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?

 

 

 

 

 

The success story of Spain faces new as well as old challenges

Back in the Euro area crisis the Spanish economy looked in serious trouble. The housing boom and bust had fit the banking sector mostly via the cajas and the combination saw both unemployment and bond yields soar. It seems hard to believe now that the benchmark bond yield was of the order of 7% but it posed a risk of the bond vigilantes making Spain look insolvent. That was added to by an unemployment rate that peaked at just under 27%. The response was threefold as the ECB bought Spanish bonds under the Securities Markets Programme to reduce the cost of debt. There was also this.

In June 2012, the Spanish government made an official request for financial assistance for its banking system to the Eurogroup for a loan of up to €100 billion. It was designed to cover a capital shortfall identified in a number of Spanish banks, with an additional safety margin.

In December 2012 and January 2013, the ESM disbursed a total of €41.3 billion, in the form of ESM notes, to the Fondo de Restructuración Ordenada Bancaria (FROB), the bank recapitalisation fund of the Spanish government. ( ESM)

Finally there was the implementation of the “internal competitiveness” model and austerity.

What about now?

Things are very different as Spain has been in a good run. From last week.

Spanish GDP registers a growth of 0.4% in the third quarter of 2019 compared to to the previous quarter in terms of volume. This rate is similar to that recorded in the
second trimester.The interannual growth of GDP stands at 2.0%, similar to the previous quarter.

There are two ways of looking at this in the round. The first is that for an advanced economy that is a good growth rate for these times, and the second is that it will be especially welcome on the Euro area. Combining Spain with its neighbour France means that any minor contraction in Germany does not pull the whole area in negative economic growth.

However there is a catch for the ECB as Spain has slowed to this rate of economic growth and had thus exceeded the “speed limit” of 1.5% per annum for quite a while now. That will keep its Ivory Tower busy manipulating, excuse me analysing output gaps and the like. In fact once the dog days of the Euro area crisis were over Spain’s economy surged forwards with annual economic growth peaking at 4.2% in the latter part of 2015 and then in general terms slowing to where we are now. As to why the ESM explanation is below.

 Strong job creation followed the economic expansion, and employment has recovered by more than 2.5 million. Structural reforms have been paying off: competitiveness gains have supported economic rebalancing towards tradable sectors, and exports of goods and services have stabilised at historical highs (above 30% of GDP). The large and persistent current account deficit, which had reached 9.6% of GDP in 2007, has turned into a surplus averaging 1.5% of GDP in 2014-18.

Actually the IMF must be disappointed it did not join the party as turning around trade problems used to be its job before it came under French management. But Spain certainly rebounded in economic terms.and has been a strength of the Euro area.

Looking at the broader economy, Spain returned to economic growth in 2014 and continues to perform above the euro area average in that category

Over the past six months external trade has continued to boost the economy in spite of conditions being difficult.

On the other hand, the demand external presents a contribution of 0.2 points, eight tenths lower than the quarter past.

The impact of all this has improved the employment situation considerably.

In interannual terms, employment increases at a rate of 1.8%, rate seven tenths
lower than the second quarter, which represents an increase of 332 thousand jobs
( full time equivalents) in one year.

In terms of a broad picture GDP in Spain peaked at 104.4 in the latter part of 2007 then had a double-dip to 94.3 in the autumn of 2013 and now is at 110.9. So it has recovered and moved ahead albeit over the 12 years not made much net progress.

Problems?

According to the ESM the banks remain a major issue.

Several legacy problems also remain in the banking sector. These include larger and more persistent-than-expected losses of SAREB, which pose a contingent liability to the state. Banks have adequate capital buffers, but should further strengthen them towards the euro area average to withstand any future risks. In addition, the privatisation of Bankia and the reform of cajas need to be completed.

Of course banking reform has been just around the corner on a Roman road in so many places. Also the balance sheet of the Spanish banks has received what Arthur Daley of the TV series Minder would call a “nice little earner”.

Housing prices rise 1.2% compared to the previous quarter.The annual variation rate of the Housing Price Index has decreased 1.5 points to 5.3%,

Annual house price growth returned in the spring of 2014 which the banks will welcome. The index based in 2015 is now at 124.2.

However not all ECB policies are welcomed by the banks.

Finally, banks still face pressure on profitability due to the low interest rate environment, and potentially from a price correction in financial assets if the macro environment deteriorates. ( ESM )

An official deposit rate of -0.5% does that to banking profitability. I do not recall seeing signs of the Spanish banks passing this on in the way that Deutsche Bank announced yesterday but the heat is on. I see that the ESM is covering its bases should house prices fall again.

If we look at mortgage-rates then they are falling again as the Bank of Spain records them as 1.83% in September which looks as though it may be an all time low but we do not have the full data set.

Comment

The new phase of economic growth has brought better news on another problem area as the Bank of Spain reports.

Indeed, the non-financial private sector debt ratio
relative to GDP stood at 132%, 5 pp down on a year earlier and 4 pp below the euro area average.

The ratio of the national debt to GDP has fallen to this.

Also, in June 2019 the public debt/GDP ratio stood at 98.9%, a level still 13 pp higher than the euro area average.

 

and these days it is much cheaper to finance as the 7% yields of the Euro area crisis have been replaced by some negative yields and even the benchmark ten-year being a mere 0.31%.

On the other side of the coin first-time buyers will not welcome the new higher house prices and there are areas of trouble.

In this respect, consumer credit grew in June 2019 at a year-on-year rate of around 12%, and non-performing consumer loans at 26%, raising the NPL ratio slightly to 5.6% ( Bank of Spain)

What could go wrong?

Another signal is the way that the growth in employment has improved things considerably but Spain still has an unemployment rate that has only just nudged under 14%.So there is still much to do just as we fear the next downturn may be in play.

A fifth successive monthly deterioration in Spanish
manufacturing operating conditions was signalled in October as a challenging business climate negatively impacted on sales and output……At 46.8, down from 47.7 in September, the index also posted its lowest level for six-and-half years.   ( Markiteconomics )

 

UK wages growth, employment and unemployment all weaken in a worrying sign

Today merges several of our themes as a rather packed diary sees Bank of England Governor Mark Carney give evidence to Parliament just as the latest employment and wages data are released. There are various matters which make have him breaking out in a cold sweat. One is the rally in the UK Pound £ to US $1.266 which even he may be able to talk down. The next is the rise in annual wage growth above 4% which in the past has been regarded as something of a threshold for considering interest-rate increases. Of course that is likely to go the way that the 7% unemployment rate did! That of course raises the next issue of how the unemployment rate has fallen below 4% being chased by an equilibrium unemployment rate which is apparently now 4.25%.

It was only yesterday that I pointed out that Dave ( Sir David to his friends) Ramsden of the Bank of England was still churning out the failed Ivory Tower output gap methodology.

From my perspective, I also think spare capacity might not have opened up that much despite that weakness in underlying growth,

Also tucked away in a really dull speech about longer-term trends Sir Jon Cunliffe made the case for more policy activism.

But, taken together with other changes in the economy – such as changes in the labour market which appear to have led to some flattening of the wage Phillips curve and
changes in the pass-through of labour costs to consumer prices – the probability is that demand management will need to use more tools to stimulate demand in downturns and work harder to prevent macro-economic tail events.

My apologies for their Phillips Curve obsession, but you see he is trying to tell us lower interest-rates are really nothing to do with him and his colleagues and then ask for even more freedom to interfere in the economy! He continues on that path here and “can be overdone” is classic civil service speak where is he taking out a bit of an each-way bet for himself ( but not us).

There is a lively debate over the extent to which aggressive use of monetary policy tools to stimulate demand creates financial stability risks by inflating asset prices and encouraging risk taking and the build-up of debt. My own view is that this can be overdone. There are, as I have said, deep-seated underlying structural drivers of low for long.

Perhaps he learnt all this stuff during his time at HM Treasury ( 1990-2007) which seems to have undertaken a reverse takeover of the Bank of England.

Wages

Today has brought some news that the recent past was not quite as good as we thought it was . Last month we were told that average earnings growth in July was 4.2% but this morning that has been cut to 3.9% which ch-ch-changes the picture somewhat. So now let us peruse this month’s data.

Estimated annual growth in average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain was 3.8% for both total pay (including bonuses) and regular pay (excluding bonuses).

This means that the Bank of England can let loose a sigh of relief as the 4% wages growth threshold was not in fact in play as we only made 3.9% and have now dipped back to 3.8%. In terms of a pattern we see that since October last week each month with only one exception has seen annual wages growth above 3% so we have moved to a new higher path. Of which August at 3.6% is consistent with that and the detail backs this up.

All sectors except manufacturing saw annual pay growth of at least 3.0%; construction saw the highest estimated growth of over 5.5% for both total pay and regular pay…..manufacturing saw the lowest growth, estimated at 2.7% for total pay and 2.5% for regular pay.

So the numbers are good but not as good as we were previously told and maybe this was a factor.

Public sector pay growth has fallen back below that for the private sector, following higher growth in March to May 2019, impacted by the effect of a different pattern of pay rises for some NHS staff in 2019 compared with 2018.

Real Wages

According to the official rhetoric the position is now rather good.

In real terms (after adjusting for inflation), annual growth in total pay is estimated to be 1.9% and annual growth in regular pay is estimated to be 2.0%.

As nominal pay growth is the same I am not sure how they get to that! Let us hope there is a difference at the second decimal place. But the fundamental issue is that it requires the use of the fantasy imputed rent driven CPIH inflation measure to get numbers that high. If we use RPI it drops back to more like 1%.

Also even using it we remain in a depression for real wage growth.

The equivalent figures for total pay in real terms are £502 per week in August 2019 and £525 in February 2008, a 4.4% difference.

Employment

The situation here has been good for seven years or so but this morning indicated the first signs of a wobble.

The UK employment rate was estimated at 75.9%; higher than a year earlier (75.6%) but 0.2 percentage points lower than last quarter……the estimated employment rate for women was 71.6%; this is 0.6 percentage points up on the year, but 0.3 percentage points down on the quarter

I added the detail on women because the change was them. Does anybody have any thoughts as to why this might be so?

We get some more detail from this.

Estimates for June to August 2019 show 32.69 million people aged 16 years and over in employment, 282,000 more than a year earlier. This annual increase was mainly driven by women (up 202,000 on the year), those aged 50 years and over (up 287,000 on the year) and full-time workers (up 263,000 on the year). There was, however, a 56,000 decrease in employment on the quarter, which was the first quarterly decrease since August to October 2017.

Furthermore we seem to be switching towards self-employment again.

However, the latest estimate shows the weakest annual increase for employees since May to July 2012 (see Figure 3), making it smaller than the annual increase for the self-employed.

Unemployment

This has been in a long downtrend but again we saw a change today.

The UK unemployment rate was estimated at 3.9%; this is lower than a year earlier (4.0%) but 0.1 percentage points higher than last quarter…….the level of unemployment increasing by 22,000 to 1.31 million, in the three months to August 2019.

Yet rather oddly considering the pattern of the employment data above it was men that were made unemployed.

the estimated UK unemployment rate for men was 4.0%, 0.1 percentage points lower than last year but 0.1 percentage points higher than the previous quarter……..the estimated UK unemployment rate for women was 3.7%, down 0.3 percentage points on a year earlier but largely unchanged on the quarter.

Comment

This is the first real hint of a possible sea change in the UK labour market which has just seen something of a troika of news. Wage growth is slower than we thought combined with weaker employment and higher unemployment. We still have much better wage growth and the employment levels are very high but if we were the Star ship Enterprise the Captain would be considering pressing the yellow alert button.

The changes in the wages data remind us of the caution that is requited with even official data. Let me remind you that the self-employed and the armed forces are ignored and that companies below 20 people are mostly imputed.

Returning to the Bank of England then they will be thinking of another interest-rate cut whilst Governor Carney emits gens like this.

“The pound is either going to move up or down,” says Mark Carney ( @BruceReuters)

Also he has been contradicting past Bank of England research.

BANK OF ENGLAND’S CARNEY SAYS UK INCOME AND WEALTH INEQUALITY FELL OVER THE PERIOD BOE QUANTITATIVE EASING WAS ACTIVE ( @RedboxGlobal )

 

 

 

 

Portugal has house price growth of 10% but apparently negative inflation!

It is time to turn our telescope towards Portugal as we have not looked at it for a while and signals abound that the times they are a-changing. Let me give you an example of that from this morning.

“The eurozone economy ground to a halt in
September, the PMI surveys painting the darkest
picture since the current period of expansion began
in mid-2013. GDP looks set to rise by 0.1% at best
in the third quarter, with signs of further momentum
being lost as we head into the fourth quarter,
meaning the risk of recession is now very real.” ( IHS Markit )

Actually those surveys were already projecting growth at 0.1% so I am not sure how it stays there with the reading falling from 51.9 to 50.1. Perhaps it is a refreshing acknowledgement that the survey is much blunter than using decimal points. Also ther are some grim portents looking ahead.

Export trade remained a key source of new
business weakness as highlighted by another
monthly decline in overall new export orders.
According to the PMI figures, exports have been
falling throughout the past year and September’s
deterioration was the sharpest since composite
export data were first available just over five years
ago.

There is a nuance here in that the Euro area PMI survey is for the larger economies so not Portugal. But it does provide a background as well as likely trend. Also I have looked at the export trend in particular as this is an issue for Portugal on several fronts. If we look back in time we see that its regular visits to the International Monetary Fund or IMF for help and aid have been driven by trade deficits. Next if we move forwards to the Euro area crisis from around 2011/12 one of the policies applied was called “internal devaluation” which was to make the economy more competitive in trade terms. Oh and as an aside “internal devaluation”  essentially means lower real wages, it just sounds better.

This feeds into a current feature of the Portuguese economy which has been the growth of the motor sector which accounts for around 4% of economic output or GDP. This has been a trend in that against the stereotype car production in the Euro area has headed south into the Iberian peninsular. Portugal has benefited from this with the flagship being the large Volkswagen operation there. In January Caixa Bank did some research on the sector showing its significance.

 in the latter part of 2018, exports of the automotive industry reached 13.0% of the total exports of goods (the highest figure since the end of 2004) and 3.7% of GDP (an all-time high). In addition, as can be seen in the second chart, in October 2018 the sector’s exports registered a growth of 39.4% year-on-year (reaching 7.5 billion euros for the 12-month cumulative total).

This has been a good news story but we now look at it with not a little trepidation as it was only yesterday we looked at manufacturing problems which have been driven by the motor sector. The reputation of Volkswagen is not what it was either.

Trade Figures

If we look at the official data we see this.

In July 2019, exports and imports of goods recorded nominal year-on-year growth rates of +1.3% and +7.9%
respectively (-8.3% and -3.7% in the same order, in June 2019). The emphasis was on the increase of 27.9% in
imports of Transport equipment, mainly Other transport equipment (mostly Airplanes), contributing by +4.2 p.p. to the total year-on-year rate of change.

If we take out what was presumably an aircraft purchase by TAP we see that import growth was at 3.7% well above export growth and not only was there a deficit but it is growing.

The trade balance deficit amounted to EUR 1,751 million in July 2019, increasing by EUR 452 million when compared
to the same month of 2018.

So we see a troubling picture. But we can add to this as monthly figures are unreliable in this area and we are not allowing for a strength of Portugal which is tourism so let us widen our search.

The goods account deficit increased by €2,028 million and the services account surplus declined by €137 million year on year.

In the first seven months of the year, exports of goods and services grew by 3% (2.2% in goods and 4.6% in services) and imports rose by 7.4% (6.7% in goods and 10.8% in services). ( Bank of Portugal )

As you can see the general picture remains the same of a rising deficit although the nuance changes as the export picture gets better. It looks as though tourism has helped but has been swamped by imports of unspecified services.

Before I move on the motor industry has more than a few similarities with the UK.

Lastly, despite the buoyancy of exports in the automotive sector as a whole, in net terms the sector’s trade balance remains negative. However, this situation has improved considerably in the last year: in October 2018, the balance of the automotive sector stood at –1.3 billion euros, compared to –2.7 billion euros in October 2017.  ( Caixa Bank)

Production

On Monday we were updated but as you can see there is little detail.

Industrial Production year-on-year change rate was -4.8% in August (-2.4% in the previous month). Manufacturing
Industry year-on-year change rate was -1.7% (-0.4% in July).

According to Trading Economics we do have some car production data for the month before.

Car production in Portugal decreased 4.2 percent year-on-year to 20,969 units in July 2019.

We do have the official view on September though for manufacturing overall.

In Manufacturing Industry, the confidence indicator decreased in September, reversing the increase observed in
August. The evolution of the indicator reflected the negative contribution of the balances of the opinions on global
demand and on the evolution of stocks of finished products, while the opinions on the production perspectives
stabilized.

Comment

Before this new phase there was much to like about the economic performance of Portugal. The cold recessionary and indeed depressionary winds of the Euro area crisis had been replaced by some badly needed economic growth. This meant that the unemployment situation has improved considerably from the crisis highs.

The provisional unemployment rate estimate for August 2019 was 6.2% and decreased by 0.2 pp from the previous month.

Indeed the past was revised higher still last month.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew 3.5% in real terms in 2017, where the high growth of Investment stands out
(11.9%). In 2018, GDP presented a growth rate of 2.4% in real terms, where Investment remained as the most
dynamic component (growth rate of 6.2%).

So the number I looked at back on the 9th of May will be better than this now.

In 2018 real GDP was 1.2% higher than in 2008…

So far the official data still looks good.

In comparison with the first quarter of 2019, GDP increased by 0.5% in real terms, maintaining the growth rate
recorded in the previous quarter.

The fear though is that the growth phase was driven higher by the Euro boom and ECB policy and to add to the trade fears above there is this.

The House Price Index (HPI) increased 10.1% in the 2nd quarter of 2019, when compared to the same period of 2018, 0.9 percentage point (pp) more than in the previous quarter………On a quarter-to-quarter basis, the HPI grew 3.2%.

This leaves me with two thoughts for you. Firstly Portuguese first time buyers must wonder how there can be no inflation?

The estimate of the Portuguese Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) annual rate of change was -0.3% (-0.1% in August).

Next that it was overheating issues that have led to my long-running theme for Portugal that economic growth does not average more than 1% for long. Can anybody spot any signs of that?

The Investing Channel

What can we expect next from the economy of France?

During the Euro area slow down France has mostly been able to avoid the limelight. This is because it has at least managed some economic growth at a time when Germany not always has. It may not be stellar growth but at least there has been some.

In Q2 2019, GDP in volume terms grew at the same pace as in the previous quarter: +0.3% (revised by +0.1% from the first estimate).

However  there are questions going forwards which plugs into the general Euro area problem which got a further nudge on Monday.

The IHS Markit Eurozone Composite PMI® fell to
50.4 in September according to the ‘flash’ estimate,
down from 51.9 in August to signal the weakest
expansion of output across manufacturing and
services since June 2013………The survey data indicate that GDP looks set to rise by just 0.1% in the third quarter, with momentum weakening as the quarter closed.

As you can see growth is fading and may now have stopped if the PMI is any guide and this was reflected in the words of the Governor of the Bank of France in Paris yesterday.

For the past ten years, there is little doubt that ECB monetary policy under Mario Draghi’s Presidency has made a decisive contribution not only to safeguarding the euro in 2012, but also to the significant recovery of the euro area since 2013. Over this period, more than 10 million jobs have been created. Our unconventional measures are estimated to add almost 2 percentage points of growth and of inflation between 2016 and 2020.

It is revealing that no mention is made of growth right now as he concentrates on what he considers to be past glories. He has rounded the numbers up too as they are 1.5% and 1.9% respectively. Let me give him credit for one thing though which is this although I would like him to say this to the wider public as well.

Since I am talking to an audience of researchers I should of course emphasise that such numbers are subject to uncertainty.

Also raising inflation in the current environment of weak wage growth is likely to make people worse and not better off.

France

The situation here was better than the Euro area average but still slowed.

At 51.3 in September, the IHS Markit Flash France
Composite Output Index fell from 52.9 in August,
and pointed to the softest expansion in private sector
activity for four months.

Actually manufacturing is doing okay in grim times with readings of 49.7 and 50.3 suggesting flatlining. The real fear here was that the larger services sector is now being sucked lower by it.

However, with services firms registering their
slowest rise in activity since May, fears of negative
spill over effects from the manufacturing sector are
coming to fruition. Any intensification of such effects
would likely dampen economic growth going
forward.

This leaves me mulling the record of Markit in France as several years ago it was criticised for being too pessimistic by the French government and more recently seems to have swung the other way.

What about fiscal policy?

This did get a mention in the speech by the Governor of the Bank of France yesterday.

Failing that, a second answer is for fiscal policy to step in. Fiscal stimulus from countries with fiscal space would both stimulate aggregate demand, and, with targeted, quality investment, increase long-term growth.

The problem with that argument is that even the French run IMF could not avoid pointing out this in July.

France’s public debt has been consistently rising over the last four decades, increasing by 80 percent of GDP since the 1980s to reach close to 100 percent of GDP at end-2018. This reflects the inability of successive governments to take full advantage of good times to reverse the spending increases undertaken during downturns.

Actually some of the IMF suggestions look rather chilling and perhaps in Orwellian language.

rationalizing spending on medical products and hospital services; improving the allocation of resources in education

Also and somewhat typically the IMF has missed one change in the situation which is that at present France is being paid to borrow. It’s ten-year yield went negative at the beginning of July and has mostly been there since. As I type this it is -0.32%. It still has to pay a little for longer terms ( the thirty-year is 0.48%) but as you can see not much.

So the situation is that France does have quite a lot of relatively expensive debt from the past but could borrow now very cheaply if it chose to do so.

Banks

Whilst he s referring to macroprudential policy it is hard not to have a wry smile at this from the Governor of the Bank of France.

 To start with, as of today, our toolkit is very much bank-centric.

Especially when he add this.

We are making some progress to extend macroprudential policy beyond the banking sector.

Returning to the banks they are just like elsewhere.

PARIS (Reuters) – Societe Generale (SOGN.PA) plans to cut 530 jobs in France by 2023, CGT union said in a statement.

Of course BNP Paribas has been taking some brokerage business and employees from Deutsche Bank although it has not be a complete success according to financemagnate.com.

Deutsche’s clients will receive letters explaining how the transfer will work. However, some of them have already moved to competitors such as Barclays, which has won roughly $20 billion in prime brokerage balances.

In a way the French banks have used Deutsche Bank as a shield. But many of the same questions are in existence here. How are they going to make sustained profits in a world of not much economic growth and negative interest-rates?

Unemployment

This is the real achilles heel of the French economy. From Insee

The ILO unemployment rate decreased by 0.2 points on average in Q2 2019, after a 0.1 points fall in the first quarter. It stood at 8.5% of the labour force in France (excluding Mayotte), 0.6 points below its Q2 2018 level and its lowest level since early 2009.

Whilst the falls are welcome it is the level of unemployment and the fact it is only now approaching the pre credit crunch levels which are the issue as well as this.

Over the quarter, the employment rate among the youth diminished (−0.3 points),

Whilst the unemployment rate for youth fell by 0.6% to 18.6% it is still high and the falling employment rate is not the best portent for the future.

Comment

So far the economy of France has managed to bumble on and unlike the UK and Germany avoided any quarterly contractions in economic output. If you look at this morning’s official survey then apparently the only way is up baby.

In September 2019, households’ confidence in the economic situation has increased for the ninth consecutive month. At 104, the synthetic index remains above its long-term average (100), reaching its highest level since January 2018.

Perhaps the fall in unemployment has helped and a small rise in real wages. The latter are hard to interpret as a change at the opening of the year distorted the numbers.

firms might pay a special bonus for purchasing power (PEPA) in the first quarter of 2019, to employees earning less than 3 times the minimal wage.

According to the official survey published yesterday businesses are becoming more optimistic too.

In September 2019, the business climate has gained one point, compared to August. The composite indicator, compiled from the answers of business managers in the main sectors, stands at 106, above its long-term mean (100)

So there you have it everything except for the official surveys points downwards. In their defence the official surveys have been around for a long time. So let me leave you with some trolling by the Bank of France monthly review.

French economic growth has settled into a fairly stable pace since mid-2018 of between 1.2% and 1.4% year-on-year . France has thus demonstrated greater resilience than other euro area economies, particularly Germany, where year-on-year growth only amounted to 0.4% in mid-2019. This growth rate should continue over the coming quarters: based on Banque de France business surveys published on 9 September, we expect quarter-on-quarter GDP growth in the third quarter of 2019 of 0.3%.

Rethinking The Dollar

I did an interview for this website. Apologies if you have any issues with the sound as the technology failed us a little and we had to switch from my laptop to my tablet.

 

 

 

 

It is boom time for UK wages growth

Today has opened with a reminder of one of the biggest hits of Steve Winwood.

While you see a chance take it
Find romance
While you see a chance take it
Find romance

It is on my mind for two reasons. The first is that the fifty-year Gilt yield in the UK has risen back to 1% after reaching an all-time low of 0.79%. It is still remarkably cheap for the UK to borrow for infrastructure projects and the like just not as cheap as it was. On the other side of the coin the Bank of England will be trying to make it cheaper today by buying some £1.27 billion of longer-dated ( 2036 – 2071) UK Gilts as part of its reinvestment programme for its £435 billion of QE holdings. This is an extension of QE which can do little good in my opinion which will now continue until 2071 as the Bank has bought a little over £2 billion of it, Something to affect our children and grandchildren.

PPI

There was more news on this subject yesterday as Barclays joined the list of banks adding to their exposure.

Total amounts set aside for PPI redress now stand at £51.8-£53.25 billion – over 5 times the cost of the London 2012 Olympics. Banks have proved hopeless at estimating the total cost of their misconduct – with some increasing their PPI redress provisions 20 times over the past 8 years. Legitimate complaints have been rejected and banks have delayed writing to customers, meaning that the scandal has taken years to be resolved and cost billions in administrative costs. ( New City Agenda)

This has plainly boosted UK consumption and the stereotypical example would be on car sales. But it is not quite a free lunch for GDP as there have been offsetting impacts elsewhere.

  • At Lloyds, retail misconduct costs have amounted to a staggering £14 billion, compared to dividends of just £500 million.
  • RBS has not paid a penny in dividends to its shareholders, but has had to find £6.4 billion in misconduct costs and has chosen to pay £3.8 billion in bonuses.
  • If Barclays had managed to restrain its misconduct costs then it could have tripled its dividend.

People have asked me why this has taken so long? Easy, those in charge of the banks have been able to maintain their positions with the large salaries and bonuses by “managing” the news flow. In banking crises just like in war the first casualty is the truth.

Wages

After yesterday’s strong GDP reading for July we maybe should not have been surprised to see some really good wages numbers, but perhaps not this good.

Estimated annual growth in average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain increased to 4.0% for total pay (including bonuses), and fell to 3.8% for regular pay (excluding bonuses).

As you can see total pay growth reached 4% so what is called a big figure change and it was driven by the July number rising to 4.2%. Below are the sectoral numbers.

Of the sectors reported on, Construction and Finance and Business services are experiencing the highest pay growth, of over 5% (not adjusted for inflation) for total pay; manufacturing is experiencing the lowest pay growth, of 2.4%.

Actually construction wages rose at an annual rate of 7% in July. The numbers here have been boosted by bonus payments which have been around £30 per week for the last year. So it looks as though something has changed there and in a good way for once. I have to admit that it raises a wry smile as it fits with my Nine Elms to Vauxhall crane count rather better than the official construction figures.

Real Wages

Let me first show you the official view.

In real terms (after adjusting for inflation), annual growth in total pay is estimated to be 2.1% and annual growth in regular pay is estimated to be 1.9%.

The problem with that is that it relies on the CPIH inflation measure which is 17% fantasy via the use of Imputed Rents ( it assumes homeowners pay themselves rent which of course they do not). Thus on a technical level it should not be used as a deflator at all but sadly the UK statistics authorities have abandoned such logic. Let me explain by how they present the overall picture now. They start with regular pay.

£470 per week in real terms (constant 2015 prices), higher than the estimate for a year earlier (£461 per week), but £3 (0.7%) lower than the pre-recession peak of £473 per week for April 2008……..The equivalent figures for total pay in real terms are £502 per week in July 2019 and £525 in February 2008, a 4.3% difference.

Now let me show some alternative numbers from Rupert Seggins.

How close is real pay compared to where it was at the start of the crisis? That answer still very much depends on your favoured measure of prices. For CPIH fans it’s close, -1% below. If CPI’s your thing it’s -3%. If you prefer RPI it’s -8% and -11% if you like RPIX.

The problem with real wage growth is one of the main issues of the credit crunch and trying to sweep it away with the stroke of a statistical pen is pretty shameful in my view.

Employment and Unemployment

The numbers here were pretty good too.

the estimated employment rate for everyone was estimated at 76.1%; this is the joint-highest on record since comparable records began in 1971 and 0.6 percentage points higher on the year………Estimates for May to July 2019 show 32.78 million people aged 16 years and over in employment, 369,000 more than for a year earlier.

The cautionary note for employment is that the rate of growth has slowed as shown below.

In the three months to July 2019, UK employment increased by 31,000 to reach 32.78 million.

On the other side of the coin we see that unemployment continues to trend lower.

For May to July 2019, an estimated 1.29 million people were unemployed, 64,000 fewer than a year earlier and 716,000 fewer than five years earlier.

Some 11.000 lower in these numbers meaning it is at a 45 year low.

Comment

There is a lot to welcome in these numbers as we see wage growth pick-up with rising employment and falling unemployment. In the detail we see that the wage growth has been driven by bonuses and maybe there is a flattering of these numbers from timing changes. But it is also true that the change in the timing of NHS payments has fallen out of the numbers with no appreciable effect.

There are more than a few factors to consider. The wage growth has happened with little or no productivity growth as employment has risen by 1.1% over the past year. Next it is hard not to have a wry smile at the Resolution Foundation who had a conference on responding to recession yesterday. They are a little touchy if you point this out as this reply to me from their communications director highlights.

Given that the report says we’re not ready for a recession, we’re pretty glad we’re not in one . And as a pro-rising living standards think-tank, we’re obviously in favour of stronger wage growth.

Also there is an issue we have long expected. That is after countless occasions where it has been wrong, useless and misleading some were always going to cling to the Phillips Curve like a drowning (wo)man clings to a piece of wood.

For all the talk of its demise, the UK Phillips Curve shows signs of life ( FT economics editor Chris Giles )

To me this is a basic difference in approach. I adapt theory to reality whereas others adapt reality to suit pre-existing theory.

Oh and UK wage growth is now in line with the sort of rate at which the Bank of England would in the past be thinking of raising Bank Rate. So over to you Mark Carney and your Forward Guidance…..

 

 

 

How has the Riksbank misjudged the economy of Sweden so badly?

Today is the day that central bankers gather for the annual symposium at Jackson Hole in Wyoming. This has produced quite a few changes in central banking policy in recent times such as the introduction of Forward Guidance for interest-rates. Of course that has been a complete failure as the hosting US Federal Reserve is now cutting interest-rates after “guiding” people towards rises.But the title of this year’s symposium does lead into my subject to today. So here is the Kansas City Fed.

Challenges for Monetary Policy

Actually somewhat typically they then lose the plot.

Different rates of recovery have led central banks to chart different courses for the normalization of monetary policy following a period in which most central banks used both conventional and unconventional monetary policy tools in response to the Great Recession. Whereas some central banks are approaching a neutral policy setting, others have yet to begin the process of removing policy accommodation.

Meanwhile back in the real world the one central bank (itself) which had tried to engage neutral has in fact engaged reverse. I suppose they get to some by the central banks which follow the Fed. But rather than thinking about “removing policy accommodation” other central banks such as the ECB are now looking for a gear box with more reverse gears.

Let me now move to a specific example which in a way is symbolised by a symposium starting later for which we do not have a schedule yet! The only thing we do know is that Fed Chair Jerome Powell speaks tomorrow afternoon.

Riksbank

This whole procedure reminds me of the Riksbank which decided it would be amongst the shock troops of the monetary accommodation era. It cut interest-rates into negative territory ( -0.5%) and engaged in some QE bond buying. Then after years of promising a change it did this last December.

The Executive Board has therefore decided to raise the repo rate from −0.50 per cent to −0.25 per cent. The forecast for the repo rate indicates that the next rate rise will probably occur during the second half of 2019. With a repo rate of −0.25 per cent, monetary policy is still expansionary and will thereby continue to support economic activity.

This was one of the challenges for monetary policy or today;s theme as I pointed out at the time. From the 20th of December.

Actually there is quite a bit that is odd about this as indeed there has been, in my opinion, about the monetary policy of the world’s oldest central bank for some time. Let me give you two clear reasons to be doubtful. Firstly GDP growth plummeted from the 1% of the second quarter of this year to -0.2% in the third…….Moving onto inflation the outlook has also changed as we have moved towards the end of 2018.

Actually there was another problem as how did this work out for the Riksbank?

this can partly be explained by temporarily weak car sales.

So as you can see I was pointing out at the time that this was odd as the Riksbank had ignored the good times for the Swedish economy and then as I put it panicked fearing it would approach the next slow down with interest-rates already negative.

Ch-ch-changes

If we move forwards to the July policy meeting the minutes tell us this.

Similarly for Sweden, expectations of further monetary policy stimulation have increased. Pricing on the
financial markets now indicates a higher probability of a rate cut than of a rate rise while bank economists in general expect a postponement of the repo rate increases.

As you can see they were facing up to a situation where even they must have realised they had lost credibility on the subject of interest-rate rises. If we now move forwards to the end of July Sweden Statistics produced more bad news.

Sweden’s GDP decreased 0,1 percent in the second quarter of 2019, seasonally adjusted and compared to the first quarter of 2019. GDP increased by 1,4 percent, working-day adjusted and compared to the second quarter of 2018.

I am less concerned by the contraction than the annual rate. There had been a good first quarter so the best perspective was shown by an annual rate of 1.4%. You see in recent years Sweden has seen annual economic growth peak at 4.5% and at the opening of 2018 it was 3.6%. So it is quite clear that the timing of the interest-rate rise was something of a shocker or in football parlance an own goal.

Today

Sweden Statistics has produced some concerning news.

In July 2019 there were 5 239 000 employed persons. The unemployment rate was 6.9 percent, a decrease of 0.9 percentage points compared with July 2018.

What’s concerning about that? Well they have confused the concepts of up and down as the rate increased rather than decreased.

In July 2019, there were 390 000 unemployed persons aged 15─74, not seasonally adjusted, an increase of 50 000 compared with July 2018. The number of unemployed men increased by 29 000 to 202 000. There were 188 000 unemployed women. The unemployment rate was 6.9 percent, an increase of 0.9 percentage points compared with July 2018.

This poses a real problem for the Riksbank because if we look at the accompanying chart they have raised interest-rates into a downwards turn in the unemployment situation. We know that employment can be a leading indicator so let us look at that.

In July 2019, there were 5 239 000 employed persons aged 15─74, not seasonally adjusted. The number of employed men was 2 739 000, a decrease of 39 000 compared with July 2018. The number of employed women was 2 500 000. This was the third consecutive month in which the employment rate did not increase compared with the same month a year earlier. Prior to that, the number of employed persons had increased every month since September 2016. The employment rate was 69.8 percent, a decrease of 1.0 percentage point compared with the same month a year earlier.

As you can see the picture is not pretty there either. As an aside the labour market switch is sexist as it is mostly men, I guess it must be traditional male jobs being affected.

But the picture here is not only troubling for the Riksbank as we see another statistics agency with troubles.

Last time my model said recession, as it also does now, was ahead of 2012. But the statistics agency all through 2012 posted GDP at +1.5-2% y/y – happy times! Now when all revisions are done GDP was actually below 0% y/y most of 2012. ( Mikael Sarwe of Nordea )

There is more here from Michael Grahn of Danske Bank

Adding July LFS data to our GDP tracker model a very preliminary take on Q3 GDP say growth slowed to 0.9 % yoy.

Comment

The Governor of the Riksbank will have been a relieved man as he boarded his flight from Sweden to the Mid-West. He will escape the economic bad news by being elsewhere and may even find some suggestions from his central banking colleagues about what to do. But the reality is a cruel one in that he and his colleagues are in a pickle of their own making as their timing was so bad they have endulged in some pro-cyclical monetary policy in a downturn. Even worse their previous dithering means they start it with negative interest-rates (-0.25%).

Perhaps that is something they could discuss at Jackson Hole. How the Riksbank got things so wrong?

Let me open the discussion with a talking point.

The annual growth rate of the narrow monetary aggregate, M1, amounted to 6.8 percent in June, a decrease of 0.5 percentage point compared with May. M1 amounted to SEK 3 053 billion in June.

Me on The Investing Channel