Retail Sales

The Future

Over the past two years I have been writing about the affects QE is having on the over production of industrial goods from Steel, Ships, Cars and many other items used directly or indirectly in the consumer cycle. I have constantly called into question Lord Lucky Jim O’Neill and his BRIC revolution.  I have advised divesting of all steel stocks, Iron Ore and Coal producers across the globe…all suppliers of mining equipment…all commodity based currencies and emerging markets in general…you can search any of these subject matters and find my blogs to confirm.

Well that baby has now come firmly home to roost. It took a while but my radar is always far on the horizon. What now. Well, one prediction which is yet to come good is the UK. I firmly believe that the UK economy has no foundation whatsoever. All piss and wind so to speak. The trade deficit continues to grow in line with our nations debt profile…consumption equals imports. Our manufacturing capacity/output has barely improved over the last decade. House building for the 5 million population increase together with the demands those extra mouths generate, is the only driving force of GDP growth. Public and private debt is still growing at historic disaster proportions. House price to income ratios continue to defy reality ranging from 6 in the rest of the UK to 12 in the South East. Wages are mired in the immigration glue and zero hours continue to grow. Local council pension deficits, not a common theme anywhere in the financial world, are a hidden time bomb. The recent John Lewis weekly sales data show sales down 4% in August (yes poor weather is a factor) across the UK but more worryingly -13% in Scotland. If super cheap financing/lease deals and huge upticks in MPG savings were not available to car buyers, consumption would be even lower. The incredible gains in MPG are now slowing and the explosion of lease deals three years ago means a tsunami of second hand cars are on the horizon. So fragile is our economy that despite the officially significant gains in employment, more tenants are being evicted than ever before. Rents are moving with capital increase but wages are lagging far behind. Disposable incomes are being squeezed more than ever. The governments spending cuts will be longer and deeper than expected. Local Authorities are nearing the bone when it comes to social care choosing to apply minimal national standards which is causing great discourse to those in need.

The government have pulled so much revenue and consumption forward that only a fool would not expect a parched landscape in the not too distant future. Income tax for many is now paid in advance. Pensions released, so far 80,000 individuals and rising coupled with Equity release, a significant proportion of mortgages each month, is borrowing from what were, historically,  tomorrows nest eggs. So despite all the levers of front end priming to consumption and tax receipts, the governments budget deficit is still running around £70bn this year. Adding to the £1.6trillion already accumulated. The public sector pension shortfall I alluded to earlier, is without doubt, one of the most under recognised non-balance sheet contingent liabilities of them all.  If stock markets are now reflecting a new valuation reality, the deficit could easterly be  £1.5 to £1.7trillion or in other words 100% of the current deficit. Lets not forget that other off balance sheet liabilities, whilst not anywhere as a large (PFI etc.) but still an additional burden being kicked down the road.

If my scenario is correct and overseas investors finally smell the rat, sterling will be at the forefront of the attack. I have, on many occasions I admit, been negative on the currency. I have a target of the all time low against the $ of $1.08…I can see a period where the Bank of England is forced to buy and possibly cancel the entire supply of government bonds…CRAZY I hear you say…well, consider that Oil has delivered a bounty in revenue of around £1 trillion since 1975 ish..since 1997 we have borrowed an extra £1 trillion pounds to keep the lights on. So, we are coming to the end of the Oil boom income. North Sea currently has a cost base of around $43 so not much tax revenue there. Borrowing has to stop, if not we will be Greece. We have not built, during the oil tax and debt bonanza, a sustainable economy with Innovation, Investment, Creativity and Production (IICP) at its heart. Instead, we have a large benefit dependant society which is priced out of poor quality employment by poor people from the underemployed rest of the world. In previous recessions, the unemployed need just wait for an uptick in the economy before employment became easier to come by. Eventually, the pool of employment, limited to UK residents, was whittled away until NAIRU took over (Non Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment)…So, eventually, employers had a much smaller pool of unemployed and wage inflation took over thus bringing economic benefit to all. Now, we no longer have just a pool of UK unemployed, we have the entire worlds under or un employed to choose from. Employers love the EU and general open border policy. It has allowed a minimum wage or zero hour culture to take hold. The masses cannot benefit from economic growth as before because wages are immigrant suppressed. Of course, someone is benefiting in all this…YES…business owners and senior management. In 1980 the average CEO of a major quoted company would be paid around 30 times that of the average salary in his company. Now, that ratio is around 200 times.

This illusion of a growing economy is going to explode at some stage. No longer can we consume like there is no tomorrow. Germany, Japan and China, the worlds biggest exporters, do not have economies based on consumption. Its industrialisation that is the heartbeat of their economy. The problem with them all is a dwindling or rapidly ageing population. Nevertheless, Germany and China are running massive trade surpluses as will Japan again when it restarts all the nuclear reactors. Germany is running a budget surplus of around E22bn, to boot. The UK has sucked in 4.5 million immigrants (since 2000) which can be good for an economy generating  industrially based jobs for them to fill. When they come here and fulfil any roll possible. The competition amongst those in the bottom 50% of earners is unbalanced with the rest of the economy. Immigration based on supply and demand works. Immigration because life is better here than is on offer for 5 billion people in the rest of the world, is not.

We are not governed with even a cursory glance at the distant future. Live and govern for today. The only way we will be able to regain our industrial strength is by admitting we have been wrong for the last several decades. It will be painful and will lead to a significant reduction in house prices.  The high street will collapse as we know it and unemployment will rocket. The government will have to put an agreement in place to keep budgets balanced over economic cycles (no fudging) in exchange for the B of E buying up most of the government debt. Overseas aid and the EU will have to go. This will accelerate the EU collapse. A, we finance a large part of the (EU) budget and B, we are the EUs biggest customer. The experiment will finally be seen for what it is…a total waste of money and a fraud. The German Mark will return much to the consternation of its industrial base.

This sounds awful but it could be managed and lead to a new era of investment in IICP for the UK. With the exit from the EU industries like fishing will flourish creating tens of thousands of new direct and indirect jobs. If we just go on sticking our heads in the sand…someone will come along and see our pert bottom sticking up and..hey ho…as the old saying goes…sing if you like, scream if you don’t…aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh….me name is paddy maginty im the leader of the band…Sorry but you have to know the rest of the joke to get that.

You have been warned..again…

I have been completely bogged down with Council work over the summer but hope to get back in the swing over the winter.

 

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Chinese Deflation Cancer Spreads

OK here I go. This blog has been building in my head for a long while. It will tie in with my record of forecast since I started a few years ago. The economic world is close to a catastrophic collapse. Yes, I know, I have been concerned about the world since I started. I am firmly of the belief that QE has not only just delayed the inevitable collapse of the global economy, it has made the impending scenario much worse. In fact, it has taken it from a situation that was manageable, with old fashioned crash, burn and re-build, to a situation where the fallout will make the 1930`s look like a walk in the park. The central pillar of my argument is the significant positive impact QE has had on asset prices is mirrored by the equally significant negative impact on inequality in the developed world. This is mainly due to the tsunami of cheap finance which has swept the developing world and spawned huge production potential.

Yes, bond and equity prices have risen significantly. And why shouldn’t they. With QE pumping so much money into the hands of the people who created the 2007 crash, what else would they do with it. As I have written before, lower bond yields have helped governments continue priming economies through direct state spending (debt) or policies which have encouraged significant new consumer debt. The problem is, whilst the central banks of the G7 were sleeping, China changed. It is no longer the worlds growth engine due to internal demand. It is a cancer on the supply demand curve.

Let me expand on my theory of why China will be the catalyst that sparks this almighty upheaval. BRICs have been a constant theme in the history of this blog. Iron Ore is the prime reason. They all have it. The growth in China over the last 20 years was centred around Housing, Railways and Heavy Industry. The problem is, as I explained in China and its Export Claim, the supply curve within all these aspects of growth had become overstretched. In normal developed economies, this would have sparked a flight to quality as earnings concerns came to the fore. Of course, as I have pointed out many times, return on capital is not a primary concern of state industry dominated China. Employment of the masses is the ONLY concern. I have a back of the fag packet calculation. For every 20 million Chinese workers employed, 5 million employed people in the developed world become superfluous in the current demand cycle. Now, I am not saying these people will be unemployed, just that there well paid manufacturing jobs will be replaced by low paid service jobs. That is why, over the last thirty years, inequality has been taking a hold. I explained this in Profound Inequality in America.

So how is China accelerating this process in the current environment? An example is Steel (So many blogs on the subject I cant note them all). This one vital element has been the growth engine which has sustained this process of converting rural peasant into semi-skilled townies. To produce steel, you need two primary elements, Iron Ore and Energy. In Chinas case, energy has been via Coal. Together, these three elements are all required in huge bulk, so we must include transportation into the mix

As inventory of housing has built to an unsustainable level, prices are starting to drop. Sales in the first half of 2014 are down sharply on last year. This still does not explain my theory. If China cannot consume all it produces, what can it do? Export. To this end it has done several things outside its recent state induced currency weakness. Firstly, export the raw material. Globally, these are running 30% higher than 2013.  South American countries have seen (China imports) rises of around 90%. Of course, the ire of western producers have raised the spectre of further import duties. So, this leads to the second point. Cheap exports to fellow Asian economies eg Sth. Korea, forces them to export themselves. Couple this with import restrictions on Taiwan’s exports to China and it becomes evident this is a way round tariffs from Europe and America. Thirdly, and a little more opportunistic. Export of ships, Rigs etc. Since the financial crash, shipbuilding finance from dominant European banks became scarce. This lead China to flex its mussels. It has lent, via state banks, billions of dollars to mainly Greek ship owners (I have many blogs on the subject) in exchange for the orders to be placed with Chinese yards. This has allowed China to wrestle the mantle of dominant player from Sth. Korea and Japan. The problem is, this cheap finance is creating a bubble in supply of vessels. All this at a time when the Baltic Freight Index is once aging flagging concern. Of course, the Bulk Carriers which are supplying the low cost Iron Ore from the likes of Australia and Brazil are benefiting.

Many economic forecasters are pinning their hope on China becoming a consumer society in order to create growth globally. This is a faint hope at best. For now they are flooding the world with low cost products which is leading to one main import from the developed world, Jobs. This leads me to the main crux of my argument. Demand.

I have written about a demand shortfall verses the supply boom and its resulting Deflation before. I have stated that wage growth will decline and turn negative. I am writing now as this is all becoming a reality. Wages in the UK and Australia have already registered there first ever declines. Elsewhere the downward pressure is building. Since 2008, American wages for the bottom 20% of earners has declined. The web site below gives a good view of how growth has  been distorted towards shale gas and not industrial important manufacturing:

The Geography of Employment: Mapping the Recovery [INFOGRAPHIC]

With employment in poorly paid service jobs being the illusion that has driven low unemployment in the USA and UK, income tax receipts are not dampening the budget deficits. Yes, the USA has a smaller perceived deficit but strip out income from the Federal Reserve (QE gains) and things are not so rosy. Both have adopted policies which have driven property prices to pre-recession peaks. The problem is, the China affect on wages has just made the valuation to income ratio stretched beyond affordability. Now that the boom in speculative demand is turning to net sellers, the future is not so promising.

Outcomes of my theory:

CHINA…Will try and maintain the illusion of 7.5% economic growth via internal demand acceleration. This is an illusion. Just yesterday they announced significant cuts to pay of higher paid state employees. With Iron Ore production costs double of Australia, they will probably reduce the tax disadvantage to protect this mass employer. The coal industry is losing demand and will have to make big cuts. Housing will continue to slow and eventually lead to huge bond default. Steel production will collapse and with it Iron Ore demand. Hence Coal and Oil price decline. Recent trade figures confirmed export growth and import contraction

Australia (BRICs)…The significant decline in Iron Ore price in 2014 has slowed investment but a second leg down in price (around $50-60) will put a big downer on the economy. The currency will retreat still further. Once again, housing demand will implode. High paid jobs in mining will be a big loser. Wage deflation will halt demand.

Japan…Sadly, they are likely to be the hardest hit from this China export drive. The economy will continue to struggle until eventually the currency has to give. They will have to return to nuclear power to reduce the huge energy import costs. This will slam the builders and operators of natural gas ships. Demand is going to contract still further as the Yen has its second currency decline to around Y125, the 2007 low. This will spread the deflation spores even more aggressively. I know most people take flight to the Yen during periods of uncertainty so my prediction seems odd to most. Over the last 5 years, significant moves, up and down, have been followed by stable periods of between 6-8 months before going again. Given the last significant decline bottomed in January, the next big move is just round the corner. First stop Y110 then on to 125. If you have to own equities, currency hedged Japanese are the ones.

UK…The chancellor has completely ruined the UK. I thought no one could have topped the incompetence of Gordon Braffoon. But George Osborne has done just that. Many recent posts will explain my reasoning, but put simply, he has borrowed and wasted more money than people who should know better are prepared to acknowledge. Its a bit like the Kings Clothes…George is parading naked as a Jaybird but no one has the balls to state the obvious. Let me give you a microcosm of a looming disaster. The Local Authority I have the honour to represent, has a pension shortfall of four times the income from rates. Every 0.5% move in bond yields makes a shift of around £70m. If I am right, and deflation takes hold, government bond yields could go to zero. Couple this with a decline in the underlying portfolio, which currently stands at £500m, and the shortfall could double. If you take this a fairly typical local authority, the time bomb is ticking loud and clear. Sadly, I am the only one who can hear it. I still think Sterling will test its all time dollar low of $1.08.

Sweden (Finland)…As I have stated in previous blogs, I love the Sweeds, sadly however, the writing is firmly on the wall. The primary reason is the importance of the mining sector on its industrial heritage. My scenario would see exports implode as mining companies cut still further the budget for new investment. The usual housing boom appears here and will come to an abrupt end. The currency will decline still further and the globally important companies will be snapped up by American players. Or, as I have stated in the past, a Swedish solution is forthcoming and many internal mergers take place.

USA…Here, more than any country, inequality abounds. As per my post of December last year. This will lead to significant social unrest.

EQUITIES…..I have said in the past that they cannot go down significantly at the moment as demand from Central Banks and Company buy backs is reducing supply. I have explained the role QE plays in this before. Considering the global unrest, markets during my city career of 28 years, would be significantly lower than they are now. This just highlights the influence these QE induced buyers have on prices. But what about the future? Quite frankly, I am unsure. What is clear, if prices continue to defy gravity, volume will continue to decline. Not wanting to short markets during these difficult times, because bears have been massacred since 2008, means individual stock prices will only move when poor results are released. Then the declines will be eye watering. Shrinking capital bases (due to buybacks) will make these moves more aggressive. For now, equities are an unknown beast for those of us who were brought up in a world of boom, bust, re-build economics. Not the QE induced ether they are fuelled by currently.

Bonds…I do not want to bore you all too much so that’s the end for now. Plus, my wife is giving me grief as I have chores to do. Mainly, putting a new Cedar shingle roof on our summer house…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Osborne Good Fortune Financed by Pensioners and Savers.

Osborne Good Fortune Financed by Pensioners and Savers.

Lets look at the UK. Average Weekly Earnings for September 2013 are £ 474 which compares to £473 in September 2012. With Inflation running around 3% (far higher for pensioners and low paid) it must beg the question as to how Retail Sales have grown and house prices are up 4%. Are we really to believe the grinning Chancellor who talks of a turnaround in the economic fortunes and a lower Budget Deficit.

Lets look at some facts;

  • Provident Financial (Largest Doorstep Lender 130 yrs Old) Claims that more families are taking out short term loans (26%) and they are seeing an increase in late payments.
  • Foodbank usage up 300% on last year. 350,000 people fed by the Trussell Trust in the six months to September 2013.
  • Red Cross to distribute aid for the first time since WW2
  • Pawnbrokers… 650 in 2007 with 2250 today. Gold scrapped in 2006 10.7 tonnes but 70 tonnes in 2012 or $3.25bn.
  • Industrial Production is 1.5% lower than 2012.
  • UK Current A/C in Deficit for 30 yrs despite Sterling devaluation.
  • Gross Fixed Capital Formation (Gauge of investment vs consumption) at 14% by far the lowest in the OECD.
  • Industrial Output per hour worked lower vs 2012 and 2011.
  • Part Time working highest ever recorded.
  • Manufacturing only 11% of economy vs 25% in 1980
  • Car Sales booming but finance to buy is around 80% of sales vs norm of 54% with PPI pay-outs acting as deposits.
  • Government spending has increased throughout Osborne`s tenure.
  • UK Birth rate growth highest since 1972 whilst Germany has the lowest ever recorded and only 50% of 1964.
  • The UK Govt is spending £120bn a year more than it receives in tax. If that figure were zero, I believe the economy would contract by around 15%

So we have economic growth but we also have growing poverty. see Quantitative Easing. This is just as I forecast back at the beginning of 2012. Job creation but no deep rooted wealth creation. The jobs being created are (on the whole) very poor quality. Earnings growth is negligible so consumption has to be financed by a mixture of savings drawdown, debt and asset disposal. Asset disposal can be a mixture of Gold sales, Equity Release or Pension withdrawal. We need quality of economic output not quantity. Immigration has for some years helped to keep the quantity of growth from falling. With around 0.7% population growth each year you would expect some positive demand growth. This Government has not done what it promised which was to rebalance the economy away from consumption and back to manufacturing based output. Instead, it has used the QE benefits of lower interest rates to encourage further consumption. This will keep our Balance of Payments in deficit with imports continuing to flourish.  The large export orientated nations are not encouraging consumption, if anything they are doing the opposite. When will we learn that a continued imbalance between imports and exports will not help the quality of the economy.

So what of the UK Budget Deficit improvement. Lets not get carried away with a billion pounds here or there. The plain truth is that government is getting bigger. Bigger tax receipts and bigger spending. Tax receipts from consumption have increased driven by government polices on housing. Can the increase in house prices really be a positive to young families? How can they, with disposable incomes continuing to fall. Osborne is looking increasingly like Gordon Brown. Take what you can in the short term and let the long term implications be someone else’s problem.

If it were not for QE the deficit would not be falling at all. With the UK debt growing by £120bn a year ( chart 1) you would expect the interest payable to be growing. Not so. The lower interest rate environment resulting from QE has saved the chancellor a fortune. The average rate applicable to the debt (chart 2) has dropped significantly. If you assumed that the rate (chart 3) is at least 1.5% lower than it should be (given the appalling state of fiancés and the current rate of inflation) then the chancellor is saving around £15bn a year. This would imply that the deficit is still growing. So the chancellor has saved all this money thanks to the Bank of England (and the Fed) but someone has to be loosing. Yes, my dear old pensioner, it is you! That to my mind is just another tax.

Chart 1

Chart 2

Chart 3

An update of a previous chart. This highlights the income via bonus payments held back prior to the reduction in top rate tax in April. The income tax data also includes Capital Gains which have no doubt been positively influenced by the FTSE 100. Yet more tax income for the government due to global QE. I have to conclude that Central Bankers are totally in cahoots with politicians. As I have stated before, QE should be linked to fiscal prudence guarantees from the various governments.

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Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013 Consumer Debt, Debt, GDP, National Debt, Predictions, QE, UK 1 Comment

UK Budget…2013 Review

UK Budget and the continued austerity measures. I will not look at the details of a bland pointless budget just its focus.

(Click to enlarge) Thank you to my good friend M.Jones for the artwork.

George Osborne. As I see him. Monopoly money or Sterling? There will not be a lot of difference in value by the time he has finished.

First off, why is George Osborne dressed as the Statue of Liberty?

I see his and indeed his predecessors policies as encouraging large scale immigration. Below is part of the poem by Emma Lazarus which is mounted on a bronze plaque on the statue.

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

This sentiment epitomises exactly how the Labour chancellor Gordon Brown treated these islands. He turned a blind eye to the massive influx of immigrants both legal and illegal. By doing so he helped push the UK economy along with the growing population demanding ever more housing and consumption. The positive economic affects of this policy now have to be paid for. The housing demand drove average pricing to an historic high verses average wages. This overvaluation is still much in place today. Whats more the debt accumulated during that housing boom is still very much in evidence. The total debt, both Government, Corporate and Private, is around 515% (highest in the developed world with Japan) of our total GDP and RISING!…To give you some history on the numbers, in 1987 we had accumulated 200% and in 2003 it was 300%. In 1976, when the then Labour Government went cap in hand to the IMF to rescue the country from bankruptcy, our total (Government) debt was only half where it is now adjusted for inflation.

The Budget focus is very much on getting people to invest in housing. Not by cutting Stamp Duty thus making it cheaper but by getting you the public to take on more debt! By doing this, you are not only buying new houses which are priced way above the equivalent second hand property, but you are generating significant extra tax for the Government (VAT on fees, moving etc and Stamp Duty). This is a cynical move which only benefits share holders and senior executives at the major property companies. The additional loan exposure assumed by the Government only adds to the narrow focus of our economy on internal combustion, instead of, solid exposure to the rest of the world by exporting. Two subtle major negatives of this policy are lost on this government. Firstly, the machinery and equipment used in the construction industry is mostly imported. Secondly, the large developers are giving very short term contracts to the companies (sub-contractors) building the properties. This allows the companies that lost out in the first round of contracts to come back and cut costs further. This policy is driving wages lower. Being the only major component with enough flexibility, it is being driven by the availability of cheap foreign labour. To help this sector in the way he is proposing is just mad! The huddled Masses and Wretched Refuse will keep on coming despite Mr Cameron’s latest policy announcement. Closing the gate after the horse has bolted comes to mind. In 20011, 87% of all jobs created in this country went to migrants!!!

Austerity. Is this budget really what it says on the box??

No!!! The way I see Austerity is this (allowing all to share in our problem)

The Poor who go by Bus will have to Walk more. The Car Driving Class (Ford) will have to take the Bus more. The Luxurx Car Driver will have to buy Ford`s from now on. The Uber Rich will have to give the Chaufer the push and drive the Luxury Car  themselves. The Super Uber Rich will have to get rid of the Helicopter Pilot and get a Chauffeur.

 

The Austerity that George (and his soon to be financial wizard at the Bank of England) see it, is somewhat different. By pretending to cut spending, which has actually risen throughout the coalitions term of office, we all think they are turning back the tide of debt. Wrong! In this parliament alone (2010-2015) they intend to borrow around 150% of the total DEBT ACCUMALTED BY ALL THE GOVERNMENTS from 1694 (Bof E founded) to 1997 when Labour came to power…Yes, more money in 5 years that the total debt accumulated over 303 years. To get away with such prolific spending, they have encouraged the Bank of England to buy 1/3 (£375bn)  of all outstanding Government securities (QE). This of course puts vast pots of money into the hands of the people who created the Banking Crisis in the first place. The major net affect is to drive up financial asset prices in the hope that it will drag other assets with it. The only big winners from this policy at the moment are the Uber and Super Uber Rich.

So, the way Osborne Austerity works is this.

The Poor (British) who go by Bus will have to Walk to the job Centre as an Immigrant has taken his job. The Poor Immigrant will no longer starve in his own country but will now take a bus to work in the UK.  The Car Driving Class (Ford) will have to take the Bus more. The Luxury Car Driver will have to buy Ford`s from now on. The Uber Rich will give the Chauffeur the push and HIRE A HELICOPTER PILOT. The Super Uber Rich will ADD A PILOT (Private Jet) to his payroll alongside his Helicopter Pilot.

The longer we go on spending as much as we are makes the eventual disaster all the more painful. Our economy is driven to such a large extent by internal demand, which is driven by Government handouts paid for with debt, that the total debt will get to a point where we cannot pay it back. I think we are there already but the markets are only just getting it.

Since I warned on December 23rd, that George had three months before the worry set in, Sterling has fallen, we have lost our AAA rating and the cost of insuring our state debt has risen by 70%. I think the tide is on the way out for him and sadly for us.

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Tuesday, March 26th, 2013 Consumer Debt, Debt, GBP, GDP, National Debt, QE, UK No Comments

UK Retail Revoloution

UK The clock is ticking!

In my blog of 23rd December I gave George Osborne 3 moths before the proverbial hits the fan. Today’s release of the December Retail Sales data gives me comfort that my prediction is on track. I have broken down the various components of retail activity giving the year on year growth /decline and in some case, commentary. I have been firmly of the opinion for a long time that conversion (into residential) of the wasteland that is vacant retail space will be the catalyst for a much weaker pricing of the residential property market. The process of conversion has taken hold in Germany but as yet is only talked about on the fringes of UK politics. To give you an idea of the glut in UK retail space,  a recent study highlighted that the UK has 0.36 sq. mtrs. of (retail) floor space per head of population vs 0.21 in Italy and 0.14 in West Germany. Of course, the UK has (had) a more aggressive consumer culture which, as I have talked about in previous blogs, was as a result of the excessive growth in (privately owned) property prices which lead to an approx. 20% uplift in disposable income over 15 years prior to 2008. However, having recently surveyed my local high street I am beginning to think another potential outcome may be possible. The fifty or so outlets are all owned by our local London council. The vacancy rate has increased by another six outlets over the last six months. This puts the vacancy rate at around 20%. These six most recent closures resulted in a loss of income (for the Council) of around £150,000 per annum. I guess this picture is being played out up and down the country. Add this revenue shortfall to the governments cut in payments (to councils) from the central tax pool and one of the biggest employers in the country will have a strong negative affect on 2013 GDP.

So what is the revolution? As we are all aware, the large out of town retail parks have been the catalyst for the high street downturn. However, it is the decline in retail volume growth see The Mayans might be wrong but for George Osborne..time is up and the Internet revolution that has been the executioner. Given that no conversion to residential is forthcoming, we are getting close to the point where the level of vacancies will trigger a significant downward re-rating of high street rents. This adjustment could be in the magnitude of 25-35% for busier environments and 50-60% for the all too familiar ghost areas. This revolution will deal a big blow to the large supermarkets and owners of shopping malls. As you will see below, fuel consumption is falling so any regeneration of the high street (within walking distance) will be greeted with open arms.

December Retail Sales Data Year on year (+0.3) volume grew at the weakest since 1998 excluding the horrendous winter storm ravaged Dec 2010. Over the last six years, volume has grown 4% which given the huge immigration influx, just matches population growth. The figures below are December year on year comparisons for some of the interesting sectors.

Tobacco,Alcohol and other beverages  -37.2% (The volume has fallen every year this millennium and is down 60% in ten years. Supermarkets have taken the trade!)…Floor Coverings + 25% (I presumed it was flooding that helped and indeed in this historically wet year 2012 as a total (+22.3%) reverses the 50% decline in volume over the previous 4 years…Mail Order +13.8% (Credit!)…Textiles (x clothing) -11.6%Cosmetics +9.5% (Clearly just a seasonal favourite as 2012 as a whole is only + 2.3%)…Music, Videos recordings and equipment -7.3% (HMV AND Blockbuster)… Books, Periodicals and Newspapers – 7.3%Flowers, Plants, Seeds, Ferts and pet food +7% ( Strange one, probably warm weather and seasonal) …Furniture +6% (Possibly flooding related as only + 2.7% in 2012 as a whole)…Computers and Telco equip +4%Watches/Jewelry -1.5% (Volume fell every single month (vs 2011) in 2012 and overall were down 7.8%. Our local jeweler is taking in more gold for melting down than he is selling new or second hand. I have been a bear of Gold all year and believe it will touch $1000 long before $2000)…DIY -0.5% (Seeing xmas more seasonal activity at the likes of B &Q but 2012 overall was down 7.1% and is down 26% over 5 years (property market). With the revolution, it may be that small hardware shops with knowledgeable craftsman will make a comeback)

In 2012 the 500 biggest and busiest retail locations saw 2000 (net) outlets fall vacant. A recent survey puts that at 4000 for 2013. Remember these are the busy areas where volume is polarising. Think what will happen in the vast majority of smaller locations. VIVA LA REVOLUTION!

Next blog…CHINA IS LYING!  is on hold awaiting the release of some December data which I believe will confirm my view. It relates to the recent December trade figures.

ps Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

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Friday, January 18th, 2013 China, Consumer Debt, Debt, GBP, GDP, National Debt, Predictions, UK 1 Comment

The Mayans might be wrong but for George Osborne..Time is up!

The UK has got 3 months. Then time is up!

Back in December last year I started a series of UK blogs explaining why George Osborne will be in a worse financial position by now than he and the overpaid city analysts expected. Yes, sadly to say all the factors I alluded to are coming home to roost. Going forward they are going to get a lot worse, very rapidly. Following data released by Revenue and Customs on Thursday, it is clear that more is less when it comes to employment in this current environment. Tax paid by the highest earners is declining in both total and as a percentage of revenue. With last weeks Government budget data for November, it is clear the deterioration in finances is becoming apparent to all those who have been backing Mr Osborne`s policy of wishy washy austerity.

In the fiscal year to date Government receipts are £339.0bn down 0.1% on November 2011 (£339.3bn) and expenditure is £419bn up 2.7% (£408bn Nov 2011). This growth in expenditure would have been significantly higher if interest rates for Gilts were not so low. The interest bill this year is likely to be the same (£44bn) as in 2010/2011. The difference being, total outstanding Gilts then was £918bn where as it is now £1.113 Trillion. Whilst this is great for the government, it does show that spending excluding interest is way above expectations. Of course, this is a back door tax on pensioners who have been crucified by lower annuity rates as a result of lower bond yields. God forbid should/when interest rates ever go up again.

Chart One shows Government Income

whilst chart two shows expenditure.

More importantly, the third chart shows expenditure excluding interest.

The significance of the obvious but subtle difference between the second and third chart is lower interest spending this year (£31.6bn year to date vs £33.7bn) is masking even greater structural spending which will be all the more difficult to reverse when interest rates go up. Where are tax revenues heading? Well, as I have said on many occasions, total income tax take is not growing despite a higher level of employment. The low quality job growth is reducing higher tax, no income support families, as a percentage of the workforce. This, coupled with higher taxation, both direct and in-direct, have had a downward affect on VAT receipts. Of course, annual salary increases lower than inflation impact still further. Consumption in the UK and wider Europe will fall this year as further tax hikes bite. see previous blogs on Shipping and Trucks…remember 90% all goods have been or have components, that have been, shipped.

The chart below highlights the plight of the consumer. It shows the Total Volume Growth of UK Retail Sales this millennium.

The lack of consumption in volume terms highlights why high street retailers are disappearing. The growing market share of Internet sales explains how the volume being sold on the high street is being funneled into large retailers who can afford rents in high footfall shopping centers. All this will eventually confirm my view that law changes will be put in place to allow vacant Retail/ Industrial/Office space to be converted into residential, thus being the supply element which will lower house prices 20%.

Be aware that the January 2013 Government Borrowing data (released 3rd week in Feb) is likely to be shocking. This is traditionally the biggest revenue month of the year. Advance and Final Income tax Payments swell the months (Income Tax) take to around £25bn with Corporation and Petroleum throwing in another £9bn. It is my belief that the shortfall will be in the region of ten percent. This will put the final nail in the coffin of wishy washy austerity and put the UK in direct conflict with the markets which have been very patient. I believe Sterling will bear the brunt.

see RIP George Osborne for my way out……..plus many previous blogs under the UK section of the menu highlighting my thoughts which have been consistent since the blog started.

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Sunday, December 23rd, 2012 Consumer Debt, GDP, National Debt, Predictions, Shipping, UK 1 Comment

RIP George Osborne

The UK Chancellor has failed to implement austerity deep enough to make a difference to the overall debt momentum and now risks a total collapse in confidence. He has squandered the Countries and the Conservatives future.

When this government came to power in 2010 they had a chance of changing the UK debt profile whilst all the blame would have fallen on the out going administration. Sadly that chance was missed so I believe the next two years will be very painful to watch as George Osborne pays the price of trying to keep his coalition partners happy whilst believing in his own rosy economic outlook. Recently, George made much of his backing for gay marriage, a subject in which he has shown very little interest in the past. Is he trying to deflect future economic commentary?

The UK budget deficit is growing, not contracting, as is claimed. Two one off gains (Post Office £28bn BofE £2.3bn) were given to the government in April of this year totalling £30.3bn. These are accounting entries and should not cloud the overall problem so I wont let it. The real deficit in this fiscal is £5bn higher than 2011/12 putting it in line with 2010/11. If my concerns below are correct, then the deficit, net of the chancellors windfalls from the post office and the proposed BofE QE payment, could be as high as the 2009/10 deficit.

Lets look at the government receipts year to date (April-Sept) of £255.5bn. These are up £2bn on last year equivalent period. Within that gain is an increase of £2bn in VAT and an increase of £2bn in Nat. Ins. Contributions (NIC). However, taxes on Income and Wealth were down £2.4bn. Breaking down the Income and Wealth, Income tax is down £0.6bn in the six month period but more importantly £2.4bn in 2012 thus far versus the 2011 period. Many economists have been confused at the positive unemployment data whilst GDP is so weak. As I stated in several blogs on the UK earlier this year (See UK blogs) employment creation is of poor quality whilst job losses are of many high earners. This is clearly borne out in the NIC receipts vs Income tax receipts. This tells me that disposable incomes are falling much faster than is currently implied by inflation rate (c 3%) minus  wage growth (c 2%). The only way consumption is holding on to current levels (apart from lower mortgage rates) is the creative ways consumers are raising money. Equity Release, Pawn Brokers, Jewelry Sales, Payday Loans etc. With net Income falling and the government needing to raise more taxes, this bodes very badly for the high street and commercial property prices, as I have mentioned before. The biggest hit to the tax take will come in the January harvest which is the biggest single month for tax payment. This year will be a disaster. High income earners in the city have shrunk in number with a majority of those left seeing a further 20-40% reduction in total compensation. I expect this will contribute to a reduction in the tax take by £3-4bn in January alone. Windfall taxes (from Banking) experienced by the outgoing Labour government may never be repeated. Consumption will be focused into a shrinking band of strong retailers with the pound shops also seeing positive growth.

Lets look at the government expenditure year to date (Apr-Sept) of £313bn. These are up £6.5bn on last year equivalent period. A couple of items stick out. An increase of £5bn in benefit payments hardly indicates employment is strong. It just makes me believe even more that the jobs being created are little better than minimum wage hence still in the social benefit net but not earning sufficient to generate much tax. Interest payments on the accumulated debt are actually lower than last year which indicates just how much QE is helping the government. This debt servicing benefit comes at a price. The elderly who rely on savings or annuity rates to generate an income are blown away. So I class QE as just another hidden tax. Of course, if Sterling collapses as I expect, interest rates may well rise pushing the debt servicing bill much higher.

One million interest only mortgages expire by 2020 which will put a burden on many who have no credible repayment plan. Changes to the Income Drawing Pensions of 400,000 pensioners will greatly reduce their disposable income over the next year or so as 10,000 a month face a re-calculation of payouts. Tax increases both planned and proposed will drain the consumption potential of the populous still further. Can you honestly think that toying with austerity is going to work. The option of spending more to reflate as proposed by the stupid Mr Balls, will not work either. As I have explained in recent blogs, spending on infrastructure, benefits mainly the overseas manufacturers of machinery and immigrant workers who will work for far less than the indigenous population can afford to take.

The only way forward is to put our hands up and say we fluffed it. The Gilts held by the BofE (approx 30% of debt) should be cancelled. As this would quite rightly horrify the markets, a few provisos need to be applied with the intention of shrinking government significantly. So much discretionary spending exists that radical changes be forced on government to cut all but essential spending. This will make the first few years of adjustment very painful. It is imperative to point out that during the massive build up of government debt, the only group of society to have made gains are the wealthy who have seen a massive increase in net worth. The poor have by and large remained poor. The middle class have just been saddled with an almighty level of debt. A degree of balance is required in the fortunes of the UK population.

1)  Government debt must never go above the new lower Debt to GDP ratio (following the 30% write off)

2) Budget deficits are never to be above 2% of GDP  whilst ensuring the above is adhered to (excluding War of course)

Several aggressive changes need to be made to fiscal policy. I have a complete array of ideas but below are just a few.

1) Public sector wages to be cut 30%. No bonuses ever to be paid in Public Sector.

2 )Tax free earnings threshold doubled to £16,000

3) A 90% Tax on earnings/compensation above 30x the average earnings in a company. This tax is waived if 51% of shareholders vote in favour of an employee receiving such a payout. Owners of private companies should have no problems being majority shareholders.

4) No benefits of any kind paid to families with £40,000 income (combined or otherwise)

5) Corporation tax cut to 12%.

I have many social ideas which I proposed in my manifesto for the 2010 General Election including school class sizes based upon the surrounding density of population (with a maximum of 15 for the densest inner city areas) in order to give teachers a chance. A unique Foreign Aid package based on the Ark Royal painted in the Union Jack staffed with x-service personnel and furnished with all the equipment to build schools, hospitals etc which of course would be supplied by UK companies. It would sail the world doing great things and loved wherever it goes with a fleet of UK built support ships. If you would like to see a full read of my policies on Government, Europe, Immigration, Health, Transport, Banking/Savings, Economy and Defence please contact me via this site and I will forward a copy.

 

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Tuesday, November 20th, 2012 Consumer Debt, Debt, GBP, National Debt, Predictions, UK 2 Comments

Economic Seismic Shift.

I am becoming more concerned that economic activity throughout the world is slowing so rapidly that a global meltdown could be around the corner. My worry for equity markets is that the last seismic shift that occurred between 1958 and 1960 is about to be reversed. In 1958, equity dividend yields were around 7.1% and the Price Earnings Ratio (PE) was 5.6. During the next two years the market rose 122% and the first reverse yield gap appeared (Aug 1959 when equity yields @ 4.76%  dropped below gilts,2 1/2% Consols @4.77%) and it stayed with us until 2008 when central banks initiated QE. The inspiration for this seismic shift was a reassessment of the belief that equities were not safe investments for pension funds and should not make up a large part of any portfolio. A speech by George Ross Goobey in 1956 put the cat amongst the pigeons but it was not until the Manchester Corporation lead the charge (into Equities) did the earthquake really hit. It is interesting to note that for the first time since that shift, UK Pension funds have raised the Bond holdings in their porfolios (43%) above that of Equities (38%).

Why has this obsession with Equities been so compelling for the last 60+ years? My answer is very simple. Governments have become increasingly short term in their outlook. Politicians, along with Central Bank Governors, have been increasingly happy to borrow out of trouble, a policy which up until a few tears ago worked remarkably well for them. The problem is at some point the music has to stop. If you take a look at Charts 5 and 6, you will see the rise of the US and UK debt pile. Whilst these charts do not take into account inflation, they do illustrate very graphically, how the stakes have got ever bigger. Chart 7 just shows how each of the most recent US Presidents have raised borrowing. Mr Obama made many pledges when he first came to office. If he had said that he was going to spend $4 Trillion more than tax receipts trying to implement them, he would have been hounded out of town. Chart 8 shows just how sad this whole process has become. It is the simple cost of servicing (interest) the near 230% of Debt to GDP that Japan has accumulated. It indicates that the lion share of tax revenue is being spent on paying for all that previous spending. I have written several blogs on the imminent demise of that country.

If the global planned austerity measures for 2013/14 are implemented, tax take by governments will rise dramatically. Disposable income will be the main looser,NO! Sorry, the main loser will be company profits. One of the most commonly used reasons to buy Equities is that they are cheap according to the current multiple or PE vs the average of the past twenty years or so. What if the economic conditions that lead to the market being cheap in 1958 are no longer applicable to the future. Governments must reduce the level of debt or the cost of servicing will engulf tax revenues and disaster will ensue. Indeed, we may already be close to that point. It is not a fiscal cliff the world faces but a fiscal earthquake. As disposable incomes decline, company earnings will become far more unpredictable. This should demand a far lower PE (higher yield) than the previous 20 or 30 years. Whilst a return to 1958 levels is a bit outrageous, a rebasing to around 8 or 9 appears more apt. This would imply equities 30% lower. Commodity markets will feel the full force of this consumption decline thus putting the BRICs squarely back into lesser developed catergory. Gold will not be the place to put your money but more of that in my next blog

 

Economics in pictures.

I have updated some data which will be familiar to regular readers. First up, the Suez Canal transit data. This shows monthly cargo volumes passing through the canal. I have written about why I feel this is an important gauge on several occasions. Primarily, it is the fact that 90% of goods that you purchase have, or have components that have, travelled by sea. Pinch points like the canal act as a pulse reading. As you can see from the first chart, growth is going nowhere. In fact the total number of ships passing through has fallen each month since March vs 2011 (yes, new ships are bigger). Another note of interest, is the explosive growth  of  Crude transiting southbound. I guess the Arab Spring and the Iranian embargo will have some distorting affect but I am more inclined to believe it is the build up of Chinese strategic reserve. This volume is likely to slow dramatically in 2013 as storage facilities are at capacity. LNG has slowed significantly which is why the gap between the two sets of data has not grown more.

Click on charts to expand

Next up is the direction of traffic through the canal. No prizes for this one. As you can see, Northbound (90% Europe and 8% USA) is contracting. The January 2012 spike (southbound) was caused by an enormous inventory build ahead of the Chinese new year. Products such as Cereal and Coal jumped significantly but it was Iron Ore which had a big impact. I wrote several times in the spring regarding inventory levels and predicted correctly a large fall in the Ore price. The seasonal build will occur as usual prior to the next new year but I fear it will be more reserved than 2012. This will have a distorting negative impact on the year on year data.

Within the traffic data is a breakdown of particular ship cargoes. Containers are always interesting as they drown out the noise of the volatile commodities which transit in huge volume. More finished goods and components travel this way so it can be a good handle on consumer demand or at least confidence in the inventory level of consumer products. The chart starts just after the Chinese injected $586bn to reflate the economy alongside the first US QE (see above chart for full impact of these two measures). As expected, it balloooooned. Of course, this year the authorities have been more concerned with inflation and a housing bubble. Thus, the rate of growth has slowed and in fact turned negative last month. When the new leaders are announced this week, it will be interesting to see if they start with a big bang of reflationary policies. The outgoing regime have recently raised road, rail, sewer and port infrastructure spending, so little scope exists for a big whammy.

USA. I have updated this regular feature. It shows the traffic flows on Warren Buffet`s BNSF railroad. The Total Freight annual growth rate peaked eight weeks ago and has declined each week since. This somewhat confirms the recent picture being painted by corporate America during the current earnings season. As you can see the Housing materials appear to be in fine shape but the rest are starting to slow. In fact the star of the year has been containers which have been up around 7% all year, last week however, the weekly number was negative for the first time in 2012. The lower diesel price may have had an influence as it helps trucking with competitiveness. I will eat my hat if housing continues its uplift in 2013.

Chart 5

Chart 6 

 

 

Borrowing by governments is the drug that fuels Equity performance.

 

Chart 7

Chart 8

My next blog will be an attack on George Osbourne`s inability to make a real difference. The UK is damned by his torpor!

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Consumption vs Transportation.

Where is the global economy going?

I refer to previous blogs which were negative on Truck Makers, Shipping and Commercial Property

Today’s release by Markit Economics on August Eurozone retail activity helps paint a picture of global activity. A statement from the research company sums up Europe ` The current ten months of declines in Eurozone sales (to August) is the second longest in the surveys history behind that of the 2008/9 crisis`. I urge you to think of the world as a whole and gauge where total demand is heading. Lets start with Europe, retail activity is falling for now but where is it heading? Well, it is not difficult to understand that the austerity measures having and due to be implemented, will drain demand still further. Sadly, inflation is not helping anyone. It is constantly just above the anemic wage growth leading to a contraction in disposable income. Interest rates are at rock bottom so no matter how they try, central bankers cant get money into consumers pockets. Banks are all but defunct with untold losses in real estate and shipping, to name but a few areas. Now the second biggest global economy, China. Who knows where consumption is heading but yesterdays article in the Telegraph of business collapse and bad debts really only starts to open the can of worms of bad debts. With real estate (and other asset) profits having driven a tsunami of consumer growth over the last ten years, it is difficult to see how they can repeat the massive boost to the world economy they achieved in 2009. With house price to wages (ratio) the highest in the world can they really afford to re-ignite that inflationary spiral. They will continue to ease monetary policy at a pace which suits them not the rest of the world as in 2009. Now the third biggest economy Japan. Having written several blogs on their impending doom, today’s weak retail sales data were no surprise to me and  I feel herald a consumption contraction which will last for many years. The 230% of debt to GDP the government carries will make it very difficult to stimulate growth. The shift in the workforce over the last ten years tells me thay have the western disease. Manufacturing jobs have declined by around 1,500,000 to the lowest percentage of the workforce since 1953 whilst their has been an explosion of around 2,000,000 people in social services and healthcare. This is not a recipe for long term growth as these new jobs carry a greater likely hood of lower earning potential. Now the big daddy, USA. Ask yourself a question `Do you trust politicians?`OK thats was a resounding answer. In which case the fiscal cliff is a real danger. With an annual budget deficit of over $1 Trillion for the whole of the  Obama presidency, it is little wonder that the economy has managed some growth. Of course it needed extra help from the Federal Reserve. All that has to stop and at the end of 2012 the Bush/Obama tax cuts are due to expire. Where do you think consumption will be when they finally bite the bullet?

So that’s the biggest economies of the world taken care of. I think we should look at the BRICs. I have written many blogs on the subject mainly due to my concerns (dating back to January) for Iron Ore. The dynamic growth of these countries was centred around the explosive growth in commodity prices and hence the unbelievable investment that followed. Just bear in mind, Iron Ore, started the millenium below $20 per tonne and reached $200 two years ago. I believe they have a chill wind of reality blowing there way which will see a dramatic reversal in inward investment resulting in lower consumption.

Can you imagine what it is like living with me? A bundle of fun for Mrs H!

ps The landscaping business is very poor so would love to hear from anyone who wants to employ a crazy bear with 28 years experience in the City.

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Thursday, August 30th, 2012 BRICs, China, Debt, GDP, Japan, Shipping, UK, US Economy No Comments

America breaks records…Swinter in USA

You cant trust the economic stats for Q1 2012. Watch the Weekly Unemployment Claims.

The list of data below is taken from the Minneapolis “Star Tribune” . Whilst this was not a record day, it does show the divergence from the norm is quite stark.

70 F. high in the Twin Cities on Thursday, just one degree away from the record of 71, set in 1945.

44 F. average high for March 22.

39 F. high temperature a year ago, on March 22, 2011.

4.5″ snow. A year ago the Twin Cities was enjoying/enduring a “plowable” snowfall. 4″ fell on March 22, another 4.1″ on March 23, 2011.

22.3″ snow so far this winter season, least since 1986-87, when 17.4″ fell at KMSP.

10th least winter snowfall since 1884 in the Twin Cities.

+16 F. March temperatures, to date, are 16 degrees warmer than average in the metro area.

16 new daily warm-weather record for the Twin Cities since March 10.

Throughout the Swinter of 2012 records have been tumbling both for record highs and the prolonged period of those highs. As another indication of the level of divergence, Bangor, Maine, saw a high of 83f last week verses the previous record of just 64f. The net effect on employment during this freak (at least the ski resorts hope its freak with the likes of Colorado down 7% on 2011) weather must not be underestimated. The weekly unemployment claims will be the first to show if the trend to higher employment is sustainable or on the whole, also just a freak of nature. Retail sales must have been very positively influenced. It will only become clear in the April/May period just how much purchasing has been brought forward. When you look at data from Master Card, it must make you wonder just how strong this period of strong growth is. Gasoline consumption during the spring break was down 5.6% on 2011. The 4 week moving average has fallen for 52 straight weeks and stands 6.6% lower than 2011. If employment was as strong as has been indicated and the jobs created were of high tax paying calibre (as I have questioned in previous blogs) the sharp rise in fuel prices would have been absorbed and demand at worst maintained.

The very positive affects of the corporate tax incentives (mentioned many times here) coupled with the Swinter of 2012, might have created the perfect storm. As the deadline for the automatic government spending cuts gets closer this may just have provided investors with an opportunity to sell while stocks last. By January 1st next year, US$ 1.2 TRILLION of spending cuts will be imposed on who ever is in power. Obama`s payroll tax cut and unemployment extension will expire. Geo. Bush`s crazy tax cuts will finally (hopefully) breathe a final breath. On top of all that, the afore mentioned corporate tax incentive which gave 100% relief on capital investments in 2011 and 50% in 2012, dies. It appears that the `Perfect Storm` has created conditions which allow investors an opportunity to sell and sit on the sidelines whilst analyst try to justify why they have so many BUY recommendations on stocks.

Europe will continue to drag the world down. As I have stated before Economageddon Dec 2011, countries like Spain have been lying about their fiscal position for a long time. Only now, and last weeks budget is the last nail in its coffin, will the Mediterranean economies return to what they know best, tourism.

Ireland… Never was a Silk Purse! will return to an Agricultural economy and the GDP in the Eurozone will fall much further than estimated. The austerity measures around the world to date, do not cut debt, merely slow its accumulation. Until we get to a point where politicians stop playing 5 a side soccer (for you Americans) with tin cans, the end cannot be reached.

 

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Monday, April 2nd, 2012 Consumer Debt, Debt, USD 1 Comment

There`s Commies under the LVMH Futon

China talks the talk on equality.

Comments made by Bo Xilai  (Politburo member and Communist Party Secretary for the Chongquing Municiplaity) at a National Peoples congress in Shanghai, have tied in nicely with the press release last week by ten government agencies that I commented on in my blog Quiet in Class.

He stated that the wealth gap has exceeded the point where social unrest becomes more likely.The Gini coefficient has exceeded 0.46. A reading above 0.40 is the level where the authorities become twitchy. His main worry is that the narrow focus of wealth is creating a slide into capitalism and if this were to happen it would be a wrong path to follow.

 In a separate speech but very much in a similar vane, Wu Banngguo, head of the NPC, said “China in the next year would adjust the income tax system to give a bigger role to taxation in adjusting income distribution”. 
Given the growing unrest within the country it might just be possible that they are prepared not to just talk the talk but to walk the walk as well. If this leads to higher taxes in an effort to create a fledgling social welfare system, then we may well see a re-balancing of the economy. This may significantly reduce the sales growth of luxury goods companies, a sector which I have had doubts about in previous blogs.

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Friday, March 9th, 2012 China No Comments

Oil nears all time high

UK Consumption.

Brent crude in Dollar terms is still $30 below its all time high of $145. However, in Sterling terms it is within a whisker of its all time high of £74.60. If Sterling falls from its current level, and I still believe it will, the inflationary impact may be just what the Bank of England and the Government could do without. Once again we have a factor which will assert downward pressure on disposable incomes. Even without any further Sterling weakness the higher pump prices will reduce demand. If this pricing persists until late summer the government may have to delay once again, the planned sharp increase in fuel duty.

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Monday, February 6th, 2012 Debt, GBP, National Debt, Oil, Predictions, UK No Comments

When is a car not a car?

USA..Car sales for 2011.

2011 has been a truly sparkling year for the re-invigorated US car industry. Many pundits are looking forward to continued impetus in 2012 and projecting good things to come.

Yes, you have guessed it, I don’t quite see it that way. A few questions need to be answered first. Most importantly is to what extent did the once in a lifetime tax incentives have on 2011.

Over the past 4 years various tax incentives have been implemented to stimulate the economy. The Economic Stimulus Act 2008 (Pres.Bush), American Recovery & Reinvestment Act 2009, Hire Incentives to restore Employment Act 2010, Small Business Jobs and Credit Act 2010 but it was the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Re-authorization, Job creation Act 2010 (Jobs Act signed 17 Dec 2010) which brought in the 100% relief.

 Section 179 limits were increased by the ‘Jobs Act of 2010’ – allowing businesses to write-off up to $500,000 of qualified capital expenditures  subject to a dollar-for-dollar phase-out once these expenditures exceed  $2 million. Bonus Depreciation was also increased to 100%`Tax Relief Act 2010` allowing businesses  that exceed the $2 million cap to write-off 100% of qualified assets using first year Bonus Depreciation. Also, small businesses that are  not profitable in 2011 can use 100% Bonus Depreciation (on new equipment only) and carry-forward the loss to future profitable years.To get the deduction for tax year 2011, you have to act this year, as once the clock strikes midnight on 31/12/2011, Section 179 can’t increase your 2011 profits anymore. 

That means that if you buy (or lease) a piece of qualifying equipment, you can deduct the FULL PURCHASE PRICE from your gross income. It’s an incentive created by the U.S. Government to encourage  businesses to buy equipment and invest in themselves. Several years ago, Section 179 was often referred to as the “SUV Tax Loophole” or the “Hummer   Deduction” because many businesses have used this tax code to write-off the purchase of qualifying vehicles at the time but that particular benefit of Section 179 has been severely reduced in recent years. Section 179 is one of the few incentives contained in any of the recent Stimulus Bills that actually helps small business. Although large businesses also benefit from Section 179 or Bonus Depreciation, the original target of this legislation was much needed tax relief for Small Business – and millions of small businesses are actually taking action and getting real benefit. In 3Q 2011 Private sector investment in equipment and software accounted for 60% of total growth in GDP and since early 2009 it has risen faster than any postwar (ww11) recovery. Breaking that down, transportation has grown over 100% whilst equipment and software 30%.

Firstly, a little background stats on the market…Cars sales are not car sales. They are a combination of cars and Light-duty Trucks (LdT). So Pick-ups, Minivans, Crossovers and SUV`s are all in the melting pot. The car component made up 75% of the total in 1990, 63% in 2000 and 44% in 2010. Under the Section 179 regulations all vehicles can qualify for some or all the tax relief but of course it is more likely that the LdT segment will meet the more quirky requirements of weight, cab size, Passenger seats etc.

In 2011 the LdT segment increased its share of the market. I cannot help but assume that a significant element of the growth (11.6% yoy)  can be attributable to the tax incentive. Some commentators point to the record average age of vehicles driving demand. Well, for cars that may have some traction but average age has been increasing with build quality : Average car age in 1970 was 5.5 years, in 1990 7.5 years and 9 years in 2000. Various estimate have it around 9.25 this year. The age profile for LdT is more stable with 1970 at 7.25 years, 1990 at 8 years. That level has been the norm give or take up to present times with current estimates at 7.5 years. In the car segment of sales the feature was the demand for small cars (+13.6%) against overall demand up 8.9%. This has been widely attributed to the cost of fuel. In previous fuel related shifts in transport consumption SUV`s and Pickups suffered but in 2011 they were up 25% and 11% respectively.

The industry will be hoping that the enthusiasm of late 2011 is carried through into 2012 especially as inventories at US manufacturers are above the norm. The huge ad campaigns seen in the second half of Q4 may be an attempt to garner as much as possible in 2011 in case 2012 disappoints.

 

 

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Thursday, January 5th, 2012 Consumer Debt, Predictions 1 Comment

IRELAND…Never was a silk purse!

Happy 2012 and good riddance to 2011. That seems to be the consensus of most economic journalists. The consensus seems to be that yes things will get worse in the first half but light can clearly be seen and by the latter stages of this new year, all will be fine and dandy.

As you might have guessed I beg to differ. 2011 as for several years prior, saw a 10% increase in global public debt. Various estimates put it at around $54 trillion. The thing to remember is that this has grown from around $20 trillion in 2000. There can be only one response to that degree of debt build up, GROWTH. And by George did we get it in the bucket load. To highlight just what happened on a more macro scale I am highlighting a small country which benefited significantly and in turn helped drive the world economy even faster.

IRELAND (Rep. of) It could be in worse than Greece.

Widely regarded as an economic miracle back in 2007, it is still a miracle. A miracle that people in power both political and business could be so stupid. The story started so well and with very good economic management following a crazy spend too much and then tax too much period (1977-81 debt binge 1981-1986 tax binge). Following a currency devaluation (ERM terms) in 1986 (Mainly due to the weakness of Sterling, Ireland’s biggest trading partner)  tough spending restraint was implemented to bring down borrowing. A wage/tax agreement meant wage growth stabilized. All this was agreed whilst the UK boosted consumption with heavy tax cutting. The real growth in the economy did not appear however, until 1993. Following a stormy entry and subsequent exit of the ERM by Sterling, Ireland needed another devaluation in 1993. From then on its economic performance was on a meteoric path. The large sums being donated by the European Structural Fund equivalent to 3% of GDP were helping to vastly improve infrastructure. Unemployment went from 16% to 4% by 2000. As the decade progressed and the 1999 EMU launch looked more certain, overseas investment piled into the high interest rate countries, Ireland Spain etc. Given that real interest rates in Ireland averaged 7% prior to the EURO and minus 1% from 1999 to 2007 you can see why. Government spending doubled between 1995 and 2007. GDP grew by 10%+ between 1995 and 2000, averaging 6% 1993 to 2007. Perhaps the most important change was in migration. Long known for high emigration and population decline the economic miracle drove the population higher via immigration, both returning migrants and overseas workers.

All this was of course great news to the Irish Exchequer. Tax revenue soared helping to fuel the machine. Sadly, this is where one of the early mistakes was made. The huge rise in cyclical tax revenue, stamp duty rose 1300% from 1993 to 2007, was seen as structural and its abundance was used as an excuse to reduce real structural taxes eg Income related. Housing starts went from 30,000 in 1995 to 93,000 in 2006. House price inflation between 1996 and 2007 was 330%. Car sales from 64,000 in 93  to 186,000 2007.

Sadly that is all in the past. The last few years have been well documented. 2012 could actually be even worse. Fiscal measures for 2012 include a 2% VAT increase. Motor tax rise between 7 & 30%,  a one off 100 euro household tax, Toll road duty up by 10% on many routes. Bus fares up by approx 10%. Additionally many local authority charges are being raised like a 50-100% increase in burial fees (certain areas).

Given the over reliance on cyclical taxes in the past, the likelihood is that these tax changes will only drive revenues lower not higher. Housing starts are likely to be below 1995 for some time due to a glut of unsold properties. House prices have dropped 47% from peak. Car sales could well be lower in 2012. January is responsible for 25% of annual sales and Q1 50%. The second half (traditionally vey low volume) of 2011 saw a 40% decline over 2010. If January continues this trend, expectations could be for a figure close to 2009 when total sales fell below 1993. The various tax increases applicable to motoring coupled with a decline in the Euro (1/3 of sales from US/Asia) could well confirm the worse. Average car age is only just getting close to long term trend (8 1/2 yrs) having been driven lower (5 1/2) during the boom times. Consumption comparisons got a boost in December from last year due to better weather and discounting. This has not stopped further closures in the retail market.

All things being equal the long term trend toward net migration, which has returned, will continue. More importantly, if the EU carries out its plan to change corporation tax rates to point of sale not production, Ireland will once more return to an Agri based economy. Non Agri employment as a % of the workforce went up 50% during the boom.

Why does history keep repeating itself. Ireland has assumed all the debt of its banking industry which centres mostly on the housing bubble. Its debts are unsustainable and as 2012 brings weaker consumption coupled with higher unemployment, the reality will finally dawn…

Warren Buffett once said `Only when the tide goes out can you see who is swimming with no trunks on` …well, until global public debt starts to decline the tide will not go out. So many naked bathers are yet to be discovered. 2012 could well be the year to cover up the eyes of the young and innocent.

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Monday, January 2nd, 2012 Consumer Debt, Debt, Euro, GBP, GDP, National Debt 3 Comments

Where is all this money coming from?!

I awoke this morning thinking that my ability to perform simply schoolboy maths had left me. I read in the Telegraph that disposable income had dropped 8.4% since last year – no surprise there!

It goes on to state that consumer credit has contracted in four of the last five months, again no real surprise. It then says that consumer savings ratio has climbed to 7.4% versus 5.9% at the beginning of the year, so out of the average salary people have a significantly less to spend in volume terms and are actually repaying debt.

How then were the September 2011 retail sales figs up 0.6% in volume terms and 5.4% in value terms over the same period in 2010? It just doesn’t add up.

There are only three explanations I can think of (aside from slightly lower mortgage rates), which are:

1) Is there a spending element of the average salary that is not accounted for in the Retail Sales numbers and spending on this is being diverted to an area captured by the figures?

I doubt it very much

2) Maybe the Black Market in the UK is growing rapidly, e.g. people paying cash for work. UK and Germany are calculated to have the lowest Black Market in the Euro zone at around 13% of GDP while Greece is estimated to have the largest at 27% (now you can see why Greece gets so little tax revenue!) – I guess this has grown but it is difficult to estimate….

Or

3) Homeowners switching to interest only mortgages. There is significant evidence of this; it is estimated that 330,000 mortgages have been switched in this way over the last 3 years with an estimated value of £66bn. I estimate that this adds around £125m (prior to velocity*) to retail sales per month. Not much in the scheme of things considering £32bn-ish as a monthly total. It does however help to explain the shift in spending patterns. This money is significant to a vast proportion of the population. On average it adds around 15% to the after-tax net take home pay. Hence we see a positive impact on food and low cost purchases together with the necessity of fuel (see below).

Year on Year VALUE change

Food only stores +5.7%

Non-store sales e.g. Markets and Catalogue +15.6%

Auto Fuel +20% (down in volume terms)

All this coupled with the fact that Internet Retail Sales in September grew at a faster rate (25% 2010-2011 versus 20% 2010-2009), and now nearly 10% of all non-fuel sales. The high street is likely to continue to contract with Commercial property prices falling further with rents

finally….

The Economy and why the central banks should be worried about huge bank recapitalisation

*I mentioned Velocity above. This is important as it is a measure of the circulation of money (how many times money changes hands). As you can imagine, an extra £125m in consumer’s hands will allow a proportion to circulate several times in a month thus having a far greater impact.

Important to know a simple equation P=MV or Nominal GDP=Money Supply x Velocity

Simple Terms

During a recession Velocity normally falls hence central banks try and inflate money supply to maintain GDP. Money supply has continued to fall despite B of E intervention (QE etc). The bounce in GDP earlier this year has been put down to a rise in velocity following many govt sponsored stimuli.

Velocity has risen sharply due in part to financial innovation by banks: including securitisations and CDO’s (Mauldin March 2010: The Velocity of Money). As the banks pull in their horns on exotic products Velocity will fall. It is still above trend and way above lows of last 100 years.

Money Supply will come under significant downward pressure should banks be forced to re-capitalise due to Euro debt problems

If GDP is a direct result of Money and its Velocity, all looks very grim. I could imagine another 5% drop in UK GDP unless Sterling drops dramatically.

With personal and public debt still at near record and growing (public) levels, inflation is the only way out. Will that happen, who knows….

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Saturday, November 26th, 2011 Consumer Debt, GBP, Money Supply, Predictions, UK 2 Comments
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