Thursday, 7 March 2013

The S&P 500 Cyclically Adjusted PE (aka S&P 500 or Shiller PE10 or CAPE) – March 2013 Update

With the mainstream media this week reporting new nominal highs for the Dow Jones Industrial Average lets also run our own regular analysis of the US market to get some detail on what is really going on in this market.   As always instead of the Dow, which only looks at 30 large companies, we’ll turn our attention to the S&P500 which looks at 500 leading public companies.  Last month’s update can be found here.

Before we crunch the numbers it’s worth pointing out that while titles like Asian markets climb after Dow Jones hits record high make for great headlines, I can’t help but feel that this is misleading the general public as they might actually think that the market is at new highs.  Of course regular readers will know that Dow isn’t at a new Real (inflation adjusted) high, but only at Nominal highs, as the unit of measure that the Dow and S&P500 is measured in, the US Dollar, is constantly being devalued through inflation.  When it comes to the S&P500, the Real high was way back in 2000 and we are still some 22.5% below that level.  

Let’s now look at the key S&P 500 metrics:
  • The S&P 500 Price is currently 1,543 which is a rise of 2.0% on last month’s Price of 1,512 and 11.1% above this time last year’s monthly Price of 1,389.
  • The S&P 500 Dividend Yield is currently 2.0%.
  • The S&P As Reported Earnings (using a combination of actual and estimated earnings) are currently $89.63 for an Earnings Yield of 5.8%.
  • The S&P 500 P/E Ratio is currently 17.2 which is up from last month’s 17.0.

The first chart below provides a historic view of the Real (inflation adjusted) S&P 500 Price and the S&P 500 P/E.  The second chart below provides a historic view of the Real (after inflation) Earnings and Real (after inflation) Dividends for the S&P 500.

Chart of the S&P500 Cyclically Adjusted PE, S&P500 PE and Real S&P500
Click to enlarge

Sunday, 3 March 2013

UK Mortgage Interest Rates – March 2013 Update

This is the regular UK mortgage interest update for March 2013.  The headline for this month is that the UK Government / Bank of England market manipulation scheme known as the Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS) is working.  Last month’s update can be found here.

Let’s firstly look at the raw data.  The Bank of England publishes a number of datasets on this topic and I have picked 5 which cover the more common mortgage types available today.  They are the sterling monthly mortgage interest rate of UK monetary financial institutions (excluding Central Bank) covering:
  • Standard Variable Rate (SVR) mortgages.  These continue to rise.  Today they sit at 4.4%, up 0.03% month on month and 0.22% year on year.
  • Lifetime Tracker mortgages.  These also continue to rise.  Currently they are 3.68% which is a monthly increase of 0.04% and a yearly increase of 0.11%.
  • 2, 3 and 5 Year Fixed Rate Mortgages with a 75% loan to value ratio (LTV) on the other hand are falling significantly.  These are the mortgages you would expect to be affected by the Funding for Lending Scheme.  This is because the Scheme is “theoretically” only available for a limited period.  (As a reminder the scheme started on the 01 August.  From this date Banks and Building Societies have access to the scheme for 18 months with the scheme allowing borrowing for a period of up to 4 years.)  Today we see these mortgages at 3.06% (down 0.29% on the month, 0.21% on the year), 3.41% (down 0.26% on the month, 0.36% on the year) and 3.65% (down 0.24% on the month, 0.53% on the year) respectively.  Since the scheme started the falls are 0.63%, 0.60% and 0.46% respectively.
A history of these mortgage rates can be seen in the chart below which also shows the announcement dates of some of the well known schemes that have had a large effect on the market, namely a Bank of England Bank Rate of 0.5%, 4 tranches of Quantitative Easing and Funding for Lending.

UK Standard Variable Rate Mortgages, Lifetime Tracker Mortgages and Fixed Rate Mortgages
Click to enlarge

What this all means is that today an average 2 year fixed mortgage can be had for a real (inflation adjusted) rate of -0.22%.  Yes you read that right.  Mortgage rates in real terms are negative.  3 and 5 year real rates are also negligible at 0.13% and 0.37% respectively.  The question is how much lower can they drive rates in nominal terms?  I can’t see it being much further given that the Bank of England want and will do everything they can to engineer inflation.  Tracking these rates for the next few months will give us a good steer.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Debt – Instant Gratification vs Long Term Wealth Creation

The Free Dictionary defines debt as an “obligation or liability to pay or render something to someone else”.  In the context of Personal Finance I have a different definition of debt which is that it is a “decision to consume now without the necessary wealth to pay for that consumption.  Should interest be charged on that consumption and opportunity cost considered then the consumption now will likely be smaller than would have been possible should the wealth have first been created.”

If this was the official definition of debt it would then be obvious to people that by using debt you are likely getting less now than you could have had later in exchange for taking instant gratification today.  This therefore affects your opportunity to create wealth.  I do not believe that the majority of people appreciate this when they go into debt to buy something.  My definition also tells you this is for 2 reasons:

1.    Interest charges.  Buy it now without the means to pay for it up front and the end result is that each loan repayment being made to repay the debt is going to include a principle portion, which will eventually cover the original purchase price, plus an interest charge.  If you instead chose to save what would have been the regular repayment amount until you have saved up enough to pay cash then two phenomenon occur:
  • You will save the amount needed for the purchase faster than the equivalent loan will be repaid because what would have been the interest portion is adding to your savings. 
  • If you saved until what would have been the last loan repayment day then you will end up with more cash than the original purchase price, again because of the interest portion.
2.    Opportunity Cost.  This is rarely if ever discussed when people discuss debt but it should be considered as its effect can be considerable.  If you don’t make the purchase or defer the purchase then the money you would have used to fund the debt repayment can be invested to generate a return for you elsewhere.

It’s important to note that these statements are based on the assumption that the purchase does not rise in price at a rate higher than the interest charge.  If this was the case then you would also have to include the opportunity cost (including considering the risk of that other opportunity) of deploying the debt repayment s elsewhere.  If after this calculation the price was still rising at a faster rate then the debt may actually help with wealth creation while also giving instant gratification.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Has the UK Already Had Its House Price Crash?

Every month I run an analysis which looks at the Affordability and Value of UK Property.  This analysis uses the Nationwide House Price Index which measures the price of a standard house priced in Pound Sterling (£’s). 

In the current world we live there is one big problem with this Index and in fact all the other UK House Price Indices.  All of them are priced in Pound Sterling which is not a fixed peg in the ground for many reasons some of which include:
  • We live in a globalised world however only 0.9% of the World’s population use the £ as their currency;
  • The UK Government, Bank of England, Banks and many other vested interests have done everything in their power to keep asset prices in the UK high at the expense of just about everything else.  They’ve been relatively successful so far using methods such £375 billion of Quantitative Easing, 0.5% Official Bank Rates and the Funding for Lending Scheme.  This has allowed inflation to run a little at the expense of an official remit and led to negative real interest rates which among other things has resulted in Sterling falling in value against the currencies that 99.1% of the world use; and
  • The UK for all its problems is compared to the rest of the World a very attractive place to live and unlike a lot of countries actually has a Rule of Law.  It’s not perfect but as a person who has travelled the world for my work I ask where is.  This means a lot of people want to migrate and live here.

My first chart reminds us of the price of housing priced in Sterling.  If you’re a UK resident earning in Sterling, saving in Sterling and investing in Sterling this is what you’ll see.  Since the peak prices in nominal terms have fallen 12.8%.  Hardly a House Price Crash, more a small adjustment.

UK Housing Priced in Pound Sterling

Click to enlarge

What about Prices measured in the most widely held Reserve Currency, the US Dollar?  Measured in this currency we see UK house prices down 33.7%.

UK Housing Priced in US Dollars
Click to enlarge

Saturday, 23 February 2013

UK Average Weekly Earnings – February 2013 Update

Over the past couple of weeks the mainstream media seem to finally have discovered that in real inflation adjusted terms average earnings are falling and that this is putting a squeeze on household finances.  They’re a little behind the curve given we’ve been talking about it here since April 2010 with the last regular update here.  This doesn’t really surprise me given that the Press today rarely published any investigative journalism instead choosing to publish whatever press release a political party or corporation is trying to push that day.  I guess it keeps running costs down but I digress...  Let’s not follow the same path and instead run some analysis to understand what is really going on.

Let’s firstly look at the nominal data. The Office for National Statistics reports that the Average Weekly Earnings for:
  • The Whole Economy including bonuses and allowing for seasonal adjustment is £472.  This is stagnant against last month and up £6 (1.3%) year on year.
  • The Private Sector earns less than the average Whole Economy at £468 per week.  Private Sector Earnings have also gone nowhere since last month and are also up £6 (1.3%) year on year.
  • The Public Sector earns more than the Private Sector at £489 per week and is also doing better when it comes to securing pay rises.  Month on month we see an increase of £1 (0.2%) and year on year an increase of £10 (2.1%).  Given that we are supposedly living in times of austerity, albeit a version where the government spends more than they did in the prior year, I’m amazed that the Public Sector is seeing year on year increases that are more than 50% higher than that of the Private Sector.

Unfortunately, while we were seeing those nominal annual increases of 1.3%, 1.3% and 2.1% respectively inflation according to the Retail Prices Index (RPI) was 3.1% during the same period.  This means that whether you are working in the Private or Public Sector it is likely you are taking a real terms pay cut. I know I am.  At my company’s last pay review I received a grand total increase of £0.  Meanwhile I know that essential items that I buy are increasing in price.  I’m continuing to learn frugal habits but I’m also sure that prices rising combined with stagnant earnings is putting pressure on my savings rate which at last check was only 55% of gross earnings against a target of 60%.  I’m working hard to find spending savings to get that back on track but given I’ve been at it since 2007 there is not a lot more to find. 

The long term erosion of spending power can be best seen with a couple of charts.  The first chart takes the RPI and Average Weekly Earnings and then converts them into an Index that starts in 2000 with a value of 100.  Whenever the gap between Earnings and the RPI is increasing earnings power is increasing.  The chart shows this stopped happening around 2008 meaning we have been seeing spending power erosion since then.  Today the spending power of the whole economy is back to levels last seen in May 2001.

Index of UK Whole Economy, Private Sector and Public Sector Average Weekly Earnings vs Retail Prices Index (RPI)

Click to enlarge