What’s going on in the UK economy?

Trying to understand what is going on in an economy can be difficult. Running the economy has been described as similar to trying to drive a car while only being able to look in the rear-view mirror. You know where you have been but cannot see what is ahead. Economic forecasters today probably look back to the period before the financial crash when the UK was in the NICE decade (non-inflationary, continuous expansion) as a golden period. Today life is more complex and one cannot help but feel sorry for the Chancellor busy preparing his November budget and the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England when they meet in November and have to decide whether to increase interest rates.

On the one hand, implying  a rate rise is not yet needed, the Office for National Statistics has just announced that GDP growth has fallen from 1.8% for the first quarter of 2017 to 1.5% for the period April to June which is below expectations and the weakest figure for four years. This is partly down to a fall in services of 0.2% which comprise 80% of GDP inflation. Furthermore discretionary income (what you have left to spend after tax and spending on essential items such as food, energy and transport, has fallen and 60% of households are worse off than they were a year ago as a result of wages rising at 2.1% while inflation is currently 2.9%. Another piece of evidence is that a survey published over the weekend by the Nationwide  reported that house prices dropped in London by 0.6% between July and September compared with the same period last year. This is the first such fall for eight years. 

However the high rate of inflation combined with the fall in unemployment  to 4.3% would suggest it is now time  to reduce the level of aggregate demand by raising interest rates.

Just to make the whole picture more confusing , there is the danger of depressing demand at a time when the economy is fragile because of uncertainty regarding Brexit and one does not want to do anything to discourage business investment which is supposed to be weak because of low confidence. Yet business investment actually rose by 0.5% in the second quarter of 2017! Furthermore, although the current account deficit rose to £23.2bn in the second quarter from £22.3bn in the first quarter, exports of goods and services actually rose by 1.7% while imports increased by 0.4%. Finally, just when you might think you have taken account of all the main variables – what about oil prices which have a significant impact on inflation and discretionary income. OPEC’s decision to curb production is intended to keep prices high and, although this looked to be failing earlier in the year, the combination of hurricanes damaging US oil refineries and the OPEC production curbs have started to have an effect on fuel prices.

 

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Carney rips his shirt off – BBC News

The Monetary Policy Committee has thrown the kitchen sink at the stuttering UK economy. But the governor knows he’s not Superman.

Source: Carney rips his shirt off – BBC News

The cut in the bank rate, the first in 7 seven years and at the lowest rate in history, demonstrates that the Bank of England is not particularly confident about UK economic prospects. With falling confidence indicators, such as the Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), as a result of the uncertainty caused by Brexit, the Bank has acted quickly to loosen monetary policy to encourage spending by both households and firms. Lower rates reduce the incentive to save and encourage borrowing as the reward for the former falls and the cost of the latter decreases. However, will a 0.25% cut make a real difference? Rates were already at a historic low – will we see negative rates, used by Japan, ECB, Sweden, for this first time in B of E history? Either way, growth forecasts have been slashed, as predicted by most economists prior to the Brexit vote. In the short-term, at least Brexit appears to be making the country worse off than it would have been otherwise. Long-term, well time will tell.