UK's economic signposts point to a cooling in pace of expansion

Three pieces of evidence emerged about the UK economy on Tuesday.

Exhibit one was the monthly snapshot of manufacturing from CIPS/Markit, which showed activity declining for a fourth successive month to the lowest level since last summer.

Exhibit two was the latest productivity data from the Office for National Statistics. This revealed that output per hour worked grew by 0.7% in the year to the fourth quarter of 2013 even though the economy expanded four times as fast.

Exhibit three was provided by the Bank of England minutes from the meeting of its financial policy committee. This warned investors that risky trades could look a whole let less clever in the event that interest rates start going up.

So what conclusions can be drawn? Although the purchasing managers' index from CIPS/Markit remains well above the 50 cut off level between recession and expansion, the recent trend suggests some cooling in the pace of expansion since the second half of 2013. The strong pound is starting to have an impact on exports.

The softer trend in manufacturing, if sustained, would make a marked improvement in productivity less likely. Output per hour worked is 5% lower than it was before the recession began in 2008, but would be 10% higher had its historic trend been continued. There is little sign of the rapid productivity gains normally seen in the early stages of a recovery.

That's a potential headache for the Bank of England, which is banking on a pick-up in productivity to keep the lid on inflation and so obviate the need for an early increase in interest rates that would reveal just how many zombie companies have been kept alive by ultra-low borrowing costs these past five years. Threadneedle Street would prefer to avoid that if it can.

Powered by article was written by Larry Elliott, for on Tuesday 1st April 2014 18.22 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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