What are the economic prospects for the Euro area?

As we progress into 2020 there has been a flurry of information on the Euro area economy. However there has been quite a bit of dissatisfaction with the usual indicators so statistics offices have been looking  at alternatives and here is the German effort.

The Federal Office for Goods Transport (BAG) and the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) report that the mileage covered by trucks with four or more axles, which are subject to toll charges, on German motorways decreased a seasonally adjusted 0.6% in December 2019 compared with the previous month.

As a conceptual plan this can be added to the way that their colleagues in Italy are now analysing output on Twitter and therefore may now think world war three has begun. Returning to the numbers the German truck data reminds us that the Euro areas largest economy is struggling. That was reinforced this morning by some more conventional economic data.

Germany exported goods to the value of 112.9 billion euros and imported goods to the value of 94.6 billion euros in November 2019. Based on provisional data, the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) also reports that German exports decreased by 2.9% and imports by 1.6% in November 2019 on the same month a year earlier. Compared with October 2019, exports were down 2.3% and imports 0.5% after calendar and seasonal adjustment.

We get a reminder that what was one if the causes of economic imbalance before the credit crunch has if anything grown as we note the size of Germany’s trade surplus.  It is something that each month provides support for the level of the Euro. Switching to economic trends we see that compared to a year before the larger export volume has fallen by more than import volume. This was even higher on a monthly basis as we note that the gap between the two widened. But both numbers indicate a contractionary influence on the German economy and hence GDP ( Gross Domestic Product).

Production

Today’s data opened with a flicker of positive news.

In November 2019, production in industry was up by 1.1% on the previous month on a price, seasonally and calendar adjusted basis according to provisional data of the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis). In October 2019, the corrected figure shows a decrease of 1.0% (primary -1.7%) from September 2019.

However this still meant this.

-2.6% on the same month a year earlier (price and calendar adjusted)

There is a particular significance in the upwards revision to October as some felt that the original numbers virtually guaranteed a contraction in GDP in the last quarter of 2019. In terms of a breakdown the better November figures relied on investment.

In November 2019, production in industry excluding energy and construction was up by 1.0%. Within industry, the production of capital goods increased by 2.4% and the production of consumer goods by 0.5%. The production of intermediate goods showed a decrease by 0.5%.

Only time will tell if the investment was wise. The orders data released yesterday was not especially hopeful.

Based on provisional data, the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) reports that price-adjusted new orders in manufacturing had decreased in November 2019 a seasonally and calendar adjusted 1.3% on the previous month.

Producing more into weaker orders has an obvious flaw and on an annual basis the situation was even worse.

-6.5% on the same month a year earlier (price and calendar adjusted)

Perhaps the investment was for the domestic economy as we look into the detail.

Domestic orders increased by 1.6% and foreign orders fell 3.1% in November 2019 on the previous month. New orders from the euro area were down 3.3%, new orders from other countries decreased 2.8% compared to October 2019.

But if we widen our outlook from Germany to the wider Euro area we see that it was the source of the strongest monthly slowing.

In a broad sweep orders for production rose from 2013 to December 2017 with the series peaking at 117.1 ( 2015=100) but we have been falling since and have now gone back to 2015 at 100.3.

The Labour Market

By contrast there is more to cheer from this area.

The euro area (EA19) seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was 7.5% in November 2019, stable compared with
October 2019 and down from 7.9% in November 2018. This remains the lowest rate recorded in the euro area
since July 2008.

In terms of the broad trend the Euro area is now pretty much back to where it was before the credit crunch and is a long way from the peak of above 12% seen around 2013. But there are catches and nuances to this of which a major one is this.

In November 2019, the unemployment rate in the United States was 3.5%, down from 3.6% in October 2019 and
from 3.7% in November 2018.

That is quite a gap and whilst there may be issues around how the numbers are calculated that still leaves quite a gap. Also unemployment is a lagging indicator but it may be showing signs of turning.

Compared with October 2019, the number of persons unemployed increased by
34 000 in the EU28 and decreased by 10 000 in the euro area. Compared with November 2018, unemployment fell
by 768 000 in the EU28 and by 624 000 in the euro area.

The rate of decline has plainly slowed and if we look at Germany again we wait to see what the next move is.

Adjusted for seasonal and irregular effects, the number of unemployed remained unchanged from the previous month, standing at 1.36 million people as well. The adjusted unemployment rate was 3.1% in November, without any changes since May 2019.

Looking Ahead

There was some hope for 2020 reflected in the Markit PMI business surveys.

Business optimism about the year ahead has also improved
to its best since last May, suggesting the mood
among business has steadily improved in recent
months.

However the actual data was suggested a low base to start from.

Another month of subdued business activity in
December rounded off the eurozone’s worst quarter
since 2013. The PMI data suggest the euro area
will struggle to have grown by more than 0.1% in
the closing three months of 2019.

There is a nuance in that France continues to do better than Germany meaning that in their turf war France is in a relative ascendancy. In its monthly review the Italian statistics office has found some cheer for the year ahead.

The sectoral divide between falling industrial production and resilient turnover in services persists. However, business survey indicators convey first signals of optimism in manufacturing. Economic growth is projected to slightly increase its pace to moderate growth rates of 0.3% over the forecast horizon.

Comment

The problem for the ECB is that its monetary taps are pretty much fully open and money supply growth is fairly strong but as Markit puts it.

At face value, the weak performance is
disappointing given additional stimulus from the
ECB, with the drag from the ongoing plight of the
manufacturing sector a major concern.

It is having an impact but is not enough so far.

However, policymakers will be encouraged by the resilient
performance of the more domestically-focused
service sector, where growth accelerated in
December to its highest since August.

This brings us back to the opening theme of this year which has been central bankers both past and present singing along with the band Sweet.

Does anyone know the way, did we hear someone say
(We just haven’t got a clue what to do)
Does anyone know the way, there’s got to be a way
To blockbuster

Hence their move towards fiscal policy which is quite a cheek in the circumstances.

The conceptual issue is that all the intervention and central planning has left the Euro area struggling for any sustained economic growth and certainly slower growth than before. This is symbolised by Italy which remains a girlfriend in a coma.

The Composite Output Index* posted at 49.3 in December,
down from 49.6 in November, to signal a second consecutive fall in Italian private sector output. Moreover, the decline quickened to a marginal pace.

 

Bank of England Forward Guidance ignores the falls in UK real wages

Yesterday evening Michael Saunders of the Bank of England spoke in Southampton and gave us his view on our subject of today the labour market.

 the output gap is probably closed……….. The labour
market continued to tighten, and the MPC judged in late 2018 that the output gap had closed, with supply
and demand in the economy broadly in balance.

As you can see we quickly go from it being “probably closed” to “had closed” and there is something else off beam. You see if there is anyone on the Monetary Policy Committee who would think it is closed is Michael via his past pronouncements, so if he is not sure, who is? This leads us straight into the labour market.

In general, labour market data suggest
the output gap has closed. For example, the jobless rate is slightly below the MPC’s estimate of equilibrium,
vacancies are around a record high, while pay growth has risen to around a target-consistent pace (allowing
for productivity trends).

Poor old Michael does not seem to realise that if pay growth is consistent with the inflation target he does not have a problem. Of course that is before we hit the issue of the “equilibrium” jobless rate where the Bank of England has been singing along to Kylie Minogue.

I’m spinning around
Move outta my way
I know you’re feeling me
‘Cause you like it like this

In terms of numbers the original Forward Guidance highlighted an unemployment rate of 7% which very quickly became an equilibrium one of 6.5% and I also recall 5.5% and 4.5% as well as the present 4.25%. Meanwhile the actual unemployment rate is 3.8%! What has actually happened is that they have been chasing the actual unemployment rate lower and have only escaped more general derision because most people do not understand the issue here. Let’s be generous and ignore the original 7% and say they have cut the equilibrium rate from 6.5% to 4.25%. What that tells me is that the concept tells us nothing because on the original plan annual wage growth should be between 5% and 6%.

What we see is that an example of Ivory Tower thinking that reality has a problem and that the theory is sound.  It then leads to this.

This would reinforce the prospect that the
economy moves into significant excess demand over the next 2-3 years, and hence that some further
monetary tightening is likely to be needed to keep inflation in line with the 2% target over time.

Somebody needs to tell the Reserve Bank of India about this excess demand as it has cut interest-rates three times this year and also Australia which cut only last week. Plus Mario Draghi of the ECB who said no twice before the journalist asking him if he would raise interest-rates last week finished his question and then added a third for good measure.

Wage Data

We gain an initial perspective from this. From this morning’s labour market release.

Including bonuses, average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain were estimated to have increased by 3.1%, before adjusting for inflation, and by 1.2%, after adjusting for inflation, compared with a year earlier.

If we start with the economic situation these numbers are welcome and let me explain why. The previous three months had seen total weekly wages go £530 in January, but then £529 in both February and March. So the £3 rise to £532 in April is a welcome return to monthly and indeed quarterly growth. As to the number for real wages it is welcome that we have some real wage growth but sadly the official measure used called CPIH is a poor one via its use of imputed rents which are never paid.

Ivory Tower Troubles

However as we peruse the data we see what Taylor Swift would call “trouble, trouble trouble” for the rhetoric of Michael Saunders. Let us look at his words.

Wage income again is likely to do better than expected.

That has been something of a hardy perennial for the Bank of England in the Forward Guidance era where we have seen wage growth optimism for just under 6 years now. But whilst finally we have arrived in if not sunlit uplands we at least have some real wage growth there is a catch. Let me show you what it is with the latest four numbers for the three monthly total wages average. It has gone 3.5% in January then 3.5%, 3.3% and now 3.1%. Also if we drill into the detail of the April numbers I see that the monthly rise was driven by an £8 rise in weekly public-sector wages to £542 which looks vulnerable to me. Was there a sector which got a big rise?

Thus as you can see on the evidence so far we have slowing wage growth rather than it picking up. That would be consistent with the slowing GDP growth yesterday. So we seem to be requiring something of a “growth fairy” that perhaps only Michael is seeing right now. This is what he thinks it will do to wage growth.

Pay growth has recently
risen to about 3% YoY and the May IR projects a further modest pickup (to about 3.5% in 2020 and 3.75% in 2021). That looks reasonable in my view: if anything, with the high levels of recruitment difficulties, risks may
lie slightly to the upside.

Real Wages

There is a deeper problem here as whilst the recent history has been better the credit crunch era has been a really poor one for UK real ages. Our official statisticians put it like this.

£468 per week in real terms (constant 2015 prices), higher than the estimate for a year earlier (£459 per week), but £5 lower than the pre-recession peak of £473 per week for April 2008.

As you can see even using their favoured ( aka lower) inflation measure real wages are in the red zone still. I noted that they have only given us the regular pay data so I checked the total wages series. There we have seen a fall from the £512 of January 2008 to £496 in April so £16 lower and just in case anyone looks it up I am ignoring the £525 of February 2008 which looks like the equivalent of what musicians call a bum note.

We see therefore that the closed output gap measured via the labour market has left us over a decade later with lower real wages!

Comment

If we view the UK labour market via the lenses of a pair of Bank of England spectacles then there is only one response to the data today.

Between February to April 2018 and February to April 2019: hours worked in the UK increased by 2.4% (to reach 1.05 billion hours) the number of people in employment in the UK increased by 1.1% (to reach 32.75 million).

From already strong numbers we see more growth and this has fed directly into the number they set as a Forward Guidance benchmark.

For February to April 2019, an estimated 1.30 million people were unemployed, 112,000 fewer than a year earlier and 857,000 fewer than five years earlier.

It is hard not to have a wry smile at falls in unemployment like that leading to in net terms the grand sum of one 0.25% Bank Rate rise. Also even a pair of Bank of England spectacles may spot that a 2.4% increase in hours worked suggests labour productivity is falling.

But the Forward Guidance virus is apparently catching as even the absent-minded professor has remembered to join in.

BoE’s Broadbent: If Economy Grows As BoE Forecasts, Interest Rates Will Probably Need To Rise A Bit Faster Than Market Curve Priced In May ( @LiveSquawk )

My conclusion is that we should welcome the better phase for the UK labour market and keep our fingers crossed for more in what look choppy waters. Part of the problem at the Bank of England seems to be that they think it is all about them.

Second, why should growth pick up without any easing in monetary or fiscal policies? ( Michael Saunders)

Of course that may be even more revealing…..

 

 

The UK labour market is booming Goldilocks style

Let me open by bringing you up to date with the latest attempt at monetary easing from the Bank of England. Yesterday it purchased some more UK Gilts as part of its ongoing Operation Twist effort.

As set out in the Minutes of the MPC’s meeting ending on 6 February 2019, the MPC has agreed to make £20.6 billion of gilt purchases, financed by central bank reserves, to reinvest the cash flows associated with the maturity on 7 March 2019 of a gilt owned by the Asset Purchase Facility (APF)……….The Bank intends to purchase evenly across the three gilt maturity sectors. The size of auctions will initially be £1,146mn for each maturity sector.

Yesterday was for short-dated Gilts ( 3 to 7 year maturity) and today will be for long-dated Gilts ( 15 years plus). Why is this extra QE? This is because you are exchanging a maturing Git for one with a longer maturity and thus means QE will be with us for even longer. Odd for an emergency response don’t you think?

Regular readers will be aware that I wrote a piece in City-AM in September 2013 suggesting the Bank of England should let maturing Gilts do just that. So by now we would have trimmed the total down a fair bit which would be logical over a period where we have seen economic growth which back then was solid, hence my suggestion. Whereas we face not only a situation where nothing has been done in the meantime but today’s purchase of long and perhaps ultra long Gilts ( last week some of the 2037 Gilt was purchased) returns us to the QE to Infinity theme.

This area has been profitable for the Bank of England via the structure of UK QE as it charges the asset protection fund Bank Rate. So mostly 0.5% but for a while 0.25% and presumably now 0.75%. In the end the money goes to HM Treasury but if you get yourself close the the flow of money as Goldman Sachs have proven you benefit and in the Bank of England’s case you can see this by counting the number of Deputy-Governors. Also its plan to reverse QE at some point continues in my opinion to be ill thought out but for now that is not fully pertinent as it has no intention of actually doing it!

UK Labour Market

In ordinary times the UK government would be putting on a party hat after seeing this.

The level of employment in the UK increased by 222,000 to a record high of 32.71 million in the three months to January 2019……..The employment rate of 76.1% was the highest since comparable records began in 1971.

As you can see a trend which began in 2012 still seems to be pushing forwards and poses a question as to what “full employment” actually means? Also let me use the construction series as an example of maybe the output data has been too low. From @NobleFrancis.

ONS Employment in UK construction in 2018 Q4 was 2.41 million, 2.8% higher than in 2018 Q3 & 3.2% higher than one year earlier.

To my question about the output data he replied.

Given the strength of the construction employment data, potentially we may see an upward revision to ONS construction output in Q4 although there can be odd quarters where the construction employment & output data go in different directions.

To give you the full picture @brickonomics points out that different areas of construction have very different labour utilisation so we go to a definitely maybe although that gets a further nudge from the wages data as you see the annual rate of growth went from 3.2% in October to 5.5% in December. So whilst this is not proof it is a strong suggestion of better output news to come.

Let us complete this section with the welcome news that unlike earlier stages of the recovery we are now creating mostly full-time work.

 This estimated annual increase of 473,000 was due mainly to more people working full-time (up 424,000 on the year to reach 24.12 million). Part-time working also contributed, with an increase of 49,000 on the year to reach 8.60 million.

Unemployment

Again the news was good.

The UK unemployment rate was estimated at 3.9%; it has not been lower since November 1974 to January 1975…..For November 2018 to January 2019, an estimated 1.34 million people were unemployed, 112,000 fewer than for a year earlier. There have not been fewer unemployed people in the UK since October to December 1975.

There have been periods recently where we have feared a rise in unemployment whereas in fact the situation has continued to get better. We again find the numbers at odds with the output data we have for the economy. But let us welcome good news that has persisted.

Wage Growth

This was a case of and then there were three today.

Excluding bonuses, average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain were estimated to have increased by 3.4%, before adjusting for inflation, and by 1.4%, after adjusting for inflation, compared with a year earlier. Including bonuses, average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain were estimated to have increased by 3.4%, before adjusting for inflation, and by 1.5%, after adjusting for inflation, compared with a year earlier.

The total wages number which they now call including bonuses had a good January when they rose by 3.7% which means we have gone 4%,3.4%,3.3% and now 3.7% on a monthly basis. For numbers which are erratic this does by its standards suggest a new higher trend. This is good news for the economy and also for the Bank of England which after seven years of trying has finally got a winning lottery ticket. I will let readers decide whether to award it another go or a tenner ( £10) .

As to real wage growth we now have some but sadly not as much as the official figures claim. This is because the inflation measure used called CPIH has some fantasy numbers based on Imputed Rents which are never paid which lower it and thereby raise official real wage growth. Thus if we use the January data it has real wage growth at 1.9% but using the RPI gives us a still good but lower 1.2%

Putting that another way you can see why there has been so much establishment effort led by Chris Giles of the Financial Times to scrap the RPI.

Comment

The UK labour market seems to have entered something of a Goldilocks phase where employment rises, unemployment falls and added to that familiar cocktail we have real wage growth. So we should enjoy it as economics nirvana’s are usually followed by a trip or a fall. As to the detail there remain issues about the numbers like the way that the self-employed are not included in the wages numbers. Also whilst I welcome the rise in full-time work the definition is weak as the respondent to the survey chooses.

Next let me just raise two issues for the Bank of England as it finally clutches a winning wages lottery ticket. It is expanding monetary policy into a labour market boom with its only defence the recent rise in the UK Pound £. Next its natural or as some would put it full (un)employment rate of 4.5% needs to be modified again as we recall when it was 7%.

Those of you who follow me on social media will know I do an occasional series on how the BBC economics correspondent only seems to cover bad news. Sometimes Dharshini David does it by reporting the good as bad.

eyebrows raised as jobs market figs “defy” Brexit Uncertainty BUT 1) hiring/firing tends to lag couple quarters behind activity 2)as per financial crisis, workers relatively cheap so firms may be “hoarding” workers 3)some jobs will have been created to aid with Brexit prep

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