Spend! Spend! Spend!

The weekend just passed was one which saw one of the economic dams of our time creak and then look like it had broken. This was due to the announcements coming out of Germany which as regular readers will be aware has a debt brake and had been planning for a fiscal surplus.

Under Germany’s so-called debt brake rule, Berlin is allowed to take on new debt of no more than 0.35% of economic output, unless the country is hit by a natural disaster or other emergencies. ( Reuters)

Actually the economic slow down in 2019 caused by the trade war was pulling it back towards fiscal balance and what it taking place right now would have caused a deficit anyway. But now it seems that the emergency clause above is being activated.

Germany is readying an emergency budget worth more than 150 billion euros ($160 billion) to shore up jobs and businesses at risk from the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak, the finance minister said on Saturday.

Government sources told Reuters hundreds of billions in additional backing for the private sector would be raised, as Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said a ceiling on new government debt enshrined in the country’s constitution would be suspended due to the exceptional circumstances.

Putting that into context it is around 5% of Germany’s GDP in 2019 and I am stating the numbers like that because we have little idea of current GDP other than the fact there will be a sizeable drop. It then emerged that there was more to the package.

According to senior officials and a draft law seen by Reuters, the package will include a supplementary government budget of 156 billion euros, 100 billion euros for an economic stability fund that can take direct equity stakes in companies, and 100 billion euros in credit to public-sector development bank KfW for loans to struggling businesses.

On top of that, the stability fund will offer 400 billion euros in loan guarantees to secure corporate debt at risk of defaulting, taking the volume of the overall package to more than 750 billion euros.

As you can see we end up with intervention on a grand scale with the total being over 22% of last year’s economic output or GDP. This will lead to quite a change in the national debt dynamics which looked on their way to qualifying under the Stability and Growth Pact or Maastricht rules. This is because it was 61.2% of GDP at the end of the third quarter of last year which now looks a case of so near and so far.

Bond Market

There were times when such an audacious fiscal move would have the bond market creaking and yields rising. In fact the ten-year yield has dropped slightly this morning to -0.37%. Indeed even the thirty-year yield is at -0.01% so Germany is either being paid to borrow or is paying effectively nothing.

This is being driven by the purchases of the ECB or European Central Bank and as the Bundesbank seems not to have updated its pages then by my maths we will be seeing around 30 billion Euros per month of German purchases. Also let me remind you that the risk is not quite what you might think.

This implies that 20% of the asset purchases under the PSPP will continue to be subject to a regime of risk sharing, while 80% of the purchases will be excluded from risk sharing. ( Bundesbank)

The situation gets more complex as we note Isabel Schnabel of the ECB Governing Council put this out on social media over the weekend.

The capital key remains the benchmark for sovereign bond purchases, but flexibility is needed in order to tackle the situation appropriately.

That will be particularly welcomed by Italy as other ECB policy makers try to undo the damage created by the “bond spreads” comment of President Lagarde. Although you may note that most of the risk will be with the Bank of Italy.

Also as a German she did a bit of cheer leading for her home country.

The success of our measures hinges on what happens in fiscal policy. This is a European issue which needs a European solution. No country can be indifferent to what happens in another European country – not only because of solidarity, but also for economic reasons.

Some might think she has quite a cheek on the indifference point as that is exactly how countries like Greece described Germany. Still I also think the ECB has plenty of tools but maybe not from the same perspective.

The ECB is in the comfortable position of having a large set of tools, none of which has been used to its full extent

QE

It was only last Thursday that I was pointing out that I expected QE to go even more viral and last night it arrived at what is in geographical terms one of the more isolated countries.

The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has decided to implement a Large Scale Asset Purchase programme (LSAP) of New Zealand government bonds……..The Committee has decided to implement a LSAP programme of New Zealand government bonds. The programme will purchase up to $30 billion of New Zealand government bonds, across a range of maturities, in the secondary market over the next 12 months. The programme aims to provide further support to the economy, build confidence, and keep interest rates on government bonds low.

You can almost hear the cries of “The Precious! The Precious!”

Heightened risk aversion has caused a rise in interest rates on long-term New Zealand government bonds and the cost of bank funding.

Which follows on from this last week.

“To support credit availability, the Bank has decided to delay the start date of increased capital requirements for banks by 12 months – to 1 July 2021. Should conditions warrant it next year, the Reserve Bank will consider whether further delays are necessary.”

This reminds me of one of my themes from back in the day that bank capital requirement changes were delayed almost hoping for something to turn up. Albeit of course they had no idea a pandemic would occur.

Let us move on noting for reference purposes that the ten-year All Black yield is 1.46%.

The US

There are some extraordinary numbers on the way here according to CNBC.

Administration statements over the past few days point to something of the order of $2 trillion in economic juice. By contrast, then-President Barack Obama ushered an $831 billion package through during the financial crisis.

Indeed they just keep coming.

That type of fiscal burden comes as the government already has chalked up $624.5 billion in red ink through just the first five months of the fiscal year, which started in October. That spending pace extrapolated through the full fiscal year would lead to a $1.5 trillion deficit, and that’s aside from any of the spending to combat the corona virus.

At the moment we know something is coming but not the exact size as debate is ongoing in Congress but we can set some benchmarks.

A $2 trillion deficit, which seems conservative given the current scenario, would push deficit to GDP to 9.4%. A $3 trillion shortfall, which seems like not much of a stretch, would take the level to 14%.

Comment

The headline today for those unaware was from Viv Nicholson back in the day after her husband had won the pools. But we see something of a torrent of fiscal action on its way oiled by an extraordinary amount of sovereign bond buying by central banks. For example the Bank of England will buy an extra £5.1 billion today in addition to its ongoing replacement of its holdings of a matured bond.

On the other side of the coin is the scale of the economic contraction ahead. Below are the numbers for the German IFO which we can compare with the fiscal response above albeit that I suggest we treat them as a broad brush.

“If the economy comes to a standstill for two months, costs can range from 255 to 495 billion euros, depending on the scenario. Economic output then shrinks by 7.2 to 11.2 percentage points a year, ”says Fuest. In the best scenario, it is assumed that economic output will drop to 59.6 percent for two months, recover to 79.8 percent in the third month and finally reach 100 percent again in the fourth month. “With three months of partial closure, the costs already reach 354 to 729 billion euros, which is a 10.0 to 20.6 percentage point loss in growth,” says Fuest.

Podcast

 

 

The biggest move by the US Federal Reserve was the one concerning liquidity or FX Swaps

Last night the week started with the arrival of the Kiwi cavalry as the Reserve Bank of New Zealand announced this.

The Official Cash Rate (OCR) is 0.25 percent, reduced from 1.0 percent, and will remain at this level for at least the next 12 months.

With international sporting events being cancelled this was unlikely to have been caused by a defeat for the All Blacks as the statement then confirmed.

The negative economic implications of the COVID-19 virus continue to rise warranting further monetary stimulus.

But soon any muttering in the virtual trading rooms was replaced by quite a roar as this was announced.

Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The effects of the coronavirus will weigh on economic activity in the near term and pose risks to the economic outlook. In light of these developments, the Committee decided to lower the target range for the federal funds rate to 0 to 1/4 percent. The Committee expects to maintain this target range until it is confident that the economy has weathered recent events and is on track to achieve its maximum employment and price stability goals. This action will help support economic activity, strong labor market conditions, and inflation returning to the Committee’s symmetric 2 percent objective. ( US Federal Reserve)

So a 1% interest-rate cut to the previous credit crunch era low for interest-rates and whilst the timing was a surprise it was not a shock. This is because on Saturday evening President Donald Trump had ramped up the pressure by saying that he had the ability to fire the Chair Jeroen Powell. The odd points in the statement were the reference to returning to being “on track” for its objectives which seems like from another world as well as reminding people of Greece which has been “on track” to recovery all the way through its collapse into depression. Also “strong labor market conditions” is simply untrue now. All that is before the reference to inflation returning to target when some will be paying much higher prices for goods due to shortages.

QE5

This came sliding down the slipway last night which will have come as no surprise to regular readers who have followed to my “To Infinity! And Beyond!” theme.

To support the smooth functioning of markets for Treasury securities and agency mortgage-backed securities that are central to the flow of credit to households and businesses, over coming months the Committee will increase its holdings of Treasury securities by at least $500 billion and its holdings of agency mortgage-backed securities by at least $200 billion.

This is quite punchy as we note that the previous peak for its balance sheet was 4.5 trillion Dollars and now it will go above 5 trillion. The Repos may ebb and flow bad as we stand it looks set to head to 5.2 trillion or so. The odd part of the statement was the reference to the “smooth functioning” of the Treasury Bond market when buying such a large amount further reduces liquidity in a market with liquidity problems already. For those unaware off the run bonds ( non benchmarks) have been struggling recently. The situation for mortgage bonds is much clearer as some will no doubt be grateful for any buyers at all. Although whether buying the latter is a good idea for the US taxpayer underwriting all of this is a moot point. At least the money used is effectively free at around 0%.

Liquidity Swaps

This was the most significant announcement of all for two reasons. Firstly it was the only one which was coordinated and secondly because it stares at the heart of one of the main problems right now. Cue Aloe Blacc.

I need a dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
Hey hey
Well I need a dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
Hey hey
And I said I need dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
And if I share with you my story would you share your dollar with me
Bad times are comin’ and I reap what I don’t sow.

I have suggested several times recently that there will be banks and funds in trouble right now as we see simultaneous moves in bond, equity and oil markets. That will only be getting worse as the price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil approaches US $31. This means that some – and the rumour factory will be at full production – will be finding hard to get US Dollars and some may not be able to get them at all. So the response is that the main central banks will be able to.

The Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, the European Central Bank, the Federal Reserve, and the Swiss National Bank are today announcing a coordinated action to enhance the provision of liquidity via the standing U.S. dollar liquidity swap line arrangements.

These central banks have agreed to lower the pricing on the standing U.S. dollar liquidity swap arrangements by 25 basis points, so that the new rate will be the U.S. dollar overnight index swap (OIS) rate plus 25 basis points.

So it appears that price matters for some giving us a hint of the scale of the issue here. If I recall correct a 0.5% cut was made as the credit crunch got into gear. Also there was this enhancement to the operations.

 To increase the swap lines’ effectiveness in providing term liquidity, the foreign central banks with regular U.S. dollar liquidity operations have also agreed to begin offering U.S. dollars weekly in each jurisdiction with an 84-day maturity, in addition to the 1-week maturity operations currently offered. These changes will take effect with the next scheduled operations during the week of March 16.

Then we got something actively misleading because the real issue here is for overseas markets.

The new pricing and maturity offerings will remain in place as long as appropriate to support the smooth functioning of U.S. dollar funding markets.

For newer readers wondering who these might be? The main borrowers in recent times have been the European Central Bank and less so the Bank of Japan. This is repeated at the moment as some US $58 million was borrowed by a Euro area bank last week. Very small scale but maybe a toe in the water.

Comment

Some of the things I have feared are taking place right now. We see for example more and more central banks clustering around an interest-rate of 0% or ZIRP ( Zero Interest-Rate Policy). Frankly I expect more as you know my view on official denials.

#BREAKING Fed’s Powell says negative interest rates not likely to be appropriate ( @AFP )

You could also throw in the track record of the Chair of the US Federal Reserve for (bad) luck.

Meanwhile rumours of fund collapses are rife.

Platinum down 18%, silver down 14% Palladium down 12%, Gold down 4% – someone is getting liquidated ( @econhedge )

Some of that may be self-fulfilling but there is a message in that particular bottle.

As to what happens next? I will update more as this week develops but I expect more fiscal policy back stopped by central banks. More central banks to buy equities as I note the Bank of Japan announced earlier it will double its operations this year. Helicopter Money is a little more awkward though as gathering to collect it would spread the Corona Virus. As Bloc Party put it.

Are you hoping for a miracle? (it’s not enough, it’s not enough)
Are you hoping for a miracle? (it’s not enough, it’s not enough)
Are you hoping for a miracle? (it’s not enough, it’s not enough)
Are you hoping for a miracle? (it’s not enough, it’s not enough)

Let me sign off for today by welcoming the new Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey.

Podcast

I would signpost the second part of it this week as eyes will turn to the problems in the structure of the ECB likely to be exposed in a crisis.

 

 

Is this the beginning of the end for yield?

This week has seen some extraordinary events and it is time to take stock. The truth is that something I have both feared and expected is on motion again. It has come with a familiar refrain that it cant happen here until it does! On this road to nowhere the Corona Virus pandemic is in fact just another brick in the wall. It concerns us now and let me express my sympathy for those affected and afflicted but the world economic system was so rigid after all the central banking intervention that something was always going to turn up.

The point is that each so-called Black Swan event has the same consequence and let me give you the main events this week so far.

 the Federal Open Market Committee decided today to lower the target range for the federal funds rate by 1/2 percentage point, to 1 to 1‑1/4 percent.

At its meeting today, the Board decided to lower the cash rate by 25 basis points to 0.50 per cent. The Board took this decision to support the economy as it responds to the global coronavirus outbreak. ( Reserve Bank of Australia)

This was followed yesterday afternoon by this.

The Bank of Canada today lowered its target for the overnight rate by 50 basis points to 1 ¼ percent. The Bank Rate is correspondingly 1 ½ percent and the deposit rate is 1 percent.

Also there have been the central banks of Malaysia and Moldova. But that is not it as we now expect cuts from the Bank of England and ECB amongst others. Actually before the next Bank of England meeting the US Federal Reserve will probably have cut again as once you are a slave to equity markets that is what you are.

But this is merely a staging post in today’s story because when this party started central banks learnt that their Ivory Tower assumptions were wrong. They assumed that other interest-rates such as mortgage-rates and bond yields would slavishly follow, but they had minds of their own. So we got QE bond buying and then credit easing to deal with that.

Then as the credit crunch developed we saw bond yields fall substantially after various wrong turns. For example the Euro area crisis saw bond yields in double-digits before we entered the “whatever it take” era begun by Mario Draghi.

What about now?

Let me now jump forwards in time Dr. Who style and bring this up to date.

Ten-year US Treasury yields—the benchmark for global financing—got a shove below 1% after the Federal Reserve made an emergency cut to its target rate yesterday. It’s the lowest rate ever, according to records going back to 1871. ( @Ray_O_Johnson  )

It was only a week ago it seemed remarkable it had gone through 1.3% and it opened the year at more like 1.9%. So we learnt that as we expected the US was not as different as so many “experts” have tried to claim as when the going got tough its central bank unveiled the playbook which has been so unsuccessful elsewhere.

Canada is in a similar position with a ten-year yield of 1.02% although there are two subplots. It has been here before in the credit crunch era and it has seen some wild swings since its official interest-rate move with the yield going as low as 0.88%. Australia is at 0.77% some one and half percent lower than a year ago.

The economic consequences

Let me illustrate for the United States via CNBC.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages fell to 3.57% from 3.73% last week. That drop caused a 26% surge in weekly refinance applications, the Mortgage Bankers Association said. Compared with one year ago, refinance volume was nearly 224% higher.

And the beat goes on.

Detroit-based Quicken Loans saw record-setting volume on Monday and Tuesday, as rates fell to a record low. CEO Jay Farner said the new ways of processing loans are making it easier to handle even tremendous volume spikes.

Even the numbers above are behind events as Mortgage News Daily is reporting that the 30-year fixed rate mortgage is now at 3.16% and the 15-year at 2.88%. Actually the trend is clear but it matters who you call.

Some are offering conventional 30yr fixed rates that are as high as 3.5%–even for top tier qualifications.  On the other side of the spectrum, more than a few lenders are quoting 2.875% for the same scenarios.  The average lender is somewhere in between, but that average is nonetheless an all-time low.

So here we have an immediate consequence which central bankers seem to forget in their press releases. This is that the housing market will receive yet another heroin injection. This will be true in Canada and Australia as well and in Australia’s case will add to last year’s 3 interest-rate cuts.

Economics 101 argues that lower costs for business borrowing increase investment. However when the US Federal Reserve looked at the numbers it was much less clear.  I doubt it will stop people claiming that though.

Fiscal Policy

This has just got a lot cheaper pretty much everywhere. This does not get a lot of attention because it is a slow burner as for example the UK issues a new Gilt this week which will be at a yield at least 4% lower than before, But it will be a while before the next one and so on. On the other side of the coin yields have been falling throughout the credit crunch era as a trend so governments have been able to spend more for the same situation. This is another reason why this does not get much attention as governments of whatever hue want to take the credit for this.

On this road you can see why governments are so keen on “independent” central banks in a you scratch my back and I will scratch yours sort of way.

Comment

There are various lessons to be had here. The most basic is that interest-rates and yields continue to sing along with Alicia Keys.

I keep on fallin’
In and out of love
With you
Sometimes I love ya
Sometimes you make me blue
Sometimes I feel good
At times I feel used
Lovin’ you darlin’
Makes me so confused.

We get occassional rises but the trend is down which means that there has been a change because QE only started because official interest-rates got disconnected to bond yields and mortgage rates. Now we see the link is back. But I think that is just an illusion because some QE is still happening in Japan and the Euro area and more is expected elsewhere. Remember responses to QE now take place before it happens. Other interest-rates sometimes go their own not very merry way as the rise to 40% for unsecured overdrafts in the UK shows

This is really bad news for supporters of the UK Office for Budget Responsibility and the US Congressional Budget Office as their numbers will need large revisions yet again! The mainstream media and “experts” will of course have a case of collective amnesia about this next week for the UK Budget. But the point is seemingly too subtle for them that in the dynamic world in which we now exist such steady-state analysis is in fact misleading.

I think that this is counterproductive for three main reasons.

  1. If pumping up the housing market worked we would have been saved long ago.
  2. The evidence from countries with negative interest-rates and yields is that contrary to economic theory people look to save more which depresses the economy.
  3. Similarly if we look at Germany,Sweden and Switzerland countries with negative yields often look to reduce their debt rather than spend more.

Thus we find that the magic bullet has no magic at all and instead causes pain.

The Investing Channel

 

 

 

Can QE defeat the economic impact of the Corona Virus?

The weekend just passed has seen more than a few bits of evidence of the spread of the Corona Virus especially in Japan, South Korea, Italy and Iran. It has been a curious phase in Japan where on that quarantined cruise ship they have seemed determined to follow as closely as they can to the plot of the film Alien. Even China has been forced to admit things are not going well. This is President Xi Jinping in Xinhua News.

The epidemic situation remains grim and complex and it is now a most crucial moment to curb the spread, he noted.

Yet later in the same speech we are told this.

Stressing orderly resumption of work and production, Xi made specific requirements to that end.

Back on February 3rd we looked at the potential impact on the economy of China but today we can look wider. Let us open by seeing the consequences of some of the rhetoric being deployed.

Bond Markets

UST 30-Year yield falls to an all-time low 1.83 ( @fullcarry )

So we see an all-time low for the long bond in the worlds largest sovereign bond market. Rallies in bond markets are a knee-jerk response to signs of financial turmoil except it is supposed to be for the certainty of yield or if you prefer  interest. The catch is that there is not much to be found even in the US now and if we look wider afield we see that in one of the extreme cases of these times there is none to be found at all. This is because even the thirty-year yield in Germany is now -0.04% so in fact it is being paid to borrow all along its maturity spectrum.

It was only on Friday that I pointed out some were suggesting that the “bond vigilantes” might return to the UK whereas the UK Gilt market has surged also today with the 50 year Gilt at a mere 0.76%.

These are extraordinary numbers which come on the back of all the interest-rate cuts and all the central bank QE bond buying. Of course the latter is ongoing in the Euro area and in Japan. So let us look at them in particular.

The ECB has already hinted in the past that a reduction in its deposit rate to -0.6% could be deployed but frankly their situation is highlighted by talking about a 0.1% move. After all if full percentage points have not helped then how will 0.1%? Even they are tilling the ground on this front as they join the central banking rush to claim lower interest-rates are nothing to do with them at all.

Interest rates in advanced economies have been on a broad downward path for more than three decades
and remain close to historical lows.[5]
As has been highlighted in many studies, the drivers of this long-term pattern largely boil down to
demographics, productivity and the elevated net demand for safe assets. ( ECB Chief Economist Lane on Friday )

Next comes the issue that an extension of QE is limited by that fact that there are not so many bonds to buy on Germany and the Netherlands. But the reality is that under pressure this “rules based organisation” has a habit of changing the rules.

Switching to Japan we see that Governor Kuroda has been speaking too.

RIYADH (Reuters) – The Bank of Japan will be fully prepared to take necessary action to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on the world’s third-largest economy, its Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said.

Okay what?

He also repeated the view that, while the central bank stands ready to ease monetary policy further “without hesitation”, it saw no immediate need to act.

That reminds me of the time he denied any plans to move to negative interest-rates and a mere eight days later he did. The next bit seems to be from a place far,far,away.

Kuroda said there was no major change to the BOJ’s projection that Japan’s economy would keep recovering moderately thanks to an expected rebound in global growth around mid-year.

Perhaps he was hoping that people would forget that GDP fell by 1.6% in the last quarter of 2018 meaning that the economy was 0.4% smaller than a year before.Or that Japanese plans for this year involved an Olympics in Tokyo that is now in doubt, after all the Tokyo Marathon has been dramatically downsized. I write that sadly as there are a couple of people who train at Battersea Park running track with hopes of competing in the Olympics.

But the grand master of expectations here was this from the G 20 conference over the weekend.

“I’m not going to comment on monetary policy, but obviously central bankers will look at various different options as this has an impact on the economy,” Mnuchin said.

Gold

There have been various false dawns for the price of gold and of course enough conspiracy theories about this for anyone. But gold bugs will be singing along with Spandau Ballet as they note a price of US $1688 is up over 23% on a year ago.

Gold
(Gold)
Always believe in your soul
You’ve got the power to know
You’re indestructible, always believe in, ‘cos you are ( Spandau Ballet )

Equity Markets

This have faced something of a conundrum as fears of a slowing world economy have been been by the hopium of even more central bank easing. Last week the Dax 30 of Germany hit an all-time high and today it is down 3.6% at 13,070 as I type this. So for all the media panic today it remains close to its highest ever.

Currencies

There are two main trends here I want to mark. The first is that we seem to be again in a period of what might be called King Dollar. Also there is this.

SNB propping up 1.0600 in $EURCHF ( @RANSquawk )

Trying that at 1.20 imploded rather spectacularly in January 2015. For newer readers the Swiss Franc (CHF) has been strong as the reversal of the pre credit crunch carry trade has been added to by the perceived strength of Switzerland. This was exacerbated as its neighbour the Euro area kept cutting interest-rates and went negative. So the Swiss National Bank are presently intervening against a safe haven flow towards the Swissy.

I have suggested for a while now I could see the Swiss National Bank cutting interest-rates to -1% and expect not to be “so lonely” as The Police put it. Also I would remind you that 20% of the intervention will be reinvested in the US equity market.

Comment

Who knew that interest-rate cuts and QE could be effective cures for the Corona Virus? Especially as they have not worked for much else. Although there are also whispers that it can cure climate change too. This highlights the moral and intellectual bankruptcy at play as central bankers try to offer more central planning to fix the problems of past central planning. The Corona Virus is of course not their fault but anything unexpected was always going to be a problem for a group determined not to allow a recession and thus any reform under creative destruction.

Meanwhile the rest of us wait to see the full economic impact as we mull the flickers of knowledge we get. For example Jaguar Land Rover saying it only has 2 weeks supply of some parts or reports that for some US pharmaceuticals 80% of the basic ingredients come from China. So the latter could see large demand they cannot supply and higher prices just as we see lower demand and inflation elsewhere. More conventionally there is this for France which must send a chill down the spine of Italy to its boot.

The drop off in tourist numbers is an “important impact” on France’s economy, Bruno Le Maire, the country’s finance minister, said…….France is one of the most visited countries in the world, and tourism accounts for nearly 8% of its GDP.

Podcast

 

 

 

 

Are falling real wages the future for us all?

The issue of wage growth is something we have found ourselves returning to time and time again. The cause is in one sense very simple there has been a lack of it. There are two components of this of which the first is just simply low numbers but the second is another reversal for the economics establishment . This is where we have seen employment gains and in some cases record low levels of unemployment but the wage growth fairy has turned out to be precisely that. As an example if we look back we see that the UK Office for Budget Responsibility opened with equations that would have UK wage growth above 5% in today’s environment rather than the 3% we have.

Japan

The leader in the pack in this regard continues to be Japan so let us go straight to the data released at the end of last week.

The inflation-adjusted average monthly wage fell 0.9 percent from a year earlier in 2019, dragged down by an increase in part-time workers, the labor ministry said Friday.

Average monthly cash earnings per worker, including bonuses, fell 0.3 percent to ¥322,689 ($2,900) on a nominal basis, the first decline in six years, according to preliminary data by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. ( Japan Times)

If we for the moment stick with the fact that wages fell we can then note that this happened in spite of this.

The unemployment rate was unchanged in December from the previous month, at 2.2 percent, reflecting an ongoing labor shortage due to the rapidly graying population, government data showed Friday.

In the reporting month the number of unemployed was 1.45 million, down 140,000 from a year earlier, according to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry. ( Japan Times January 31)

Although they do not mention it this equals the record low for the unemployment rate and we get more detail on the labour shortage below.

The number of people with jobs grew for the 84th straight month, up 810,000 from a year earlier at 67.37 million in December. Of those, 30 million were women, up 660,000 from a year earlier, and 9.02 million were 65 or over, up 470,000.

This is a success for the Japanese economy which has reached I think what economists used to call “full employment”. Actually if they saw the numbers below they would be predicting it would be party time for wage growth.

Separate data from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry showed that the job availability ratio in December stood at 1.57, unchanged since September. The ratio indicates that there were 157 job openings for every 100 people seeking jobs.

But reality has not been kind to that particular and it has discombobulated some Ivory Towers so much that they believe in it regardless. A case of Restaurant at the end of the Universe thinking.

Reality is frequently inaccurate

If we go back to the wages data we started with there were two components beginning with a real fall but also a nominal one. The latter I point out because when we look at Japan’s public debt burden it is not going to be solved with income taxes with nominal incomes falling. It is the opposite of what we call inflating away the debt.

The situation is so troubling that a scapegoat is required which are part-time workers.

The proportion of workers that are part-time reached a record 31.53 percent, up 0.65 percentage point from the previous year.

For those who want to know how much the Japanese get paid here you are.

Average monthly wages for full-time workers increased 0.3 percent, to ¥425,288, while those of part-time workers stayed flat at ¥99,758.

December wages are especially important in Japan as they are the main bonus season meaning they are around 175% of the average. So bonuses are low and whilst we do not get much of a sectoral breakdown we see that total manufacturing wages were 2.6% lower in December in real terms.

The index for real wages is now 99.9 or slightly lower than the 2015 average. This is quite a critique of the official policy of Abenomics which was supposed to raise wages in both nominal and real terms but as you can see has not done so.

Regular readers will know I have been concerned since the advent of Abenomics that it was really just another version of Japan Inc under the covers. Well in that scenario Japanese companies would be doing well but not raising wages.

The retained earnings of Japanese companies combined hit a record ¥463 trillion last year. Corporate earnings — which remain near record levels despite the setbacks of the past two years — have clearly not been invested enough in manpower.  ( Japan Times )

Whereas according to the Nikkei Asian Review the longer-term picture is this.

The growing ranks of nonregular workers puts pressure on average nominal wages, which remain 13% below their peak in 1997. From 2012 to 2018 nominal wages grew only 2.6%, labor ministry figures show.

United States

Friday lunchtime in the UK produced this.

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 225,000 in January, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 3.6 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Notable job gains occurred in construction, in health care, and in transportation and warehousing.

This continued a pretty strong picture especially at this stage in the cycle.

After revisions, job gains have averaged 211,000 over the
last 3 months.

Now if we switch to wage growth we see this.

In January, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 7 cents to $28.44. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 3.1 percent. Average hourly earnings of private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees
were $23.87 in January, little changed over the month (+3 cents).

In nominal terms this is much better than in Japan but if we switch to real terms then we need to compare with this.

From 2018 to 2019, consumer prices for all items rose 2.3 percent.

I am taking the numbers as a broad sweep because we do not have the January data yet, But we see that whilst there is some real wage growth it is a bit under 1% per annum so not much.

Comment

The difference between the US and Japan is that there is some real wage growth in the former there is none in the latter. Can we explain that? There are two possible causes of which the first is demographics where Japan has a shrinking and ageing population whereas the US is growing. Also there is a structural issue where the Japanese are very resistant to price rises which in a reversal of the wages and prices spirals of the 70s and 80s in my home country seems to have infected wage growth too. The fear as Lily Allen would put it might be a case of the vapors.

I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so
Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so
I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so
Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think…

For the economics establishment there is only pain because they continue to plough ahead with “output gap” style theories. Even worse because they failed in the GDP or economic output arena they switched to the labour market. It has turned out to be like playing 3 at the back in football and losing 3-0 and thus switching to 4 at the back and losing 5-0. That is because the labour market has is some places gone beyond what was called full employment and yet real wage growth is weak at best and has gone backwards in Japan which has a stellar employment situation at least according to conventional metrics.

Moving to the UK we finally got some real wage growth but we need to cross our fingers and there is still some distance to travel before we get right back where we started from. Hopefully we can at least regain the previous peak.

Podcast

 

What and where next for US interest-rates?

Later today the US Federal Reserve will make and announce its latest policy decision on interest-rates and Quantitative Easing. Unless it feels that they can battle the outbreak of the Corona Virus in China it will make no move today but looking ahead it faces quite a few decisions. It was only on Monday that we looked at the impact of the Corona Virus on China and then the world economy and since then events have moved on. For example the last British Airways flights to and from China during the outbreak have now taken off. According to the South China Morning Post there is also this.

The rapid spread of the deadly coronavirus through China could sharply curtail Beijing’s ability to meet the purchasing agreement elements of the trade deal struck with the United States earlier this month, analysts said.As part of the phase one deal signed on January 15, China is obliged to buy US$200 billion in additional US imports over two years on top of pre-trade war purchase levels.

There are two issues here for the US economy. The first is simple which is the reduction in demand for US products and the second is more complex which is the response of US President Donald Trump to this. Also the SCMP gives an example of a company which hit the news with its latest figures only last night.

On Tuesday, Nikkei Asian Review reported that Apple’s suppliers in China had warned that its demands to increase iPhone production by 10 per cent this year may be difficult, since their manufacturing facilities are located in Henan and Guangdong provinces, both of which have been hit by the coronavirus.

So there will be knock-on effects for the US.

What about the US economy now?

The latest nowcast was released by the Atlanta Federal Reserve only yesterday

The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the fourth quarter of 2019 is 1.9 percent on January 28, up from 1.8 percent on January 17. After last week’s and this week’s data releases by the National Association of Realtors and the U.S. Census Bureau, the nowcast of fourth-quarter real gross private domestic investment growth increased from -2.3 percent to -2.0 percent..

The durable good release of yesterday did not have a large impact in spite of it generating a lot of column inches. The bit from the Census Bureau that impacts GDP almost spelt out Boeing.

Shipments of manufactured durable goods in December, down six consecutive months, decreased $0.5
billion or 0.2 percent to $250.4 billion. This followed a 0.1 percent November decrease. Transportation
equipment, also down six consecutive months, led the decrease, $0.4 billion or 0.4 percent to $83.2 billion

The 737 Max issue and its consequences continue as you can see.

Switching to the overall picture assuming the same adjustment the New York Fed will now be suggesting 1.3% annualised GDP growth in the final quarter of last year. It’s last reading for this quarter was 1.7%.

Looking Ahead

There was some positive news yesterday in terms of consumer expectations.

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index® increased in January, following a moderate increase in December. The Index now stands at 131.6 (1985=100), up from 128.2 (an upward revision) in December.

This led to a rather bold statement in the circumstances.

“Consumer confidence increased in January, following a moderate advance in December, driven primarily by a more positive assessment of the current job market and increased optimism about future job prospects,” said Lynn Franco, Senior Director, Economic Indicators, at The Conference Board. “Optimism about the labor market should continue to support confidence in the short-term and, as a result, consumers will continue driving growth and prevent the economy from slowing in early 2020.”

However if we look further into Conference Board research the situation is not so rosy. From the 23rd of this month.

“The US LEI declined slightly in December, driven by large negative contributions from rising unemployment insurance claims and a drop in housing permits,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, Senior Director of Economic Research at The Conference Board. “The LEI has now declined in four out of the last five months

The Leading Economic Index has been heading south in recent times leading to this comment from Liz Ann Sonders of Charles Schwab.

Leading Economic Index (LEI) from @Conferenceboard

now below prior 2 mid cycle slowdowns (2013 & 2016) in y/y terms (white); & has been flat in level terms (blue) for over a year.

Money Supply

What we see here is a consequence of the monetary policy easing we saw last year. There were the interest-rate cuts which replaced the promised rises and leaves the official range at 1.5% to 1.75% as well as the end to QT or Quantitative Tightening. Actually we did see some “not QE” as well as the Federal Reserve started to buy some US $60 billion of Treasury Bills each month to try to oil the wheels of the monetary system to help deal with the Repo Crisis. Yesterday’s operations which added a further US $55,75 billion on a daily basis and US $28.95 billion on a fortnightly one show that it has not gone away.

The consequence of this is that money supply growth has strengthened. The narrow money measure or M1 has seen annualised quarterly growth rise to 7.7% replacing the 6.2% of 2019 as a whole. So there has been an economic boost applied from stronger narrow money growth which should be feeding in in the early part of this year.

Looking further ahead broad money growth ( M2 ) has risen as well in response to the monetary stimulus. On the same basis as above it has risen from 6.7% to 7.8%. In terms of economic impact this is more of a slow burner as it takes around 2 years and is split between actual growth and inflation.

The Dollar

Recent events have seen the US Dollar rally again. In terms of specific currencies it has pushed the UK Pound £ back to US $1.30 and the Euro back to 1.10. Switching to a broader perspective the Dollar Index has risen above 98. This does not have the same effect as on other countries because most commodity prices are in dollars so the inflation effect is smaller but over time it is contractionary on economic output.

Comment

As you can see from the above the situation may be quiet on the surface in some respects but there is a lot going on below. For example how will the Fed deal with the ongoing Repo crisis? But as we note the move back towards monetary stimulus we need to also note that as we looked at on the 16th of this month there has been the Trump fiscal boost as well. There are two ways of looking at this. No doubt both will present it as policy responding correctly to an economic slow down ( assuming of course the Donald will admit it has slowed). But there is the deeper issue that growth is lower than it was, and looks like being on an annual basis 2% at best even with the various stimuli. So what happens when they wear off?

In such an environment we may see thoughts turn to what we looked at on the 4th of this month.

The Fed should also consider maintaining constructive ambiguity about the future use of negative short-term rates, both because situations could arise in which negative short-term rates would provide useful policy space; and because entirely ruling out negative short rates, by creating an effective floor for long-term rates as well, could limit the Fed’s future ability to reduce longer-term rates by QE or other means.

This returns us to our main credit crunch theme which is why do we always need more stimulus? Whilst the US has done better than elsewhere in economic growth terms it has deployed a fiscal stimulus as well. So whilst they will deny it members of the US Federal Reserve will be getting nervous just like many of their colleagues as it all goes on and on and on. They need something to change for the better.

Meanwhile whilst we can all make a mistake the claimed omniscience of central bankers as the former Vice-President of the ECB Vitor Constancio confessed he was unaware that Imputed Rents make up 24% of the US CPI.

yes, I just checked and you are right but it is easy to calculate the US CPI excluding the imputed rents and that is what is shown in my second tweet, indicating a small difference in the inflation rate., which was the point I wanted to make. Thanks

Actually the difference looks material to me…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is the US fiscal stimulus working?

One of the problems of economics is that reality rarely works out like theory. Indeed it is rather like the military dictum that tells us that a battle plan rarely survives first contact with the enemy. However we are currently seeing the world’s largest economy giving us a worked example of the policy being pushed by central bankers. Indeed it rushed to do so as we look back to the Jackson Hole symposium in the summer of 2017.

With tight constraints on central banks, one may expect—or maybe hope for—a more active response of fiscal policy when the next recession arrives.

Back on August 29th of that year I noted a paper presented by Alan Auerbach and Yuriy Gorodnichenko which went on to tell us this.

We find that in our sample expansionary government spending shocks have not been followed by persistent increases in debt-to-GDP ratios or borrowing costs (interest rates, CDS spreads). This result obtains especially when the economy is weak. In fact, a fiscal stimulus in a weak economy may help improve fiscal sustainability along the metrics we study.

Since then those two voices have of course been joined by something of a chorus line of central bankers and their ilk. But there was somebody listening or having the same idea as in short order Donald John Trump announced his tax cuts moving us from theory to practice.

Where are we now?

Led me hand you over to CNBC from two days ago.

The U.S. fiscal deficit topped $1 trillion in 2019, the first time it has passed that level in a calendar year since 2012, according to Treasury Department figures released Monday.

The budget shortfall hit $1.02 trillion for the January-to-December period, a 17.1% increase from 2018, which itself had seen a 28.2% jump from the previous year.

There is a sort of back to the future feel about that as the US returns to levels seen as an initial result of the credit crunch. If we look at the US Treasury website it needs a slight update but gives us an overall picture.

Year-end data from the September 2019 Monthly Treasury Statement of Receipts and Outlays of the United States Government show that the deficit for FY 2019 was $984 billion, $205 billion higher than the prior year’s deficit[3]. As a percentage of GDP, the deficit was 4.6 percent, an increase from 3.8 percent in FY 2018.

So the out-turn was slightly higher but we see something a little awkward. If the US economy was booming as the Donald likes to tell us why was their a deficit in the first place and why is it rising?

We see that on the good side revenues are rising.

Governmental receipts totaled $3,462 billion in FY 2019. This was $133 billion higher than in FY 2018, an increase of 4.0 percent,

But outlays have surged.

Outlays were $4,447 billion, $339 billion above those in FY 2018, an 8.2 percent increase.

Economic Growth

Three, that’s the Magic Number
Yes, it is, it’s the magic number
Somewhere in this hip-hop soul community
Was born three: Mase, Dove and me
And that’s the magic number

It turns out that inadvertently De La Soul were on the ball about the economic growth required to make fiscal policy look successful. So there was method in the apparent madness of President Trump proclaiming that the US economy would grow at an annual rate of 3% or more. In doing so he was mimicking the numbers used in the UK,for example, after the credit crunch to flatter the fiscal outlook. Or a lot more bizarrely ( the UK does at least occasionally grow by 3%) by the current coalition government in Italy.

Switching now to looking at what did happen then as 2018 progressed things looked okay until the last quarter when the annualised growth rate barely scraped above 1%. A brief rally back to target in the opening quarter of last year was followed by this.

Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 2.1 percent in the third quarter of 2019 (table 1), according to the “third” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the second quarter, real GDP increased 2.0 percent. ( US BEA )

If we now move forwards there is this.

The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 1.1% for 2019:Q4 and 1.2% for 2020:Q1.

News from this week’s data releases decreased the nowcast for 2019:Q4 by 0.1 percentage point and left the nowcast for 2020:Q1 broadly unchanged.

Negative news from international trade data accounted for most of the decrease.

Should this turn out to be accurate then it will be damaging for the deficit because the revenue growth we observed earlier ( 4%) will fade. There is a risk of the deficit ballooning should things weaken further and outlays rise to to social spending and the like if the labour market should turn.So far it has only signalled a slowing of real wage growth.

Cost of the debt

A rising fiscal deficit means that the national debt will grow.

As deficits have swelled, so has the national debt, which is now at $23.2 trillion. ( CNBC )

Or as the Congressional Budget Office puts it.

Debt. As a result of those deficits, federal debt held by the public is projected to grow steadily, from 79 percent of GDP in 2019 to 95 percent in 2029—its highest level since just after World War II. ( care is needed here as it only counts debt held by the public not the total)

But as I pointed out back in August 2017 the baying pack of bond vigilantes seem soundly muzzled these days.

 So we have seen central banks intervening in fiscal policy via a reduction in bond yields something which government’s try to keep quiet. We have individual instances of bond yield soaring such as Venezuela but the last few years have seen central banking victories and defeats for the vigilantes.

So as a consequence we find ourselves in an era of “Not QE” asset purchases and more importantly for today’s purposes a long bond ( 30 year) yield of 2.25% or less than half of what it was at times in 2011. So the debt has grown but each unit is cheap.

The government’s net interest costs are also anticipated to
grow in 2019, increasing by $47 billion (or 14 percent),
to $372 billion.

This means that the total costs are much lower than would have been expected back in the day.

Comment

Has it worked? Party so far in that the economic outcome in the US was better than that in the UK, Europe and Japan. But the “winning” as President Trump likes to put it faded and now we see that economic growth at an expected just over 1% is rather similar to the rest of us except the fiscal deficit and national debt are higher. So whilst it was nice now we look ahead to a situation where it could become a problem. I do not mean in the old-fashioned way of rising bond yields because let’s face it “Not QE” would become “Not bond buying” to get them back lower.

But if you keep raising the debt you need economic growth and should the present malaise continue then the US will underperform the CBO forecasts which expect this.

After 2019, consumer spending and purchases of goods and services by federal, state, and local governments
are projected to grow at a slower pace, and annual output growth is projected to slow—averaging
1.8 percent over the 2020–2023 period—as real output returns to its historical relationship with
potential output.

There is also another problem which the CBO has inadvertently revealed showing that the certainty with which some speak is always wrong.

The largest factor contributing to that change
is that CBO revised its forecast of interest rates downward, which lowered its projections of net interest
outlays by $1.4 trillion.

So the fiscal stimulus has helped so far but now the hard yards begin and they will get a lot harder in any further slow down. In the end it is all about the economic growth.

The Investing Channel