What happens if consumer spending is debt fuelled but slows anyway?

Today brings us to a sector of the UK economy that has been running rather red-hot which is the unsecured credit data. The BBC caught up with this on Monday albeit from data which is incomplete.

Debt on UK credit cards is growing at the fastest rate since before the financial crisis, figures show.

The more regular use of these cards for smaller, contactless purchases explains in part the greater debt being built up over short periods.

However, figures from UK Finance show that the annual growth rate in outstanding credit card debt of 8.3% in February was the highest for 12 years.

Some of you will already be smelling a rat as you recall that it has been over 10% in response to the Bank of England opening the credit taps with its “Sledgehammer” in August 2016. It is interesting to see though that on this series we are finally getting the same message. Oh and if you are wondering who UK Finance are they are the new name for the British Bankers Association in the same way that the leaky Windscale nuclear reprocessing plant became the leak-free Sellafield.

If we look further into the data there was potentially good news for the economy which does fit with news elsewhere.

“Bank lending to businesses saw modest year-on-year growth in February, driven by investment within the manufacturing sector”

Today’s Data

The data from the Bank of England could have been released with KC and the Sunshine Band in the background.

Now it’s the same old song
But with a different meaning
Since you been gone
It’s the same old song

Or to put it another way.

The annual growth rate for consumer credit ticked up slightly to 9.4% (Table J), although net lending remains broadly in line with its previous six-month average.

The monthly number rose from £1.3 billion in January to £1.6 billion in February and the total is now £209.6 billion. If we break that down the fastest growing component is credit cards which if we annualise the quarterly growth rate have risen by 11.3% and now 11.2% in 2018 so far meaning the total is now £70.6 billion. But for that we would be worried by the larger other loans and advances ( personal loans and overdrafts ) which total some £138.6 billion and on the same criteria have grown at 8.2% and 8.5%. Individual months can be erratic but this sector has been a case of the trend is your friend for a couple of years or so now.

Never believe anything until it is officially denied

One of my favourite phrases because it works so well. Brought to you this time by the Bank of England credit conditions survey and the emphasis is mine.

The availability of unsecured credit to households was reported to have decreased again in Q4, such that reductions were reported in all four quarters of 2017 (Chart 1). Lenders expected a significant decrease in Q1. Credit scoring criteria for granting total unsecured loan applications tightened again in Q4, and lenders expected them to tighten significantly further in Q1.

So they reduced it in the third quarter if you recall as well cut it back in the 4th and then gave it a “significant decrease” to er 9.4% in February. This is heading into comical Ali territory now.

Back in February 2017 Governor Mark Carney told us this at the Inflation Report press conference.

From an MPC perspective, just to put those numbers into
context, on the most expansive definition, the increase in
consumer borrowing would contribute up to a tenth of the
increase in consumption. So it’s something, but it’s not
everything. This is not a debt-fuelled consumer expansion
that we’re dealing with.

Of course he may still have been rattled by the opening question.

Governor, back in August the forecast for GDP for this year
was 0.8%. Now it’s being forecast at 2.0%. That’s a really
hefty adjustment. What went wrong with your initial
forecast?

This is not a debt-fuelled consumer expansion

I would like to stick with the statement by the Governor and bring in this from the Office of National Statistics earlier.

The accumulation of debt (measured by the amount of short-term and long-term loans households took out) in 2017 outstripped the amount of total financial assets they accumulated in the same period. This was the first time this happened since records began in 1987.

Also is anybody thinking of the Sledgehammer QE of August 2016 and of course the promises back then of further “muscular” action in November 2016?

Up until Quarter 3 2016, the households sector was a net lender. In the five quarters since, households have been net borrowers at an average of £3.3 billion per quarter. As a result, 2017 was the first year in which households were net borrowers – meaning that they had to borrow in order to fund their spending and investment activities.

Perhaps this is what the Governor meant at Mansion House last year.

This stimulus is working. Credit is widely available, the cost of borrowing is near record lows, the economy has outperformed expectations ( his especially).

Business Lending

This was supposed to be the main target of the Funding for Lending Scheme as it was fired up in the summer of 2012. The priority was smaller businesses so how is that going?

Net lending to SMEs has increased following a rather weak January

It rose by £700 million after falling by £700 million then. This means that the annual growth rate has risen from 0% to 0.1% and reminds us yet again of the true meaning of the word counterfactual.

Comment

So the beat goes on for UK unsecured credit although it seems to have taken UK Finance quite some time to catch up. The national accounts breakdown also tells us that there has been something of a shift although it includes secured debt and has issues with accuracy. On that subject if we stay with GDP here is an example of something from the research centre of the UK ONS.

Our initial results suggest that imputation of pension
accruals raises both the Gini coefficient and the geometric mean of equivalised household income materially, while the effects of imputing investment income are more marked on the Gini coefficient than on the geometric mean of household income.

So if we have imputed rent, pensions and investment income why not stop counting anything and simply input the lot and tell us that tractor production is rising. You may not be surprised to read that one of the authors is Martin Weale who is building a consistent track record.

Moving back to unsecured debt I note that the Bank of England ( of course Dr. Weale’s former employer )  is of course vigilant. But in spite of all this vigilance even growth at these levels does not seem to be helping the retail sector much as we observe a steady stream of receiverships and closures. On the more hopeful side falling inflation will help improve the real wages situation this year and mean that we may get some more of this.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 1.8% between 2016 and 2017, revised upwards by 0.1 percentage points from the second estimate of GDP published on 22 February 2018.

Happy Easter to you all.

It is time to put Student Loans back in the UK debt numbers

This morning has seen some updated statistics for the amount of debt in the UK released by The Money Charity. In it was something to grab the headlines as this from the BBC shows.

Household debts have spiralled to a whopping £1.5tn in the UK for the first time, new statistics show.

If we go to The Money Charity itself we are told this and apologies for their enthusiasm for capitals.

PEOPLE IN THE UK OWED £1.503 TRILLION AT THE END OF SEPTEMBER 2016. THIS IS UP FROM £1.451 TRILLION AT THE END OF SEPTEMBER 2015 – AN EXTRA £1036.58 PER UK ADULT.

So we cross a threshold and indeed are given a troubling view of the future.

ACCORDING TO THE OFFICE FOR BUDGET RESPONSIBILITY’S JULY 2015 FORECAST, HOUSEHOLD DEBT IS PREDICTED TO REACH£2.551 TRILLION IN Q1 2021.

So debt has risen and is forecast to continue doing so at what must be a faster rate than we have seen. I will look at the position in a moment but we cannot move on without pointing out that the OBR ( Office of Budget Responsibility) forecasts lots of things but even so does not get many right!

Bringing this to a household and individual level

The Money Charity presents us figures for debt per UK household.

THE AVERAGE TOTAL DEBT PER HOUSEHOLD – INCLUDING MORTGAGES – WAS £55,683 IN SEPTEMBER. THE REVISED FIGURE FOR AUGUST WAS £55,523.

And also per person.

PER ADULT IN THE UK THAT’S AN AVERAGE DEBT OF £29,770 IN SEPTEMBER – AROUND 113.7% OF AVERAGE EARNINGS. THIS IS SLIGHTLY UP FROM A REVISED £29,685 A MONTH EARLIER.

It is interesting to see the numbers compared to average earnings but care is needed. A better comparison would be with net or post-tax earnings and even with that there is the issue that as a minimum one has to eat to survive and pay other essential bills.

What does this cost in terms of interest?

Lets take a look at what we are told.

BASED ON SEPTEMBER 2016 TRENDS, THE UK’S TOTAL INTEREST REPAYMENTS ON PERSONAL DEBT OVER A 12 MONTH PERIOD WOULD HAVE BEEN£51.135 BILLION.

If we look at this overall we see that such a number comes from us living in an era of relatively low interest-rates although the 3.4% to 3.5% is nothing like the near zero interest-rate policy that has been applied to UK government debt.  I will break the numbers down in a moment but for now here are some daily and per household numbers.

  • THAT’S AN AVERAGE OF £140 MILLION PER DAY.
  • THIS MEANS THAT HOUSEHOLDS IN THE UK WOULD HAVE PAID AN AVERAGE OF £1,894 IN ANNUAL INTEREST REPAYMENTS. PER PERSON THAT’S £1,013 3.87% OF AVERAGE EARNINGS.

What are the interest-rates paid?

We discover that the vast amount of the debt must be secured or mortgage debt otherwise the interest-rate would not be possible. From the Bank of England.

The effective rate on the stock of outstanding secured loans (mortgages) decreased by 10bps to 2.74% in September and the new secured loans rate fell to 2.27%, a decrease of 4bps on the month. The rate on outstanding other loans decreased by 2bps to 6.76% in September and the new other loans rate decreased by 37bps to 6.65%

The fact that the numbers are decreasing will lower the monthly burden per unit of debt and no doubt would have the Bank of England slapping itself on the back.  However its effective interest-rates series somehow misses what is happening in the world of credit cards and overdrafts so let me help out from its underlying database.

The credit card interest-rate it calculates was 17.94% in October. This is a lot more awkward as you see it was around 15% as we hit the peak of the last boom in the summer of 2007. If we move to the overdraft interest-rate it calculates it was 19.7% October and if we make the same comparison with the summer of 2007 it was around 17.7% or 2% lower back then. Perhaps the soon to be closed staff accounts at the Bank of England have had quite different interest-rates and it occurred to no-one that the wider population was seeing higher as opposed to the officially claimed lower interest-rates. Of course there is an issue of bad debts here but interest-rates of 17.94% and 19.7% when Bank Rate is 0.25% seem to raise the spectre of that of fashioned word usury.

Where is the debt?

Most of it is mortgage debt but as I pointed out last Monday unsecured debt is growing quickly.

OUTSTANDING CONSUMER CREDIT LENDING WAS £188.7 BILLIONAT THE END OF SEPTEMBER 2016.

  • THIS IS UP FROM £176.3 BILLION AT THE END OF SEPTEMBER 2015, AND IS AN INCREASE OF £247.10 FOR EVERY ADULT IN THE UK.

This means that the situation is currently as shown below.

Consumer credit increased by £1.4 billion in September, compared to an average monthly increase of £1.6 billion over the previous six months. The three-month annualised and twelve-month growth rates were 9.6% and 10.3% respectively.

This means the following on a household level.

PER HOUSEHOLD, THAT’S AN AVERAGE CONSUMER CREDIT DEBT OF £6,991 IN SEPTEMBER, UP FROM A REVISED £6,963 IN AUGUST – AND  £462.19 EXTRA PER HOUSEHOLD OVER THE YEAR.

Also just under a third of this is one of the most expensive forms which is credit card debt.

Time for some perspective

Let us take Kylie’s advice and step back in time for some perspective. I have chosen to go back to September 2007 as it was then as Northern Rock went cap in hand to the Bank of England that warning lights of “trouble,trouble,trouble” were flashing.

Total UK personal debt at the end of September 2007 stood at £1,380bn. The growth rate increased to 10.0% for the previous 12 months which equates to an increase of £120bn. Total secured lending on homes at the end of September 2007 stood at £1,163bn. This has increased 10.9% in the last 12 months. Total consumer credit lending to individuals in September 2007 was £217bn. This has increased 5.8% in the last 12 months.

Back then they were much less keen on using capitals! Also I note that unsecured debt was growing much more slowly then.although it was in total more than now.

Now the theme that we cut our lending in this area has a problem. Let mt take you to a 2012 paper on the subject from the Bank of England.

The stock of student loans has doubled over the five years to 5 April 2012 to £47 billion, and now represents more than 20% of the stock of overall consumer credit. With student loans unlikely to be affected by the same factors that influence the other components of consumer credit, the Bank is proposing a new measure of consumer credit that excludes student loans

Consumer credit fell from £207 billion in June 2012 to £156 billion in August. Problem solved at a stroke…oh hang on!

So yes we cut consumer credit but not as much as the unwary might think.

Student Loans

Sadly we do not have a UK series but here are the numbers for England as they are much the largest component.

The balance outstanding (including loans not yet due for repayment) at the end of the financial year 2015-16 was £76.3 billion, an increase of 18% when compared with 2014-15.

The total is growing fairly quickly as indeed we would have expected.

The amount lent in financial year 2015-16 was £11.8 billion, an increase of 11% when compared with 2014-15.

Thus if they went back into the consumer credit numbers we would see a rather different picture.

Comment

So on today’s journey we have reminded ourselves that the comforting official view on UK household and in particular unsecured credit has been strongly influenced by the removal of student loans from it in the summer of 2012. Otherwise today’s headline would be household debts are now circa £1.6 trillion. A bit like the situation with the official consumer inflation measure where the fastest growing sector of owner occupied housing costs somehow got omitted. The UK establishment has been meaning to put it back for over a decade now!

Meanwhile what to measure this against poses its own problems. Some would argue that a higher value for the housing stock via higher house prices makes the mortgage lending even more secure. The catch of course is that the house prices depend on the lending which the Bank of England fired up with its Funding for Lending Scheme in the summer of 2013. If we move to real incomes then in spite of recent growth it is hard to be reassured as according to the official figures we are still 4% below the summer of 2007.

Meanwhile something troubling for the Bank of England nirvana of higher mortgage debt and house prices emerged over the weekend.

A large house price depreciation can be good for economic growth, research finds ( World Economic Forum)