Category Archives: UK

7/6/17: European Policy Uncertainty: Still Above Pre-Crisis Averages

As noted in the previous post, covering the topic of continued mis-pricing by equity markets of policy uncertainties, much of the decline in the Global Economic Policy Uncertainty Index has been accounted for by a drop in European countries’ EPUIs. Here are some details:

In May 2017, EPU indices for France, Germany, Spain and the UK have dropped significantly, primarily on the news relating to French elections and the moderation in Brexit discussions (displaced, temporarily, by the domestic election). Further moderation was probably due to elevated level of news traffic relating to President Trump’s NATO visit. Italy’s index rose marginally.

Overall, European Index was down at 161.6 at the end of May, showing a significant drop from April 252.9 reading and down on cycle high of 393.0 recorded in November 2016. The index is now well below longer-term cycle trend line (chart below). 

However, latest drop is confirming overall extreme degree of uncertainty volatility over the last 18 months, and thus remains insufficient to reverse the upward trend in the ‘fourth’ regime period (chart below).

Despite post-election moderation, France continues to lead EPUI to the upside, while Germany and Italy remain two drivers of policy uncertainty moderation. This is confirmed by the period averages chart below:

Overall, levels of European policy uncertainty remain well-above pre-2009 averages, even following the latest index moderation.

12/4/17: European Economic Uncertainty Moderated in 1Q 2017

European Policy Uncertainty Index, an indicator of economic policy risks perception based on media references, has posted a significant moderation in the risk environment in the first quarter of 2017, falling from the 4Q 2016 average of 307.75 to 1Q 2017 average of 265.42, with the decline driven primarily by moderating uncertainty in the UK and Italy, against rising uncertainty in France and Spain. Germany's economic policy risks remained largely in line with 4Q 2016 readings. Despite the moderation, overall European policy uncertainty index in 1Q 2017 was still ahead of the levels recorded in 1Q 2016 (221.76).

  • German economic policy uncertainty index averaged 247.19 in 1Q 2017, up on 239.57 in 4Q 2016, but down on the 12-months peak of 331.78 in 3Q 2016. However, German economic uncertainty remained above 1Q 2016 level of 192.15.
  • Italian economic policy uncertainty index was running at 108.52 in 1Q 2017, down significantly from 157.31 reading in 4Q 2016 which also marked the peak for 12 months trailing period. Italian uncertainty index finished 1Q 2017 at virtually identical levels as in 1Q 2016 (106.92).
  • UK economic policy uncertainty index was down sharply at 411.04 in 1Q 2017 from 609.78 in 4Q 2016, with 3Q 2016 marking the local (12 months trailing) peak at 800.14. Nonetheless, in 1Q 2017, the UK index remained well above 1Q 2016 reading of 347.11.
  • French economic policy uncertainty rose sharply in 1Q 2017 to 454.65 from 371.16 in 4Q 2016. Latest quarterly average is the highest in the 12 months trailing period and is well above 273.05 reading for 1Q 2016.
  • Spain's economic policy uncertainty index moderated from 179.80 in 4Q 2016 to 137.78 in 1Q 2017, with the latest reading being the lowest over the five recent quarters. A year ago, the index stood at 209.12.

Despite some encouraging changes and some moderation, economic policy uncertainty remains highly elevated across the European economy as shown in the chart and highlighted in the chart below:
Of the Big 4 European economies, only Italy shows more recent trends consistent with decline in uncertainty relative to 2012-2015 period and this moderation is rather fragile. In every other big European economy, economic uncertainty is higher during 2016-present period than in any other period on record. 

13/7/16: Xenophobic Britain, Good Europe Mythology

You know the shrill of the deeply wounded 'Remain' supporters from the UK Referendum that did not go their way? Ah, yes: "Older Britain, that won, is xenophobic, racist, anti-migrant. And the young Britain, that lost, is the opposite of that."

Ok, there are stereotypes. And then there are stereotypes. The 'old Britain' that is allegedly such a terrible place is the one that built one of the most multicultural societies in the world. That's right: the young Britain was not even born when that happened.

But never mind history, here's the most current (1Q 2016) data on attitudes to multiculturalism from the not-so-pro-Brexit source, PewResearch:

By opposition to multi-ethnic society, the UK ranks 5th in the group of these countries, tied with on-so-progressively-liberal Germany, and better than core-European-values Italy and Holland, ahead of the beacon of European democracy Poland. By actual support for multi-ethnicity in society, the UK ranks third, ahead of all other European countries in the survey other than Sweden.

Of course, the U.S. leads all the countries in terms of support for multi-ethnic society. Not surprisingly.

Here's another interesting snapshot from the same study:

So if we are to look at the Left-Right gap, the UK is at the widest differential in opinions on diversity in Europe. But, and here is a major but, with 27% of Conservatives (Right) supporting diversity, it has the most 'liberal' Right in Europe after Sweden. Oh, and notice the little blow up for the 'xenophobic Republicans in the U.S.' meme - that too is absolute bullshit, since U.S. conservatives are more supportive of ethnic diversity liberal / Left Europeans except those in Sweden and the UK.

You can glimpse few more insights into the Pew survey here:

4/5/16: Canaries of Growth are Off to Disneyland of Debt

Kids and kiddies, the train has arrived. Next stop: that Disneyland of Financialized Growth Model where debt is free and debt is never too high…

Courtesy of Fitch:

Source: @soberlook

The above in the week when ECB’s balancehseet reached EUR3 trillion marker and the buying is still going on. And in the month when estimates for Japan’s debt/GDP ratio will hit 249.3% of GDP by year end

Source: IMF

And now we have big investors panicking about debt: So Stanley Druckenmiller, head of Duquesne Capital, thinks that “leverage is far too high, saying that central banks and China have allowed for these excesses to continue and it's setting us up for danger.”

What all of the above really is missing is one simple catalyst to tie it all together. That catalysts is the realisation that not only the Central Banks are to be blamed for ‘allowing the excesses of leverage’ to run amok, but that the entire economic policy space in the advanced economies - from the central banks to fiscal policy to financial regulation - has been one-track pony hell-bent on actively increasing leverage, not just allowing it.

Take Europe. In the EU, predominant source of funding for companies and entrepreneurs is debt - especially banks debt. And predominant source of funding for Government deficits is the banking and investment system. And in the EU everyone pays lip service to the need for less debt-fuelled growth. But, in the end, it is not the words, but the deeds that matter. So take EU’s Capital Markets Union - an idea that is centred on… debt. Here we have it: a policy directive that says ‘capital markets’ in the title and literally predominantly occupies itself with how the system of banks and bond markets can issue more debt and securitise more debt to issue yet more debt.

That Europe and the U.S. are not Japan is a legacy of past policies and institutions and a matter of the proverbial ‘yet’, given the path we are taking today.

So it’s Disneyland of Debt next, folks, where in a classic junkie-style we can get more loans and more assets and more loans backed by assets to buy more assets. Public, private, financial, financialised, instrumented, digitalised, intellectual, physical, dumb, smart, new economy, old economy, new normal, old normal etc etc etc. And in this world, stashing more cash into safes (as Japanese ‘investors’ are doing increasingly) or into banks vaults (as Munich Re and other insurers and pension funds have been doing increasingly) is now the latest form of insurance against the coming debt markets Disneyland-styled ‘investments’.