UK GDP growth continues to rebalance towards services

Today has brought a new adventure in UK economic statistics. This is because we have moved to a new system where we get monthly GDP releases whilst the quarterly ones have been delayed. In terms of detail here is the change in the quarterly schedule.

The new model will see the publication of two quarterly GDP releases rather than three. The new First quarterly GDP estimate will be published approximately 40 days after the end of the quarter to which it refers. The new first estimate will have much higher data content for the output approach than the current preliminary estimate. It will also contain data from the income and expenditure approaches,

In general I welcome this as under the old model the last of the three months in question had rather a shortage of actual data and quite a lot of projections. The UK has in essence produced its numbers too quickly in the past and now they should be more reliable. There is a catch to this in that the Bank of England will have its August policy meeting without the GDP data. This has a consequence in that traditionally it is more likely to act once it has it and another in that will it get a sort of “early wire”? That sort of thing was officially stopped by seems to have unofficially started again. I also welcome the use of income and expenditure numbers as long as it is not an excuse to further increase the role of fantasy numbers such as imputed rent. Back in the day Chancellor Nigel Lawson downgraded the use of the income and expenditure GDP data and I think that was a mistake as for example in the US the income GDP numbers worked better than the normal ( output)ones at times.

The services numbers will be sped up so that this can happen.

Taken together, these releases provide enough information to produce a monthly estimate of GDP, as data on almost the entire economy will now be available.

This has two problems. Firstly the arrival of the services data has been sped up by a fortnight which can only make it less reliable. The second is that these theme days overrun us with data as we will not only be getting 2 GDP numbers we will also be getting production, construction and trade numbers. Frankly it is all too much and some if not much of it will be ignored.

Today’s Numbers

The headline is as follows.

UK GDP grew by 0.2% in the three months to May.Growth in the three months to May was higher than growth in the three months to April, which was flat. The weakness in growth in the three months to April was largely due to a negative drag on GDP from construction.

There was something familiar about this which may make Baron King of Lothbury reach for the key to the sherry cabinet.

Growth of 0.4% in the services industries in the three months to May had the biggest contribution to GDP growth.

Yes we “rebalanced” towards services yet again as we mull whether he was ennobled due to his apparently ability to claim the reverse of reality so often? As it happens the growth was driven by a sector which has seen troubled times.

Growth in consumer-facing industries (for example retail, hotels, restaurants) has been slowing over the past year. However, in the three months to May growth in these industries picked up, particularly in wholesale and retail trade.

This industry grew by 0.9% in the three months to May and contributed 0.1 percentage points to headline GDP.

If we move to the monthly data we note this.

The monthly GDP growth rate was flat in March, followed by a growth of 0.2% in April. Overall GDP growth was 0.3% in May.

This in so far as it is reliable confirms my suggestion that the UK economy is edging forwards at about 0.3% per quarter. Oh and if the output on social media is any guide best of luck with this.

The monthly growth rate for GDP is volatile and therefore it should be used with caution and alongside other measures such as the three-month growth rate when looking for an indicator of the long-term trend of the economy.

Production

It was disappointing to see a drop here although maybe this was something international as France also saw a drop earlier in the day.

In May 2018, total production was estimated to have decreased by 0.4% compared with April 2018, led by falls in energy supply of 3.2% and mining and quarrying of 4.6%.

There were two ameliorating factors at play as we start with mining.

 due to unplanned maintenance on the Sullom Voe oil and gas terminal.

Also the falls in manufacturing seem to have stopped.

Manufacturing output rose by 0.4% and is the first increase in this sector since December 2017……..due mainly to widespread growth across the sector, with 9 of the 13 sub-sectors increasing.

The leading sectors were as follows.

Pharmaceutical products and transport equipment provide the largest contributions to monthly growth, increasing by 2.4% and 1.1% respectively.

It would appear that yet again it is time for ” I am the urban spaceman baby” which younger readers may need to look up!

Within the transport equipment sub-sector, the aircraft, spacecraft and related machinery industry performed strongly, increasing by 3.3%, supported by an increase in nominal export turnover growth of 10.9%.

Those areas are still seeing export growth whereas more generally for manufacturing the boost from the lower Pound £ seems to be over. Or if you prefer the effects of the J-Curve and Reverse J-Curve have come and gone.

Trade

The picture here has been one of improvement and on an annual comparison that remains true.

The total UK trade deficit (goods and services) narrowed £3.9 billion to £26.5 billion in the 12 months to May 2018. An improvement in the trade in services balance was the main factor, as the UK’s trade in services surplus widened £4.1 billion to £111.5 billion.

However the quarterly numbers also suggest that the boost from the lower UK Pound £ has been and gone.

The total UK trade deficit widened £5.0 billion to £8.3 billion in the three months to May 2018, mainly due to falling goods exports and rising goods imports. Falling exports of cars and rising imports of unspecified goods were mostly responsible for the £5.0 billion widening of the total trade deficit in the three months to May 2018.

Tucked away in this was a rare event for the UK.

There was a small overall trade surplus on the month to February 2018, mainly due to falling goods imports;

Comment

We find that today’s data confirms our thoughts that after a soft patch the UK economy has picked up a bit. There are reasons to suspect this continued in June. For example the monetary data picked up in May so may no longer be as strong a break and the PMI business surveys for June were stronger.

The survey data indicate that the economy likely
grew by 0.4% in the second quarter, up from 0.2%
in the opening quarter of 2018.

That poses a question for the Bank of England and its Governor. That rate of growth is above the “speed limit” that its Ivory Tower has calculated although the model used has been a consistent failure. Should the boyfriend prove to be unreliable yet again then subsequent votes will be without one of the policymakers keen to raise interest-rates. I remain to be convinced they will take the plunge.

Moving onto a past Bank of England staple which is rebalancing we see us moving towards a strength which we do not seem to like. As services seemed to be left out of the Chequers Brexit plan which seemed really odd to me. Especially if we note that other areas are in relative and sometimes absolute decline.

Production and manufacturing output have risen but remain 6.2% and 2.5% lower, respectively, in the three months to May 2018 than the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008.

I have left out the construction numbers for May as we wait for any sort of reliability from them.

 

 

 

 

 

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