High Levels of Canadian Debt Worry BoC

A senior Bank of Canada official says the central bank is looking at how the high levels of household and public debt could pose a challenge to how it manages monetary policy.

In a speech to the Manitoba Association for Business Economists, deputy governor Lawrence Schembri says high debt levels mean there is less space, on average, for more borrowing to stimulate demand.

The central bank is also looking at what the gradual decline in interest rates over the past 25 years and a reduction in the estimates of the “neutral interest rate” mean for the monetary policy framework.

Schembri says the trend rate of economic growth has been decreasing and that could also pose challenges because cyclical forces that normally help propel an economy out of an unexpected downturn may be less powerful.

The Bank of Canada sets its key interest rate target with the goal of keeping inflation at two per cent.

It has raised its target for the overnight rate three times in the past year after cutting it in response to a drop in oil prices. The benchmark rate, which influences the prime rates at Canada’s big banks, stands at 1.25 per cent.

via Financial Post

US Homebuilder Confidence Remains High in February

Tax cuts are still making homebuilders feel better, even as mortgage rates rise to the highest level in more than four years.

Builder confidence was unchanged in February from the prior month, remaining at 72 on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). Anything above 50 is considered positive sentiment.

The index is up from 65 in February 2017 and hit a cyclical high of 74 last December, just as the Republican tax cut plan was being passed.

“Builders are excited about the pro-business political climate that will strengthen the housing market and support overall economic growth,” said NAHB chairman Randy Noel, a custom home builder from LaPlace, LA.



“However, they need to manage supply-side construction hurdles, such as shortages of labor and lots and building material price increases,” he added.

Future sales expectations appear to be driving builder confidence. That component of the index rose to a post-recession high of 80, while the index measuring buyer traffic held steady at 54. Current sales conditions, however, fell one point to 78.

“With ongoing job creation, increasing owner-occupied household formation, and a tight supply of existing home inventory, the single-family housing sector should continue to strengthen at a gradual but consistent pace,” said NAHB chief cconomist Robert Dietz.

via CNBC

US 10 Year Yield Reaches Four Year High

U.S. government debt yields notched new highs Thursday amid of a slew of new economic data that provided more evidence of inflation pressure.

The yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury touched a fresh four-year high of 2.944 percent, above the levels which sparked a stock market sell-off in recent weeks. The 2-year Treasury yield hit a high of 2.213 percent, its highest level since September 2008, when the 2-year yielded as high as 2.217 percent.

The 5-year yield also hit a high, touching 2.687 percent, its highest level since April 2010 when the 5-year yielded as high as 2.702 percent.



The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note slipped from its highs to 2.904 percent at 9:23 a.m. ET, while the yield on the 30-year Treasury bond also off session highs at 3.148 percent. Bond yields move inversely to prices.

The rise comes amid inflation data, which showed that the producer price index (PPI) increased 0.4 percent last month, with core PPI — excluding volatile food and energy prices —also up 0.4 percent, according to the Labor Department.

via CNBC

Brexit Expected to Cause a Recession in the UK

A majority of private equity executives and distressed debt investors are expecting a recession to hit the U.K. economy in the next two years, according to a new report.

The country’s decision to leave the European Union is cited as the main reason that there could be an economic downturn.

“It looks like the British economy is already suffering its effect with higher inflation, lower consumer spending, in particular around the Christmas trading period, and growth rates well below other developed economies,” Carlo Bosco, managing director of Greenhill investment bank, said in the European Distressed Debt Market Outlook 2018 report, released by analysis firm Debtwire Wednesday.



56 percent of private equity executives and 57 percent of distressed debt investors said they expect a recession — defined as two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth — in the next two years. Most of the respondents predicted the recession will hit in 2018 rather than in 2019.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned Wednesday that the U.K. needs to find ways to make its economy more efficient and that Brexit had already begun hurting the economy.

“Higher prices, caused by a weaker pound, have limited increases in people’s spending, and uncertainty about the future relationship with the EU has kept some business investments on hold,” the IMF said in its annual report on the British economy.

via CNBC

Cyril Ramaphosa Sworn in as South Africa’s New President

African National Congress (ANC) leader Cyril Ramaphosa has been sworn in as South Africa’s new president, following his predecessor Jacob Zuma’s departure Wednesday night after a long power struggle.

Ramaphosa, 65, was formerly Zuma’s deputy president. He was elected leader of the ruling ANC in December, narrowly defeating Zuma’s chosen candidate, his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.



The new president’s resume includes both politics and business. Ramaphosa is one of South Africa’s richest men, with an estimated net worth of $450 million.

A lawyer by profession from Soweto, Ramaphosa was detained for anti-apartheid activism twice during the 1970s. He launched South Africa’s most powerful trade union, the National Union of Mineworkers, in 1982.

Ramaphosa served as the ANC’s chief negotiator ahead of South Africa’s transition to democracy, and chairman of the committee which facilitated former President Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990.

via CNBC

New German Government Could End Anti Stimulus Bias

Germany could break away from years of fiscal discipline and become less of an economic example, amid plans by its new government to increase spending, analysts told CNBC.

The largest euro zone economy has accustomed the world to running budget surpluses — when income or receipts overcome expenditures — or even small deficits compared to the rest of the region. Data released in January showed that Germany’s public sector hit a record surplus of 3.4 billion euros ($4.24 billion) in 2017, indicating that the government has room to step up spending.

However, analysts are concerned that increasing spending, which the new government aims to do by 48 billion euros, could be detrimental in the eventuality of economic shocks.



“As long as the German economy continues to grow at such strong rates and I expect this to continue for two to three years, I do not expect a deficit,” Joerg Kraemer, chief economist at Commerzbank, said Wednesday. “However, if something happens, and growth slows down, then we are quickly back in deficit territory as a new government will spend all the extra tax revenues for consumption.”

The last time Germany ran up a deficit, defined as the amount by which expenses or costs exceed income or revenues, was in 2013 by 0.1 percent of gross domestic product.

According to Commerzbank, the coalition deal between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Socialist Democrats (SDP) will prove “costly.” With a more relaxed approach to spending, should an economic shock occur, which could include a market sell-off and changes in monetary policy, Germany could be in trouble, the bank said.

via CNBC

US/German Bond Yield Gap Hits 10-month high

The gap between German and U.S. 10-year borrowing costs reached its widest point since April 2017 on Thursday after a higher-than-expected inflation print in the United States led to a sharp sell-off in U.S. Treasuries.

While investors also shed European government bonds on the data – bond markets in the world’s major developed economies tend to track each other as many investors switch between them – political risks kept a cap on yields.

The yield on 10-year U.S. Treasuries, which moves inversely to price, touched a fresh four-year high of 2.94 percent in European trade, after data on Wednesday showed consumer prices rose more than expected in the world’s largest economy in January.

This raises the pressure on new Federal Reserve chief Jerome Powell to prevent a possible overheating of the economy.

“The inflation data weighed on the U.S. Treasury market, and now you will have fiscal stimulus when the economy is running at full employment,” said Commerzbank strategist Michael Leister, referring to U.S. President Donald Trump’s $200 billion infrastructure spending plan.

“But in Europe the risks have become a bit more balanced and there’s still some demand for Bunds,” he said.

Though European bond yields have risen sharply since the start of December, this move has lost some steam as concerns around German coalition talks and an upcoming Italian election renewed the bid for “safe haven” bonds.

In addition, while most expect the European Central Bank to reduce extraordinary stimulus sooner rather than later, rate hikes are still a good distance away with a booming European economy yet to leave a lasting mark on inflation.

But while German 10-year government bond yields also rose after the release of the U.S. consumer price data – they were 3 basis points higher at 0.78 percent on Thursday – this was still below the recent 2-1/2 year high of 0.81 percent.

The “transatlantic spread” between U.S. and German 10-year government bond yields opened Thursday at 216 basis points, a level last seen ten months ago.

Most other euro zone government bond yields were also higher by 3-4 bps, partly driven upwards by large bond sales by Spain and France on the day.

AUCTION STATIONS

The move towards higher yields across the euro zone has certainly boosted demand in some quarters, and this was on display on the French and Spanish auctions on Thursday.

France in particular was swamped with demand as investors put in enough orders to cover an 8 billion euro sale of bonds twice over, while Spain also generated strong demand, particularly for its shorter-dated debt.

“I have been watching to see at what point these positive yields on semi-core bonds start attracting international investors, and so for me this France result looks pretty interesting,” said Mizuho strategist Antoine Bouvet.

Spain’s bond auction result was also positive, especially given that Italy and Portugal have already conducted sales this week, he added.

Reuters

U.S Producer Prices Rise in January

U.S. producer prices accelerated in January, boosted by strong gains in the cost of gasoline and healthcare, offering more evidence that inflation pressures were building up.

The report came on the heels of data on Wednesday showing a broad increase in consumer prices in January. The Labor Department said on Thursday its producer price index for final demand rose 0.4 percent last month after being unchanged in December.

In the 12 months through January, the PPI rose 2.7 percent after advancing 2.6 percent in December. A key gauge of underlying producer price pressures that excludes food, energy and trade services jumped 0.4 percent last month. The so-called core PPI edged up 0.1 percent in December.

It rose 2.5 percent in the 12 months through January, the largest increase since August 2014. The core PPI increased 2.3 percent in the 12 months through December.

The PPI report bolsters expectations that inflation will gain steam this year even though its correlation with consumer prices has weakened.

Economists believe that a tightening labor market, weak dollar and fiscal stimulus in the form of a $1.5 trillion tax cut package and increased government spending will lift inflation toward the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent target this year.

The U.S. central bank’s preferred inflation measure, the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index excluding food and energy, has undershot its target since May 2012.

U.S. financial markets were little moved by the data.

The Fed has forecast three interest rate increases this year, with the first hike expected in March. Most economists are, however, forecasting four rate increases this year because of rising inflation pressures.

FOOD PRICES FALL

Last month, the cost of hospital outpatient care surged 1.0 percent, the largest increase since August 2014, after gaining 0.1 percent in December.

Hospital inpatient care rose 0.3 percent. Overall, the cost of healthcare services shot up 0.7 percent in January. Those costs feed into the core PCE price index.

Wholesale goods prices increased 0.7 percent last month, after nudging up 0.1 percent in December. Gasoline prices, which rose 7.1 percent, accounted for nearly half of the increase in the cost of goods last month.

Wholesale food prices fell for a second straight month, with prices for prepared poultry posting their biggest drop in 14 years and chicken eggs declining by the most since December 2015. Core goods prices rose 0.2 percent for the second consecutive month.

Reuters

US weekly jobless claims rebound from near 45-year lows

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rebounded from a nearly 45-year low last week, but remained below a level that is associated with a tightening labor market.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 7,000 to a seasonally adjusted 230,000 for the week ended Feb. 10, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims for the prior week were revised to show 2,000 more applications received than previously reported.

Claims fell to 216,000 in mid-January, which was the lowest level since January 1973. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 230,000 in the latest week.

Last week marked the 154th straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a strong labor market. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was much smaller.

The labor market is near full employment, with the jobless rate at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent. The tighter labor market is starting to exert upward pressure on wage growth, which will over time add to inflation pressures.

The Labor Department said claims for Maine were estimated last week. It also said claims-taking procedures in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands had still not returned to normal, months after the territories were slammed by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Last week, the four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 3,500 to 228,500.

The claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 15,000 to 1.94 million in the week ended Feb. 3. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims fell 5,750 to 1.94 million.

CNBC.com

Ramaphosa elected president of South Africa

Cyril Ramaphosa was elected as South Africa’s president in a parliamentary vote on Thursday after scandal-ridden Jacob Zuma reluctantly resigned on orders from the ruling African National Congress.

South Africa’s main stock market index jumped nearly 4 percent, putting it on track for its biggest one-day gain in more than two years as investors welcomed Zuma’s resignation after nine years in office plagued by corruption allegations.

Reuters