Sunday, 28 December 2008

Exchange Rates

This is a disappointing piece making the old comparisions - I'd say modestly fleshed out on this 'blog some time ago - about how exchange rate movements have altered the relative standing of the US, Eurozone and UK over the past four years. But we all know that when discussing dollar (or any other common currency) GDP you can talk about exchange rates, but when you start talking about 'living standards' you need to make a lot more explanations. This statement is clearly nonsense:

The Oxford Economics consultancy, which only a few months ago reported that Britain’s living standards had overtaken those in the United States,

It's disappointing because David Smith knows all of this more than just about anyone else around. And see post above.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

GDP confusion

By no means disastrous, but there is some confusion between growth and GDP and so on here.

The headline "UK growth shrinks to worst level since 1990" is not incorrect, but would be better written as "UK economy shrinks at fastest rate since 1990". The first paragaph reads:

Britain's economy shrank during the third quarter of the year for the first time since 1992 and endured the worst single quarter since 1990, it was revealed today.

One should be careful here. GDP in Q3 2008 was probably something like 40-50% higher than it was in in any quarter of 1990. So when saying it was the 'worst' quarter, the author means the rate of change was the worst since then. Although this is how these things are written about, they shouldn't really. If you earned £11,000 in 2004, £10,000 in 2005, £15,000 in 2006, £40,000 in 2007, and then £39,000 in 2008, you probably wouldn't declare 2008 your 'worst year since 2005', at least without some further explanation.

I think the Guardian covered it better.

Scary (and mostly wrong) statistics

Will return to this later, but a quick scan suggests the author hasn't understood most of the statistics contained within.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Sterling is sterling

Rather unfortunate article this one. You can see what they are trying to do - to note that in local currency UK aid now buys less real goods and services, or perhaps more relevantly, in most international currencies (as aid clearly goes to buying foreign goods, otherwise it's a bit pointless). But for some reason they decided the reader wouldn't understand it unless it was converted back into sterling, so we have the nonsensical suggestion that a fall in sterling means a sterling amount is equal to less in sterling.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Pound slips below euro... the Observer's headline, which is pretty poor stuff. The actual article adds 'on Britain's High Street', which should alert you that there's some smoke and mirrors going on here. Ah the tourist rate is below one euro! Well actually it's not even that impressive. It's the tourist rate when you take off the commission.

There's nothing wrong in noting that many tourists will essentially be getting 1 euro to 1 pound. But to dress it up as the actual exchange rate, which you normally quote, has fallen below that level, is silly. If one converted euros into pounds in Europe one would find the opposite.

Finally the article talks about euro entry, which I support, but makes no reference to, or asks the economists quoted, whether there is any viable prospect of Britain being allowed to join the euro at a rate of near 1 to 1. One issue that is rarely raised about the benefits of a floating currency is one benefit, the boost to domestic industry of a massive devaluation, is only available at any one time to one side of the exchange. For every winner a loser so to speak.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Confusing Guardian article on economies

Apparently due to the falling pound the UK will have a smaller economy than Italy in 2009 (and France) so say the CEBR (btw I've checked the numbers and they're right as long as the pound is around or below 1.1 euros). This is not a well written article, I'm afraid to say, as it doesn't make clear the rather artificial nature of currency-movements in judging economic size. Sometimes this might not matter, but as the article doesn't make this distinction clear, the last paragraph will seem rather odd to many readers:

Richard Snook, one of the authors of the report, said: "The UK economy is likely to be the hardest hit by the credit crunch due to its reliance on consumer borrowing and the financial sector for growth. We see the economy taking four-and-a-half years to return to the peak in the second quarter of 2008. Only the Italian economy, which is beset by structural weaknesses, is set to do worse."

Only the Italian economy will do worse? Eh? I thought it was doing better. The Times article is better, but not much.

Also the quote from the CEBR staff member:

Ben Read, managing economist at the CEBR, said: "The UK economy overtook both Italy and France in the 1990s. However, this position was based on an over-valued sterling and debt-fuelled growth; it is set to be reversed."

is also dubious. On a PPP basis the UK economy is quite a bit larger than Italy's, and whilst this might be due to an error in measuring PPP, if the CEBR staff member believes this it should be spelt out.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

House pricery

This is a strange article.

The sharp decline in the UK housing market is slowing after the Bank of England slashed interest rates by 1.5 per cent earlier this month. Figures from Nationwide, Britain’s biggest building society, show that the fall in annual house prices slowed to 13.9 per cent this month from 14.6 per cent in October. The fall is the smallest decline since house prices started falling in November 2007.

At no point does the journalist tell us what the fall in house prices was. Presumambly if the fall is the smallest decline since house prices started falling in November 2007 she means that the monthly decline (month-on-month) was the smallest, not that 13.9% is the smallest year-on-year decline.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

A lottery

A woman is selling her house via a lottery. She says:

Mrs Monaghan, from Walton-on-Thames, said: ' Everybody wins. The seller gets their asking price without the anxiety of waiting for an offer or estate agent costs, and also receives a donation to their favourite charity. 'The buyer gets a property at a fraction of its market value.'

But not everyone is a winner. 7,899 people who have paid £75 each are losers.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

"Texting reaches record levels"

A common error here, but again one that is probably the sub-editors' fault rather than the journalist. "Texting reaches record levels" is not incorrect, but it is utterly uninteresting, as the amount of texts is something that has been growing for years, and so every new period is essentially a record level.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Borrowing by the government

A simple headline error this one. It should read 'Borrowing expected to rise to £60bn' or 'Borrowing forecast to rise to £60bn', not 'Borrowing rises to £60bn' as if it had already happened.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Retail sales at lowest level since early 2006

Here's a classic press error which is not in the original Press Association story, so might be the Independent's fault. Retail sales are NOT at their 'lowest level since early 2006'. The rate of growth has fallen to its lowest level since 2006. In fact retail sales in September were 140.4, compared to a peak monthly level (on a seasonally adjusted basis) of 133.3 in 2006. That means they were 5.3% higher than the highest point in 2006.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Estate agents aren't selling just 1 house a week

Declares the Times. Bizarrely. I know things are bad, but it's not that bad.