The UK economy is paying the price for the severe imbalance in its economy with the over-emphasis on the financial sector at the expense of the manufacturing. The UK hasn’t recovered from the 2008 Global Financial Crisis with real income per person only increasing 0.2% since its peak in 2007 – this is less than the per person increase in Japan during its lost decades of 1990’s and 2000’s.
What is alarming is that since the GFC the Pound has depreciated by around 30% make UK exports more competitive and imports more expensive. Within most countries a depreciation of this magnitude would give a huge boost to manufacturing sector but in the UK the impact was minimal which is indicative of the state of the sector itself. It is the poor performance of manufacturing that has seen UK’s deficit grow to 5.2% of GDP in 2015.
Although the UK is the 8th largest producer by output value but if you look at the per head output and % of national output it is much further down the pecking order – see table. Also of note is that the UK’s manufacturing output as a % of national output has dropped from 27% in 1970 to 10% in 2013. Although some have tried to play down the role manufacturing sector there has been a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of manufacturing in economic prosperity.
1. Manufacturing is the main source of productivity growth and economic prosperity – machines and chemical processes raise productivity. Also most R&D is carried out in this sector so recent increases in the service sector came about by using more advanced units in the manufacturing sector. This includes fibre-optic cables, routers, more fuel efficient cars, GPS recorders etc.
2. Many knowledge based industries have been around for a number of years – they include research, engineering etc. The vast majority of them used to be conducted by manufacturing firms and have become more visible as they have been ‘spun off’ or ‘outsourced’. Changes in a firm’s organization should not be confused with changes in the nature of economic activities.
It is important to note that the majority of this knowledge-intensive services sell to manufacturing firms, therefore their success is dependent on the state manufacturing sector.
Reversing three and a half decades of neglect will not be easy but, unless the country provides its industrial sector with more capital, stronger public support for R&D and better-trained workers, it will not be able to build the balanced and sustainable economy that it so desperately needs.
Source: The Guardian
National income figures, usually GDP at factor cost, are the man figures used to compare living standards. This is because most countries keep and publish detailed national income data.
However, care has to be taken in using national income figures to compare living standards both over time and between countries. It is important to use GDP at constant prices (i.e. real national income) so that a misleading impression is not given because of the effects of inflation. It is also important to take into account differences in population size. A country with a large population is likely to produce more than a country with a small population. However, this output has to be shared out among more people so living standards are not necessarily higher. This is why economist divide output by population and compare real GDP per capita. Even when adjustments have been made for inflation and differences in population size, national income figures as a measure of living standards have to be interpreted cautiously.
A rise in real GDP per capital may have resulted from an increase in the output of capital goods. In the longer run this will increase productive capacity and result in more consumer goods being produced. However, in the short run people may not feel any benefit from more capital goods being made. An increase in weapons will also increase GDP but, again, may not necessarily improve living standards. If more police are employed and crime is reduced, the quality of people’s lives will be improved. However, if more police are employed to keep pace with rising crime, people will be feeling worse off. So economists have to look not only at the amount of goods and services produced but also at the composition of those goods and why the quantity has changed. In addition, the quality of goods and services produced should be examined. The same quantity could be produced this year as last year or five years ago but if the quality of the output has risen, living standards will have improved.
The distribution of income also has to be taken into account. National income may rise but if it is concentrated in the hands of a few, the living standards of the majority may not rise. See graph below from The Economist showing the Gini coefficient of income inequality.
National income figures also fail to take into account some items which affect the quality of people’s lives. A certain amount of economic activity is not declared, either to avoid paying taxes or because it is illegal. If there is an increase in, say, people providing home hairdressing services but not declaring them, people’s living standards may rise, although this increase will not be reflected in the official figures.
Differences in working hours and working conditions are also not taken into account. If output remains constant but working hours fall, people are likely to have a higher quality of life.
National income figures only take into account economic activities for which a payment is made. They do not take into account externalities and non-marketed activities. So, for example, an increase in pollution will reduce living standards while an increase in people decorating the homes of old people, on a voluntary basis, will improve the quality of life of the elderly. Neither of these will be recorded in national income figures.
All of these factors have to be taken into account in using national income figures to make comparisons both over time and between countries. However, some additional factors have to be considered when making international comparisons. Different statistical methods are employed in some countries and the degree of accuracy can vary. Tastes and needs can be different in different countries. For example, people living in a cold climate have to spend more on heating than those in warm countries, merely to enjoy the same standard of living. There is also the problem of selecting a rate of exchange to make the comparison. Exchange rate fluctuate and do not always reflect relative prices in compared using purchasing power parities which compare the cost of a given basket of goods in different countries.
Recently The Economist wrote a piece on the port of Rotterdam as a global indicator. The port has been heralded as the instant indicator of the state of the global economy. In 2014 it handled 446m tonnes of cargo which was double the amount in Antwerp Europe’s second largest port. So why is Rotterdam such a prevalent indicator? Well the trends that are transforming the port include those that are rapidly growing in the global economy – e.g. automation and the reduction of fossil fuels.
The port has evolved and kept up with new ideas and before the post-war boom Rotterdam built new storage facilities for oil and chemicals. Furthermore, with the onset of globalisation the port started to accepts mega-ships bringing sneakers and flat screen TVs from Asia to Europe. Activity in the port bears witness to four trends in the world economy:
- The low price of oil
- Slow growth in China and Emerging markets
- The sluggish euro-area recovery
- The global slowdown in manufacturing and trade.
Rotterdam’s vast storage tanks (see photo below) quickly filled, as traders bought cheap crude on the spot market and sold futures at a higher price, locking in a profit. The slow down in China has led to the appearance of Chinese ships offloading surplus steel as demand for German cars in China has dropped which means less demand for steel. Therefore the drop in shipments of bulk goods arriving in Rotterdam is a result of this threatening cycle.
Global trade has been falling for the last few years (down by approximately 14% in 2015) and has been less than global growth (usually the other way around). The port of Rotterdam has been felt this pinch as one in four containers originates form China. Although the volume of goods in the port has increased by 4.9% in 2015 it was almost entirely due to the increased trade in oil and oil products as container volumes dropped by 1.1% and agricultural bulk by 3.8%. As the production of oil becomes concentrated in fewer countries there will be the requirement of shipping oil as well as storing it which will add to the activity of Rotterdam.
Another indicator that is prevalent in Rotterdam is automation. A lot of the work usually carried out by labour has been replaced by automated guided vehicles (AGV’s). The cranes lift the containers onto these vehicles who then deliver them to stacks to be distributed by truck train or barge. Furthermore these new technologies are powered by electricity as solar panels and an increasing number of windmills provide much of the power the port consumes.
The Economist ‘Free exchange’ had a piece on productivity and how it has been rather stagnant in the rich countries. Since the 1960’s rates have dropped (except for Japan in 1970’s) and economist are suggesting that this has contributed to such low wage increases. Explanations for this problem fall into three categories:
1. Robert Gordon (Northwestern University) suggest that humanity has run out of big ideas. Inventions of the early19th and 20th centuries (electricity, indoor plumbing etc) have had a much greater impact on productivity than those of recent technological advances. However it was software and computing power that was the driver behind the productivity boom of the late 1990’s. Productivity growth has also slowed in developing countries (Mexico and Turkey) which should be able to achieve greater output per worker with using technology.
2. Some have suggested that the problem lies in the way productivity is measured as statistical agencies sometime fail to include things like the massive reduction in the cost of digital media (free in most cases) subtracts from measured GDP – smartphones greatly improve productivity but are not captured by the statisticians. But the loss of productivity is far more than the estimates of the unmeasured gains from information technology. A ball park figure (Chad Syverson – University of Chicago) has the US economy losing $2.7 trillion in lost output since 2004 which equates to about $8,400 per person.
3. A further explanation is that inflexible developed economies are not efficient at moving people out of areas where there is no work to areas of growth. Business start-ups have fallen steadily since the late 1980’s. High growth companies have not expanded to other areas and have also preferred to bank profits rather than taking the option of reinvestment. An issue could be that if it was easier and cheaper to locate in depressed areas employment would rise.
Machines or Labour in low paid jobs.
In order to boost productivity companies need more financial support for research and development and a reduction in government regulations – red tape. However low pay does allow companies to employ more people in marginal jobs as in some cases the cost of labour is less than the investment needed to introduce automation – checkouts in supermarkets for instance. But the abundance of cheap labour has led to firms to use that labour in less productive manner which leads to underemployment.
Living in a rural area you tend to get a lot of free newspapers with a agricultural bent. Skimming the pages of NZ Farmer (March 28 2016) I came across a very informative article by Keith Woodford about European farmers expanding their value-add dairy production and its impact on New Zealand.
Up to April 2015 European farmers were protected by production quotas and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which provided large production subsidies which led to over-production. At the outset of the EU, one of the main objectives was the system of intervention in agricultural markets and protection of the farming sector.
An intervention price is the price at which the CAP would be ready to come into the market and to buy the surpluses, thus preventing the price from falling below the intervention price. This is illustrated opposite. Here the European supply of lamb drives the price down to the equilibrium 0Pfm – the free market price, where supply and demand curves intersect and quantity demanded and quantity supplied equal 0Qm. However, the intervention price (0Pint) is located above the equilibrium and it has the following effects:
1. It encourages an increase in European production. Consequently, output is raised to 0Qs1.
2. At intervention price, there is a production surplus equal to the horizontal distance AB which is the excess of supply above demand at the intervention price.
3. In buying the surplus, the intervention agency incurs costs equal to the area ABCD. It will then incur the cost of storing the surplus or of destroying it.
4. There is a contraction in domestic consumption to 0Qd1
Consumers pay a higher price to the extent that the intervention price exceeds the notional free market price.
Production quotas in Europe were eliminated in April 2015 and from April to November European milk production increased by 4% with a 6% increase in December from the previous year. However, as with the reduction in subsidies in New Zealand in 1984, they will be a lot of pain for European farmers as their ‘safety net’ has now been taken away.
The Europeans are producing as much cheese, butter, infant formula and cream as they can, with cheese being more important than liquid milk. The Europeans are also selling increasing quantities of UHT and infant formula to China. With both products, they are out-marketing New Zealand.
Chinese infant formula statistics for 2015 show European countries with 78 per cent market share of imported product, compared to New Zealand at 8 per cent.
#1 – Holland – 34%
#2 – Ireland – 15%
The Europeans would like to decrease their production skim milk powder (SMP), but with butter and cream being profitable, they keep producing the SMP as a by-product. However, the European production of whole milk powder (WMP) has been drifting down in response to low prices.
The European producers have protection from some of the Global Dairy Auction process through their reliance on value-add products. Also, apart from Ireland, all European dairy systems are 12-month-a-year production systems. These 12 month production systems can lead to higher production costs, but they also lead to lower processing costs through better utilisation of processing infrastructure. This then feeds back into higher farm-gate prices.
The Europeans have been putting limited quantities of skim milk powder (SMP) into what are called intervention stocks. At the end of January 2016, there were about 50,000 tonnes of SMP in a public intervention store. The intervention quantities could reach a new limit of 218,000 tonnes over coming months. The main benefit of the SMP intervention is a smoothing of commodity prices. So if the price is too high stocks are released into the market and when they are too low authorities buy stock in order to reduce supply and therefore increase the price to a specific level.
European Farmers and the future
There is a good chance that in the longer term European milk production will further increase, as some farms become bigger and fewer in number. Poland has become one of the largest milk producers in the EU become a major milk producer with its flat terrain, very fertile soil, low feed and labour costs. Furthermore compared to other EU members it doesn’t have the pressure on land for residential use. Since joining the EU in 2004, the informal dairy sector is also still considerable in Poland, but the 2015 quota lift has seen these farms absorbed into the formal sector which in turn are expected to expand quickly without quota impediments.
For this longer term, the Europeans are not going to try and compete with New Zealand with WMP. Europeans regard WMP as an outlet for product with no other immediate use. And they know that, in low-priced volatile commodity markets for long-life products, they lack competitive advantage relative to New Zealand.
There is growing anxiety that policymakers in the developed world will need to consider some radical approaches to tackling the next downturn. Quantitative easing (the buying of government bonds using the money of the central bank) is limited and with interest rates already a record lows a further drop is unlikely to stimulate much more aggregate demand. Fiscal policy could be employed – tax cuts and increases in government spending. However the issue here is how much fiscal stimulus can government’s afford with the debt they already have? See table
Government policy in recent years has done little to improve the economic climate. Although there has been many rounds of quantitative easing the productivity of those in work has been poor leading to lethargic growth levels. This ultimately limits real wage growth and tax revenue to reduce government debt levels. Economies are now doomed to many years of weaker growth with lackluster demand which will mean more radical policies outside the square. Some policy options could be:
Fusing Monetary and Fiscal Policy
An option discussed in The Economist was to finance public spending and the tax cuts by printing more money. This could be more effective than Quantitive Easing (QE) as the money now bypasses the banking system and goes straight into the pockets of the consumers. This would hopefully encourage consumers to spend money straight away instead of going through the process of borrowing money from the bank as is the case with QE.
Incomes Policy – wage-price spiral
The aim of an incomes policy in the 1960’s and 70’s was to link the growth of incomes to the productivity so as to prevent the excessive rises in factor incomes which raise costs and hence prices. However the idea here is to generate higher incomes at all levels by using tax incentives and to encourage a wage-price spiral. This seems bizarre in the context of the 1970’s as this is what governments were trying to solve.
Capital spending on infrastructure is seen as a much more effective tool to stimulate growth than tax cuts. Unlike tax cuts, capital spending goes directly into the circular flow and it attracts complementary spending elsewhere in the economy more than any other intervention. It is estimated that a third of roads in the USA are in a poor state and over 10% of its bridges are not structurally sound. However although it might sound a good idea, infrastructure spending can be wasteful as even many years of capital spending in Japan hasn’t had the desired effect of boosting the economy.
Where to from here?
The problem, then, is not that the world has run out of policy options. Politicians have known all along that they can make a difference, but they are weak and too quarrelsome to act. America’s political establishment is riven; Japan’s politicians are too timid to confront lobbies; and the euro area seems institutionally incapable of uniting around new policies.
Source: The Economist – 20th February 2016
While milk production in New Zealand is lower this summer the global milk supply over the last year is strong with a 2.2% growth in Europe and 1.2% in the USA. This strong supply growth and the reduction in demand from China has led to downward pressure on prices.
New Zealand Federated Farmers Dairy chairman Andrew Hoggard said the disappointingly weak GDT result would put more pressure on Fonterra’s “poor” forecast payout of $4.60 a kilogram of milksolids.
“With another poor result I expect various people might try to jump on the bandwagon and try to the lay the blame somewhere, this is simply economics 101, supply is too high and demand is weak. … If we want to look at anything to blame, then the answer lies offshore with subsidised production in other countries hiding economic realities from farmers offshore who keep increasing production despite the market telling them the opposite.”
These prices are generated by the GlobalDairyTrade which is an auction platform for internationally traded commodity dairy products. How does it work?
GlobalDairyTrade trading events are conducted as ascending-price clock auctions run over several bidding rounds. In each auction a specified maximum quantity of each product is offered for sale at a pre-announced starting price. Bidders bid the quantity of each product that they wish to purchase at the announced price. If the price of a product increases between rounds, to ensure their desired quantity a bidder must bid their desired quantity at the new, higher price. Generally, as the price of a product increases, the quantity of bids received for that product decreases. The trading event runs over several rounds with the prices increasing round to round until the quantity of bids received for each product on offer matches the quantity on offer for the product (as shown in the diagram below). Each trading event typically lasts approximately 2 hours.
Bidders cannot join a trading event part way through: they must participate in round 1 and can only maintain or decrease their total bid quantities from that point. Products can be purchased over different delivery time periods, known as contract periods.
Click below for more information.