MacroScope

Britain’s Help to Buy – what the forecasters say

Now Britain’s housing market is showing real signs of life, should the government abandon its “Help to Buy” scheme to boost access to the market for homebuyers?

Economists and property analysts polled by Reuters over the last week were split. Two weeks ago, a majority of economists put the chances of another UK housing bubble forming at 50 percent or greater, catalysed by the Help to Buy programme.

Here’s a few comments on either side of the debate. Cancel Help to Buy:

“The housing market was slowly recovering already, it has been good for the sector, but in the long term it is throwing money at something that is not the solution. There is a danger we are creating the next bubble and not learning from what’s happened previously.” Mark Hughes, co-head of research, Panmure Gordon

“One of the problems with the Help to Buy scheme is that it operates on the demand side of the housing market without doing anything to boost supply. Now that the BoE has made a commitment to keeping rates low for a considerable period of time, and is already providing a considerable amount of liquidity to banks, I can foresee problems once the scheme is extended in 2014 to cover existing homes. Given the problems which arose as a result of a debt-fuelled boom up until 2007, and the desire expressed by politicians in recent years to rebalance the economy, I see little merit in inflating the housing market.” Peter Dixon, global equities economist, Commerzbank

“The government’s Help to Buy scheme has thrown the gradual adjustment that was taking place in the housing market into reverse. Help to Buy incentivises the banks to lend precisely to those individuals who, absent the scheme, would not be offered credit. It risks re-inflating the housing market bubble and households already appear to be buying into the prospect of rising house prices. The increase in house prices alongside a loose monetary policy will help boost growth. However, for this debt-financed consumer demand to prove sustainable it must be met with an increase in the ability of the UK economy to produce goods and services. We believe that the supply potential of the UK economy has been severely damaged by the banking crisis. As such, the pick-up in demand will not prove lasting and ultimately Help to Buy pushes the UK economy further away from much needed rebalancing.” Andrew Brigden and Phil Lachowycz, economists at Fathom Financial Consulting

Italy housing tax showdown

 

Italy’s fraying coalition cabinet meets to discuss what to do with a property tax imposed by previous premier Mario Monti.

Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right group wants to scrap it – though that would create a 4 billion euro annual financial gap to be filled elsewhere – while the centre-left PD of Prime Minister Enrico Letta wants to keep it for the rich, which would cost only 2 billion euros. The argument has already stalled decisions on more wide-ranging economic reforms. A percentage point rise in the main rate of value-added tax has already been pushed back to October from July and will need to be discussed again too.

The big question is whether the government is effectively paralysed until a vote next month on whether to bar Berlusconi from parliament following the upholding of his tax fraud conviction. Members of his centre-right PDL are threatening to bring down the government and trigger early elections if he is expelled. If he is not barred, swathes of Letta’s centre-left PD would react with horror.

Euro zone rate cut prospects evaporate

The euro zone is growing again and while its weaker constituents face plenty of tough times yet, it seems less and less likely that the European Central Bank will cut interest rates from their record low 0.5 percent. That illustrates the problems of the new fad of forward guidance.

The ECB deliberately stayed vaguer than most – a product of ripping up its custom of “never precommitting” – saying that rates would stay at record lows or even go lower over an extended period.
Its monthly policy meeting falls next week and in a parallel transparent world Mario Draghi could consign the “or lower” part of the guidance to history after just two months. Don’t bet on that happening but it shows how quickly things can move.

If anyone in Europe, Britain or elsewhere is hoping for a cast iron guarantee that rates won’t rise for two, three or more years, forget it.
Exhibit A today will be Germany’s Ifo sentiment index which has been coming in strong in recent months and is not expected to buck that trend.
It must be only a matter of time before the government and Bundesbank upwardly adjust their forecasts for a significant slowdown in the second half of the year, following 0.7 percent growth in the second quarter.

Post-Jackson Hole, Fed Septaper still appears on track

With all the QE-bashing that went on at the Federal Reserve’s Jackson Hole conference this year, it was difficult not to get the sense that, barring a major economic disappointment before its September meeting, the central bank is on track to begin reducing the monthly size of its bond purchase program, or quantitative easing.

If anything, the fact that this expectation has become more or less embedded in financial markets means that the Fed might as well go ahead and test the waters with a small downward adjustment of say, $10 billion, from the current $85 billion monthly pace, while waiting to see how employment conditions develop in the remainder of the year.

Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart, who is not a voter this year but tends to be a bellwether centrist on the Federal Open Market Committee, told Reuters on the sidelines of the meeting that he would be ‘comfortable’ with a September tapering “providing we don’t get any really worrisome signals out of the economy between now and the 18th of September.” (Does this count? Probably not.)

Back from the beach

Back from a two-week break, so what have I missed?

All the big and ghastly news has come from the Middle East but there have been interesting developments in the European economic sphere.
It seems safe to say that Britain’s economic recovery is on track, and maybe more broadly rooted than in just consumer spending and a housing market recovery (bubble?).

Slightly more surprisingly, the euro zone is back on the growth track too with some unexpectedly strong performances from Portugal and France in particular in the second quarter. Latest consumer morale data have been strong and as a result European Central Bank policymakers have begun downplaying thoughts of a further interest rate cut. However, it’s unlikely that all these countries will grow as strongly in the third quarter. Tuesday’s reading of German sentiment via the Ifo index will be key this week.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was Germany’s Wolfgang Schaeuble admitting what was widely known but hitherto unacknowledged – that Greece will need more financial help. The real shock was not the news but the source; the assumption had been that no one would whisper a word until the German elections are out of the way in four weeks’ time. Angela Merkel has been notably more circumspect about Greece than her finance minister.

Why is the Reserve Bank of India so quiet on the rupee?

 

When nobody’s listening, sometimes it pays to shout from the rooftops.

Based on the rupee’s daily pasting, the Reserve Bank of India might do well to look to the European Central Bank’s strong verbal defense of the euro just over a year ago.

In July last year ECB President Mario Draghi declared he would do “whatever it takes” to safeguard the euro’s existence.

That unexpectedly candid comment, uttered at a moment of rising market tension, wasn’t followed by concrete policy action. But markets took heed.

The other big question at Jackson Hole

It will be a tough one to avoid. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s absence from Jackson Hole is just one in a series of strong hints he will step down at the end of his second term in January. So, it is only natural that a lot of the talk on the sidelines of this year’s conference will inevitably revolve around the issue of his replacement.  

But there is another, potentially more important question that needs to be answered in the shadow of Wyoming’s majestic Grand Teton peaks: Why have top U.S. Fed officials, even dovish ones, become increasingly queasy about asset purchases despite falling inflation?

Thus far, policymakers have discussed the prospect of a reduction in the pace of their bond-buying stimulus in terms of an improvement in the economy and the prospect of an even brighter outlook toward year-end and in 2014. Yet the U.S. economy, while outpacing its even more anemic rich-nation counterparts, is hardly besieged by runaway growth of the sort that would normally lead central banks to tighten monetary policy. And by even talking about reducing bond buys, the Fed has helped push interest rates up more than a full percentage point, to a two year high, in just a few months.

Back when Yellen and Summers had the same boss

With all the back-and-forth in the Yellen versus Summers Fed chair showdown, it’s easy to forget that the two once played for the same team – the Clinton administration.

This incredible photo from the Reuters archive features many of the key players in U.S. economic policy over the last two decades, tracing the arch of the 1990s tech boom, the early 2000s housing surge and the financial crisis of 2008-2009. They include Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen, then advisor to Clinton, and Larry Summers, then Deputy Treasury Secretary. Both are now seen as leading candidates to replace Ben Bernanke as Fed chair next year.

Also pictured are Treasury Secretary and Citigroup magnate Robert Rubin; budget director and eventual Fannie Mae chief Franklin Raines; chief of staff Erskin Bowles, who became famous for the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan; national economic council director Gene Sperling, currently an advisor to President Barack Obama; and Jack Lew, current Treasury Secretary, who was the deputy director of the office of management and budget.

Time to taper the taper talk?

It’s been three months since the Federal Reserve first hinted that it’s going to have to ease off on its extraordinary monetary stimulus, but financial markets are still not settled on the matter.

But while volatility is on the rise – surely partly a result of thinned trading volumes during the peak summer vacation season – the consensus around when the Fed will start cutting back hasn’t budged.

That makes endless daily reports from traders linking that to the latest falls in asset prices, particularly U.S. Treasuries and non-U.S. share prices, not terribly convincing.

Dozens of professors tell Obama to pick Yellen over Summers at Fed

More than 30 law and economics professors sent President Barack Obama a letter on Monday urging him to choose Federal Reserve vice chair Janet Yellen to serve as the next Fed chairman instead of former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers.

The professors from schools such as Cornell University Law School, Tulane University Law School and Duke Law School praised Yellen’s years of experience as a central banker and said she warned as early as 2005 about the housing bubble. They echoed many of the same concerns that some Democratic Senators have expressed over Summers’ role in preventing derivatives from being regulated and breaking down the walls between investment and commercial banking.

“It is imperative that the person nominated as chair of the Fed was not instrumental in enabling excess and is someone who is perceived as willing to take necessary steps to help prevent future crises,” the letter says.