Rising scepticism over QE
The Bank of England is doing more QE, but by the back door. The Bank is giving the Treasury the coupon payments from the bonds held through its QE programme, lowering the Government’s cost of servicing debt. Even so, the minutes of the last MPC meeting reveal doubts on the ability of QE to boost the economy. And mortgage holders will be disappointed to hear that a base rate cut is unlikely in the “foreseeable future.” At least the MPC is not unduly concerned about the recent rise in inflation, which it puts down to temporary factors. Déjà-vu anyone?
Bank of England business survey underlines sluggish growth outlook
The Bank of England’s agents compile a monthly report following discussions with around 700 businesses. One positive for business services was that activity levels that had dipped during the Olympic Games have now recovered. But overall there was little by way of positive news. The prospects for growth in business investment remain very modest and employment intentions suggested that little net job creation is in prospect in the months ahead. 2013 is already looking like another difficult year for the UK economy.
Weak receipts a headache for the Chancellor
UK public sector borrowing came in at £8.6bn in October, £2.7bn higher than the same month last year. The main reason was corporation tax receipts, which fell almost 10%y/y. This is a familiar story. While the Government has been successful in hitting spending targets, receipts have repeatedly undershot. Borrowing in the current fiscal year is £5bn higher compared to last year, putting the Chancellor in a difficult position ahead of his Autumn Statement. His fiscal rules may have to be broken.
The recession in the eurozone may be deepening
The preliminary composite Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) for the eurozone, covering manufacturing and services, rose marginally from 45.7 to 45.8 in November. But it has now been in contraction territory (signalled by a reading below 50) for 10 straight months. While the rate of contraction in the manufacturing sector eased slightly, the larger services sector reading declined to the lowest level in over three years. The survey readings suggest the eurozone’s recession may get worse before it gets better.
Bernanke urges swift resolution to US public finances
The Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke called on Congress to solve three pressing problems for the US economy - the fiscal cliff, the budget deficit and the fast approaching debt ceiling. Getting an early resolution to all three would help the US economic recovery next year. But he also highlighted the headwinds to that recovery, including a drop in the potential growth rate of the economy since the crisis. Reasons for this included weak investment and the unemployed not having the skills required by employers. A note of caution was also sounded on housing, despite the recent good news, with 20% of mortgage holders still in negative equity.
US housing continues to deliver encouraging figures
Despite Bernanke’s warning, housing market indicators continue to point to an ongoing recovery, albeit from a low base. Housing starts in October reached an annual rate of almost 890,000 – a four-year high. Unsurprisingly, the construction sector is feeling a bit more upbeat with an index of housebuilder confidence reaching the highest level since May 2006. An improving housing sector should help consumers feel more confident and in turn provide some support to consumer spending.
Better news for global trade
China’s manufacturing PMI broke above the 50-mark for the first time in 13 months as new export orders turned sharply from a depressed 46.7 to a fairly strong 52.4. There was other good news from Asia’s manufacturers. Taiwanese export orders, an important bellwether for global trade, rose over 3%y/y in October, the highest reading in eight months. Meanwhile, global trade as a whole rose 0.8%m/m in September on the back of an improving Asia and US. Global manufacturing may be on the mend but it will likely be a slow process. Please see our monthly World Economy Barometer where we touch on this issue and discuss the state of the global economy.
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If not quite as dramatic as St Paul’s Damascene conversion, it is noteworthy. Indeed, evidence from within the high and hallowed walls of Threadneedle Street suggests that the UK recovery is shaky at best, while the eurozone economy is going to get worse before it gets better. At its core, the shift in position seems to be the QE bang for the sterling buck is diminishing. Like every good cliff-hanger, what happens next is vital. Could the Bank of England be preparing the ground for new monetary stimulus toys?