and 2020, though the forecast is subject to significant uncertainty.

So where is the loss? As it happens they have predicted 1.4% economic growth which is as fast as the economy supposedly can grow these days according to the Bank of England.

We think our economy can only grow at a new, lower speed limit of around one-and-a-half per cent a year. We also currently think actual demand is growing close to this speed limit. This means demand can’t grow faster than at its current pace without causing prices to start rising too quickly.

I am no great fan of this type of analysis but remember we are in the Ivory Tower Twilight Zone here. Now let us factor in the problems the Ivory Towers tell us about business investment.

Prior to the EU referendum, UK business investment growth was growing in line with average growth across the rest of the G7. Since then, it has risen by just 1% in the UK, compared to an average of 12% elsewhere……..DMP Survey data suggest that the level of nominal investment may be between 6%–14% lower than it would have been in the absence of Brexit uncertainties. ( Bank of England August Inflation Report)

So there is potentially quite a bit of business investment growth in the offing. How much? I do not know but it could quite easily be a sizeable swing. That view rather collides with the statement below from the NIESR.

We would not expect economic activity to be boosted by the approval of the government’s proposed Brexit deal. We estimate that, in the long run, the economy would be 3½ per cent smaller with the deal compared to continued EU membership.

So the business investment was not held back but lost forever?

They do however seem to have a rather extraordinary faith in the power of a 0.25% interest-rate cut.

In our main-case forecast scenario, economic conditions are set to continue roughly as they are, with output close to capacity but underlying growth remaining weak and well under its historic trend. Real wage growth is supporting consumer spending, but weak productivity growth means that the current pace of expansion may not be sustainable. Rising domestic cost pressures are offset to some extent by slower import price growth and CPI inflation is forecast to remain close to target. In line with our previous forecasts, fiscal policy is being loosened. This, together with an expected cut in Bank Rate next year, is supporting economic growth in the near term.

Odd that because surely we would not be here if interest-rate cuts had that sort of effect. Looser fiscal policy does seem to be on the cards whatever government we get next and the rising real wages point is interesting as it means they are not expecting a fall on the value of the UK Pound £.

Also there is very little there which is anything to do with Brexit at all. I note that they have no idea what inflation will do so they simply say it will be in line with its target. Indeed

underlying growth remaining weak and well under its historic trend.

is where we are these days and economic growth being supported by fiscal policy makes us sound the same as France which last time I checked is not Brexiting at all.

Finally we do get to a proposed loss.

Compared to our main-case forecast, uncertainty would be lifted but customs and regulatory barriers would hinder goods and services trade with the continent, leaving all regions of the United Kingdom worse off than they would be if the UK stayed in the EU.

Now we have it! There is of course an element of truth here as there are gains from being in the Single Market. But the reality is that we do not yet know what out future relationship will be and even more importantly how economic agents will respond to it.

Bank of England

There were some extraordinary reports last night emanating from ITV’s Robert Peston. I think that Robert is desperate for attention but as the son of a Labour Peer he is extremely well connected to say the least. So let us note this.

I’ve been aware for some time that the prime minister and chancellor have a preferred candidate to be next governor of the Bank of England – and it is none of the five who were interviewed a few weeks ago (Cunliffe, Bailey, Broadbent, Vadera, Shafik) and passed the the competence threshold.

If the competence threshold was one passed by Nemat Shafik then even the world’s best limbo dancer must be unable to get under it. For newer readers she was made a Dame and put in charge of the LSE to cover up her early exit from the Bank of England which happened because she was out of her depth. Indeed is she is in play then this suggestion would at least give us a laugh.

It’s….Rebekah Vardy.

Actually matters got more complex as the issue of whether it was appropriate now was raised and the issue of any likely international candidate (Raghuram Rajan )was raised. Then there were the possible political style appointments which Robert ignored presumably on the grounds that it was fine when the current incumbent espoused views with Robert himself might have made but might be something rather inconvenient looking forwards.

Comment

We find as so often that what is presented as fact has strong elements of opinion attached to it. In economics that is driven by the assumptions made in any economic modelling which are usually more powerful than actual events. An example of this was provided by the UK Office for Budget Responsibility back in 2010. It predicted we would now have Gilt yields of 5% and would have seen wage growth at the same level for some time. In reality we have a 50 year yield o just over 1.1% and wage growth has maybe made 4% for a bit after years of way under-performance. On that road 3.5% GDP growth starts to look more like a rounding error. So will there be an effect? Yes as we adjust, but after that it will be swamped by other developments.

Returning to the role of Bank of England Governor then perhaps Mark Carney just like QE and low/negative interest-rates may be to infinity and beyond! Perhaps a daily extension this time around?

 

 

 

 

 

Good news for the UK economy on the wages and broad money front less so on consumer credit

Today I feel sorry for whoever has to explain this at the Bank of England morning meeting.

“Annual house price growth remained below 1% for the 11th
month in a row in October, at 0.4%. Average prices rose by
around £800 over the last 12 months, a significant slowing
compared with recent years – for example, in the same
period to October 2016, prices increased by £9,100.”

That was from the Nationwide Building Society which has brought news to spoil a central banker’s breakfast. After all they have done their best.

“Moreover, mortgage rates remain close to all-time lows –
more than 95% of borrowers have opted for fixed rate deals
in recent quarters, around half of which have opted to fix for five years.”

The irony here is that they have made their own Bank Rate changes pretty impotent. I recall in the early days of this decade noting that nearly all mortgages in Portugal were fixed-rate ones and thinking we were different. Well not any more!

But unlike Governor Carney I consider this to be a good news story because of this bit.

the unemployment rate remains close to 40 year lows and real earnings growth (i.e. after taking account of inflation) is close to levels prevailing before the financial crisis.

So houses are becoming more affordable in general terms and the Nationwide is beginning to pick this up as its earnings to house price ratio has fallen from 5.2 to 5. Although the falls are concentrated in London ( from 10 to 8.9) and the outer London area ( 7.2 to 6.7). Both Northern Ireland ( now 4) and the West Midlands ( now 4.7) have seen small rises.

UK Wages

We can look at the wages position in more detail because this morning has brought the results of the annual ASHE survey.

Median weekly earnings for full-time employees reached £585 in April 2019, an increase of 2.9% since April 2018….In real terms (after adjusting for inflation), median full-time employee earnings increased by 0.9% in the year to April 2019.

So we see something of a turning in the situation for the better although sadly the situation for real wages is not that good, as it relies on the Imputed Rent driven CPIH measure of inflation. So maybe we had 0.5% growth in real wages.

Even using the fantasy driven inflation measure we are still worse off than we once were.

Median weekly earnings in real terms are still 2.9% lower (£18 lower) than the peak in 2008 of £603 in 2019 prices.

These numbers conceal wide regional variations as highlighted here.

In April 2019, the City of London had the highest gross weekly earnings for full-time employees (£1,052) and Newark and Sherwood had the lowest (£431).

Also the way to get a pay rise was to change jobs.

In 2019, the difference in growth in earnings for full-time employees who changed jobs since April 2018 (8.0%) compared with those who stayed in the same job (1.6%) was high, suggesting stronger upward pressure on wages compared with other years.

Tucked away in the detail was some good news for part-time workers.

Median weekly earnings for part-time jobs increased at a greater rate. In 2019, earnings increased by 5.2% in nominal terms, which translates to a 3.1% increase in real terms. The median weekly earnings for part-time employee jobs of £197 is 6.5% higher than in 2008 in real terms.

It seems that the changes in the national minimum wage have had a positive impact here.

Meanwhile far from everyone has seen a rise.

The proportion of employees experiencing a pay freeze or a decrease in earnings (in real terms) in 2019 (35.7%) is lower than in 2018 (43.3%) and in 2011 (relative to 2010) when it was 60.5%.

Mortgages

From the Bank of England today.

Mortgage market indicators point to continued stability in the market. Net mortgage borrowing by households was little changed at £3.8 billion in September. The stability in the monthly flows has left the annual growth rate unchanged at 3.2%. Growth rates have now remained close to this figure for the past three years. Mortgage approvals for house purchase (an indicator for future lending) were also broadly unchanged in September, at 66,000, and remained within the narrow range seen over the past three years.

As you can see this was a case of what Talking Heads would call.

Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was

Although there is a nuance in that the longer-term objective of the Bank of England is still in play. The true purpose of the Funding for Lending Scheme of the summer of 2012 was to get net mortgage credit consistently positive. That was achieved as there have been no monthly declines since ( unlike in 2010 and 2011) and over time the amount has risen. Nothing like the £9 billion pluses of 2007 but much higher than post credit crunch.

Consumer Credit

The credit impulse provided by the Funding for Lending Scheme was always likely to leak into here.

The annual growth rate of consumer credit was 6.0% in September. This growth rate has now been falling steadily for nearly three years. Revisions to the data this month, however, mean that the annual growth rate has been revised up slightly over the past two and a half years.

Let me give you an example of how the rate of consumer credit growth has been falling from last month’s update.

The annual growth rate of consumer credit continued to slow in August, falling to 5.4%.

The “revised up slightly” means it is now being reported as 6.1%. This is really poor as we can all make mistakes but this is a big deal and needs a full explanation as something has gone wrong enough on a scale to change the narrative.

Assuming this number is correct here is the detail for September itself.

The extra amount borrowed by consumers in order to buy goods and services fell slightly to £0.8 billion in September, and for the second month in a row was below £1.1 billion, the average since July 2018.

Broad Money

There was some good news in this release for the UK economy.

Total money holdings in September rose by £10.9 billion, broadly flat on the month, and remaining above the average of the past 6 months.

The amount of money held by households rose by £5.5 billion in September, primarily driven by increased holdings of interest bearing sight deposits. NIOFC’s money holdings rose by £4.3 billion, while the amount held by PNFCs rose by £1.0 billion.

I am a little unclear how a rise of just under £11 billion is “broadly flat”! But anyway this continues the improvement in the annual growth rate to 3.9% as opposed to the 1.8% of both January and May. Individual months can be erratic but we seem to have turned higher as a trend.

Comment

There have been several bits of good news for the UK economy today. The first is the confirmation of the improvement in the trajectory for real wages and some rather good growth for those working part-time. This feeds into the next bit which is the way that houses and flats are slowly becoming more affordable albeit that much of the progress has been in London and its environs. Looking ahead we see that the improvement in broad money growth is hopeful for the early part of 2021.

The higher trajectory for consumer credit growth is mixed,however. Whilst it will have provided a boost it is back to the age old UK economic problem of borrowing on credit and then wondering about the trade gap. It is especially poor that the Bank of England has been unable to count the numbers correctly. Also it is time for my regular reminder that the credit easing policies were supposed to boost lending to smaller businesses. How is that going?

while the growth rate of borrowing by SMEs rose slightly to 1.0%.

Woeful and a clear misrepresentation of what they were really up to.

NB

I later discovered that the Bank of England revised Consumer Credit higher by some £6.1 billion in August meaning that as of the end of September it was £225.1 billion.