UK productivity rises as real wages and employment fall

After yesterday’s inflation paradox where we in the UK were told it was rising ( CPI), falling ( RPI) and also staying the same ( CPIH) there has been a couple of bits of good news. First not only for inflation prospects but the prospect of having reliable heating this winter and for the latter Italy will be even more grateful after having to declare a state of emergency. From Reuters.

All main arteries that supply neighbouring countries from Austria’s main gas pipeline hub were back online before midnight after a deadly explosion there shut it down on Tuesday, the co-head of Gas Connect Austria said on ORF Radio on Wednesday.

Also looking ahead UK consumers can expect lower water bills as the regulator has announced this already today.

Our initial view of the cost of capital – based on market evidence – is 3.4% (on a real CPIH basis). In RPI terms it is 2.4%, which is a reduction of 1.3% from the 2014 price review. The effect of this change alone should lower bills of an average water and wastewater customer by about £15 to £25.

It is hard not to have a wry smile in that they are in line with the UK establishment by using CPIH but also reference RPI! Oh and whilst the news is welcome we should not ignore the fact that Ofwat has looked the other way as UK water bills have risen year after year.

Real Wages

Whilst the news above is welcome sadly inflation has been higher than wage growth in the credit crunch era as shown by the chart below.

The one area where a little cheer is provided is clothing. They do not compare with house prices so let me help out. Yesterday’s data release is very unwieldy but if we pick the middle of 2007 as June the house price index was 97.7 and as of October this year it was 117.4. Plenty of food for thought there as against nominal wages may be not so bad but there is a catch which is that we are comparing to the previous peak. Of course the picture in terms of real wages is worse as they have fallen.

As to the more recent trend then housing costs are depressing real wages still. The establishment try to hide this as we see here.

Owner occupiers’ housing costs (OOH) in the UK under the rental equivalence approach have grown by 1.9% in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2017 compared with the corresponding quarter of the previous year.

In their fantasy world ( remember they use Imputed Rents which are never paid) you might think that housing costs are rising more slowly than other inflation. But if you switch to actual and real prices of which house prices are one then you get this.

OOH according to the net acquisitions approach have grown by 3.9% in Quarter 3 2017 compared with the corresponding quarter of the previous year.

As you can see the impact of housing costs on the ordinary person’s budget over the past year looks very different if you use real numbers as opposed to made up ones from the fake news registry. On this road the UK real wages situation looks different as a rough calculation shows that CPIH would have been 3.1% just like CPI in October.

The end of “overtime”?

Just for clarity this in the UK involves working beyond your contracted hours and the state of play according to the Resolution Foundation is this.

The typical premium has gone from over 25 per cent in the 1990s to under 15 per cent today. Only one in five workers now get traditional time and a half rates. Most women get absolutely no pay premium at all, possibly because they are more likely to work in sectors without unions.

We can see that as time has passed the reduction in the premium for overtime has put downwards pressure on pay measures. The scale of the issue is shown here.

This is a big deal because a lot of us do paid overtime – 2.6 million people do over 1 billion hours of it a year (and that’s before we even start on the 1.5bn hours of unpaid overtime). Men and those doing manufacturing or transport jobs are most likely to be doing some, but amongst those that do overtime it is a bigger deal financially for part timers and women.

So it has a solid impact which if we look at the trends has negative. The problem is what to do about it? Invariably the Resolution Foundation aligns itself with the central planners but sadly I doubt we can simply wish the problem away by legislation. After all we have an employment success story and some of that seems likely to be due to lower wages at the margin. You could argue employers are being more efficient in allocating hours and work which is a good thing. However it is an alloyed good thing as this time period is one where we have seen the growth of zero hours contracts which presumably have taken up some of the slack. Some types of work ( most of my career for example) are defined around performing tasks not how long it takes to do them so perhaps this definition of work has expanded. More research is welcome though especially into why women seem much less likely to benefit from overtime.

Today’s data

There was slightly better news on wages driven mostly by higher bonuses.

Latest estimates show that average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain in nominal terms (that is, not adjusted for price inflation) increased by 2.5% including bonuses and by 2.3% excluding bonuses, compared with a year earlier.

Still a fair way below the hopes and expectations of the Bank of England and this is what it does to real wages.

In the three months to October 2017, real earnings decreased by 0.2% (including bonuses) and by 0.4% (excluding bonuses) compared with a year earlier.

That is using the CPIH measure so if you want it with house prices add around 0.3% to the decline.

Adding to the welcome news was another fall in unemployment.

There were 1.43 million unemployed people (people not in work but seeking and available to work), 26,000 fewer than for May to July 2017 and 182,000 fewer than for a year earlier.

However for perhaps the first time there is a hint of a change ( 2 months data now) in what up until now has been an employment success story.

The UK employment rate fell by 0.2 percentage points to 75.1% in the three months to October 2017 compared with the previous quarter.The level of employment fell by 50,000 for men and by 6,000 for women.

Comment

We see a complex picture in today’s data. Wage growth is up on a three monthly basis but this is not because October was an especially good month ( 2.3%) it was that July which dropped out of the data was a particularly weak one (1.7%). Ironically the weaker employment data may offer a little hope as rising output with lower employment will be good for the productivity data and this is confirmed by the hours worked numbers.

Between May to July 2017 and August to October 2017, total hours worked per week decreased by 5.9 million to 1.03 billion.

However on the other side of the coin the employment data is simultaneously troubling as the success saga has at best reached a soggy patch. Mostly it seems that it was the self-employed who saw a change.

 The employment level decreased by 50,000 for men and by 6,000 for women………..The total number of self-employed decreased by 41,000 in the three months to October 2017 compared with the three previous months.

 

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What does the Bank of England think about UK wage growth prospects?

A sense of perspective can give us also a direction of travel so here is this from Sir Jon Cunliffe of the Bank of England yesterday.

The unemployment rate in the UK today is 4.3%. The last time it was that low was 1975 – the year I
graduated from university.
That year, average wages grew by 24%. 42 years later, with unemployment at the same level, whole
economy average weekly earnings grew by 2.2%

Oh and just as a reminder as Sir Jon omitted this bit the wage rises were not a sign of economic triumph as inflation ( measured by the Retail Price Index or RPI) rose to 26.9% in August of that year. Also this is an innovative way of describing a period when RPI inflation went over 5% for a while as the Bank of England sat on its hands.

 energy price inflation between 2010 to 2013;

Actually innovative ( for newer readers this word was twisted in the Irish banking crisis and now in my financial lexicon for this times has an ominous portent to it) move was to claim this.

That is why the Bank of England has a clear primary objective of price stability and a forward-looking inflation
targeting remit. We have an objective to support the government’s economic policy but it is a secondary
objective and subject to the first.

The truth is that it is the other way around as the inflation surge in 2011 that I pointed out earlier or the current phase where the Bank of England cut Bank Rate and expanded QE into an inflation target overshoot proves. In terms of Yes Prime Minister being willing to state things like that would be a qualification for a knighthood or as it described it a K. Indeed another potential qualification for a K might be to write and say this.

Central bank credibility is crucial to anchoring inflation expectations………. Arguably we are only now discovering the impact at very low levels of unemployment of the Bank of England’s credibility as an inflation anchor.

Apparently it is doing this right now while inflation is overshooting! Quite how this triumph fits with the credit crunch era is another fantasy which skips reality.

Wage Growth

There is reality expressed here.

Equally strikingly, that 2.2% is about the same rate of wage growth as in 2011 when unemployment rose
above 8% for the first time since the mid-1990s. Over the following 6 years unemployment has fallen quickly
and continuously but nominal pay growth has largely remained bound between 1 and 3%.

If you think this through logically then this is a basis for my argument that rather than aiming for an inflation rate of 2% per annum you should go lower and then we should find some real wage growth. Also it is sad to see a policymaker skip what are the major issues and causes of what is happening.

I noted above that changes in the world of work have very possibly changed the pricing power of labour and
workers’ appetite for risk (i.e. job insecurity). This is in itself a large area of current debate and I do not want
here to go into these in great detail.

The theme seems to be why look at relevant issues when you can continue to chew over the continuing failure of the Phillips Curve which gets pages and pages as opposed to this one paragraph below.

Some of these important changes in the structure of the labour market, such as the rise in self-employment
and decline in union membership, predated the financial crisis. Others, like the rise in temporary work and
zero hours contracts, are more recent. Technology – and the rise of the gig economy – has further
increased what my colleague Andy Haldane has called the ‘divisibility’ of labour.

Real Wages

It is simply astonishing that a man who voted for the monetary policy easing in August 2016 ignores its role in this.

Inflation is currently above target as a result of the post referendum depreciation of sterling and forecast, for
that reason, to remain so over the next three years.

I find it odd that they forecast the fall in the Pound will keep inflation above target for the next three years because as I explained yesterday the major effects are pretty much behind us now. The inflation Forward Guidance gets odder and indeed somewhat bizarre when you read this.

Domestically generated inflation pressure, however, appears low……..Bank staff calculations suggest that adjusted for this effect indicators of domestic inflation pressure are below levels consistent with the 2% target.

Oh and those who had to make calculations back when inflation was just below 27% are permitted a wry smile at this description of 4% inflation ( using the RPI index).

Measuring domestically generated
inflation when externally generated inflation pressure is high, as at present, is not straightforward.

The general Bank of England view is that wage growth is about to pick up and of course that has been true for years now but specifically it is based around this.

3 month on 3 month annualised AWE growth for regular pay is 2.9%.

As ever central bankers are cherry-picking the data as individuals will care most about total pay. However Sir Jon is less convinced by thoughts of a rise in wages although whilst he does not put it this way they are likely to be supported by lower inflation.

there is in my view a not immaterial risk that the
trade-off is not as it currently appears and that domestic inflation pressure will undershoot the Committee’s
collective expectation.

Today’s Data

This was another disappointing day for the Forward Guidance of the Bank of England.

Between July to September 2016 and July to September 2017, in nominal terms, both regular pay and total pay increased by 2.2%, little changed compared with the growth rates between June to August 2016 and June to August 2017.

This meant that real wages did this and for fans of the RPI subtract around 1%.

Latest estimates show that average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain in real terms (that is, adjusted for price inflation) fell by 0.4% including bonuses, and fell by 0.5% excluding bonuses, compared with a year earlier.

Comment

There is fair bit to consider here. In my view the views of the Bank of England are driven mostly by an attempt to avoid having to say that the monetary policy easing of August 2016 was a mistake. The majority in favour of this month’s Bank Rate rise do so by optimism on the wages front although of course there is a weakness there as we currently have fallen real wages. Sir Jon Cunliffe avoids it by thinking that inflation will be weak looking ahead.It remains a shame that whatever their views they continue to persist in their beliefs around the Phillips Curve. Sometimes I wonder what it would take for them to abandon it and put it in the recycling bin?

There was a hopeful sign in today’s data which is summarised below.

*U.K. 3Q OUTPUT PER HOUR RISES 0.9% Q/Q, FASTEST SINCE 2Q 2011 ( h/t @stewhampton)

Economics is not called the dismal science for nothing as we note a possible trajectory change as there were fewer hours worked  ( and indeed a 14000 fall in employment). But we have been looking for a productivity rise and this is one of the first signs of it and any continuation would be welcome. Also my first rule of OBR Club may well be in play as of course it ( and the Bank of England) have just downgraded the UK productivity outlook. Sometimes you really couldn’t make it up!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is happening in the US economy?

It is time and in some ways past time for another delve into the state of play in the US economy which some would have you believe has been doing extraordinarily well. I spotted this from @Trickyjabs on Twitter earlier this week.

George Osborne, January 2015:
“Britain could be richer than US by 2030”

2.5 years later:
US GDP +21.5%
UK GDP +4.5%

If we skip the attempt to make a political point this is the sort of thing to cheer Donald Trump especially if he could find a way to argue it had all happened this year! Sadly of course the lesson here is not to use figures you do not understand as the US figures are realised in an annualised version. So still better than the UK but not by much.

Perspective

If we look back we see that the US Bureau of Economic Analysis or BEA tells us that economic output as measured by GDP peaked at 14.99 Trillion US Dollars in the last quarter of 2007 ( 2009 prices). If we jump forwards to the second quarter of this year we see that it had risen to 17.03 Trillion US Dollars. So if we allow for the likely growth in the third quarter an increase of the order of 14%. This tells us that the US has done relatively well on this measure but that growth is lower than what used to be considered normal. Putting it another way we have a type of confirmation that as output did not reach its previous peak until halfway through 2011 the new normal for economic growth may be of the order of 2% per annum.

Also the BEA gives us an insight into the structure of the US economy which goes as follows. 69% is consumption, just under 17% is investment and just over 17% is the government. You may have spotted a mathematical flaw which is solved when we put in net trade which is -3%.So investment has fallen as has the relative size of the government and the gap has partly been filled by services consumption rising from 44% to 47%.

Perhaps the most interesting change is the decline in the trade deficit which peaked at just under 6% of GDP before the credit crunch but is now around 3%. I wonder how much of a role the shale oil industry has played in this.

Looking ahead

One view was expressed by the Donald back in August. From CNBC.

“If we achieve sustained 3 percent growth that means 12 million new jobs and $10 trillion of new economic activity. That’s some number,” Trump said during a speech last month in Missouri promoting tax reform. “I happen to be one that thinks we can go much higher than 3 percent. There’s no reason we shouldn’t.”

If the US Federal Reserve was on board with that then we would have seen more interest-rate increases but its latest forecasts suggest annual economic growth of around 2%. So belatedly they have caught up with us on here!

Interest-Rates

This is an intriguing one as markets expect another rise to circa 1.25% in December and it became more intriguing as we learnt this from the European Central Bank and its President Mario Draghi yesterday.

Real GDP increased by 0.7%, quarter on quarter, in the second quarter of 2017, after 0.6% in the first quarter. The latest data and survey results point to unabated growth momentum in the second half of this year

So better than the US so far in 2017 and the Euro area has seen growth for a while.

Growth is growing and momentum is also growing and labour market and everything is doing – well, I think it’s, I can’t remember how many quarters of consecutive growth, 17 I believe.

But the picture for interest-rates is completely different.

The sequence stays what it is, namely this – the interest rates will stay and they remain at their present – are expected to remain at their present levels for an extended period of time and well past the horizon of our net asset purchases.

So President Draghi is giving us Forward Guidance that the ECB deposit rate will remain at -0.4% for at least the next couple of years and maybe beyond. This is because the cut to the monthly amount of QE to 30 billion Euros a month was accompanied by not only an extension of its term but more hints that it might go “on and on and on ” to coin a phrase.

Whilst 2017 looks like being somewhere between a good year for both the US and Euro area economies sooner or later a recession will come along. Oh except of course in the forecasts of central bankers which seem to actually believe they have ended them! But my point is should it come then we will see a US central bank which has raised interest-rate but an ECB with them starting it in negative territory. The rationale as we look at comparisons is given here.

As such, the US recovery is way more advanced than ours

Quite a compliment for the United States I think.

Inflation

This remains by historical standards relatively mild with this being the latest release from August.

The PCE price index increased
0.2 percent. Excluding food and energy, the PCE price index increased 0.1 percent.

This means that the annual rate for Personal Consumption Expenditure has fallen from 2.2% in February to 1.4% in August. So good news overall and in case you are wondering why CPI is not used the gap between the two measures is variable but tends to see CPI around 0.4% higher.

Wages

From the Bureau of Labour Statistics or BLS.

Real average hourly earnings increased 0.7 percent, seasonally adjusted, from September 2016 to
September 2017. The increase in real average hourly earnings combined with no change in the average
workweek resulted in a 0.6-percent increase in real average weekly earnings over this period.

So there is some growth but hardly stellar.

Comment

In many ways the US economy has done pretty well in the credit crunch era but this does not mean that there are not begged questions. This start in an apparent area of strength because the unemployment has fallen to 4.2% and the underemployment rate to 8.3%. But the catch as was discussed in the comments section yesterday comes from the participation rate which in spite of an improvement in September is some 3% lower than pre credit crunch. So what has happened to nearly 8 million people or ten million if we look further back?

The next issue is one of debt. I am not particularly thinking of the level of it but the way that it seems to have permulated and percolated back down to the sub-prime level again. From Bloomberg in August.

There’s a section of the auto-loan market — known in industry parlance as deep subprime — where delinquency rates have ticked up to levels last seen in 2007, according to data compiled by credit reporting bureau Equifax.

“Performance of recent deep subprime vintages is awful,” Equifax said in a slide show on second-quarter credit trends.

I dread to think what “deep subprime” means don’t you? As to the car market itself this from Automotive News does not seem entirely reassuring.

October is on track to be the second-best month of 2017 for U.S. new-vehicle sales, analysts said, partly due to surging demand in states recovering from hurricane damage, though volume is projected to fall slightly from the same month last year.

When will the next big hurricane come along to boost sales and I note what is happening with prices.

Fleming said incentives have risen to 11 percent of average transaction prices — “an indicator that new-vehicle demand is still contracting, and production cuts could be on the horizon to prevent oversupplies.”
Discounts are all but certain to rise further in the coming months, as automakers roll out year-end promotions that typically start in the next few weeks and stretch into early January.

My financial lexicon for these times of course defines an “incentive” as a price cut.

What does the lack of wage growth in Japan tell us about our future?

As the credit crunch era has developed we have seen many countries discover that past relationships between the level of unemployment and the rate of wage growth no longer exists. Actually if we look back we see that there had been changes before the credit crunch but it has both exacerbated them and brought them into focus. This issue is particularly pronounced in Japan where the unemployment and employment numbers are very strong. From Japan Macro Advisers.

The Japanese economy keeps adding jobs. 200K new jobs were added in August 2017. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 2.8% in August, remaining at the lowest rate in 23 years.

The stand out number is an unemployment rate of a mere 2.8% which is rather extraordinary especially if we recall estimates of full employment from the past as it is below them! How can this be? Well as even economic concepts do not mean what they say as for example central bankers talk of “price stability” when they mean inflation stability usually at 2% per annum. The concept of full employment was and indeed is like that as it does not mean everyone has a job. It always assumed some frictional unemployment or people temporarily out of work and that implied a higher unemployment rate than Japan now has. If we look at other measures the numbers are also strong.

Japan’s job offers to applicant ratio also remained constant in August at 1.52, the highest ratio since February 1974. The new job offers to applicant ratio slightly declined to 2.21 from 2.27 in July, but it is still close to its historical high and continues to show there are more than two vacant jobs to one applicant.

However we also need to note that there is a particularly Japanese feature to this which is on its way to other countries with demographics issues.

The work age population in Japan, defined as the population of the age between 15 and 64, has been shrinking rapidly. In 2016, it fell by 0.7 million people. In 2017, it is projected to shrink further by 0.8 million in 2017. While the Japanese economy is making ends meet by higher labor participation from its senior citizens, the labor resource limitation is an issue Japan needs to address soon.

Work till you drop is perhaps the new theme here.

What about wages?

The story of my time online covering Japan is that since the Abe government came to power there has been prediction after prediction that wage growth will pick up. Regular readers will be aware that some news organisations such as Bloomberg have regularly reported that wage growth has picked up but the truth is that so far there has been no real sign. If we move from the past hype to reality we see that according to the official data real wages fell by 0.9% in 2013, 2.8% in 2014 and 0.9% in 2015 before rising by 0.7% in 2016. Putting it another way the real wage index which was 103.9 in 2013 was 100.7 in 2016.

If we return to Japan Macro Advisers we see this.

The wage report for August was encouraging. Total wages rose by 0.9% year on year (YoY), the highest increase in the last 12 months. Basic and overtime wages rose by 0.6% YoY, the highest rise since April 2016.

We learn a lot there as growth of a mere 0.9% is “encouraging”?! If we switch to real wages the picture is not because they were 0.1% lower than a year before. They are optimistic because of what is essentially a challenge to the unemployment data as they hint at a change in underemployment.

The report shows that 30.5% of workers covered in the survey were part-time workers, a decline of 0.2% point from a year ago. The government does not publish a seasonally adjusted series, but in our own estimation, we see a clear sign that the part-time ratio is starting to decline.

This matters because.

Part-time workers receive one-third of wages that regular workers receive. There are other important benefits such as social security, and the job security is far stronger for regular workers.

Why might wages growth remain weak?

An interesting facet of the issue was highlighted yesterday by the Wall Street Journal.

Facing the tightest labor market in Japan in 43 years, Gatten Sushi recently hired two Chinese kitchen workers and a Filipino waitress who calls out “Welcome” to customers, each for about $10 an hour.

For a country which in many respects prides itself on being homogenous the situation below represents quite a change.

Japan added 400,000 foreign workers in the four years through 2016, surpassing one million for the first time, or nearly 2% of the workforce, labor ministry data show. That is still low compared with the U.S.’s 17% of foreign-born workers but enough to sway the labor market in urban centers like Tokyo.

This is something familiar these days where countries in effect import immigrants to help cope with poor demographics such as an ageing population but there is a catch.

RDC’s Mr. Fukui said foreign workers help the company keep prices flat, especially at budget places like a conveyer-belt sushi restaurant where Vietnamese workers in masks and plastic gloves place fish atop small rice balls formed by a robot. They are useful in other ways too: Sometimes they help out by serving foreign tourists in their own languages, and Mr. Fukui hopes they will continue working with the company even when they go back home to help it expand overseas.

There is a clear implication here that foreign workers are being used as a way of keeper wages lower. This can work because whilst the wages are low for Japan they are high for elsewhere.

Minimum wage in Japan, too low to attract many native-born workers, is still generous for many other Asians. In 2015, Japan’s minimum wage was 21 times higher than that of Vietnam, 12 times higher than in Nepal, and triple that of China, data from Dai-Ichi Research Institute show.

As to this being a permanent situation well maybe not.

Most foreign workers cannot stay permanently owing to immigration rules. Mr. Abe has repeatedly said he doesn’t want large numbers of immigrants in low-paying jobs coming to Japan for the long term.

Government policy

This has been announced since last weekend’s election according to Reuters.

Japan’s government is considering expanding tax incentives for companies to encourage them to raise wages, three people involved in discussions told Reuters, as many firms remain hesitant to spend their cash reserves on salary increases.

As the existing tax breaks are not working this sounds rather like the approach to QE ( QQE in Japan) where like Agent Smith in The Matrix series of films the cry always goes up for “More”

Comment

There are lessons here because Japan has for some time run a policy of declaring pretty much full employment. What I mean by that is that when I worked in Tokyo some 20 years ago people were employed to count you walking across bridges and lifts in the Ghinza shopping district had operators to save you from the arduous task of pressing a lift button! Of course many other countries are now facing up to the issue of what low levels of unemployment really mean.

The next issue is demographics where Japan is the leader of a pack you would rather not be in. Yes it is welcome people are living longer but it has a shrinking population too. Even it has accepted some immigration but as you have seen earlier on its own terms. As the Abe administration is nationalistic that could easily change, But the immigration that has taken place looks like it has affected wages in some occupations. If we look at the restaurant sector it seems clear that to attract Japanese labour wages would have had to have risen if viable.

That conclusion is not far off dynamite as we are so often told that immigration does not depress wages as this from Noah Smith of Bloomberg reminds us.

Normally immigrants don’t depress native wages, but in Japan, given investment constraints, they actually might. Still…skeptical.

If you have workers coming in from much poorer countries to work in particular sectors then surely it must depress wages in them or make them rise more slowly. I can see that there are areas it is unlikely to affect as for example Eastern European construction workers in the UK or Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant workers in Japan may have no impact at all on many other skills but to say they have no impact in their areas seems strange. Also what happens in their home country?

But if we return to the pattern of Japan upon which immigration has been only a recent thin screen then we see that for all the media and Ivory Tower hype the road on what it has been on for 2 “lost decades” now poses a question for our future.

Wages in Japan has been steadily falling in Japan since 1998. Between 1997 and 2012, wages have fallen by 12.5%, or by 0.9% per year on average. ( Japan Macro Advisers).

But we cannot just simply assume we will be “Turning Japanese” in every respect as this from the UK Office for National Statistics has reminded us today.

UK population projected to grow from 65.6 million in 2016 to 72.9 million in 2041

 

Me on Core Finance TV

http://www.corelondon.tv/uk-gdp-0-4-pleasant-number/

 

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

 

 

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…..