Posts Tagged ‘Gross domestic product’

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“Give me a place to stand, and I shall move the world,” or so said Archimedes – supposedly. He was expounding upon the benefits of levers. A small action can lead to a massive reaction, if the picots and levers are right. It is like that with the economy too, although economists often fail to grasp this point – which is why so few predicted the crisis of 2008. But it can work the other way too; a few small changes can have a radical upwards effect. Neither economists nor the markets realise how dramatic the economic impact might be.

The dangers of a housing bubble have been outlined many, many times. The point those who dismiss such dangers are not getting is the British psychology. It is as if the British DNA has been hardwired to expect house prices to rise, and to be in permanent fear of missing out on the opportunity to jump on or climb up the housing ladder. In the long run, this expectation may prove wrong; indeed the very idea that there is such a thing as a housing ladder may be wrong. But expectations are such that it takes very little government interference to create a housing boom. And because of the way UK households see the value of their homes as a kind of extension of their salary, or as the main part of their pension, when house prices rise consumer demand rises and with it GDP.

But this is not the reason why it is being suggested here that that the UK economy may be set to boom – although it will help.

Bear in mind that the UK economy today is around 15 per cent smaller than if it had carried on growing at the pre-2008 trajectory. Squint a bit, look at the data through glasses that may be a touch tinted by roses, and could it not be said that the UK economy has room for a period of catch-up. Let’s say it will take five years before the UK gets back to where it would have been had the pre-2008 growth rate continued. Let’s say the underlying growth rate for the UK is 2.5 per cent. This means that growth over the next five years will be around 5.5 per cent a year.

That is crazy, you might say. Well maybe a growth rate like that is crazy, but it might happen all the same.

Take corporate cash. According to Capita Registrars, no less than £166 billion in cash sits on corporate balance sheets. Since 2008 cash minus short-term debt has risen from £12.2 billion to £73.9 billion.

If you want to know why the downturn has been so severe, the above numbers give the reason. Just imagine the economic implications, not to mention the implications for equity values, if some of this money was released to fund investment, higher dividends, and mergers and acquisitions.

The reality though, is that this is understating what might happen. When you think about it, the build-up of this cash mountain at a time when interest rates were at record lows was extraordinary.

If the corporate world was to start thinking that economic growth is set to accelerate, it won’t just start spending its cash, it will engage in leverage to make Archimedes’ ideas for moving the earth look quite modest.

Now consider what the surveys are saying. The latest composite Purchasing Managers’ Index from Markit/CIPS covering August hit its highest level since record began in 1998. According to Markit, the survey pointed to quarter on quarter growth of between 1 and 1.3 per cent – so you see a year on year growth of 5.5 per cent is not that far off what the surveys are suggesting may be happening already.

Interest rates are set to rise. The time to engage in leverage is now, before rates rise too high. And engage in leverage is what companies will do. The Vodafone Verizon deal is just the beginning.

Will we see a bubble? Will it be too good to last? Maybe. But the Institute of Economic Affairs is taking the opposite approach; it is saying that from now on the UK’s sustainable growth rate will be a mere 1 per cent year.

What the pessimists overlook, and they are being led by an economist called Robert Gordon, is technology. If you shop in Luddites‘r’us, you may well conclude such predictions are absurd.

© Investment & Business News 2013

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The ONS revised again. It always does, but it can be hard to keep up. You may recall, back at the end of 2011 the UK fell back into recession, suffering what we called a double dip — except it didn’t. Subsequent revisions of the ONS data on GDP revised the contraction away. You may also recall that the UK grew by 0.6 per cent in Q2 of this year, which was good, but working against this was that much of the growth came on the back of rising consumption, or falling savings. Given the high level of UK household debt, some might say that this development was a tad worrying — except that they didn’t. The data has been revised, and this time the story revealed is much more encouraging.

The first revision was to the headline figure. The ONS is now saying the UK economy expanded by 0.7 per cent in Q2. To put that in context, the US expanded by 0.4 per cent and the Eurozone by 0.3 per cent in the quarter. On an annual basis the economy expanded by 1.5 per cent.

Drill down, however, and the data looks more encouraging still.

It turns out – or at least this is what the latest data says – that investment jumped by 1.7 per cent quarter on quarter and net trade rose by 0.3 per cent. Okay, the poor old indebted consumer spent more too, largely by adding to his and her debt. Consumer spending was up 0.4 per cent – boosting retail sales in the process, but then again, it is all the more encouraging that at a time of growing consumer spending, net trade provided a positive contribution to growth.

As another story today shows that there has been a gradual rise in the UK’s export sector at a time when global trade is seeing only modest growth and this provides reason to hope that this time the UK recovery is for real. See: The UK’s export-led recovery

Drill down further still in the UK GDP data, and it emerges that both manufacturing and construction grew faster than services – or to remind you of the caveat, so says the latest data, which may get changed again.

Vicky Redwood, chief UK economist at Capital Economics, said: “Looking ahead, the economy still faces some serious constraints (including the fiscal squeeze and weak bank lending), so it may struggle to keep growing at quite such robust rates.”

It is not hard to be cynical about the data. Sure, manufacturing and construction are growing, but from very low levels. Considering where we are in the economic cycle, a growth rate of 0.7 per cent is pretty modest, and there are reasons to think growth will slow later in the year.

The point is, however, that the UK does appear to be recovering. The recovery is slower than we might like and there are reasons for caution, but compared to what we have seen over the last half a decade, the growth rate is pretty good. Relative to what we are used to, the UK is booming. In China, growth is around three times faster, but relative to what China is used to, it feels like a crisis. This time, unlike in 2010, the recovery does fell a little more real.

Let us finish on a qualified positive note. Other recent data from the ONS reveals that UK total net worth at the end of 2012 was estimated at £7.3 trillion; this was equivalent to approximately £114,000 per head of population or £275,000 per household. The estimated increase in UK net worth between 2011 and 2012 was £74 billion. Okay, the increase in wealth was largely down to rising house prices and equity values and they can fall as well as rise. The jump in asset values goes some way to justify rising consumer spending.

One question remains, however. How sustainable are rises in consumption at a time of high household debt on the back of rising house prices, at a time when they already seem too high?

© Investment & Business News 2013

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By one very important measure, stocks are set to crash. This will not be any old crash, but a really major one – as significant as 1929, 1987 or what we saw in 2000 and 2008. And the measure that tells us this is not some obscure ratio, familiar only to academics locked away in ivory towers; it is the ratio that many of the world’s top investors say is the single most important ratio they use to judge whether or not stocks are overvalued. Yet despite this very powerful evidence to say we are set to see a crash, many say that this time it is different. Are they right this time?

The measure that looks so dangerously elevated is called the CAPE – or the cyclically adjusted price earnings ratio. It is calculated by taking the current capitalisation of stocks, and comparing it with average earnings over the last ten years.

For US stocks right now the CAPE is 23.8. The long term average is 16.5. Ergo US stocks are overvalued. And although stocks listed in London are not as expensive, the markets across the world tend to follow the US. If US stocks crash, others will follow, regardless of fundamentals.

Bullish defenders of US stocks are saying: “This time it is different.” And they are greeted with derision. There is one golden rule in investing. When people say: “this time it is different,” sell.

It is just that when you think about it, of course, US earnings over the last ten years have been low; the US economy has suffered a very nasty recession. The CAPE, they say, is distorted by the unique, and never to be repeated experience of 2008.

Besides, add the bulls, the CAPE is not the only measure. Look at current PE ratios, look at stock values to net assets, look at a myriad of other measures, and stocks don’t look that expensive at all. They can even turn the “this time it is different” argument back on their critics, and say: “but by a long list of measures stocks are not expensive, why do you think they will crash?” To the bears they might say: ”Are you saying this time it is different?”

But then we get a counter argument. Sure, the US has suffered one mother of a recession, but corporate profits did surprisingly well. The truth is that corporate profits to GDP are close to an all-time high. The argument continues, if the ratio returns to its historic average, earnings will fall, even if GDP rises.

And finally just to retort to that argument about profits to GDP being high and thus they will fall, some might say: “Yes it is true that profits to GDP are exceptionally high, but this has been a bad thing, and it may have been a factor that triggered the crisis of 2008.” To explain this argument, see it this way: the economy needs demand to rise for growth to occur. If profits to GDP are rising and wages to GDP are falling, demand can only occur if people borrow more. Hence high levels of debt were a symptom of rising profits squeezing wages. If we see the ratio return to average, that will be good for the economy, and in the long run, what is good for the economy is good for company profits.

So where does that leave us? If profits to GDP fall, that may be negative for stocks in the short term, but positive in the long term. If profits to GDP stay where they are, that may lead to earnings rising with the economic recovery, justifying stock valuations, but this may not be so good in the long run.

© Investment & Business News 2013

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When surveys start concluding that certain vital sectors of the UK economy are enjoying the best growth rate since 2006, you know you need to start taking things more seriously. Until recently the UK recovery looked – how can one put it? – well, it looked quite nice. Surveys and hard data pointed to growth; they suggested that the UK was comfortably clear of recession territory, but there was always that reminder that the recovery was really quite lacklustre compared to what it was like before 2008. But then yesterday and this morning it changed. Not one, but two surveys have seen the light of day in the last 24 hours, which suggest that certain vital sectors are now seeing their best performance since 2006.

Just to remind you, the UK economy may not be in recession, but it is still in a downturn. GDP is still in excess of 3 per cent below the 2008 peak, and that is a record. Data goes back to the early years of the 20th Century and in that time no downturn has lasted as long. In fact so severe is the downturn that some are going further and calling it an economic depression. It is a funny sort of depression though. It is undeniably the case that unemployment is too high, but then neither is it at the kind of level that one would normally associate with economic depression. What is different this time around is that while employment has been higher than one might expect given what is happening in GDP, average wage increases have been lower. It is now more than three years since average wage increases were higher than inflation.

The latest data says the UK economy expanded by 0.5 per cent in Q2, compared to 0.3 per cent in Q1. So that’s an improvement, but the fact is that 0.5 per cent growth is not that good. At this stage in the economic cycle, with the economic output so far behind potential, the economy should be booming. Hold that thought. Four surveys have seen the light of day since last Thursday, and between them they suggest that the UK economy is finally growing the way it should be – it may even be close to booming.

First off, there was the latest Purchasing Managers’ Index produced by Markit/CIPS for manufacturing. The index rose to a 28 month high in July, with a score of 54.6 – with any score over 50 supposedly denoting growth. This was the best bit from the report: “New export business rose at the fastest pace for two years, reflecting increased sales to Australia, China, the euro area, Kenya, Mexico, the Middle East, Nigeria, Russia and the US.”

Second off, we got the latest Purchasing Managers’ Index, again from Markit/CIPS, this time for construction. The index pointed to the fastest rate of residential construction since June 2010 and the steepest improvement in new order levels since April 2012.

So far the story is okay. Surveys point to an economy improving, but at best they only suggest the performance is comparable to what we saw in 2011, maybe late 2010. But the UK economy was not in good shape back then, so big deal. The UK economy is not as terrible as was in 2012, but it is as bad as it was in 2011.

But then yesterday the story became altogether more promising. The latest Purchasing Managers’ Index for services rose to its highest level since 2006. In fact with the headline seasonally adjusted Business Activity Index standing at 60.2, it was the highest reading since December 2006.

But even that is not the best bit. July also saw the sharpest rise in backlogs of work since February 2000. Now when backlogs rise, you can normally expect output to rise in the following months to try to catch-up. In other words, if anything, the next few months should be even better. Collectively, the three PMIs point to quarter on quarter growth of 1.5 per cent. If that proves right, the UK will have enjoyed its fastest growth rate in 14 years.

Finally, this morning saw a survey from the British Retail Consortium indicating that retail sales rose by 3.9 per cent in July, which is the best year on year rise since 2006.

Okay, there are snags. For one thing much of the expansion appears to be fed by UK households saving less, and borrowing more. Not everyone welcomes this development. For another thing one-offs partly explained July’s retail growth: with the good weather and sporting success being cited for reason for higher sales.

But lurking in the data are signs of something that may be more permanent. The rather unfortunate timing of the economic depression in the UK’s largest export market – the Eurozone –has really not helped things. It is encouraging that there are signs that the UK is exporting more outside the euro area. So, let’s enjoy the moment.

Some are now patting themselves on the back. They say that the economic recovery proves they were right. Austerity works, QE works. But is that really right? Read the next piece for an answer.

Does the recovery prove that QE works?

© Investment & Business News 2013

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It is kind of assumed that savings are good, debt is bad. If that is so, then there has been good news from the EU and bad news from the UK. In the EU savings ratios are rising, according to recent data, while in the UK they are falling. So that is EU good, UK bad. It is just that the real story is quite different, because there is something missing, and that missing ingredient is called investment.

Across the global economy savings equal investment. They have to; it is a matter of definition. GDP equals consumption plus exports, minus imports, government spending and investment. But across the global economy exports must equal imports. Drill down and look at government spending and actually it is one of two things: consumption or investment. So GDP really equals consumption plus investment.

But what are savings? By definition they are income that is earned but not spent on consumption. So by definition, savings equal investment.

But supposing we all decide we want to save more, and we all park more of our earnings in our savings account. Supposing there is no corresponding rise in investment. If this were to happen, given the equation that GDP equals consumption and investment, then either as we save more, other people borrow more, or the money we save is lost forever.

To put it another way, across the economy there is no point in saving unless this is matched by investment.

Now take the EU. According to data yesterday (30 July) in the EU27, the household saving rate was 11.0 per cent, compared with 10.7 per cent in the previous quarter. In contrast the household investment rate was 7.9 per cent in the first quarter of 2013, compared with 8.1 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Now take the euro area. In the first quarter of 2013, the household saving rate was 13.1 per cent, compared with 12.4 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2012. The household investment rate was 8.4 per cent, compared with 8.7 per cent in the previous quarter.

In short, savings ratios are rising, but investment ratios are not. This is not merely a negative development, it borders on being disastrous.

In contrast, the household savings ratio in the UK was 4.2 per cent in Q1 2013, the weakest since Q1 2009 when it was 3.4 per cent. The UK savings ratio is too low, but what really matters is not savings, it is investment.

In the UK investment remains way too low, but here is some rare good news. 2013 looks to be on course for seeing the highest levels of investment in the UK since before the crisis of 2008.

© Investment & Business News 2013

This morning the latest stats on the UK’s economic performance for the second quarter of this year were out. And on this occasion the ONS revealed a pretty good set of numbers. This is what they say.

In Q2 the UK economy expanded by 0.6 per cent, after growing 0.3 per cent in Q1. Year on year growth is now 1.4 per cent. Okay, growth of 1.4 per cent is way below what the UK needs, and what it used to enjoy, but it is the best performance for some time, and that needs to be celebrated.

Okay, the UK economy’s total output is still some 3.3 per cent below the 2008 peak, so the downturn, or if want to use more emotive words the depression, still continues. It seems likely that the UK will see total output continue to be less than the 2008 peak until either very late next year or in 2015, making this easily the longest downturn ever recorded.

Some point to debt levels in the UK, and say we are kidding ourselves. The truth is that if you take total UK debt – that’s government, household, corporate, and financial – the UK is one of the more indebted countries in the world. Of the world’s largest developed countries, only Japan has more total debt. Indeed financial debt is still running at some 202 per cent of GDP, which is easily the highest level amongst the world largest developed economies.

Household debt remains too high, and furthermore is expected to rise over the next couple of years. If, because of global forces outside the control of the Bank of England, interest rates rise, households and so-called zombie companies will face a major challenge. For a very bearish view on UK debt, see: The next crisis, by Ann Pettifor    For what might happen to UK households if rates rise, see: What will happen to households as rates rise   For the danger posed by Zombie companies, see: The Zombies are back    And for why rates may rise regardless of what the Bank of England wants, see: The Great Reset 

George Osborne seems to have decreed that house prices will never fall; not on his watch. This may well earn his political party election victory, but is it what the UK needs?

On the other hand there is very real evidence of companies bring their manufacturing back to the UK. See: Can the UK reshore its way back to health? 

The UK doesn’t need a house prices boom, but it does need a housing construction boom. And in this respect there is good news. According to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), over the coming twelve months 59 per cent more surveyors who responded to its latest construction survey said that they predict workloads will continue to rise rather than fall. RICS said: “With every pound spent on construction in the UK generating almost three pounds of wider economic growth, this will undoubtedly be seen as good news for UK plc.”

And now return to today’s ONS report. In Q2 there was an upward contribution (0.08 percentage points) from production; with manufacturing increasing by 0.4 per cent following negative growth of 0.2 per cent in Q1 2013. So that is not hot air; that is real. In Q2 2013, output in the construction industry was estimated to have increased by 0.9 per cent compared with Q1 2013. In Q1 2013, construction output was at its lowest level since Q1 2001.

There is still much that can go wrong, and George Osborne is playing with fire with his help to buy scheme, but that does not mean to say that this time around the entire recovery is built on an illusion. This time it feels more real.

© Investment & Business News 2013

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It has been a drip drip of okay news on Spain. There’s nothing sensational; nothing yet to quieten the euro-sceptics, but enough to offer some hope.

The latest PMI for Spanish manufacturing from Markit hit 50 in June, which is the highest reading in 26 months, and suggests the sector is no longer contracting; rather it is now flat. Spain posted its first trade surplus ever in March, with exports rising 2.7 per cent, and finally Spanish unemployment fell in May, with 98,286 joining the Spanish work-force.

Okay, none of this data provides a reason for the bulls of the investment world to start charging all over the market bull rings. A reading of 50 for the PMI still suggests the economy was flat, ie not growing. Sure the balance of trade went positive, but the main reason for this was falling imports, and Spanish unemployment remains at frightening levels.

But then this week (July 23 to be precise) the latest figures on Spanish GDP were out and they gave some reason for cheer.

In Q2 the Spanish economy contracted by 0.1 per cent, after contracting 0.5 per cent in Q1 and by 0.8 per cent in Q4 last year. Year on year growth was minus 1.8 per cent.

So Spain is still in recession, but it needs only a very modest improvement to leave recession and that surely has to be celebrated.

Ben May, European economist from Capital Economics, is not so sure, however. He said: “We expect weak demand in Spain’s major export destinations to mean that the boost from the external sector will fade over the coming quarters. And with the fiscal squeeze, housing slump and private sector deleveraging set to continue for some time to come, domestic demand is likely to contract significantly further.

Based on this, we still expect GDP to fall pretty sharply next year, perhaps by as much as 1.5 per cent.” If Capital Economics is right, and the recent good(ish) news proves to be a one-off, then expect another bond crisis, and more calls for help in 2014-15.

© Investment & Business News 2013