Late on Friday the credit ratings agency Moodys offered its latest opinion on the state of play on the UK.
Leading ratings agency Moody’s has signalled it is poised to downgrade the credit rating on Britain’s government debt, warning that Brexit has triggered an “erosion in institutional strength” that threatens the UK’s financial credibility.
The ratings agency, which scores debt on the basis of how likely they are to default, changed the outlook on its Aa2 rating on the debt issued by the UK government from “stable” to “negative”.
That implies a cut to the actual rating could be coming imminently. ( Sky News)
Unfortunately for Sky News they went wrong with the first word in two respects. These days there is no such thing as a leading ratings agency and of course their operations are lagging and not leading. Also if it was going to be imminent they would have actually done it.
Indeed the crux of the matter was rather curious.
Moody’s said: “In the current political climate, Moody’s sees no meaningful pressure for debt-reducing fiscal policies.”
That was an odd statement because as I pointed out on social media the falls in bond yields have changed matters on this subject. The UK fifty-year Gilt yield closed the week at 1.23% whereas the Moodys report and some of the reporting seemed to be from an era where it was say 4% or 5% so if you like in one of the forecasts by the Office for Budget Responsibility or OBR.
Moody’s said Britain’s £1.8trn of public debt – more than 80% of annual economic output – risked rising again and the economy could be “more susceptible to shocks than previously assumed”.
Indeed Moodys seemed to be playing politics.
Moody’s said that “Brexit has been the catalyst for [an] erosion in institutional strength” which helped explain the change in outlook.
It said the main rationale for the change of view was firstly that “UK institutions have weakened as they have struggled to cope with the magnitude of policy challenges that they currently face, including those that relate to fiscal policy”.
What we do know is that fiscal policy is set to be looser like er France and well.
At Aa2, Britain is on the same level as France but below Germany’s AAA rating.
The X-Factor in all of this is how the economy grows which is where today’s news comes in. It was hard not to have a wry smile at the Moodys report arriving just a say after the Bank of England had raised its growth estimate.
Bank staff’s estimate for GDP growth in 2019 Q3 as a whole had been revised up to 0.4%, from 0.2%
at the time of the Committee’s previous meeting. This was largely the result of an upward revision to estimates
of service sector output for June and July.
If we move to the actual numbers released this morning we were told this.
UK gross domestic product (GDP) in volume terms was estimated to have increased by 0.3% in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2019. When compared with the same quarter a year ago, UK GDP increased by 1.0% in Quarter 3 2019; this is the slowest rate of quarter-on-year growth since Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2010.
So some growth but the annual number has been pulled lower by the contraction in the second quarter. Overall we are very similar to the Euro area where annual growth is 1.1% and quarterly 0.2%. The breakdown was familiar for the UK as well.
The service and construction sectors provided positive contributions to GDP growth, while output in the production sector was flat in Quarter 3 2019.
We got more detail here.
Manufacturing was flat in Quarter 3 2019, as was production. Services output increased by 0.4% in Quarter 3 2019, following the weakest quarterly figure in three years in the previous quarter. Construction output experienced a pickup following a weak Quarter 2, increasing by 0.6%.
Regular readers will know that I have long argued that we have in fact had a “march of the services” rather than a “march of the makers” and that the services sector is probably above 80% of the economy now. On a quarterly basis we saw this.
Information and communication was the largest contributing sector to growth in the latest quarter. It increased by 0.8% and contributed 0.08 percentage points.
On an annual basis we saw this.
In the three months to September 2019, services output increased by 1.4% compared with the three months ending September 2018; public sector dominated industries accounted for one-third of this growth.
Maybe a flicker of Brexit preparations there in the annual numbers. Also if you see a Luvvie today please be nice to them/
Long-term strength within the computer programming and the motion pictures industries are the main reasons for the sectors strong performance from Quarter 1 2015.
On the other side of the coin it was always going to be a difficult spell for manufacturing.
The 0.4% monthly decrease in manufacturing output was widespread with falls in 8 of the 13 subsectors; the largest downward contribution came from a 5.1% fall in basic pharmaceutical products.
The September numbers above do at least have the caveat that pharmaceutical products do not run to a monthly cycle and have wide swings. In fact if you will indulge me for a hundredth of s decimal point the UK fall in industrial production in September was the pharmaceutical industry.
I am afraid that there is no other way of describing this than calling it a depression.
Manufacturing output in the UK remained 3.2% lower in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2019 than the pre-downturn peak for Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008.
In terms of the Goldilocks the UK GDP story is of lukewarm porridge. We have some growth but not much as we edge forwards. The pattern is erratic on a quarterly basis ( 0.6%,-0.2%,0.3%) providing yet more evidence that the introduction of monthly GDP numbers was a mistake. If we switch to Moodys well we continue to be able to inflate our debt away.
Nominal GDP increased by 0.5% in Quarter 3 2019, down from 0.7% in Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2019.
But as ever there are caveats and here is one from an area that did really rather well.
In Quarter 3 2019, the UK trade deficit narrowed to 1.2% of nominal GDP……..The narrowing of the trade deficit largely reflects strong export volume growth of 5.2% in Quarter 3 2019. Trade in goods exports grew 5.0%, reflecting increases in machinery and transport equipment and chemicals, while trade in services exports grew 5.3%; this was a result of “other business services”.
But this does not count as it goes in the expenditure and not the output version of GDP so we need to cross our fingers that it will be picked up there. When the numbers are tallied the income and expenditure versions are usually aligned with the output one which kind of begs the question of why have them?
Also there is this.
education, 68.9% public sector and 31.1% market sector
human health activities, 85.4% public sector and 14.6% market sector
residential care activities, 51.1% public sector and 48.9% market sector
social work activities without accommodation, 49.6% public sector and 50.4% market sector
Best of luck with really knowing what has gone on in those areas as government collides with the private-sector. There are plenty of issues here.
Finally there was this highlighted by the Bank of England.
The Committee discussed the recent Blue Book revisions to estimates of the household saving ratio. The
level of the saving ratio since the start of 2017 had been revised up by 1.4 percentage points on average to
reach just under 7% in 2019 Q2, primarily reflecting new HMRC data on self-employment income.
The truth is that we need a touch of humility as we know a fair bit less than we often think we do.