Economic Growth – today, tomorrow and long into the future.

Economic growth is a key economic objective. Not only does it affect living standards, it affects productivity although there is discussion about whether productivity causes growth or vice versa. It is linked to the balance of payments with export-led growth being an ideal way of achieving two objectives yet  growth can worsen the balance of payments in both the short and long term; in the short term countries often have to purchase machines from overseas and build up raw materials and components and in the long run, particularly in the UK which has a high marginal propensity to import, higher incomes associated with growth cause significant increases in imports. It provides a fiscal dividend for the government, allows for a redistribution of income by channelling the rewards of growth towards low income earners and can allow the economy to expand in a non-inflationary manner by shifting the long run aggregate supply outwards although it is also associated with demand pull inflation when aggregate demand increases more than aggregate supply.

When analysing the causes of growth, economists differentiate between short run growth, usually associated with increases in demand, and long run growth which emphasises supply side policies. However recently there is a view among some economists that the developed world might be entering a period of prolonged stagnation. This was an idea first espoused in the 1940s but refuted by the post-war boom. Today the OECD are  predicting growth of below 3% among its members compared to 6% before the financial crisis and there is increased interest in the very long run.

Some suggest that today’s technological advances focus more on improving the quality of life and have a smaller impact on productivity than previous advances. However this is difficult to quantify since major developments, such as the internal combustion engine and electricity took over 50 years to work through the economy.

Another possible cause of the slowdown, if indeed we are entering a prolonged slowdown, is the fall in birth rates and increasingly ageing population which impact on the supply of workers and, possibly, on the development of new ideas. As well as the supply of labour being an issue, there are also concerns over increasing difficulties being faced in extracting raw materials as the world is having to use increasingly marginal sources. In the 1950s, one could extract the equivalent of 100 barrels of oil by expending 1 barrel while today the ratio is 20 to 1.

Some economists also suggest that not only are gains in long run aggregate supply increasingly difficult to achieve, old-fashioned reflationary policies are having a smaller impact than in previous years resulting in a weak recovery post 2008 throughout the developed world with the exception of the USA.

Does slow growth matter? Does faster growth and higher incomes bring greater happiness? Do the environmental advantages from a move to a lower growth path outweigh the benefits?

Should economists be worried about the coronavirus?

The coronavirus has been in the news this weekend with the 35,000 people in different countries being affected. In addition, the business pages of many papers are expressing concern about the implications the coronavirus might have on Western economies – what economists refer to as an economic shock – with the Federal Reserve Bank talking of a risk to the global economy. This is because of the increasing importance of China in the world today. Not only is it the second largest economy, accounting for 19.7% of world GDP, it also demands a staggering 69% of world mineral production. 20% of world tourism spending is linked to China, both inward and outward, with the Japanese economy predicted to experience a £17.3bn cost from the virus. Cathay Pacific, a Hong Kong based airline, has asked 27,000 staff to take a three-week unpaid holiday while, in the UK last year 415,000 visitors from China spent £714 million in UK hotels, shops, restaurants, etc. One estimate in the newspapers suggests every 22 visitors from China to the UK creates an additional job.

China now accounts for 13% of world trade. Wuhan, the region where the outbreak started, is prominent in world car production. Honda, Toyota and General Motors have factories there and many of these are currently closed to prevent workers travelling to work and catching or spreading the disease. Similarly, many shops are closed and Chinese branches of Western stores, particularly luxury products, such as Burberry, Estee Lauder and Canadian Goose have talked of falling sales in China as Chinese citizens stop shopping for such luxuries and the number of foreign tourists to China drops significantly. Ralph Lauren has closed 55 of its 110 stores in China. China is the world’s largest oil importer, daily consuming as much as the UK,  France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan and South Korea, and, as China’s economy slows oil prices have dropped with analysts comparing it to the fall as a result of the financial crisis

Apart from direct effects, China factories have a major impact on world supply chains, assembling products and producing components from everything from cars to iPhones. Fiat Chrysler, the Italian-American carmaker, has said that it could shut one of its plants on the Continent if the disruption continues while Sony and Nintendo have both talked of unavoidable delays in the supply of some of their products.

As Chinese production slows and both its exports and imports decrease, world growth will fall. Whether this is a temporary blip or a permanent drop will depend on how serious the epidemic turns out to be. However there is an upside – in China demand for  contraceptives and  Netflix subscriptions are both booming.

The Next Budget

Possibly, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, spent New Year’s Day in No 11 Downing Street, working on the budget which Boris wants ready for February when the UK has left the EU. If so, he will be aware that preparing the budget will be tricky because no one knows what the terms of the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU will be. Although Boris talked of a deal being signed in a year, business leaders and civil servants in the UK and many in the EU feel that this was unrealistic, given how long trade deals take to negotiate and the UK’s failure to reach the target for the number of trade deals promised during the referendum campaign. One can argue that, given the increase in protectionism in recent years, a close deal is vital, especially since the potential new markets are relatively small, compared to our trade with the EU.

Philosophically, the government has a potential  problem with the right of the Conservative Party favouring a free market approach with tax cuts and reduced regulations, while many new MPs elected in former Labour seats are looking for measures to help their constituencies which contained new Conservative voters, won over by the promise of Brexit, but whose jobs are at risk from increased competition from manufacturing companies in Asia, the loss of exports to the EU and a possible UK slowdown after Brexit. Many of these areas, with significant aerospace, chemicals and food production industries, rely heavily on exports to the EU and have to meet EU rules and regulations. If the future trade deal did not allow such exports to continue and instead allowed the EU to impose tariffs and implement customs checks, the consequences for some areas would be significant. The Flintshire and Wrexham area has an Airbus factory and a thriving pharmaceuticals industry and 87% of all goods made are currently exported to Europe. Elsewhere, in Derby North, where there is a Rolls-Royce factory, over 25% of the economy is linked to sales to the EU.

There is general agreement that the UK has spent too little on both business and infrastructure investment and encouragement for businesses to do the former and a determination by the government to do the latter will help improve UK productivity – a major UK issue. Incentives to help people, particularly first-time buyers, buy housing are important but, just as important as increasing demand, is the need to increase supply, possibly by encouraging more building on brown field sites. Another major area of need is the level of skills in the workforce and the need to bring UK vocational training up to the standards of other countries.

Fortunately, there is scope to boost the economy since the new government has adopted looser fiscal rules than its predecessor. In 2016, then Chancellor George Osborne’s fiscal rule was to eliminate the deficit by 2019/20 which was relaxed by Philip Hammond, who moved the target to 2025. What the current government has promised was to ensure that they raised enough in tax revenue to cover day-to-day spending but would borrow to invest. However infrastructure, such as building new roads, schools and hospitals takes time and very few projects are ‘shovel-ready’. This is worrying since growth started to stagnate and the labour market weakened before the election but possibly, following the clear election result, businesses and consumers might become more confident and increase their spending. Something to wish for at Xmas!

What sort of economy will the new Prime Minister inherit?

In elections, the economy is usually a key focus  on the campaign trail with opposition parties taking every opportunity to criticise the government while the latter explains how they have improved the economy after the disastrous state they found it in when they took office.

In this election, with its focus on Brexit and many lavish future spending plans, the current state of the economy has not yet featured heavily but were one asked to comment on its current state, it would be difficult since there is so much contradictory evidence at present.

Consider the following data and one sees why it is so hard to see how we are doing.

  • Although GDP grew by 0.3% in the third quarter of the year, the yearly growth of 1% is the lowest since 2010. Will this increase or fall after the election?
  • Unemployment is now 3.8% which, in historic terms, is low. However this is slightly up on the last month so does this, pessimistically, suggest we are on the cusp of an increasing period of unemployment, especially since unemployment is a lagged indicator – firms do not immediately reduce labour when demand for their products fall. Alternatively, one can look at the figures and note that the falling number of people in work is because part-time employment has fallen by more than the rise in full time jobs so, positively, more people are in “real” employment or have the part-time workers who have failed to find full time jobs simply stopped looking and left the labour force?
  • Productivity has only increased by 2.4% since June 2007. Before then the UK had averaged 2% per year, so we are producing over 20% less than we would have been had the trend continued. Possibly this is due to the long tail we have in the UK in terms of productivity with too many firms a long way below the best in their industry. How can this be improved?
  • Inflation fell to 1.5% last month because of lower gas and electricity prices but retail sales fell last month as consumers possibly lost confidence in the economic outlook for the next few months. Earnings are increasing at 3.6% so real incomes are rising at 2.1% but if productivity is static, then inflation will increase as firms’ costs rise.
  • UK exports have dropped, possibly because of Brexit uncertainty and the slower world GDP growth following the US-China trade war.
  • The public finances have deteriorated. Borrowing has risen by a fifth during the first half of the financial year, and in September was £9.4bn compared to £8.8bn last year and the national debt was £1.8tn at the end of the financial year ending March 2019, equivalent to 84.2% GDP. Therefore how will the political parties finance their announced increases in spending without considerable increases in tax or borrowing?
  • UK consumer debt is rising, standing at £59,441 per household in August 2019. What will happen when interest rates increase as they are likely to do if government spending increases significantly or if the economy enters a downturn when Brexit occurs? Are we heading for another financial crisis?

The Phillips Curve and the future of inflation

The Phillips Curve, named after A W Phillips, is a Keynesian idea suggesting that both unemployment and inflation are determined by the level of aggregate demand and there is therefore a trade-off between them. Phillips, writing in 1958, plotted UK rates of unemployment and wage inflation (which later economists replaced with price inflation) between 1860 and 1957 on a scatter diagram which showed an inverse relationship between the two. Economists did the same for other countries and a similar inverse relationship was discovered. This was because, as aggregate demand increased, firms increased prices, reducing some of the extra demand and obtaining higher profits. Simultaneously they hired more workers to meet the new demand, causing labour shortages which led to increased wage rises; there was also likely to be more demand for commodities and components, increasing their prices. Phillips’ relationship indicated that the trade-off worsened at higher levels of inflation and unemployment. For example, when unemployment is above average, higher demand, possibly as a result of government economic policy, will have a significant impact on the level of unemployment without significantly increasing inflation because of the excess capacity which exists. However, if unemployment is already low with firms close to full capacity, an increase in aggregate demand cannot easily be met by higher output and therefore prices are increased.

By the late 1970s, with many economies suffering from high inflation and high unemployment, something the traditional Phillips Curve deemed impossible, Monetarists questioned the validity of the Phillips Curve. Economists such as Friedman accepted that there was a short run inverse relationship between inflation and unemployment as suggested by Phillips but argued that in the long run, the trade-off did not occur and the long run Phillips Curve was vertical at the natural rate of unemployment – the rate at which inflation is stable. A key component in their explanation was the role of inflationary expectations. If inflation increases after a successful government stimulus to reduce unemployment, then gradually workers will ask for higher wage rises to compensate for the higher inflation and this will nullify the impact of the government’s policy, causing unemployment to return to its higher level.

In recent years many developed economies have been experiencing low inflation and low unemployment. In the UK for example, we have a 2% inflation target and it is not long ago that we thought the natural rate of unemployment was between 4.5% and 5%. Yet, today inflation is 1.7% and unemployment is at 3.9%. It is not just the UK which is performing well in terms of these two measures. The IMF estimates that of 43 countries with inflation targets, 28 are below their target rate. So what explains this phenomena? Or, to put the question in more theoretical terms, why has the natural rate of inflation fallen in so many countries, allowing them to operate with a low level of unemployment without the inflationary pressures which would have occurred in the past?

We can look at the positive impact of globalisation reducing costs in firms’ supply chains as components are supplied and goods are assembled more cheaply (with particular mention of the impact of cheap Chinese products); there is the benefit of  on-line shopping which has forced traditional retailers to cut costs and prices, reducing inflationary pressure and of technological change also reducing costs. Finally,  the impact of inflationary expectations, identified by Friedman to explain both high inflation and high unemployment, can  be applied to the current climate. When inflation is low and workers are used to very low or no wage rises, such increases become the norm and inflationary pressure falls.

What of the future? The positive impact of globalisation is declining, Chinese products are becoming more expensive and an increase in protectionism is pushing up prices. The future impact of technological change is unknown and it is doubtful whether on-line shopping will continue to reduce prices or whether we have been experiencing a one-off reduction in inflation.

How is the UK doing?

In the run-up to a big boxing or tennis match, the media is fond of making comparisons between the two competitors, comparing key measures such as height, weight and reach. As we approach Brexit on 31st October or later,  it is worth doing the same exercise for the UK and world economies to see what state the UK is in.

Optimists, looking at data published in August, highlight the increase in average earnings of 3.6% in the year to June, the highest increase since June 2008, the rise in employment to 32.8 million (largely due to increased females working), giving the joint highest participation rate ever.

However pessimists focus on the fall in GDP of 0.2% from April to June, the sharpest fall in high street sales since December, 2008 (although these are survey figures, so might not be representative) combined with a fall in internet shopping, the increase in inflation to 2.1%, the small increase in unemployment to 3.9%, the lower than expected government budget surplus and the balance of payments current account deficit amounting to 5.6% of GDP. They also worry about the quality of some of the new jobs being created, possibly on zero hours contracts, and ask whether the rise in employment is because firms are reluctant to commit themselves to expensive investment projects because of low confidence in the economic outlook.

The current state of the world economy is also a concern for the UK. Germany suffered a fall in GDP in the last quarter and is expected to move into recession (two consecutive quarters of negative growth), the trade war between the US and China is dragging on and growth in the latter is slowing, and the International Monetary Fund has cut its forecast for world growth to 3.2%, the lowest for ten years. The world economic situation has been a key factor in last month’s fall in UK manufacturing output – the fastest rate of fall for seven years. However, worryingly, another explanation provided was that some foreign firms are cutting the UK out of their global supply chains in anticipation of Brexit (but bear in mind that manufacturing is now only 10% of UK GDP).

However what was a feature in the news last month was the technical concept of an inverted yield curve. The yield on a financial asset, such as a government bond, is the rate of return based on its purchase price and, normally, it is higher for long term assets than short term ones. If the government borrows money for three months, the rate of interest would normally be lower than if it borrowed for ten years. This is because lenders are rewarded for committing their money for a longer, and therefore riskier, period. When this is reversed, i.e. governments can borrow at a lower rate of interest for ten years than one or two, it signals that the markets expect that the future will be poor and the government will cut short-term interest rates in the future, therefore savers will wish to lock into the current long-term rates of interest. An inverted yield curve also shows that savers wish to lock into safe assets, such as US, German and UK government bonds, and are prepared to pay a higher price for them. The higher price reduces the yield from the bonds. An additional concern is that current interest rates are already at very low levels so the scope for reducing them is limited so, despite concerns about high government borrowing, fiscal policy might be the only weapon left.

A look at the world economy.

Recently there has been considerable attention given to the current, positive economic indicators for the UK economy. The three months to February showed the number of people in work reaching a new high of 32.71 million, or 76.1%, the highest for 48 years, the unemployment rate falling to 3.9%, the lowest since 1975 and average weekly earnings increasing by 3.5% in the year to February. With March CPI inflation unchanged at 1.9% (and core inflation also unchanged at 1.8%), real incomes are increasing although there is  concern that inflationary pressure will increase as earnings continue to rise while productivity remains weak.

However for the UK, which is a very open economy, what happens elsewhere has a significant impact on our performance. Three areas are significant – Europe, China and the USA.

Europe is struggling. Its strongest economy, Germany, has cut its growth forecast for 2019 for the second time in three months, now predicting growth of only 0.5%. The reasons cited for the slowdown are the continuing trade dispute between the USA and China, a general world slowdown, Brexit uncertainty and falling car sales. Italy is also a cause for concern. Not only is it predicting growth of only 0.2%, its financial situation is worsening and there is concern that it will breach the targets agreed with the European Commission for government borrowing and its national debt. While the Eurozone was able to deal with a financial crisis in Greece, if Italy, a key member of the Eurozone, continues to run excessive deficits, the implications for financial stability would be more serious.

The Chinese economy appears to be doing well. Over the first three months of the year, GDP grew at an annual rate of 6.4%. However there is concern over the impact of the continuing trade dispute with the USA, worry about the increases in China’s debt, which is financing the growth, and, possibly most importantly, fears over the sustainability of its growth because of its reliance on infrastructure spending. In most countries, high infrastructure spending would be a positive feature but there is concern in China about an infrastructure “bubble” with reports of new cities being constructed which have few people, cars or shops.  One way of appreciating the scale of the spending is to consider a Washington Post report that China used more cement between 2011 and 2013 than the USA used during the entire 20th century. These concerns coincide with China’s diminishing balance of payments surplus as the Chinese buy more foreign goods and travel overseas more and its exports are falling. In 2007, the surplus was 10% of GDP, it is now only 0.4%. While this is good for the UK if Chinese consumers buy more UK exports and decide to visit UK tourist destinations, if it heralds a slowing of China’s growth, the positive impact might be short-lived.

The third pillar of the global economic triangle is the USA and US economic growth slowed to an annual rate of 2.6% in the last three months of 2018. The high growth in 2018 was partially caused by a large tax cut and an increase in government spending and it is expected that once the effects of the stimulus wears off, growth this year will fall towards its long-term level which the Federal Reserve suggest is between 1.7% a year and 2.2%, some way below President Trump’s target of 4%. USA prospects are likely to be influenced by the impact of trade negotiations with China and the EU which are unknown at present but if we are unable to strike a trade deal with the US and UK businesses find tariffs placed on their exports, the impact on the UK could be severe.

A Confusing Tale of Two Economies (with apologies to Charles Dickens).

What is going on in the UK economy is currently hard to understand. Are we doing well or badly? There are many conflicting pieces of evidence and, in some ways, it is like an abstract painting – different people can look at it and see different pictures.

Consider the labour market – in the last three months of 2018, employment rate reached 76.1%, or 32.71 million, the highest since 1971, rising by 220,000 workers, of which 144,000 were female. Over the same period, unemployment fell to 1.34 million or 3.9%, the first time it has dropped below 4% since 1975. While some people see this as a positive sign of economic progress, others present three reasons why the data actually shows an economic problem for the UK.

Firstly, there is a view that the rise in employment is because of an increase in zero hours contracts, with workers working far less than they would like, suggesting that we have rising under-employment instead of unemployment. Secondly some suggest, similarly, that self-employment has been responsible for some of the fall in unemployment, with many of the newly-self-employed working less than they would like. Finally, others argue that the reason for falling unemployment is that employers have cut back on investment, preferring to meet additional demand by hiring more workers, knowing that they can get rid of them if the economy stagnates after Brexit. This last explanation dovetails well with the UK’s poor productivity record, with productivity actually falling by 0.2% in the last quarter of 2018.

Turning now to earnings and inflation; with unemployment so low, we would expect both earnings and inflation to be rising rapidly. In fact, last month, average earnings growth fell from 3.5% to 3.4% and the CPI only increased from 1.8% to 1.9%, due to prices for some food and alcoholic drink items increasing more in price this year than they did a year ago, and core inflation (which ignores the price of food and energy because they are highly volatile) fell by 0.1% to 1.8% in February. Nevertheless, some economists regard this as only a temporary respite, suggesting inflation will rise to 2.5% in the next few months because of higher oil prices and rising wages, with a further jump possible if tariffs rise after Brexit (whenever that is!).

Turning now to GDP, it grew by 0.2% in the three months to January 2019 with the service sector expanding while manufacturing and construction contracted. This meant that growth for 2018, was only 1.4%, the slowest rate for 10 years. Also suggesting that the outlook is poor was a survey of consumer confidence showing that it had fallen over the last year and data showing that we currently have the lowest annual house price growth in the UK for six years. However, government borrowing is at a 17 year low because of rising tax receipts – £200m in February 2019 compared to £1.2bn in February, 2018, meaning that the government is on course to meet its target for structural borrowing to be below 2% of GDP in the financial year 2020/21. Further confusing evidence of our economic situation is provided by the latest UN Annual Happiness Report, which shows the UK has risen from 19th  to 15th out of 156 countries surveyed, with Finland, once again at the top of the table, followed by Denmark, Norway, Iceland and the Netherlands.

It is not surprising that economists find it hard to assess how the economy is doing since some of the indicators discussed above reflect what has happened in the past, rather than what is currently happening. (Imagine steering a car by only looking in the rear-view mirror). Unemployment, for example, shows the state of the economy six months to a year ago since firms do not immediately hire or fire workers when their orders change. Other indicators, such as GDP are subject to frequent revisions as more accurate data becomes available. Therefore some economists prefer more informal guides to the economy. David Smith, Economics Editor of The Sunday Times, uses the number of skips in his road, since more skips suggest more building and home improvements and therefore greater economic activity.  In an attempt to improve our awareness of the current state of the economy, the ONS is introducing new economic indicators such as the volume of road traffic and businesses’ value-added tax returns which will, hopefully, provide a more up-to-date picture of the economy.

An Economic Update

Rising employment                   Falling unemployment       Low inflation                Rising pay

Forecast inflation increases    Falling productivity              Forecast job losses

Falling confidence                      Increasing balance of trade deficit    Rising household debt

Over the last two weeks there has been much economic data published, together with forecasts of what might be in store for the economy over the next few years. While some of what has been announced for the future is easy to assess, such as Honda’s announcement of the closure of its Swindon factory in 2022, some of the data is contradictory, so it is not easy to see exactly how we are doing. Furthermore, the picture is clouded by difficulty in distinguishing between temporary features due to Brexit uncertainty, such as businesses delaying investment decisions with the Head of Make UK, a body representing engineering companies, talking of a no deal as being “catastrophic”. There are also factors such as increasing household debt which might have a significant long-term impact on the economy.

On the optimistic side, the latest labour market figures are positive. Employment has risen in the last three months of 2018 and, compared to a year earlier, has increased by almost half a million, with most of the increase being accounted for by an increase in female employment. Unemployment remains at 4.0%, or 1.36 million people, the lowest rate for approximately 40 years; the employment rate (the percentage of 16 – 64 year olds in work) was at 75.8%, another record, and therefore the activity rate – those who cannot or do not wish to work such as students or those medically unable to work – has fallen to a record low. In addition, the number of vacancies has risen to 870,000, the highest ever recorded, with the increases being mainly in the service sector such as retailing.

The ONS has also announced the January inflation figures which show prices are now rising at 1.8%, down from 2.1% in December. This is partly due to the energy price cap and falling fuel prices, but economists are predicting that the fall below the government’s 2% target will only be short-term as increasing oil prices and planned energy price rises feed through into the CPI.

Because of the tightening labour market, it is not surprising that wages are increasing with the latest data showing an annual increase of 3.4%. Comparing this figure with the latest inflation data shows that real incomes are now increasing by 1.6%, the fastest rate since summer, 2016. However, in real terms, average pay is still £10 per week lower than it was ten years ago and, despite rising real incomes, consumer confidence is falling, as measured by the Household Finance Index. This is a measure which tries to predict changing consumer behaviour. It is based on monthly responses from over 2,000 households, chosen to accurately reflect the country’s income, regional and age distribution. Among items examined are changes in household income, spending and savings, job security, household debt and borrowing, inflationary expectations, house prices and confidence in the government.

A key negative figure for the economy is the low GDP growth, which was only 0.2% in the last three months of 2018 and 1.4% for 2018, the lowest increase since 2009. While household and government consumption were positive, a poor balance of payments and falling investment reduced growth. The combination of high employment, low investment and low growth in GDP explain the poor productivity data for the UK with output per person falling 0.1% last year.

However, one positive figure is the latest data on government borrowing which, for January 2019, was a surplus of £14.9bn. While January is always a good month, because of self-assessed income taxes, capital gains tax, corporation tax and VAT falling due in January, the actual taxes received were higher than previously predicted, and government spending increased less than anticipated, meaning the actual budget surplus was almost 50% larger than the forecast surplus for the month of £10bn. The improved figures mean that government borrowing for 2018/19 is now likely to be £22bn rather than the previous forecast of £25.5bn, the lowest figure since 2001, and the National Debt, at £1.8 trillion is forecast to be 82.6% of GDP, compared to 85.6% last year. Most importantly, the deficit is likely to be only 1% of GDP giving the Chancellor scope to cut taxes and increase spending to boost the economy yet still remain within the 2% figure he suggested as a ceiling.








Heading for a crash?

The last week has not been kind to the British motor industry. Production fell to 1.52m cars in 2018, a five year low, with a 22% fall in December making the drop the largest yearly drop since the Financial Crisis.  At the start of the week, Nissan confirmed stories circulating over the weekend that it would not be building its new X-Trail SUV in Sunderland. This is despite a government announcement two years ago that it had reached a deal with Nissan to ensure, among other things that the new model would be built in Sunderland. Last month, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) announced that they are planning to cut 4,500 jobs and this was followed by figures they published last week announcing a £3.4bn loss in the last three months of 2018 as a result both of falling diesel sales and falling demand from China which previously accounted for almost 1/3 of their sales. This loss compares with profits of £190m over the same period in 2017. In addition, their new electric vehicle is being developed and built in Austria and they have announced that the Land Rover Defender will be built in Slovakia.

The industry has suffered from two major factors. Firstly, sales of diesel vehicles have slumped following the VW emission scandal in 2015 and tighter emission controls on cars. As a result, British sales of diesel cars slumped by 30% in 2018. This means that rather than have one factory in Japan and another in Europe for the X-Trail, the Japanese factory will be large enough to meet the expected demand.

Secondly the lack of progress over Brexit, combined with a trade deal between Japan and the EU, which the UK will not be a part of if we leave with “no deal” has impacted on Nissan’s decision. The Japan-EU deal will create the largest free-trade area in the world with virtually all customs duties being abolished between the participants. Over the next seven years tariffs will be phased out and, equally as important, the EU and Japan will agree to accept international product specifications, thereby making it easy for them to compete in the other’s market. If we do not reach a deal with the EU, car exports to the EU will face a 10% tariff.

Why is the motor industry so important? We are the 11th largest car manufacturer in the world and the 4th largest in the EU behind Germany, France and Spain, with JLR, Ford, Nissan and BMW Mini being the four largest UK producers, employing 54,000 workers between them, almost 75% of total direct employment in the industry. There are many more who are employed in producing components and transporting finished vehicles and parts. The industry accounts for almost 4% of GDP and is  a major exporter, particularly to the EU and the USA, producing 10% of our exports. Last year 1.24 million of the 1.52 million cars produced were exported. It attracts significant foreign investment; in the year before Brexit, there was £5bn of inward investment into the industry from overseas. Last year this fell to £½bn.

However not all in the industry is gloomy. High value manufacturers, such as Aston Martin, McLaren and Rolls Royce, are doing well. The problem is that they are dwarfed by the larger producers who are suffering.