UK employment looks strong but wage growth less so

Today brings us a consequence of yesterday;s discussion as we analyse the latest wages numbers which are entwined with the productivity situation. These days the causality is invariably assumed to be from productivity to wages but there is this about Henry Ford from National Public Radio in the US.

 $5 a day, for eight hours of work in a bustling factory.

That was more than double the average factory wage at that time, and for U.S. workers it was one of the defining moments of the 20th century.

Which led to this.

”It was an absolute, total success,” Kreipke says. “In fact, it was better than anybody had even thought.”

The benefits were almost immediate. Productivity surged, and the Ford Motor Co. doubled its profits in less than two years. Ford ended up calling it the best cost-cutting move he ever made.

Some combination of positive and lateral thinking led Henry Ford to quite a triumph as we mull whether anyone would have that courage today. Perhaps some do but they are on a smaller scale and get missed.

Also there is the issue that some advances take us backwards in some respects as research from Princeton in the US quoted by regis told us this.

In their aggressive scenario, the world stock of robots will quadruple by 2025. This would correspond to 5.25 more robots per thousand workers in the United States, and with our estimates, it would lead to a 0.94-1.76 percentage
points lower employment to population ratio and 1.3-2.6 percent lower wage growth between 2015 and 2025.

This type of analysis is usually nose to the grindstone stuff however or if you like a type of micro economics where the measured effects are likely to look bad as robots replace people and the loss of usually skilled jobs leads to lower average wages. PWC have given a more macro style analysis a go. From the Guardian.

Artificial intelligence is set to create more than 7m new UK jobs in healthcare, science and education by 2037, more than making up for the jobs lost in manufacturing and other sectors through automation, according to a report.

A report from PricewaterhouseCoopers argued that AI would create slightly more jobs (7.2m) than it displaced (7m) by boosting economic growth. The firm estimated about 20% of jobs would be automated over the next 20 years and no sector would be unaffected.

In essence it comes down to this assumption.

as real incomes rise

Some may be wondering if “as society becomes richer” necessarily leads to that especially after a period where policies like QE have led to wealth rising via higher asset prices but real incomes have struggled in many places and real wages in the UK have fallen. The truth is that we are unsure and analysis on both sides mostly depends on the assumptions behind it. You pretty much get the answer you looked for.

What are wages doing?

Actually UK wage growth has been if we allow for the margin of error looks to have been pretty stable so far in 2018.

Between March to May 2017 and March to May 2018, in nominal terms, regular pay increased by 2.7%, slightly lower than the growth rate between February to April 2017 and February to April 2018 (2.8%).

Between March to May 2017 and March to May 2018, in nominal terms, total pay increased by 2.5%, slightly lower than the growth rate between February to April 2017 and February to April 2018 (2.6%).

Whilst there is a small fall on this basis we see that from February to May total pay growth has gone 2.6%, 2.5%, 2.6% and now 2.5%. By the standards of these numbers that is remarkably stable. This poses a question for the Bank of England as there is not much of a sign of annual wage growth there.

If we move to real wages we find that most of the change we have seen has come from falling inflation.

Between March to May 2017 and March to May 2018, in real terms (that is, adjusted for consumer price inflation), regular pay for employees in Great Britain increased by 0.4% and total pay for employees in Great Britain increased by 0.2%.

Actually they are being a little disingenuous there as people might think that this refers to the CPI inflation measure whereas later they explain that it is CPIH ( H=Housing) with its fantasy imputed rents. This flatters the numbers as the latter keeps giving lower inflation readings and this is before we get to the Retail Price Index or RPI which would have real pay still falling.

The output gap

Today’s quantity numbers for the UK labour market were good again.

There were 32.40 million people in work, 137,000 more than for December 2017 to February 2018 and 388,000 more than for a year earlier…….The employment rate (the proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 years who were in work) was 75.7%, higher than for a year earlier (74.9%) and the highest since comparable records began in 1971.

Also whilst we do not have a formal measure of underemployment like the U-6 measure in the United States it looks as though it is improving too as Chris Dillow points out.

Big drop in the wider measure of joblessness in Mar-May (unemp+part-timers wanting f-t work + inactive wanting a job) – down from 4.51m to 4.35m

Yet the continuing good news does not seem to be doing much for wages. We get surveys telling us they are picking up but the official data is either missing it or it is not happening. If we go through that logically then is wage growth is taking place it must be in the ranks of the self-employed or smaller companies ( the various official surveys only go to companies with a minimum of ten or in some cases 20 employees).

Productivity

This looks to have improved because the economy was growing through this period albeit nor very fast but hours worked did this.

the number of people in employment increased by 137,000  but total hours worked fell slightly (by 0.3 million) to 1.03 billion. This small fall in total hours worked reflected a fall in average weekly hours worked by full-time workers.

An odd combination in some ways as why take on more staff whilst reducing hours? But the optimistic view is that employers were expecting a rise in demand and were getting ready for it. Whatever the reason recorded productivity looks to have risen.

Comment

There is quite a bit to consider here. If we look back to 2007 we see total pay growth fluctuating around 5% and making a heady 7.3% in February. But before that there were plenty of 4% numbers. Now we occasionally break the 3% barrier but the last time if we use the three-month average was in the summer of 2015. So much for “output gap” style analysis so beloved by the Ivory Towers and the Bank of England.

As to the possible Bank of England move in August today’s numbers are unlikely to change your mind. Those arguing for a rise will look at the strong employment situation and those against will note the slight fading of wage growth. Which will an unreliable boyfriend go for?

What we need are better data sources and let me ask for two clear changes. We need wages data which at least tries to cover the self-employed and smaller businesses. We also need to be much clearer about what full-time employment is. As we stand we are in danger of failing the Yes Minister critique.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: If local authorities don’t send us the statistics that we ask for, then government figures will be a nonsense.

James Hacker: Why?

Sir Humphrey Appleby: They will be incomplete.

James Hacker: But government figures are a nonsense anyway.

Bernard Woolley: I think Sir Humphrey want to ensure they are a complete nonsense. ( The skeleton in the cupboard via IMDb)

 

 

 

 

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Mark Carney is back making promises about interest-rates

Yesterday the Governor of the Bank of England visited the Great Exhibition of the North and went to Newcastle but sadly without any coal. As usual he was unable to admit his own role in events when they have gone badly and this was illustrated by the sentence below.

We meet today after the first decade of falling real incomes in the UK since the middle of the 19th century.

Perhaps he had written his speech before the Office of National Statistics told these specifics on Wednesday but he should have been aware of the overall picture. The emphasis is mine.

Both cash basis and national accounts real household disposable income (RHDI) declined for the second successive year in 2017. This was due largely to the impact of inflation on gross disposable household income (GDHI),

The issue here is that the Bank Rate cut and Sledgehammer QE sent the UK Pound £ lower after the EU Leave vote. Just for clarity it would have fallen anyway just not by so much and certainly not below US $1.20, After all we have seen it above US $1.30 now and if you look back you see that it has in general two stages. The first which was down accompanied the period the Bank of England promised more easing – it is easy to forget now that they promised to cut Bank Rate to 0.1% in November 2016 before events made it too embarrassing to carry it through –  and then once that stopped stability and then a rise. With a lag inflation followed this trend but with a reverse pattern. So if we return to the data above we now see this.

On a quarter on same quarter a year ago basis, both measures of RHDI increased in Quarter 1 2018. Cash RHDI increased by 2.4% and national accounts RHDI grew by 2%;

Now the inflation effect has faded the numbers are growing again. Again not all of the effect is due to it dropping as stronger employment has helped but it is in there. As a final point these numbers make me smile as I recall some of you being kind enough to point out my role in us finally getting numbers without the fantasy elements.

This bulletin provides Experimental Statistics on the impact of removing “imputed” transactions from real household disposable income (RHDI).

Forward Guidance

It would not be a Mark Carney speech if he did not reverse what he told us last time as he racks up the U-Turns. First he did some cheerleading for himself.

That approach has worked . Employment is at a record high. Import price inflation is fading. Real
wages are rising.

This of course relies on the power of a 0.25% Bank Rate cut ( plus more QE) but sadly nobody asked why if that is so powerful why the previous 4% or so of cuts did not put the economy through the roof? Also his policies made imported inflation worse and real wages are only rising if you choose a favourable inflation measure.

Also we got what in gardening terms is a hardy perennial.

Now, with the excess supply in the economy virtually used up

It has been about to be used up for all of his term! Remember when an unemployment rate of 7% was a sign of it? Well it is 4.2% now.  But in spite of the obvious persistent failures it would appear that it is deja vu allover again.

The UK labour market has remained strong, and there is widespread evidence that slack is
largely used up.

Next we get this

Domestically, the incoming data have given me greater confidence that the softness of UK activity in the first
quarter was largely due to the weather, not the economic climate.

And this.

A number of indicators of household
spending and sentiment have bounced back strongly from what increasingly appears to have been erratic
weakness in Q1………….Headline
inflation is still expected to rise in the short-term because of higher energy prices.

Leads to the equivalent of something of a mouth full and the emphasis is mine.

As the MPC has stressed, were the economy to develop broadly in line with the May Inflation Report
projections – with demand growth exceeding the 1½% estimated rate of supply growth leading to a small
margin of excess demand emerging by early 2020 and domestic inflationary pressures continuing to build
gradually to rates consistent with the 2% target – an ongoing tightening of monetary policy over the next few years would be appropriate to return inflation sustainably to its target at a conventional horizon.

For newer readers unaware of how he earned the nickname the unreliable boyfriend let me take you back four years and a month to his Mansion House speech.

The MPC has rightly stressed that the timing of the first Bank Rate increase is less important than the path
thereafter – that is, the degree and pace of increases after they start. In particular, we expect that eventual
increases in Bank Rate will be gradual and limited.

Well he was right about the limited bit as it is still where it was then at the “emergency” level of 0.5%. Actually of course he was believed to have been much more specific at the time.

There’s already great speculation about the exact timing of the first rate hike and this decision is becoming
more balanced.
It could happen sooner than markets currently expect.

The next day saw quite a scramble as markets adjusted to what they believed in central banker speak was as near to a promise as they would get. You may not be bothered too much about financial traders ( like me) but this had real world implications as for example people took out fixed-rate mortgages and then found the next move was in fact a cut.

Yet some saw this as a sign as this from Joel Hills of ITV indicates.

Mark Carney signalling that, despite all the uncertainty, “gradual and limited” interest rate rises are looming. Market is betting that Bank of England will probably increase Bank Rate in August.

Just like in May when they lost their bets as part of a now long-running series. The foreign exchange markets have learnt their lesson after receiving some burnt fingers in the past and responded little. Perhaps they focused on this bit.

Pay and domestic cost growth have continued to firm broadly as expected.

Now if we start in December the official series for total pay growth has gone 3.1%, 2.8%, 2.6%,2.5% and then 2.5% in April which simply is not “firm” at all. Of course central bankers love to cherry pick but sadly the season for cherries has not been kind here either. If we move to private-sector regular pay as guided we see on the same timescale 2.9%, 3%, 2.8%, 3.2% but then a rather ugly 2.5% in April. There are few excuses here as they have excluded bonuses which are often high in April.

Comment

We have been here so may times now with the unreliable boyfriend who just cannot commit to a Bank Rate rise. Each time he echoes Carly Rae Jepson and ” really really really really really really ” wants to but there is then a slip between cup and lip. If we look back to May which regular readers will recall had been described by the Financial Times as an example of forward guidance for an interest-rate rise the feet got cold. If they do so again will we see wage growth as the excuse? We do not know this month’s numbers but as we stand they looked better back then than now.

If we look over the Atlantic we see a different story of a central bank raising interest-rates into an apparently strong economy and promising more. We are of course between the US and Euro area in economic terms but in my opinion it would have been much better if we had backed up the rhetoric and now had interest-rates of say 1.25%.or 1.5%. If we cannot take that then what has the claimed recover been worth.

Considering all the broken promises and to coin a phrase four years of hurt this is really rather breathtaking,

 

 

UK real wages resume their fall

This morning brings us to the UK labour market data and if it feels early you are right. You see the UK statistics bodies decided that our Members of Parliament needed more time to digest the numbers before Prime Ministers Questions on a Wednesday lunchtime. It is not that big a deal except perhaps for confidence in the mathematical ability of our MPs.

In terms of expectations the mood music for wages has been positive with the latest survey from Markit/REC leading the way.

Strong demand for staff and low candidate
availability underpinned further increases in starting salaries and temp pay. Notably, salaries awarded to successfully placed permanent workers rose at the
steepest rate for three years.

This was driven by this.

Growth of demand for staff strengthened to a sixmonth
high in May, with sharp increases in both
permanent and temporary roles signalled by the
latest data.

So according to them there was more demand for staff which ran into shortages.

Overall, candidate availability declined at a sharper
rate midway through the second quarter. Permanent
candidate numbers fell at the fastest rate for four
months, while short-term staff availability
deteriorated at the quickest pace since last
November

Hence the higher pay albeit that beating the last 3 years is not spectacular but it is an improvement. Of course after yesterday’s data we are likely to be more sceptical about surveys from Markit as I note that it contradicts that release in a coupe of ways. Firstly this.

Although growth of demand for both permanent and
temporary staff in the private sector edged down
slightly since April,

It seems unlikely that manufacturers were looking for extra staff in April after the decline in production but let us be optimistic for now and hope that there was a surge in May leading to this.

Engineering was the best performing sector in the
demand for permanent staff league table during May.

Retail

Even the Markit/REC report pointed out the signs of trouble here.

with the exception of Retail, which registered a further
decline.

Indeed this seemed to be on the march again only yesterday.

Discount retailer Poundworld has appointed administrators, putting 5,100 jobs at risk.

The move came after talks with a potential buyer, R Capital, collapsed leaving Poundworld with no option other than administration. ( BBC)

This morning brought news of a major factor driving this as the high street New Look fashion store had very weak figures and the online Boohoo very good ones. But even if we add in the job gains as for example Amazon announcing 2500 new jobs recently to deliver all this online business this is a sector with falling employment overall.

Today’s data

Let us start with wages.

Between February to April 2017 and February to April 2018, in nominal terms, total pay increased by 2.5%, slightly lower than the growth rate between January to March 2017 and January to March 2018 (2.6%).

That is not inspiring for the survey we looked at earlier although there is some better news if we look into the detail. This is because total wage growth was revised up to 2.5% in March which April matched. So the numbers are now holding on a monthly basis at a higher level than we though last month but they are not rising.

As ever many prefer to cherry pick the data as for example the BBC is using a sub set of the numbers.

Between February to April 2017 and February to April 2018, in nominal terms, regular pay increased by 2.8%, slightly lower than the growth rate between January to March 2017 and January to March 2018 (2.9%).

This poses a problem as bonus pay matters to many so why does it get ignored? For example if you get the number quoted for average regular pay of £484 per week would you ignore the £32 of bonuses? At a time of pressure on real wages surely bonuses are more important.

If we stick with cherry pickers it was a dreadful month for the Bank of England as it has guided us towards private-sector regular wages which rose by 3.2% in March and 2.5% in April! Ooops and time for that to be redacted and replaced by a new measure like the unemployment rate was in the first phase of Forward Guidance. On a 3 monthly comparison it only falls from 3% to 2.9% but the catch is that April will be in the next two versions of that.

Moving to real wages we see sadly yet more cherry-picking. From the official release.

Between February to April 2017 and February to April 2018, in real terms (that is, adjusted for consumer price inflation), regular pay for employees in Great Britain increased by 0.4% and total pay for employees in Great Britain increased by 0.1%.

They use the woeful CPIH for this which assumes that owner occupiers rent their property to themselves when they do not. Whereas if they used the CPI for example as the casual reader might assume then real wages fell by 0.1% if compared to total pay. Fan of the Retail Price Index or RPI will continue to see falling real wages.

This is a familiar issue and seems to be something of a never-ending story.

Employment and Unemployment

The number below continues to be rather stellar.

There were 32.39 million people in work, 146,000 more than for November 2017 to January 2018 and 440,000 more than for a year earlier.

This does confirm at least part of the recruiters survey above. Let me just point out for newer readers that this is a quantity measure not a quality one and we have already had an issue with the quality number called wages. As another example the definition of full-time employment is of the chocolate teapot variety in my opinion. We may be getting a hint of an issue here from this alternative measure.

but total hours worked decreased by 4.1 million to 1.03 billion. (the number of people in employment increased by 146,000)

Maybe this was an impact of the cold snap we got in February/March but it is a rare sign of weakness in these section of data as hours worked per full-time employee fell.

Meanwhile there was more good news on unemployment

There were 1.42 million unemployed people (people not in work but seeking and available to work), 38,000 fewer than for November 2017 to January 2018 and 115,000 fewer than for a year earlier.

We have had loads of forecasts that unemployment will rise in the UK and even sectoral examples of it ( Retail) but overall it continues to fall even though it includes the recent weaker period if we look at the GDP numbers.

Also I get asked on here from time to time about the residual sector in these numbers which has been improving too.

The inactivity rate (the proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 years who were economically inactive) was 21.0%, lower than for a year earlier (21.5%) and the joint lowest since comparable records began in 1971.

Comment

Let me open with  piece of good news which is that it looks like UK productivity is currently improving as we may not have had much economic growth in 2018 but it is divided by a falling number of hours worked.

That is something although if we switch to the Ivory Towers things are going from bad to worse. After all the Office for Budget Responsibility switched about 9 months ago to projecting weaker productivity growth. That is before we get to the output gap theories it and the Bank of England hold so dear. As unemployment falls below what the Bank of England considers to be the equilibrium rate wages should be soaring except when you climb out of its dark,dank and dusty bunker they are not growing at the 5% per annum suggested by the OBR back in the day.  Forward Guidance and all that.

Let me finish by pointing out that rather shamefully the self-employed are excluded from the average earnings data. The numbers need some Coldpaly.

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

 

 

 

Japan is a land of high employment but still no real wage growth

Some days quite a few of our themes come naturally together and this morning quite a few strands have been pulled together by the news from Nihon the land of the rising sun. Here is NHK News on the subject.

Workers in Japan are continuing to take home bigger paychecks. A government survey says monthly wages rose year-on-year for the 9th-straight month in April.

Preliminary results show that pay for the month averaged about 277,000 yen, or roughly 2,500 dollars. That includes overtime and bonuses.

The number is an increase of 0.8 percent in yen terms from a year earlier. But when adjusted for inflation, the figure came in flat.

Nonetheless, labor ministry officials say that wages are continuing on a trend of moderate gains.

As you can see this is rather familiar where there is some wage growth in Japan but once we allow for inflation that fades away and often disappears. This is a particular disappointment after the better numbers for March which were themselves revised down as Reuters explains below.

That follows a downwardly revised 0.7 percent annual increase in real wages in March, which suggests that the government’s repeated efforts to encourage private-sector wage gains have fallen flat.

Growth in March was the first in four months, which had fueled optimism that a gradual rise in workers’ salaries would stimulate consumer spending in Japan.

Actually Reuters then comes up with what might be one of the understatements of 2018 so far.

The data could be discouraging for the Bank of Japan as it struggles to accelerate inflation to its 2 percent price target.

Let us now step back and take a deeper perspective and review this century. According to Japan Macro Advisers real wages began this century at 114.1 in January 2000 and you already get an idea of this part of the “lost decade” problem by noting that it is based at 100 some fifteen years later in 2015. As of the latest data it is at 100.5 so it has been on a road to nowhere.

Abenomics

One of the features of the Abenomics programme which began in December 2012 was supposed to be a boost to wages. The Bank of Japan has launched ever more QE ( which it calls QQE in the same way that the leaky Windscale nuclear reprocessing plant became the leak-free Sellafield) as shown below. From July 2016.

The Bank will purchase Japanese government bonds (JGBs) so that their amount outstanding will increase at an annual pace of about 80 trillion yen.

This is the main effort although as I have noted in my articles on the Tokyo Whale it has acquired quite an appetite for equities as well.

The Bank will purchase ETFs so that their amount outstanding will increase at an annual
pace of about 6 trillion yen(almost double the previous pace of about 3.3 trillion yen)

As it likes to buy on dips the recent Italian crisis will have seen it buying again and as of the end of March the Nikkei Asian Review was reporting this.

The central bank’s ETF holdings have reached an estimated 23 trillion yen based on current market value — equivalent to more than 3% of the total market capitalization of the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s first section — raising concerns about pricing distortions.

So not the reduction some were telling us was on the way but my main point today was that all of this “strong monetary easing” was supposed to achieve this and it hasn’t.

The Bank will continue with “QQE with a Negative Interest Rate,” aiming to achieve the price stability target of 2 percent, as long as it is necessary for maintaining that target in a stable manner.

The clear implication was that wages would rise faster than that. It is often forgotten that the advocates of QE thought that as prices rose in response to it then wages would rise faster. But that Ivory Tower world did not turn up as the inflation went into asset prices such as bonds,equities and houses meaning that wages were not in the cycle. Or as Bank of Japan Governor Kuroda put it at the end of last month.

Despite these improvements in the real economy, prices and wages have remained sluggish. This phenomenon has recently been labeled the “missing inflation” or “missing wage inflation” puzzle………. It is urgent that we explore the mechanism behind the changes in price and wage dynamics especially in advanced economies.

Most people would think it sensible to do the research before you launch at and in financial markets in such a kamikaze fashion.

The economy

There are different ways of looking at this. Here is the economic output position.

The economy shrank by 0.6 percent on an annualized basis, a much more severe contraction than the median estimate for an annualized 0.2 percent.

Fourth quarter growth was revised to an annualized 0.6 percent, down from the 1.6 percent estimated earlier. ( Reuters)

Imagine if that had been the UK we would have seen social media implode! As we note that over the past 6 months there has been no growth at all. In case you are wondering about the large revision those are a feature of the official GDP statistics in Japan which reverse the stereotype about Japan by being especially unreliable.

If we move to the labour market we get a different view. Here we see an extraordinary low-level of unemployment with the rate being a mere 2.5% and the job situation is summed up by this from Japan Macro Advisers.

In March 2018, New job offers to applicant ratio, a key indicator in Japan to measure the tightness of the labor demand/supply was 2.41 in March, signifying that there are 2.41 new job postings for each new job seeker. The ratio of 2.41 is the highest in the statistical history since it begun in 1963.

So the picture is confused to say the least.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here but let us start with the reality that whilst there are occasional flickers of growth so far the overall pattern in Japan is for no real wage growth. Only yesterday we were looking at yet another Bank of England policymaker telling us that wage growth was just around the corner based on a Phillips Curve style analysis. We know that the Bank of England Ivory Tower has an unemployment rate of 4,25% as the natural one so that the 2.5% of Japan would see Silvana Tenreyro confidently predicting a wages surge. Except reality is very different. If we stick to the UK perspective we often see reports we are near the bottom of the real wage pack but some cherry picking of dates when in fact Japan is  worse.

Moving back to Japan there was a paper on the subject of low unemployment in 1988 from Uwe Vollmer which told us this.

Even more important, the division of annual labour income
into basic wages, overtime premiums and bonuses
allows companies to adjust wages flexibly to changes in
macroeconomic supply and demand conditions,
resulting in low rigidities of both nominal and real wages.

On the downside yes on the upside no as we mull the idea that in the lost decade period Japan has priced itself into work? If so the Abenomics policy of a lower exchange-rate may help with that but any consequent rise in inflation will make the Japanese worker and consumer worse off if wages continue their upwards rigidity.

Meanwhile as we note a year where the Yen was 110 or so a year ago and 110 now there is this from an alternative universe.

The Bank of Japan’s next policy move may be to raise its bond-yield target to keep the yen from weakening too much, according to a BOJ adviser and longtime associate of Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda.

Or maybe not.

With its inflation target still far away, the BOJ must continue its current monetary stimulus for now, Kawai said

Also in his land of confusion is a confession that my critique has been correct all along.

While a weak yen helps the BOJ’s efforts to stoke inflation — and has been an unspoken policy objective — too much weakness can hurt businesses that import raw materials, while some consumers would feel the pain of higher prices for imports.

He seems lost somewhere in the Pacific as in terms of the economics the economy has seen a weak patch and you are as far away as ever from your inflation target yet you do less? Still the inflation target will be helped by a higher oil price except as I often point out Japan is a large energy importer so this is a negative even before we get to the fact that it makes workers and consumers poorer.

 

 

 

The Italian economic job has led us to the current mess

After looking at the potential plans of the new Italian coalition government, assuming it gets that far yesterday let us move onto the economic situation. Let us open with some news from this morning which reminds us of a strength of the Italian economy. From Istat.

The trade balance in March 2018 amounted to +4.5 billion Euros (+3.8 billion Euros for non EU area and +0.7
billion Euros for EU countries).

There is an immediate irony in having joined a single currency ( Euro ) to boost trade and find that your main surplus is elsewhere. However some 55.6% of trade is with the European Union and 44.4% outside so there is a sort of balance if we note we are not being told the numbers for the Euro area itself. If we do an annual comparison then it is not a good day for economics 101 either as the relatively strong Euro has not had much of an effect at all as the declines are mostly within the European Union.

Outgoing flows fell by 2.2% for non EU countries and by 1.5% for EU countries. Incoming flows increased by 0.4% for EU area and decreased by 0.5% for non EU area.

Actually both economic theory and Euro supporters will get some more cheer if we look at the year so far for perspective as exports with the EU ( 5.5%) have grown more quickly than those outside it (0,5%). The underlying picture though is of strength as in the first quarter of 2018 a trade surplus of 7.5 billion Euros has been achieved. If we look back and use 2015 as a benchmark we see that exports are at 114.1 and imports at 115.9 so Italy is in some sense being a good citizen as well by importing.

The main downside is that Italy is an energy consumer ( net 9.4 billion Euros in 2018 so far) which is not going to be helped by the current elevated oil price.

Inflation

This is an intriguing number as you might think with all the expansionary monetary policy that it was a racing certainty. But reality as so often is different. If we look at the trading sector we see this.

In March 2018 the total import price index decreased by 0.1 % compared to the previous month ; the total twelvemonth
rate of change increased by 1.0%.

So quite low and this is repeated in the consumer inflation data series.

In April 2018, according to preliminary estimates, the Italian harmonised index of consumer prices (HICP) increased by 0.5% compared with March and by 0.6% with respect to April 2017 (it was +0.9% in the previous month).

Just for clarity that is what we call CPI in the UK and is not called that in Italy because it has its own measure already called that. Apologies for the alphabetti spaghetti. Such a low number was in spite of a familiar influence in March.

The increase on monthly basis of All items index was mainly due to the rises of prices of Non-regulated energy products (+1.1%) ( from the CPI breakdown).

Although there was also a reduction in regulated energy prices. But in essence the theme here is not much and personally I welcome this as I think that driving inflation up to 2% per annum would be likely to make things worse if we note the sticky nature of wage growth these days.

If we move to an area where we often see inflation after expansionary monetary policy which is asset prices we again see an example of Italy being somewhat different.

According to preliminary estimates, in the fourth quarter of 2017: the House Price Index (IPAB) increased by 0.1% compared with the previous quarter and decreased by 0.3% in comparison to the same quarter of the previous year (it was -0.8% in the third quarter of 2017);

The numbers are behind the others we have examined today but the message is loud and clear I think. Putting it another way Mario Draghi is I would imagine rather disappointed in the state of play here as it would help the struggling Italian banks by improving their asset base especially as such struggles draw attention to the legal basis for them known as the Draghi Laws which have been creaking.

Growth

The good news is that there is some as you see there is a case to be made that the trend rate of growth for Italy is zero which is not auspicious to say the least.

In the first quarter of 2018 the seasonally and calendar adjusted, chained volume measure of Gross
Domestic Product (GDP) increased by 0.3 per cent with respect to the fourth quarter of 2017 and by 1.4 per
cent in comparison with the first quarter of 2017.

If we stick with what Chic might call “Good Times” then Italy beat the UK and drew with Germany and France in the quarter just gone. However it was more their woes than Italian strength sadly as I note that even with this economic growth over the past four years has been 4.3%. This is back to my theme that Italy grows at around 1% per annum in the good times that regular readers will be familiar with and the phrase girlfriend in a coma. Less optimistic is how quarterly GDP growth has gone 0.5% (twice), 0.4% (twice) and now 0.3% (twice).

Labour Market

Here is where we get signs of real “trouble,trouble,trouble” as Taylor Swift  would say.

unemployment rate was 11.0%, steady over February 2018…..Unemployed were 2.865 million, +0.7% over the previous month.

The number has fallen by not by a lot and is still a long way above the 6-7% of the pre credit crunch era. So whilst it is good news that 190,000 more Italians gained jobs over the preceding 12 months that is very slow progress. Also wage growth seems nothing to write home about either.

At the end of March 2018 the coverage rate (share of national collective agreements in force for the wage setting aspects) was 65.1 per cent in terms of employees and 62.1 per cent in terms of the total amount of wages.

In March 2018 the hourly index and the per employee index increased by 0.2 per cent from last month.

Compared with March 2017 both indices increased by 1.0 per cent.

So a very marginal increase in real wages.

Comment

One thing that has struck me as I have typed this is the many similarities with Japan. Let me throw in another.

According to the median scenario, the resident population for Italy is estimated to be 59 million in 2045 and 54.1 million in 2065. The decrease compared to 2017 (60.6 million) would be 1.6 million of residents in 2045 and 6.5 million in 2065.

A clear difference can be seen in the unemployment rate and of course even Italy’s national debt is relatively much smaller although not as the Japanese measure such things.

The bond yield is somewhat higher especially after yesterday’s price falls and the ten-year yield is now 2.12% but here is another similarity from a new version of the proposed coalition agreement.

I imagine this would mean asking banks to hold less capital for the loans they give to SMEs. This would make banks more fragile and – in the 5 Star/League world – could lead to more “public gifts” to private banks. ( @FerdiGuigliano )

The Bank of Japan had loads of such plans and of course the Bank of England modified its Funding for Lending Scheme in this way too. Neither worked though.

Meanwhile we cannot finish without an apparent eternal  bugbear which is the banks.

League and 5 Star also have plans for Monte dei Paschi, which has been recently bailed out by the Italian government. They want to turn it into a utility, where the State (as opposed to an independent management) decides the bank’s objectives.

Me on Core Finance TV

 

 

UK real wages fell again in March

Today brings us to an area of the UK economy where the trend has remained positive and frankly amazingly so. Regular readers will be aware that back in the “triple-dip” ( hat tip to Stephanie Flanders then of the BBC now of Bloomberg for the phrase) days of 2011/12 that the employment data moved first and was followed by GDP in 2013. Thus employment trends have become something of a leading indicator as again we face a phase where they tell us one thing whereas other signals head south.

An example of other signals was seen only yesterday.

Much could be made of the adverse impact on April’s footfall of Easter shifting to March, but even looking at March and April together – so smoothing this out – still demonstrates that footfall has plummeted.  A -3.3% drop in April, following on from -6% in March, resulted in an unprecedented drop of -4.8% over the two months. (Springboard)

They then made a somewhat chilling comparison and the emphasis is mine.

 Not since the depths of recession in 2009, has footfall over March and April declined to such a degree, and even then the drop was less severe at -3.8%.

This added to this from KPMG a few days before.

April’s figures show retail sales growth falling off a cliff, with sales down -3.1 per cent on last year, but we must exercise caution and remember that the timing of Easter makes meaningful month-on-month comparisons difficult. That said, the three-month average is more helpful to assess, but this too points to sales only growing modestly

As you can see there are poor numbers there but two factors are at play. Firstly there is the impact of the period we have been through where real wages fell and I mean that in two senses. We have seen a recent dip which we have at best only begun to emerge from backing up an overall fall which again depends how you measure it but is more than 5%. Next is the decline of the high street which if the ones by me are any guide is ongoing.

Germany

Another signal of a slow down that is much wider than in the UK was seen earlier as Germany reported this.

The Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) also reports that the gross domestic product (GDP) increased 0.3% – upon price, seasonal and calendar adjustment – in the first quarter of 2018 compared with the fourth quarter of 2017.

For perspective there is also this.

This is the 15th quarter-on-quarter growth in a row, contributing to the longest upswing phase since 1991. Last year, there were higher GDP growth rates (+0.7% in the third quarter and +0.6% in the fourth quarter of 2017).

So the slow down is much more than just the UK and we will have to see what develops next. I would remind you of yesterday’s subject which was hints of a fiscal stimulus in the Euro area as it becomes clearer why that might be doing the rounds. Also as I had started with leading indicators I am afraid it is yet another bad day for the Markit business surveys or PMIs which told us this in January.

“If this level is maintained over February and March,
the PMI is indicating that first quarter GDP would rise
by approximately 1.0% quarter-on-quarter”

That was for the Euro area and Germany had a higher reading so for them to have been right the German economy shrank in February and March.

UK Real Wages

There are signs of trouble here so let us go straight to the numbers.

Latest estimates show that average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain in nominal terms (that is, not adjusted for price inflation) increased by 2.9% excluding bonuses, and by 2.6% including bonuses, compared with a year earlier.

In the rather odd world of Mark Carney and the Bank of England those are excellent figures especially if you look at the March figures alone which showed 3% growth on a year before. Let us continue on that sort of theme for a moment.

Latest estimates show that average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain in real terms (that is, adjusted for price inflation) increased by 0.4% excluding bonuses, but were unchanged including bonuses, compared with a year earlier.

This has been copied and pasted across the media as showing real wage growth yet that is somewhat misleading. This is because if you actually look at what people get in they pay packets March actually showed a slowing to an annual rate of 2.3%. Now at absolute best the UK inflation rate was 2.3% according to the CPIH measure but that of course relies on imputed rents to bring it down from the 2.5% of CPI and is lower than the 3.3% of the RPI. According to the official data which you have to look up as it is not ready for copy and pasting real wages fell by 0.1% on the most friendly measure which is using CPIH.

Let me put this another way UK single month wage growth has now gone 3.1%, 2.8%, 2.6% and now 2.3%. I will not insult you by pointing out the trend here but will show you how this is being reported with the one strand of hope being that February has been revised up by 0.3% and fingers crossed for March on that front. From @katie_martin_fx

ING: “Rising UK wage growth points to summer rate hike”

Meanwhile the back picture is along the lines of this.

Actually it is worse than that in the longer-term because for some reason they use an inflation measure with imputed rents in it ( CPIH) which lowers the numbers. Secondly they are using regular pay which as I have explained above flatters wage growth at the moment.

Employment

This is the ying to the yang above as the numbers remain very good.

There were 32.34 million people in work, 197,000 more than for October to December 2017 and 396,000 more than for a year earlier………..Between October to December 2017 and January to March 2018, total hours worked per week increased by 6.6 million to 1.03 billion.

There was a dip at the opening of this year in hours worked per person but that may be the ides of March. However there was further credence to the view that the productivity issue is being measured badly and is often just the flipside of employment growth especially when GDP growth is low.

Output per hour – The Office for National Statistics’ (ONS’) main measure of labour productivity – decreased by 0.5% in Quarter 1 (Jan to March) 2018.

Comment

As you can see the strong employment growth seen in the UK for some time has fed into strong wages growth which meant that the Bank of England raised interest-rates in May. Oh hang on………

Sorry there must have been some strands of the Matrix style blue pill in my tea this morning. Returning to reality the UK’s employment numbers are excellent and the improvement as in fall in unemployment has continued. But the simple truth is that the wages data relies on two types of cherry-picking to also be good. Firstly you have to ignore what people actually get and concentrate on regular pay which may seem sensible at the Bank of England as on its performance bonuses must be thin on the ground but many rely on them. Next you have to use the lowest measure of inflation you can find which relies on fantasy rents and except for this purpose is usually roundly ignored.

I hope the number for March is revised higher and we can expect some pick-up in public-sector pay but as we stand total pay growth is seems to be following the lower inflation data. Also there is the issue of whether European economies pick up after a slower first quarter for 2018.

 

Wages finally rise in Japan but are such small rises the future for us too?

This morning has brought news from the land of the rising sun or Nihon. Actually it is news that much of the media has been churning out over the Abenomics era when they have tried to report wage growth when there has not been any. However today the Ministry of Labor published some better news of the real variety.

Nominal cash earnings rose 2.1 percent year-on-year in March, the fastest annual gain since June 2003. It followed a revised 1.0 percent gain in February.

Regular pay, which accounts for the bulk of monthly wages, grew 1.3 percent in the year to March, the biggest gain since July 1997, while special payments jumped 12.8 percent as many firms offered their employees end-of-the-year bonuses.

Overtime pay, a barometer of strength in corporate activity, rose an annual 1.8 percent in March versus a revised 0.4 percent increase in February. (Reuters)

As you can see these numbers are something of a landmark in the lost decade era as we note the best overall earnings numbers since 2003 and the best regular pay data since 1997. Overtime pay was up too which is intriguing as the Japanese economy has not had the best start to 2018 and may even have shrunk in the first quarter ending a run of growth. Maybe this year Japanese employers are actually fulfilling their regular promises to raise wage growth.

Care is needed in that this is only one monthly number but after some revisions we see that 2018 so far has recorded annual wage growth of 1.2%,1% and 2.1%. These are low numbers but in the context are a shift higher. This can be explained if we look at the index for such numbers which is still only 101.9 after being set at 100 in 2015. We get an idea as it was 100 in 2014 as well and 100.6 in 2016 and 101 in 2017. Also we need to be aware that the main months for pay in Japan come in June/July and particularly December as for example pay in December is around double that for March but for now let us move on with a flicker of spring sunshine.

Is this the revenge of the Phillips Curve?

No doubt it is party time at the Ivory Towers although many may not have spotted this yet as of course news reaches them slowly. However I am still something of a “party pooper” on this subject as it still does not really work. Here is a tweet from a discussion I was involved in yesterday.

As you can see the state of play is very different between the American situation which we have looked at many times and the Japanese one. Female participation in the labour force changed with the onset of the lost decade era and male participation has picked up in the era of Abenomics although it had started around the beginning of the credit crunch.

If we look at the Abenomics impact I will let you decide if a major swing is good or bad. You see in the age group 55-64 the female participation rate is up by 10.2% in the past 6 years and the male one by 6.6%. I have written in the past that Japan looks after it older citizens well but there have been more and more suggestions that this is if not forced due to difficult circumstances. From the Independent on the 23rd of April.

For decades prior to this trend, it was a tradition for families and communities to care for their older citizens, but a lack of resources is making that harder to do so.

With the older population feeling more and more isolated as a result of this, women especially have turned to a life of crime in the hope that prison will provide them with a refuge and a home.

Returning to conventional economics there is also this to consider.

The number of unemployed persons in March 2018 was 1.73 million, a decrease of 150 thousand or 8.0% from the previous year.   The unemployment rate, seasonally adjusted, was 2.5%. ( Japan Statistics Bureau).

These are extraordinary numbers as it was 3.9% in 2007 so it has been singing along with Alicia Keys.

Oh baby
I, I, I, I’m fallin’
I, I, I, I’m fallin’
Fall

We cannot rule out the possibility it will fall even further as it was 2.4% in January. Also it is being combined with rising employment.

The number of employed persons in March 2018 was 66.20 million, an increase of 1.87 million or 2.9% from the previous year.

Inflation

I though I would add this into the mix as it provides something of an irony. The view of the Bank of Japan has been for so long that an annual inflation rate of 2% is just around the corner. Yet in its last report it lost the faith.

In terms of the outlook for prices, most members shared the view that the year-on-year rate of change in the CPI was likely to continue on an uptrend and increase
toward 2 percent, mainly on the back of the improvement in the output gap and the rise in medium- to long-term inflation expectations.

And later this.

the momentum of
inflation was not yet strong enough to achieve the price stability target of 2 percent at an
early stage.

Of course now with an oil price of US $77 for a barrel of Brent Crude they may see an inflationary push bringing them nearer to their objective. Of course they think inflation at 2% per annum is a good thing whereas I do not. After all even the recent better wage data would leave real wages flat in such a scenario.

We will have to see if oil prices remain here but for now the news just coming through that Saudi Arabia has intercepted two ballistic missiles seems set to support it.

Comment

Let me start with some good news for Japan which is that on what used to be called the Misery Index it is doing very well. It used to add the unemployment rate ( 2.5%) to the inflation rate ( 1%) and as you can see it is rather low. Very different to the double-digit numbers from the UK when it was a popular measure.

But for economic theory and for the Phillips Curve in particular this is much less satisfactory.  This comes partly from asking where has it been? Let me hand you over to the Bank of Japan.

(1) the actual unemployment rate had been substantially below 3.5 percent, which had formerly been regarded as the structural unemployment rate,

So wage growth should have been surging for ages and it has not. Now we face a situation which may be more like a cliff-edge that the smooth Phillips Curve. This is because on every measure Japan has been approaching full employment and in the mad world of economics 101 has in fact passed it.

(2) the recruitment rate of new graduates and the employment rate of women had risen
considerably.

In fact if you look at the demographic situation full employment seems set to be lower than it was due to the aging population as so far rising participation has offset it. But here is the rub if participation had not changed then unemployment would be below 2% now as we are left wondering what level would generate some real wages growth?

Meanwhile if we look back at the US participation data there were some chilling responses as to the cause. They looked at something which has troubled us before on here.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09yfqsy#play