UK wage and employment growth has been remarkably stable overall

Today brings new data on what is the most important economic number in the UK right now. This has been added to by the way that some Bank of England policymakers has plugged what some might call a bigly improvement in UK wage growth. Although of course you could say there is an element of deja vu all over again in that. But the issue did come up yesterday at the Treasury Select Committee interviews. This is the new policymaker Silvana Tenreyro quoted in the Guardian.

My position now is that if the data outturns are consistent with the picture i’ve just described, of an output gap going towards zero, then i would be minded to vote for a bank rate increase in the coming months.

The “output gap going towards zero” would be signalled by a sustained increase in wage growth. It used to be signalled also by the unemployment rate but the Bank of England has been in disarray on that subject since its Forward Guidance highlighted a 7% unemployment rate as significant. It is also very disappointing to see a policymaker continuing with the “output gap” theory which has failed so utterly in the credit crunch era but I guess that is simply a consequence of recruiting from an Ivory Tower. Also it seems that she knows better than the Bank of England’s own research on the subject of QE.

It’s far from evident that QE has contributed to higher inequality ( h/t Positive Money).

And whilst some loved it as it suited their particular views this was none too bright. Her words from the Financial Times about her suitability for the role.

I grew up in a developing country, subject to many crises

The pay squeeze

There is a nice chart showing the position from the Resolution Foundation albeit that it underplays the situation by being one of the few places that takes the CPIH ( H = Imputed Rents) inflation measure seriously.

There is the obvious issue that real wages have fallen according to the official data but there are two other consequences which pose problems for both the Bank of England and the Ivory Towers. Firstly as we have had nearly five years of economic growth the last shaded area should simply not exist as the claimed “output gap” seems to be operating both inversely and perversely. Also real wage growth did best in the period when inflation was low suggesting that it would be better to keep inflation low rather than aiming at a target of 2% annual growth in the Consumer Prices Index or CPI. Even worse of course the Bank of England helped to drive current inflation higher with its promises of “muscular” monetary easing post the EU leave vote which it acted upon in August 2016.

Self-employed

These do not matter for the official wages series as they are simply ignored as are smaller businesses. If I remember correctly the cut-off point is twenty employees. This has been an issue of increasing significance in the credit crunch era as the number of self-employed has risen especially as it approaches the same number as those who work in the public-sector.

self-employed people increased by 70,000 to 4.86 million (15.1% of all people in work)

There has been some potentially better news for self-employed earnings in the latest revisions to the UK economic data set. From Monday.

In 2016, the Blue Book 2017 dividends income from corporations is £61.7 billion, compared with £12.2 billion for households and NPISH as previously published

As this follows other revisions in this area we see two things. Firstly that we have no reliable up to date data on the subject and secondly we have just been through a spell where dividend income was massively underestimated. So the news for the self-employed may well have been better than it may have appeared to be. Of course such large revisions whilst signs of a welcome look into the issue also pose questions about the credibility of the data.

Today’s data

Quantity

The numbers here continue to be very good.

There were 32.10 million people in work, 94,000 more than for March to May 2017 and 317,000 more than for a year earlier……..The employment rate (the proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 who were in work) was 75.1%, up from 74.5% for a year earlier……..Between March to May 2017 and June to August 2017, total hours worked per week increased by 4.6 million to 1.03 billion.

This has had a consequence for those out of work too.

There were 1.44 million unemployed people (people not in work but seeking and available to work), 52,000 fewer than for March to May 2017 and 215,000 fewer than for a year earlier. The unemployment rate (the proportion of those in work plus those unemployed, that were unemployed) was 4.3%, down from 5.0% for a year earlier and the joint lowest since 1975.

So good news on this front with the only caveat being that we find out little about any issues with underemployment.

Average earnings or Quality

The Ivory Towers will be expecting a surge in wages as the “output gap” in the labour market continues its collapse. So let us take a look.

Between June to August 2016 and June to August 2017, in nominal terms, total pay increased by 2.2%, the same as the growth rate between May to July 2016 and May to July 2017.

So yet again they are disappointed. Actually as July was a weak month ( 1.4%) then August must have been better but I cannot say how much at this stage as the Office of National Statistics has forgotten to update the data set. Perhaps bonuses bounced back as we mull the (non)sense of monthly figures in this area.

If we move onto real wages we see this.

Comparing the three months to August 2017 with the same period in 2016, real AWE (total pay) fell by 0.3%, the same as the three months to July 2017. Nominal AWE (total pay) grew by 2.2% in the three months to August 2017, while the CPIH increased by 2.7% in the year to August 2017.

So we have seen yet another small decline in the official series for real wages with the caveat that the situation is worse if you use other inflation measures such as CPI and particularly the Retail Prices Index.

Comment

What we see yet again is quite remarkable stability in the UK labour market where employment rises but wage growth is weak considering that. For wages the summary of the Bank of England Agents continues to be accurate.

Growth in labour costs per employee had been subdued, with settlements clustered around 2% to 3%. Recruitment difficulties remained elevated, with conditions becoming very tight for some skills.

The Bank of England faces two problems here. Firstly its theoretical basis has all the stability of the Titanic and secondly there is the issue of its promised interest-rate rise. It is not the fact of one which is an issue it is the timing as why now and not before as not much has changed? On that road the monetary easing of August 2016 looks ever more a panic move.

Meanwhile the underlying picture for real wages continues on its not very merry way.

average total pay (including bonuses) for employees in Great Britain was £488 per week before tax and other deductions from pay, £34 lower than the pre-downturn peak of £522 per week recorded for February 2008

 

 

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The diversity of modern employment has left the official data behind

Today has opened with the subject of wages and pay in the news ahead of the official data on the subject. The particular issue is described by the Financial Times below.

 

It was Mr Hammond’s predecessor, George Osborne, who first imposed pay restraint on the public sector back in 2011-12, as part of the then coalition government’s efforts to balance the state’s books after the financial crisis. He initially announced a salary freeze, and later a 1 per cent cap on pay rises.

This slipped out of the news when inflation was low but has returned as it has risen and another factor is that a minority government is much less likely to enforce such a policy than a majority one. The actual changes announced so far are below.

 

The government announced on Tuesday that prison officers will be given a 1.7 per cent pay increase, while the police will receive a one-off 1 per cent bonus on top of their 1 per cent rise. The settlement for the prison service is in line with an independent pay review body’s recommendations. The deal for the police is somewhat less generous than the 2 per cent recommended by another pay review body.

So far the changes seem to be fiddling at the edges but those who have read or watched the Dambusters story will know that a small crack can turn into a flood of water. It seems unlikely that teachers and nurses for example will not get such deals although I also note that the new regime remains below inflation.

As to the debate over wages in the public and private sectors the Institute for Fiscal Studies offered some perspective in May.

 

Public sector pay rose compared to private sector pay during and after the 2008 recession, as private sector earnings fell sharply in real terms. Public pay restraint since 2011 has led to the difference between public and private sector pay returning to its pre-crisis level.

Of course not everyone has suffered as salaries for Members of Parliament have risen from £65,768 in April 2010 when an “independent” body was appointed to £76,011thia April.

House Prices

One of the features of using a national average is that some do better and some do worse. On that vein there is this from the Yorkshire Building Society.

However, homes in 54% of local authority areas – including Edinburgh, Birmingham, Peterborough, Leeds and Harrogate – are more affordable now than they were before the financial crash due to wages increasing at a higher rate than property values over this period.

This leads to this conclusion.

At a national level, since September 2007 affordability has improved by 0.6% in Britain overall, by 18.9% in Scotland, 17.2% in Wales but has worsened by 3.3% in England.

My challenge to their calculations come from the fact that they use earnings which have of course risen as opposed to real earnings which have fallen in the credit crunch era. But it is a reminder that in some places house prices have fallen. For example if the “Burnley Lara” Jimmy Anderson was to buy a place back home with the earnings created by over 500 test wickets he would see an average house price of £77,629 as opposed to £94,174 back in 2007.

Oh and as you click on their site they announce their lowest mortgage rate of all time which is 0.89% variable for two years. I also note that it is only variable down to 0% as perhaps they too fear what the Bank of England might do in the future.

Also this morning’s data release reminds us that official UK earnings data ignores the increasing numbers of self-employed.

self-employed people increased by 88,000 to 4.85 million (15.1% of all people in work)

The UK employment miracle

It is easy to forget that the numbers below would have been seen by economists as some sort of economic miracle pre credit crunch.

For May to July 2017, 75.3% of people aged from 16 to 64 were in work, the highest employment rate since comparable records began in 1971…..For May to July 2017, there were 32.14 million people in work, 181,000 more than for February to April 2017 and 379,000 more than for a year earlier.

Some of this is likely due to changes in the state pension age for women but there is also a rise apart from that.  The overall picture is completed by the unemployment numbers.

The unemployment rate (the proportion of those in work plus those unemployed, that were unemployed) was 4.3%, down from 4.9% for a year earlier and the lowest since 1975…….There were 1.46 million unemployed people (people not in work but seeking and available to work), 75,000 fewer than for February to April 2017 and 175,000 fewer than for a year earlier.

The good news does leave us with several conundrums however. For example if the situation is so good ( employment rising when it is already high) why is economic activity growth weak? Or to put it another way why do we have low and sometimes no productivity growth? Last time around when we had a dichotomy between the quantity labour data and GDP it was the labour market which was the leading indicator but of course we do not know that looking ahead from now.

Average Earnings

These continued recent trends.

Between May to July 2016 and May to July 2017, in nominal terms, both regular pay and total pay increased by 2.1%, the same as the growth rates between April to June 2016 and April to June 2017.

There was a cautionary note in that if we look at the data for July alone there was a fall in bonus payments particularly to the finance sector so there is a possible slow down in pay on the way. However those numbers are erratic as we saw the same in April and then a bounce back.

Moving onto real wages we get something of a confirmation of my critique of the Yorkshire Building Society analysis above.

average total pay (including bonuses) for employees in Great Britain was £487 per week before tax and other deductions from pay, £35 lower than the pre-downturn peak of £522 per week recorded for February 2008 (2015 prices).

If we look at the annual rate of fall it is around 0.4% if you use the official inflation data which has switched to CPIH but around 1% higher if you use the Retail Prices Index.

Comment

This month has brought us a reminder that the credit crunch has affected people in many different ways. There was something of an economic aphorism that recessions were 80/20 in that for 80% not much changed but for 20% it did but these days more are affected. For example there are increasing numbers of self-employed about whose wages we know little. No doubt some are doing well but I fear for others. If we move to house prices some are seeing what are increasingly unaffordable values whilst others have seen price falls.

National statistics have been caused difficulties by this as for example depending on the survey used the base level is 10 employees or 20 depending on the survey. This was less of a problem when the economy moved in a more aggregate fashion but now assuming that is a mistake in my view. It also misses out ever more people.

I know the tweet below is from the United States but it covers a few of my themes including if you look closely an improvement apparently related to a methodology change.

Oh and the increases in 2015/16 came mostly as a result of the lower inflation central bankers tell us are bad for us.

 

UK employment remains incredibly strong with even a flicker from real wages

Yesterday brought good news in that UK inflation is looking like it will be a little more subdued than our worst fears. However even so today we move onto comparing it with wage growth which is in a phase where it is below the inflation target measure of the Bank of England ( CPI 2.6% ) and even more so compared to the Retail Price Index at 3.6%. We started the week with some ominous news on the wages front as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development or CIPD released this survey on Monday.

basic pay award expectations for the next 12 months remain at just 1%

That was a downgrade from the circa 2% that we seem to be rumbling forwards at. According to the CIPD the reasons for this are as follows.

Against the backdrop of poor productivity growth, the report points to an increase in labour supply over the past year as a key factor behind the modest pay projection. This is driven by relatively sharp increases in the number of non-UK nationals from the EU, ex-welfare claimants and 50-64 year olds; although the report is keen to stress the future migration trends appear highly uncertain.

I do not know about you but I was not expecting to see a rise in employment based migration from the European Union being reported! This seems to be predominantly for lower-skilled jobs.

Employers report a median number of 24 applicants for the last low-skilled vacancy they tried to fill, compared with 19 candidates for the last medium-skilled vacancy and eight applicants for the last high-skilled vacancy they were seeking to fill.

This is fascinating in an economics concept and of course yet more dreadful news for the Ivory Tower theorists who face yet again the prospect of explaining why 2+2=5. Labour supply is supposed to have shrunk as EU citizens leave adding to the output gap which means wages will surge. We got something on those lines from Ben Broadbent of the Bank of England a week or two ago. The same Bank of England that makes this mistake every year.

The good news was that labour demand was reported as strong.

the long-term unemployed are finding work more quickly and the amount of workers aged 50-64 who are in employment has risen by around 200,000 during the past year……This is reflected in the quarter’s net employment balance – a measure of the difference between the proportion of employers who expect to increase staff levels and those who expect to decrease staff levels in Q3 2017 – which shows an increase from +20 to +27 during the past three months.

Bank of England Agents

They were more upbeat perhaps indicating that bonus pay is on the rise.

Recruitment difficulties had edged higher, and were gradually broadening across sectors and skill areas. Despite this, labour cost growth had been modest, with pay awards clustered around 2%–3%.

Today’s data

Employment

There is continuing evidence that labour demand continues its long climb in the UK.

There were 32.07 million people in work, 125,000 more than for January to March 2017 and 338,000 more than for a year earlier…….The employment rate (the proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 who were in work) was 75.1%, the highest since comparable records began in 1971.

This backs up the CIPD view that labour demand remains strong and poses yet again a conundrum that was in vogue around 4 years ago. This is that the employment figures look stronger than the economic output ( GDP ) ones. Last time around it was the employment figures which were the leading indicator so let us cross our fingers. Also there was another piece of news hinting at a stronger jobs market.

There were 883,000 people (not seasonally adjusted) in employment on “zero-hours contracts” in their main job, 20,000 fewer than for a year earlier.

Also the numbers employed had something that you might not have thought was true if you read the mainstream media. From Andy Verity of the BBC.

In year to end of June, the number of UK born people working in the UK increased by 88,000. Non-UK born people working increased by 262,000.

I thought everyone was leaving? If we look at the sector mostly likely to be affected EU nationals there has still been growth mostly driven by Bulgarians and Romanians but slower growth than before.

Unemployment

There was further good news here.

There were 1.48 million unemployed people (people not in work but seeking and available to work), 57,000 fewer than for January to March 2017 and 157,000 fewer than for a year earlier……The unemployment rate (the proportion of those in work plus those unemployed, that were unemployed) was 4.4%, down from 4.9% for a year earlier and the lowest since 1975.

For newer readers higher employment mostly means lower unemployment but does not have to as there are other factors such as size of the labour force. The good news extends to the news on underemployment. We only get quarterly hints on this but in the 3 months to June the rate was 0.5% lower than last year at 7.7%. So relatively good but if we look back for some perspective then we see that it was pre credit crunch mostly in the mid 6% range.

Wages

There was some better news here which is welcome to say the least.

Latest estimates show that average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain in nominal terms (that is, not adjusted for price inflation) increased by 2.1%, both including and excluding bonuses, compared with a year earlier.

This means that real wages fell by a little less than the trend predicted.

Latest estimates show that average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain in real terms (that is, adjusted for price inflation) fell by 0.5%, both including and excluding bonuses, compared with a year earlier.

Actually if we drill down into the monthly detail we see that in terms of official calculations real wages nudged a little higher in June as annual wage growth was 2.8%. This was due to two factors one is that bonus payments were strong and that weekly wages fell by £1 last June so sadly it seems set to drift away. Also for those of us who still look at the RPI inflation figures even this better number still gives a negative answer for real wages.

Comment

There is some genuinely good news here as we see that the employment picture remains very strong a year after the EU leave vote ( as the numbers stretch to June). Unemployment is hitting lifetime lows for an ever higher percentage of the population and even wage growth has nudged higher. Yet as ever we need to ask if this is an example of “tractor production is higher?”

As we do so then we need to note that the underemployment numbers are higher giving a rate a bit more than 1% higher than in the pre credit crunch era. So more jobs but perhaps not quite as much more work as one might think. This is a partial explanation of what are wages growth numbers less than half of Ivory Tower output gap style explanations and expectations.

As to the wages numbers themselves we need to remind ourselves that they exclude the self-employed which means that we are likely to need to subtract something. But there is another factor heading the other way which is that we have created more lower paid jobs which seem to have weak wage growth and may be influencing the numbers or what is called compositional change. As ever the numbers let us down or as the TV series Soap reminded us.

Confused? You will be…..

 

 

 

The land of the rising sun sees rising GDP too

Today starts with good news from the land of the rising sun or Nihon. I do not mean the sporting sphere although there was success as a bronze medal in the men’s 4 by 100m relay was followed by silver and bronze in the men’s 50 km walk at the world athletics championships. There was also a near miss as Hideki Matsuyama faded at the US PGA  and did not become the first Japanese man to win a golf major. But the major good news came from the Cabinet Office as this from The Mainichi tells us.

Japan’s economy grew an annualized real 4.0 percent in the April-June period for a sixth straight quarter of expansion, marking the longest growth run since 2006, as private consumption and corporate spending showed signs of vigor, government data showed Monday.

If we convert to the terms we use there was 1% economic growth from the previous quarter which was quite a surge. Actually that is way beyond what the Bank of Japan thinks is the potential growth rate for Japan but let us park that for now and move on to the detail.  Reuters points out that consumption was strong.

Private consumption, which accounts for about two-thirds of GDP, rose 0.9 percent from the previous quarter, more than the median estimate of 0.5 percent growth.

That marked the fastest expansion in more than three years as shoppers splashed out on durable goods, an encouraging sign that consumer spending is no longer the weak spot in Japan’s economic outlook.

In fact so was investment.

Capital expenditure jumped by 2.4 percent in April-June from the previous quarter, versus the median estimate for a 1.2 percent increase. That was the fastest growth in business investment since January-March 2014.

The combination is interesting as this is something that Japan has wanted for a long time as its “lost decade(s)” of economic malaise have seen domestic demand and consumption in particular struggle. Some countries would be especially troubled by the trade figures below but of course Japan has seen many years of surpluses as this from the Nikkei Asian Review indicates.

 Japan’s current account surplus expanded in the January-June period to the highest level since 2007 as earnings from foreign investments moved further into the black, despite rising energy prices pushing up the overall value of the country’s imports, government data showed Tuesday.

 

Thus it is likely to see this as another welcome sign of strong domestic demand.

External demand subtracted 0.3 percentage point from GDP growth in April-June in part due to an increase in imports.

Those who look at the world economy will be pleased to see a “surplus” economy importing more.

Where does this leave Abenomics?

There are various ways of looking at this and the Japanese owned Financial Times leads the cheers.

‘Not a fluke’: Japan on course to record best GDP growth streak since 2000

“Not a fluke” is an odd thing to write because if you look at the GDP chart they provide we see several spikes like this one which imply it may well be er not only a fluke but another one. They are less keen to credit another form of Abenomics which is the way that the latest stimulus programme impacted with a 5.1% (21.9% annualised) rise in public investment causing a 0.2% rise in GDP on its own. Perhaps this is because of the dichotomy in this part of Abenomics where on the one hand fiscal expansionism is proclaimed and on the other so is a lower deficit! Also there are memories of past stimulus projects where pork barrel politics led to both bridges and roads to nowhere.

Actually the FT does then give us a bit of perspective.

 

Japan’s economy, as measured by real GDP, is now 7 per cent larger than when prime minister Shinzo Abe took office in late 2012, notes Emily Nicol at Daiwa Capital Markets.

That is a long way short of the original promises which is one of the reasons why the Japanese government page on the subject introduces Abenomics 2.0.  If we look at the longer-term chart below is there a clear change.

On such a basis one might think it was the US or UK that had seen Abenomics as opposed to Japan. Of course the figures are muddied by the recession created by the consumption tax rise in 2014 but the performance otherwise even with this quarter’s boost is far from relatively stellar.

Bank of Japan

It will of course be pleased to see the economic news although it also provides plenty of food for thought as details like this provide backing for my analysis that ~0% inflation is far from the demon it is presented as and can provide economic benefits. From Bloomberg.

The GDP deflator, a broad measure of price changes, fell 0.4 percent from a year earlier.

Board Member Funo confirmed this in a speech earlier this month.

The rate of increase for all items less fresh food and energy had remained on a decelerating trend, following the peak of 1.2 percent in winter 2015; recently, the rate of change has been at around 0 percent.

He of course followed this with the usual rhetoric.

The rate will likely reach around 2 percent in around fiscal 2019.

It is always just around the corner in not entirely dissimilar fashion to a fiscal surplus in the UK. As to the official view it is going rather well apparently.

Taking this into consideration, the Bank decided to adopt a commitment that allows inflation to overshoot the price stability target so as to strengthen the forward-looking mechanism in the formation of inflation expectations, enhance the credibility of achieving the price stability target among the public, and raise inflation expectations in a more forceful manner.

Make of that what you will. The reality is that the QQE programme did weaken the Yen but that effect wore off and inflation is now ~0% as is wage growth.

Comment

This growth figures are good news and let me add something that appears to have been missed in the reports I have read. Back to Board Member Funo.

In an economy with a declining population.

Thus the per capita or per person GDP numbers are likely to be even better than the headline. I would say that this would benefit the ordinary Japanese worker and consumer but we know that real wage growth has dipped into negative territory again. This provides a problem for Prime Minister Abe as when he came to power the criticisms were based around his past history of being part of the Japanese establishment. What we see nearly 5 years down the road is a lack of real wage growth combined with good times for Japanese corporate profitability. As to the reform programme there is not a lot to be seen and maybe this is why Board Member Funo was so downbeat.

In an economy with a declining population, as is the case in Japan, demand is expected to decrease for many goods and services; therefore, it will be important to adequately adjust supply capacity; that is, employees and production capacity to meet such a decreasing trend.

I do not know about you but trying to raise prices when you expect both demand and supply to fall seems extremely reckless to me.

As to the GDP numbers themselves we need a cautionary note as Japan has had particular problems with them and they are revised more and by larger amounts than elsewhere.

 

When will real wages finally rise?

One of the main features of the credit crunch era has been weak and at times negative real wage growth. This was hardly a surprise when the employment situation deteriorated but many countries have seen strong employment gains over the past few years and in some employment is now at a record high. Yet wage growth has been much lower than would have been expected in the past. As so often the leader of the pack in a race nobody wants to win has been Japan although there has been claim after claim that this is about to turn around as this from Bloomberg in May indicates.

It’s not making headlines yet, but wages in Japan are rising the fastest in decades, in a shift that’s poised to divide the nation’s companies — and their stocks — into winners and losers, according to Morgan Stanley.

No doubt this was based on the very strong quantity numbers for the Japanese economy which if we move forwards in time to now show an unemployment rate of 2.8% and a jobs per applicant ratio summarised below by Japan Macro Advisers.

Japan’s job offers to applicant ratio rose to 1.51 in June from 1.49 in May. The ratio is the highest in the last 43 years since 1974. While the number of job offers continue to rise along with the expansion in the economy, the number of job applicants are falling. With the shrinking population, Japan simply does not have a resource to meet the demand for labor.

I can almost feel the wind of the Ivory Towers rushing past to predict a rise in wages in such a situation. They will be encouraged by this from the Nikkei Asian Review on Friday.

The labor shortage created by stronger economic growth has prompted many companies to raise wages. Tokyo Electron, a semiconductor production equipment manufacturer, is a good example.

Tokyo Electron introduced a new personnel system on July 1 in which salaries reflect the roles and responsibilities of employees. Under the new system salaries will rise, primarily for junior and midlevel employees. The change will raise the total wages paid to the company’s 7,000 employees in Japan by about 2 billion yen ($18.1 million) annually.

This is something we see regularly where the media presents a company that is toeing the official line and raising wages. But I note that it is doing particularly well and expecting record profits so is unlikely to be typical. By contrast I note that there is another way of dealing with a labour shortage.

In April, Lumine, a shopping center operator, responded to an employee shortage among its tenants by closing 30 minutes earlier at 12 locations, or 80% of its stores. The risk was that shorter operating hours would cut revenue, but Lumine sales held steady in the April-June quarter.

Awkward that in many ways as for example productivity has just been raised with total wages cut.

What about the official data?

I will let The Japan Times take up the story.

Japan’s June real wages decreased 0.8 percent from a year before in the first fall in three months, labor ministry data showed Friday.
Nominal wages including bonuses fell 0.4 percent to ¥429,686 ($3,880), the first drop in 13 months, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said in a preliminary report.

Up is the new down one more time. Also the official story that bonuses are leading growth due to a strong economy met this.

due mainly to a 1.5 percent decrease in bonuses and other special payments.

There is one quirk however which is that part-time wages are doing much better and rising at an annual rate of 3.1%. The catch is that you would not leave a regular job in Japan because those wages are lower and to some extent are catching up. How very credit crunch that to get wage growth you have to take a pay cut! Indeed to get work people had to take pay cuts. From the Nikkei Asian Review.

Japanese companies hired more relatively low paid nonregular employees during the prolonged period of deflation.

Now we find ourselves reviewing two apparently contradictory pieces of data.

 The number of workers in Japan increased by 1.85 million between 2012 and 2016……….Japan’s wage bill was 7% lower in May than at the end of 1997 — before deflation took hold.

Australia

You might not think that there would be issues here as of course the commodity price boom driven by Chinese demand has led to a boon for what we sometimes call the South China Territories. Indeed this from @YuanTalks will have looked good from Perth this morning.

The rally in industrial continues in . rebar limit up, surging over 6%

Yet according to the Sydney Morning Herald this is the state of play for wages.

But since 2012 and 2013, Australian workers have felt stuck in a holding pattern of slow wages growth. Wages for the whole economy increased by 1.9 per cent in the year to March just in line with inflation.

There are familiar issues on the over side of the balance sheet.

Families are also wrestling with rising electricity prices, skyrocketing property prices and high demand for accommodation has also forced up rents.

Even the professional sector has been hit.

When Sahar Khalili started work as a casual pharmacist eight years ago, she was paid $35 an hour. Over the years that has fallen to as low as $30 while her rent has more than doubled.

Actually there is something rather disturbing if we drill into the detail as productivity has done quite well in Australia ( presumably aided by the commodity boom) but wages have not followed it leading to this.

The typical Australian family takes home less today than it did in 2009, according to the latest Household Income and Labour Dynamics survey released this week.

These surveys are invariably a couple of years behind where we are but there are questions to say the least. Oh and the shrinkflation saga has not escaped what might be called a stereotypically Australian perspective.

“My beers are getting smaller,” he says.

The USA

Friday brought us the labour market or non farm payroll numbers. In it we saw that wage growth ( average hourly earnings) was at an annual rate of 2.5% which is getting to be a familiar number. There is a little real wage growth but not much which is provoking ever more food for thought as employment rises and unemployment falls. Indeed more and more are concentrating on developments like this reported by Forbes.

Starting pay at the Amazon warehouse, carved out of a large lot with a new road called Innovation Way designed for Amazon-bound trucks, is at $12.75, no degree required. For inventory managers with warehousing experience, the pay is $14.70 an hour and requires a bachelor’s degree.

The new warehouse offers 30 hour a week jobs because they slip under the state legislation on provision of benefits. In some parts of America they would qualify under the food stamp programme. No wonder that as of May some 41.5 million still qualified.

Yet the Wall Street Journal describes it thus.

a vastly improved labor market

Comment

This is a situation we have looked at many times and there is much that is familiar. Firstly the Ivory Towers have invented their own paradise where wages rise due to a falling output gap and when reality fails to match that they simply project it forwards in time. The media tends to repeat that. But if we consider the dangers of us turning Japanese we see that wages there are lower than 20 years ago in spite of very low unemployment levels. Over the past 4 years or so this has been always just about to turn around as Abenomics impacts.

My fear is that unless something changes fundamentally ( cold fusion, far superior battery technology etc..) real wages may flat line for some time yet. All the monetary easing in the world has had no impact here.

 

 

 

Could the Japanese Government cope with an end to QE in Japan?

It is time for us to look east again to the land of the rising sun or Nihon. It remains in the grip of an extraordinary economic experiment as its central bank continues to offer freshly printed Yen ( albeit electronic rather than paper ones) on a grand scale in return for bonds, commercial paper , corporate bonds, equities and property so just about everything!

With regard to the amount of JGBs to be purchased, the Bank will conduct purchases at more or less the current pace — an annual pace of increase in the amount outstanding of its JGB holdings of about 80 trillion yen — aiming to achieve the target level of the long-term interest rate specified by the guideline. …… The Bank will purchase exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and Japan real estate investment trusts (J-REITs) so that their amounts outstanding will increase at annual paces of about 6 trillion yen and about 90 billion yen, respectively.

Perhaps it was the scale of all of this that led much of the media to start writing articles that the Bank of Japan would reduce its operations or as it is now called “taper” them. Only on Friday I quoted this from the Wall Street Journal.

Japan shows Europe how to dial back stimulus without spooking investors

The Bank of Japan responds

Sadly for the media the word taper required the word reverse in front of it. From the Nikkei Asian Review only a few short hours later.

At 10:10 a.m. Japan time, the BOJ unleashed what a market manager for a leading brokerage called a “devastating” combination, announcing both a fixed-rate operation, in which the central bank agrees to buy unlimited bonds at a fixed yield, and an increase in the size of regular bond-buying operations. It was the first time the bank had executed such policies simultaneously.

So more is apparently less as we note that this bit could only have come from Japan.

When yields on 10-year Japanese government bonds hit 0.1% on Thursday evening, the central bank was forced to ring up Japan’s leading securities firms for advice.

What would they have done in places like Greece Italy or Portugal in the Euro area crisis or in the early days of my career when longer UK Gilt yields passed 15%?!

By Friday morning, 10-year JGB yields had reached 0.105% — the last straw

We will have to see what happens next but should the Bank of Japan feel the need to keep intervening this could be the state of play.

If the central bank keeps buying up 10-year JGBs as quickly as it did Friday, annual purchases could exceed new issuance, according to Takenobu Nakashima of Nomura Securities, burning through fuel for measures to combat a future yield surge.

Actually if it bought them all that would of itself tend to stop any yield surge. Although of course that is just the flow so there would still be an existing stock albeit one which the Bank of Japan owes a fair bit of.

Massive bond purchases have swollen the BOJ’s balance sheet to roughly the size of Japan’s gross domestic product

Around 90% I think. There are various issues here one of which has been conveniently pointed out by the European Central Bank this morning.

Worsened liquidity in domestic government bond market

They mean in the Euro area but imagine how much worse the state of play will be in Japan. We do know that trading volumes have dropped a lot so should the day come that the Bank of Japan decides to withdraw a lot of Japanese fingers will be crossed that past traders and buyers will return. The truth is we simply do not know.

Oh and I see some looking at the equity capital of the Bank of Japan implying it could go broke. But that misses the fact that not only is it backed by the Japanese Treasury but it is pursuing Abenomics a government policy.

Number Crunching

Currently Japan owes this according to Japan Macro Advisers.

At the end of March 2017, the Japanese general government owed a total of 1270.5 trillion yen in liability, equivalent to 236.4% of GDP. The liability includes 863 trillion yen of JGBs, 115.2 trillion yen of T-bills and 157.5 trillion yen of loans.

The Bank of Japan owns over 400 Trillion Yen of these so in round numbers if it wrote these off it would reduce the debt burden to ~160% of GDP. I am by no means suggesting this but if such a situation led to a lower value for the Japanese Yen well that is government policy isn’t it? Of course the danger of debt monetisation of that form is that the currency falls heavily or plummets in a destabilising fashion like Ghana saw for those who recall when I looked at its woes.

The Yen

This has been drifting lower recently and Friday’s news added to that with it now taking more than 114 Yen to buy one US Dollar. This continues a trend which began in the middle of last month.  A sign of the Yen weakness is that the poor battered UK Pound £ is near its post EU Leave vote highs at 147 Yen.

But none of this is anything like enough to spark off the amount of inflation required by Abenomics.

The Inflation Target

More than 3 years down the road after the Bank of Japan kicked off its QQE ( Qualitative and Quantitative Easing) effort we find ourselves noting this. From Japan’s Statistics Bureau.

The consumer price index for Japan in May 2017 was 100.4 (2015=100), up 0.4% over the year before seasonal adjustment, and the same level as the previous month on a seasonally adjusted basis……  The consumer price index for Ku-area of Tokyo in June 2017 (preliminary) was 99.8 (2015=100), the same level as the previous year before seasonal adjustment, and the same level as the previous month on a seasonally adjusted basis.

This represents not far off complete failure in spite of the rhetoric about defeating deflation as if Tokyo is any guide 0% is the new 2%. Although of course we have seen asset price inflation leaving us mulling how much of the rise in the Nikkei 225 equity index from around 8000 to the current 20000 is growth and how much inflation?

Often policies to raise inflation really mean wages growth so let us look at that. From The Japan Times.

Japan’s real wages in May gained 0.1 percent from a year earlier for the first rise in five months, the government said Friday.
Total cash earnings per worker, including base and overtime pay, increased 0.7 percent to an average ¥270,241 (around $2,300), the second consecutive monthly rise, the Health and Welfare Ministry also said in a preliminary report.

You can look at this in two ways. The first is that it is not much and the second is that it is about as good as it has got over the past decade or so. One area that is different to the West where we are worrying about workers in the gig economy is that wage growth in Japan is centred on part-time work. It appears to be the one area where conventional economics can breathe a sigh of relief.

Comment

The situation continues to see some gains but also some retreats as these two quotes from The Japan Times today indicates.

Japan ‘economy watchers’ sentiment rises in June for third straight month……..Core private-sector machinery orders defied expectations and fell in May, the second consecutive month of decline, due to weakness in the service sector, the government said Monday.

Of course the UK data on Friday reminded us of the problems that sentiment indicators can have as optimism emerged as a fall!

I would like to return to my central theme that Japan has done okay in many ways with 0% inflation especially as we note its demographic problem. So why all the bond buying? Well a debt burden does of course often require some inflation to ease the burden for debtors of which the largest debtor is the government. The biggest beneficiary has been the Japanese government which has been able to do a lot of its borrowing for pretty much nothing for a while. Could it afford a return to normality? At what bond yield would it find things difficult and would it have to apply austerity? A sort of road to nowhere……

 

 

Of weak wage growth and bond markets

Today I am going to look at some clear changes in the credit crunch era and the way that they link together. Let us start with a clear theme of these days about which there has been news this morning from the land of the rising sun. From Japan Macro Advisers.

The demand/supply condition in the labor market seems as tight as it could be. In May 2017, Japan’s job offers to applicant ratio soared to a 43-year high of 1.49. The increase in the job-offers-applicant ratio marks the third consecutive monthly rise. The current print exceeds the July 1990 levels (1.46) when the Japan economy was enjoying a bubble economy.

It makes you think that the labour market is on this measure stronger than it was than when Japan’s economy was at its peak albeit an unsustainable one. Actually on another measure the situation is so tight they need to look even further back.

New job offers to applicant ratio also show that there is simply not enough supply of labor in Japan. The new job offers to applicant ratio rose to 2.31 in May from 2.13 in the previous month. This marks the highest level of this ratio since November 1973.

As you can see by these measures the labour market is very tight in Japan and is reinforced by these ones reported by Market Insider.

The number of employed persons in May was 65.47 million, an increase of 760,000 or 1.2 percent on year.

The number of unemployed persons in May was 2.10 million, a decrease of 70,000 or 3.2 percent on year.

On the month ( May ) the unemployment rate did rise to 3.1% but as you can see the overall trend seems to be lower in spite of the fact that it is extraordinarily low. Indeed as we have discussed before theories such as the “natural rate of unemployment” or “full employment” are pretty much torpedoed by it as we mull how employment can be more than full?

But if we move to wage growth which according to econ 101 should be soaring we instead see this. From Japan Macro Advisers.

In April 2017, basic and overtime wages, otherwise known as regular wages, rose by 0.4% year on year (YoY), recovering from a decline of 0.1% YoY in March. While an increase in wages is a better news than a decline, the magnitude of the rise continues to be underwhelming.

Quite. As to the real wage growth promised by Abenomics and  reported by the financial  media?

The real wage growth, after offsetting for the inflation in consumer prices, was 0.0% YoY,

So Japan should be seeing wage growth but instead it is flat lining. If we are “Turning Japanese”  then the next bit of news is even worse you see that current wage index for full-time workers is 101 giving an initial though that there has not been much growth since it was based at 100 in 2015. But if you look back the peak in the series was 104.4 in January 2001 and no that is not a misprint.

A possible cause of this is highlighted below and it does provide food for thought as of course Japan is leading the way on a road that many others will be travelling.

The working age population in Japan, defined as the population of the age between 15 and 64, has been shrinking rapidly. In 2016, the work age population in Japan fell by 0.7 million people. Accordingly, job applicants have been declining by 5% per year in the last few years.

Moving On

If we look wider afield we see that wages are struggling beyond the shores of Japan as this from Reuters reminds us.

Wage growth across the developed world is weak. It’s only 2.5 percent in the United States and 2.1 percent in Britain.

It is interesting to note that the have real average hourly earnings falling at an annual rate of 1.3% in the US. The chart below shows that this particular dog is not barking.

Even the figures for Germany are no great shakes when we note this from this morning’s release on the labour market.

In May 2017, roughly 44.1 million persons resident in Germany were in employment according to provisional calculations of the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis). This was a record high since German reunification.

In the UK we have seen quite a change as fears of robots taking everyone’s jobs have been replaced by fears of a former Chancellor of the Exchequer doing so.

George Osborne, the editor of the Evening Standard and former chancellor of the exchequer, has added a sixth job to his portfolio – that of honorary professor of economics at the University of Manchester.

For some Friday humour here are some suggestions for George from the past.

Bond Markets

This week has seen bond markets fall as they try to adjust to a barrage of rhetoric and open mouth operations from central bankers. Those who immediately hid behind a sofa when Janet Yellen told us there would not be another financial crisis in our lifetimes will have missed U-Turns by the ECB and the Bank of England. Also there has been a rather bizarre PR campaign conducted by Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane puffing him up to be the next Governor of the Bank of England on the grounds that he keeps forecasting wages incorrectly. Do I have that right?

We see that the ten-year yield in Germany has risen to 0.47% at one point this morning. If we stay with that whilst it is up that only takes it to around where it was in some of both February and March and indeed May. So not quite as being reported in many places. If we look at the UK the ten-year Gilt yield nudged 1.29% this morning. But if we step back these are very minor moves for markets that really believe what the central bankers are saying which is of course yet another failure for Forward Guidance.

Comment

I wanted to like these two factors ( wage growth and bond yields) because they provide a link to what has happened in 2017. I thought and wrote that it would be a rough year for bond markets based on rising consumer inflation whereas they appear to have looked at low rates of wage growth instead. Of course there have been all the central banking QE purchases but they were a known factor.

As to wages growth itself regular readers will be aware that I fear it is in fact worse than we are told due to the exclusion of the self-employed from the numbers. But also employment figures do not tell the whole story as this from Mario Draghi in Sintra tells us.

Another reason why there is some uncertainty over slack is the correct notion of unemployment – that is, there may be residual slack in the labour market that is not being fully captured in the headline unemployment measures. Unemployment in the euro area has risen during the crisis, but so too has the number of workers who are underemployed (meaning that they would like to work more hours) or who have temporary jobs and want permanent ones…….If one uses a broader measure of labour market slack including the unemployed, underemployed and those marginally attached to the labour force – the so-called “U6” – that measure currently covers 18% of the euro area labour force.

Maybe the weak wage growth is much less of a surprise than we are often told. Especially as it comes with an implied kicker that everything is okay due to this. From Reuters.

In the United States, household net wealth has soared by $40 trillion since the beginning of the expansion in 2009 to $95 trillion from $55 trillion. It is up $11 trillion in just the last two years.

Well that’s okay then is the message, except it isn’t or we would not be where we are.