Posts Tagged ‘niesr’

file9961251406222Oil has fallen again in recent weeks. This week, West Texas Intermediate oil has been hovering at just a dollar or two above the year low. Meanwhile, a report from the National Institute of Economics and Social Research (NIESR) has predicted that 2015 will be the worst year for the global economy since 2008. It shouldn’t be like that. With oil as cheap as it is, the economy should be booming.  So this all begs the question, “why?” Is there some rather worrying underlying reason for the weakness in the global economy?

At the time of writing (6 August 2015, 6.45 am) West Texas Intermediate oil is trading at $45.17. To put that in context, just over a year ago it was trading at $104. Brent crude oil is just shy of $50. One day, black gold will probably go back over $100. Maybe, one day it will even pass the 2008 peak, when it went close to $150, but this day is not likely to be any time soon.   The oil cycle moves slowly. Investment in oil has dropped drastically, new projects have been shelved. It will be several years before these developments show up in rising oil prices, though.

There are winners and losers from cheaper oil. Apologies if this sounds like a lesson from the University of the Bleeding Obvious, but cheaper oil benefits its consumers and hits its producers. So in theory the effect of falling oil prices on the global economy should be neutral. It is just that on the whole, oil consumers have a much lower savings ratio that oil producers. A fall in the oil price distributes income from high savers to high spenders. Given that we are in a time when there is a chronic shortage of demand worldwide, this should be good news.

As an aside, there is another not commonly understood potential side effect of cheaper oil. Ask yourself this question, why are interest rates so low? That is to say, what is the real reason? Forget central bankers, they move with the tide. The main reason why rates are so low is because worldwide there is a shortage of demand and a savings glut.  Back in the noughties this savings glut funded consumer spending in the West, creating a bubble which burst in 2008. Since then it has been funding surging government debt, and maybe sharp rises in debt in emerging markets.  McKinsey has said that global debt has risen by $57 trillion since 2007. The savings glut made this possible. There are many reason for this, and many of these reasons have not gone away. But at least one driver of low interest rates, the rise in savings coming out of oil producers, has gone into reverse.  

Returning to the global economy in 2015, earlier this week NIESR projected that “The world economy will grow by 3 per cent in 2015 – the slowest rate since the crisis – and 3.5 per cent in 2016.” So that is odd. The price of oil has fallen by a half, and the global economy is weak. Something is wrong.

There are two ways looking at this. You can look at individual countries, one at a time, or you can look for some deeper underlying cause.

The US has a bad start to the year because of an exceptionally cold winter in the north east of the country. This had a knock-on effect worldwide. The UK, it appears, got caught up in it all with falling exports to the US dragging down on growth.  

By its standards, the Eurozone had a good first half of this year, this despite Greek woe. But then again, this is the Eurozone, and the key phrase here is “by its standards.”  The only other region in the world that puts in such a continuously poor performance is Japan.

The world’s second largest economy, China, has slowed fast. There is more than one reason. For one thing, China sits on a mounting debt pile, with local government especially badly exposed.  This is beginning to hurt. For another thing, the Chinese government is trying to re-engineer the shape of the Chinese economy, shifting it from investment and savings led, to consumption led. This is a good thing, but the transformation is hurting

Russia’s problem are well documented. It is clear that it has lost out big time to the falling oil price. Brazil has suffered from a wider fall in commodity prices, but like Russia, there were deep structural problems with the economy anyway.

So pick it apart, there is a reason for the slow growth. Even so, I can’t help but feel that the overall performance of the global economy, given how weak oil and other commodity prices are, is very disappointing. You could respond by saying that I have mixed up cause and effect. You could say that oil has fallen in price because global demand is low. But I would respond to that by saying at least part of the reason for the fall in the oil price has been the revolution in fracking and previous surges in oil investment. The rise of renewables are taking a toll, too.  I don’t accept that I have got things the wrong way round.

So what are the possible underlying drivers at work? There are to theories to explain what is happening, there is the Robert Gordon ‘innovation is slowing’ theory, and the Larry Summers Secular Stagnation theory. I will look at these theories in more depth in a few days.

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Actually, it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t, not in the scheme of things. Did the UK have a double dip recession or not, who cares? What we know is that the UK economy has performed poorly. To focus on whether we had a double dip is to focus on sound bites over reason.

But…just to set the record straight, here is the story so far, told briefly – because it is not that important – but hopefully accurately, because it is perceived as important and myths are circulating about this issue.

In January 2012, the ONS released its first estimate of GDP for Q1 2011. It estimated a contraction of 0.2 per cent. Its first estimate of GDP for Q1 2012 was for the economy to have also contracted by 0.2 per cent. As for Q2, it first estimated a contraction of 0.5 per cent.

So remember that, based on first estimates, the UK saw growth of minus 0.2, minus 0.2 and minus 0.5 per cent in Q4 2011, Q1 2012 and Q2 2012.

There then followed a period of revisions. By August of last year, ONS data was telling an even more alarming story with minus 0.4, minus 0.3 and minus 0.5 per cent growth.

Now look at the latest data, out a few days ago, and the story is as follows: minus 0.1 per cent, minus 0.1 per cent and minus 0.4 per cent.

In short, things don’t look anywhere near as bad.

The ONS itself tried to put the record straight: “The falls in output from 2011 Q4 to 2012 Q2 are all modest, “ it stated, adding: “In total the economy contracted by 0.5 per cent. The decline in output in the first two of these quarters is particularly small. When growth is very weak, the difference between, say, estimated growth of 0.1 per cent and -0.1 per cent in a quarter is actually within the statistical margin of error.

The contraction in the economy in the following quarter, the April-June period of 2012, is explained by the additional bank holiday which was called in June as part of the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations. The impact of such special factors should not perhaps contribute towards a recession.”

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) looked at much the same issue. Simon Kirby from NIESR in a report published today said: “Much of the attention focused on the avoidance of a ‘triple-dip’, rather than another quarter of relatively weak economic growth. Revisions to data mean that it is increasingly unclear whether there was even a ‘double-dip’.

As we have noted many times before, obsessing about a couple of quarters of minute falls in output distracts us from the clear trend: that of a stagnating economy.”

To ask whether the UK had a double or treble dip is, in fact, to ask the wrong thing. What we can say is that the UK’s output is some 2.5 per cent below the peak recorded in early 2008. It is the longest downturn ever recorded, and that is surely what matters.

© Investment & Business News 2013

Do you trust the weather forecast? If you are really sad, like perhaps someone not a million miles away from the computer this article is being written on, you may start checking the weather forecast on your iPhone with such regularity that you are in danger of believing what the iPhone says over what the view out of your window says.

JR Ewing once said to his wife, after she found him in bed with a young lady: “Sue Ellen are you going to believe me, or your lying eyes?” It’s a bit like that with that conflict between the weather and what the iPhone says. Your eyes say it’s raining. The pitter patter on your umbrella says it’s raining, but your iPhone says it’s not. So who do you believe: your iPhone or your lying eyes, ears and skin?

Economic data is a bit like that. The surveys say we are in recession, again, or pretty close. The official data is more optimistic. Who do you believe?

Take the Purchasing Managers’ Indices from Markit/CIPS. At the beginning of this year, they suggested the UK was expanding – albeit modestly. The official data said we were in recession. Which was one is right? Only time will tell, but it’s an irony that for all the talk about the danger of a triple dip recession it is possible we haven’t even suffered from a double dip.

But this is the worry. Of late the PMIs have been bad. The latest set pointed to contraction. So here is your question:  if the UK was officially in recession when the normally reliable PMIs said it wasn’t, what is the UK doing when the PMIs say we may be in recession?

If this was a soap, you could imagine the music cutting in it at this point, as we learn that we have to wait until next week for the next thrilling instalment.

It is just that National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) tells a story that probably pretty much says it all. See this graph.

Quite simply there hasn’t been a downturn like this one, not since before the 1930s, anyway.

And to really rub salt into the wound, some data out this week just added to the sense of woe. UK industrial output has fallen for three months on the trot, and manufacturing contracted by 2.1 per cent in the year to October. Of course that’s just data, but then since this is pretty much in line with what the amore anecdotal evidence from Markit is saying, we probably have to accept it is about right.

You can’t fight a crisis caused by too much debt by building up debt. That’s the classic reproach given to any who dare say we need a government backed stimulus.

Well that may be right, but consider this chart, which looks at the US fiscal deficit and compares it with what it would have been like if things had carried on as they were prior to 2008. This was taken from this piece at Real World Economics, click here for a fuller explanation:  Krugman uses misleading deficit graph 

The point is that it shows pretty clearly that if there had been no crisis in 2008, and the US had carried on growing at the rate we had become used to, US annual borrowing would be much much lower than it is.

In most cases government borrowing did not cause today’s woes, rather today’s woes caused government borrowing. And by the way nowhere is this more true than in Spain, which had much lower government debt before the recession than any other large developed economy in the world.

Then there’s the TUC. It has produced a report which shows that over the last 30 years the share of GDP taken up by wages has fallen from 59 to 53 per cent, while corporate profits’ share has risen from 25 to 29 per cent. You might ask: so what? It is just that for an economy to grow it needs demand to grow, and for demand to grow wages must rise. Over the last 30 years this has not been happening to a sufficient extent to create sustainable growth. Furthermore, while corporate profits have risen, investment has not risen in tandem. Instead, rising corporate profits helped to lead to more savings sloshing around the system, pushing down interest rates, and pushing up asset prices such as house prices.

It is true that the noughties boom was built on credit. But the credit seemed reasonable because it was backed by rising house prices. The fact that GDP was not trickling down into wages did not mean lower growth, as instead it was trickling down into consumer borrowing.

The TUC blames the City. It says that the City has crowded out the rest of UK industry. Well to the extent that success in the City led to a higher pound, making it harder for manufacturers to compete, it may have a point.

But surely the real reason why profit growth has been outstripping growth in wages is down to technology. Economists are so busy denying that technology is creating growth, that they are missing the real story. Technology is creating fantastic potential for wealth creation, but right now it is also leading to the widening gap between the reward to capital and the reward to labour.

With 3D printing just a few years away from becoming a mass market product, and with nano technology perhaps a decade or so behind, it is hard to believe that the trend of the last 30 years is going to reverse.

Anyway, talking of house prices, is that a hint that they may be rising next year? Click here to find out more

©2012 Investment and Business News.

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Look, you have to be patient. It takes time to repay debt, but once it is repaid, well…yippee. That is one argument.

Others go further, and say things such as: “If it isn’t hurting, it isn’t working.”

Those who support austerity don’t deny it will be painful – except that is for a few nutters in the US Tea Party that seem to think there is an automatic and immediate positive relationship between austerity and growth.  No, the sane austerians are simply saying that it is worth it in the long run: pain today, wealth tomorrow.

And, of course, for most individuals such an attitude is right. Some businesses may argue that the way to deal with debt is to expand, but on the whole, most agree that times of peril mean cuts.

The snag is that when we are talking about the whole economy, things can get very nasty if we all start behaving in the same way. If all those with debts make cutbacks, and as a result there is less demand, and those with savings see the fall in demand, so start saving even more, then the economy will start contracting faster. And supposing that as a result of these cuts, demand shrinks, our income falls, and as a result our debts actually increase. In such circumstances, the more we cut back, the worse our debts.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) reckons this is precisely what’s happening.

In a report published this morning it said: “As a result of the fiscal consolidation plans currently in train, debt ratios will be higher in 2013 in the EU as a whole rather than lower.”

Its argument continued: “under normal circumstances a tightening in fiscal policy would also lead to a relaxation in monetary policy. However, with interest rates already at exceptionally low levels, this is unlikely or unfeasible.” To put it another way, when interest rates are near zero, the argument that you need to make cuts so that the central bank can then make interest rate cuts doesn’t hold up. Right now, we are in what’s called a liquidity trap. Rates can’t fall much further, but when the economy is struggling like it is, the normal solution is to cut interest rates. Quantitative easing is not proving very effective because people don’t want to borrow more. The Bank of England hopes, by the way, that QE will push up the price of government bonds, meaning other assets will look cheap in comparison and push their prices up, which will make us feel richer, so that we will spend more.

Returning to the NIESR report it stated: “During a downturn, when unemployment is high and job security low, a greater percentage of households and firms are likely to find themselves liquidity constrained.”

NIESR added – and this is the key bit – “With all countries consolidating simultaneously, output in each country is reduced not just by fiscal consolidation domestically, but by that in other countries, because of trade. In the EU, such spill-over effects are likely to be large.”

Now it is only right to point out at this stage that the NIESR director, Jonathon Portes, is very much a supporter of the idea of stimulus. He bats for the same side as Paul Krugman – an out an out supporter of Keynesianism. So given this, perhaps the conclusions of the NIESR report are not surprising.

But then again  austerity can work when applied by individual countries which can simultaneously grow via exports. But when austerity becomes a global thing, it becomes very dangerous.

On the other hand…

The big snag with fiscal stimulus is that sometimes economies need to adjust. There is a danger that a fiscal stimulus can take away the need for change.

Take Japan, as an example. In Japan failure is not popular. In fact, it is seen as something that needs to be avoided at all costs. But as a result, maybe Japan is too slow to change. This morning both Sharp and Panasonic warned of heavy losses in their current financial year.  Truth is, Japanese electronics companies are getting a drubbing.  Being thrashed by Apple, and Samsung and Google and Amazon is bad enough, but now even Microsoft with its Surface tablet is making the once seemingly invincible Japanese giants look like dinosaurs.

Maybe Keynesian is partly to blame. There’s not enough creative destruction in Japan.

So returning to the NIESR, it is right. Austerity is causing damage, and may even be making debt worse, but that does not mean we don’t need creative destruction.

The debate has become polarised. Either you are an Austerian or a Keynesian. Why can’t you be both?

Anyway to finish on a more cheerful note, here is piece by yours truly on some promising news out of China today.

©2012 Investment and Business News.

Investment and Business News is a succinct, sometimes amusing often thought provoking and always informative email newsletter. Our readers say they look forward to receiving it, and so will you. Sign-up here

In the garden the weeds and the green shoots seem pretty evenly spaced.

Here is one green shoot. UK industrial production rose by the highest level in 25 years in July. Here is the weed: in August it fell back, and despite the previous month’s rise, year on year industrial production in August was 1.1 per cent below the level from the year before. So far then, the weeds seem to be strangling all those budding flowers.

The Centre of Economics and Business Research (CEBR) predicted that next year inflation will fall below the rate of increase in average wages, leading to us all feeling better off, and so the economy should expand. In a similar vein, the latest report from the Ernst and Young Item Club has forecast falling inflation and rising house prices. Here is its chief economist Peter Spencer: “Inflation is coming back to heel, private sector employment is holding up, and the housing market also looks poised for a revival.” The Item Club reckons the economy will contract 0.2 per cent this year, grow by 1.2 per cent in 2013, and by 2014 in 2014. Yet, this leaves one question.  Why is it that ever since the UK fell into recession in 2008, economists have been predicting that the year after next will be better, and growth will be back to normal?

The National Institute of Economics and Social Research (NIESR) has been spotting weeds and green shoots. Last week it said that, according to its calculations, the UK expanded by 0.8 per cent in the three months to September. “The most robust rate of growth since the three months to July 2010,” it said.

But then it added: “Stripping out the effects of special events (the reversal of the negative effect from the additional bank holiday in June 2011 and the allocation of Olympics ticket sales from last year) suggest underlying growth is closer to 0.2 to 0.3 per cent per quarter.”

But back to greenery, the employment stats are good; 236,000 new jobs were created in the three months to July. Later this week we will see the data for the three months to August, but will this confirm green shoots, or point to weeds? Cynics say that in any case, much of the recent rise was down to a jump in the number of part-time workers.

And finally, there are the PMIs, or purchasing managers’ indices, as they are also called. The latest composite figures, combining manufacturing, construction and services fell in September to a level consistent with growth of just 0.1 per cent.

What is worrying, however, is that earlier this year the PMIs suggested mild growth, but the official data said recession. Since then the PMIs have got worse.

The PMI tracking employment fell to a ten month low in September.

Strictly speaking, of course, weeds grow from green shoots. But the fact is, right now evidence of a recovery seems to be based on optimistic projections rather than hard data.

©2012 Investment and Business News.

Investment and Business News is a succinct, sometimes amusing often thought provoking and always informative email newsletter. Our readers say they look forward to receiving it, and so will you. Sign-up here