UK GDP is a case of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Today is an example of be careful what you wish for. No doubt the UK Office for National Statistics thought it would be clever to produce monthly GDP data. But now in addition to the usual problems they find them not only being scanned beyond their capabilities but for the unwary comparing them to the quarterly and annual ones creates quite a of confusion. Indeed we can go through them in Spaghetti Western style.

The Good

This comes from this part of the release where we how have had three months of economic growth in a row.

Monthly gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 6.6% in July 2020 as lockdown measures continued to ease, following growth of 8.7% in June and 2.4% in May.

In terms of detail we are told this.

“Education grew strongly as some children returned to school, while pubs, campsites and hairdressers all saw notable improvements. Car sales exceeded pre-crisis levels for the first time with showrooms having a particularly busy time.

“All areas of manufacturing, particularly distillers and car makers, saw improvements, while housebuilding also continued to recover.”

The latter component will, of course,please the Bank of England. I have to confess a wry smile at the mention of distillers, have we been driven to drink? As to car sales this was reinforced elsewhere.

wholesale, retail and repair of motor vehicles subsector (in particular, the motor vehicles industry), which recovered to above its February 2020 level after seeing record low levels of output in April and May.

This is an area which was affected by the lockdown as when I took my car in for its MOT in August I was told that in April last year they had done 110 and this year 18. Another area which was similarly affected also boomed in July.

Monthly construction output increased by 17.6% in July 2020 compared with June 2020, rising to £11,922 million, because of growth in all construction sectors.

Then and slightly confusingly not directly linked to the GDP numbers ( which are output not expenditure ones) these will not be included.

The total trade surplus, excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, widened by £5.9 billion to £6.4 billion in the three months to July 2020, as imports fell by £8.5 billion and exports fell by a lesser £2.7 billion.

I point it out as it is rare for the UK to record a trade surplus which continues as we look for more perspective.

The total trade balance, excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, increased by £35.8 billion to a surplus of £3.7 billion in the 12 months to July 2020.

The Bad

Our perspective shifts as we switch to something approaching the more normal quarterly measure for GDP.

Gross domestic product (GDP) fell by 7.6% in the three months to July 2020 following two consecutive quarterly falls, as government restrictions on movement dramatically reduced economic activity.

In case you are wondering how we can grow for 3 individual months but shrink over the total it is because we are comparing the latter with the previous 3 months which include some pre pandemic data.

The Ugly

This comes if we directly compare with where we were or more strictly where we thought we were before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Monthly gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 6.6% in July 2020, following growth of 8.7% in June 2020. Despite this, the level of output did not fully recover from the record falls seen across March and April 2020 and was still 11.7% below the levels seen in February 2020,

So we have picked up but the peak is still a fair way ahead. Or if you prefer.

July 2020 GDP is now 18.6% higher than its April 2020 low. However, it remains 11.7% below the levels seen in February 2020,

There is a sub-plot to this which is unusual for the UK.

In July 2020, the Index of Services is 12.6% below February 2020, the last month of “normal” trading conditions prior to measures introduced as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic…..There was a rise of 6.1% in the Index of Services between June 2020 and July 2020.

The area which is normally a strength and pulls the numbers higher has in fact under performed. One feature of this is hardly a surprise although we can expect a pick-up from the “eat out to help out” policy when we get the August numbers.

Total services output decreased by 8.1% for the three months to July 2020, compared with the months to April 2020; this was led by accommodation and food service activities, which fell by 62.7%.

On the other side of the coin production has been helping in relative terms.

In July 2020, the Index of Production (IoP) was 7.0% below February 2020, the previous month of “normal” trading conditions, prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic…..Production output rose by 5.2% between June and July 2020, with manufacturing providing the largest upward contribution, rising by 6.3%; there were also rises from electricity and gas (2.7%), water and waste (2.4%) and mining and quarrying (0.7%).

It was led by this.

The monthly increase of 6.3% in manufacturing output was led by transport equipment, which rose by 18.5%; all of the 13 subsectors displayed upward contributions.

However it had been in a weak spell anyway and then was hit hard so care is needed.

Comment

There are a lot of contexts and warnings required here many of which are driven by the unreliability of monthly GDP data. The unreliability will be worse right now due to the pandemic as we note something I was pretty much alone in reporting on August 12th.

This primarily reflects movements in the implied price change of government consumption, which increased by 32.7% in Quarter 2 2020. This notable increase occurred because the volume of government activity fell while at the same time government expenditure increased in nominal terms.

More was recorded as less which is a UK peculiarity and made our GDP numbers look worse by maybe 5% on the fall. But now we are seeing the other side of some of that as we note this from the July data.

The largest contribution to monthly growth is education, rising by 21.1%.

Now let me look at the mess which is health.

For example, the suspension of dental and ophthalmic activities (almost 6% of healthcare output), the cancellation and postponement of outpatient activities (13% of healthcare output), and elective procedures (19% of healthcare output) will likely weigh heavily on our activity figures.

If course for a spell Covid-19 treatment was booming well if we counted it.

 Further, our estimates may be affected by the suspension of some data collections by the NHS in England, which include patient volumes in critical care in England.

Oh and if you are struggling with quarterly numbers please run me by how you can get monthly GDP numbers?

For example, the quarterly activity estimates are only made available with a lag, necessitating a form of activity nowcasts.

That is a bit like the services monthly trade data which come mainly from a quarterly survey.

So we did not contract by as much as we thought and have not rebounded by quite as much either.

Looking ahead there are some further strengths for August as we have noted the potential rise in eating out and the Markit PMI reporting this.

A further surge in service sector business activity in August
adds to signs that the economy is enjoying a mini boom as
business re-opens after the lockdowns,

But the PMIs have been downgraded in importance quite a bit as time has passed. Looking further ahead there is this.

The UK has secured a free trade agreement with Japan, which is the UK’s first major trade deal as an independent trading nation, and will increase trade with Japan by an estimated £15.2 billion ( Sky News)

Oh and these things always promise more trade…..

Back to now whilst it was nice to have a bit of variety and be able to report a UK trade surplus it is also true it came from a bad route which is lower imports due to a weaker economy.

 

 

UK monthly GDP is a poor guide to where the economy stands

Today has opened with the media having a bit of a party over the economic news from the UK and they have been in such a rush they have ignored points one and two and dashed to point 3.

Monthly gross domestic product (GDP) fell by 20.4% in April 2020, the biggest monthly fall since the series began in 1997. ( Office for National Statistics)

Actually our official statisticians seem to have got themselves in a spin here which is highlighted by this bit.

Record falls were also seen across all sectors:

    • services – largest monthly fall since series began in 1997
    • production – largest monthly fall since series began in 1968
    • manufacturing – largest monthly fall since series began in 1968
    • construction – largest monthly fall since series began in 2010

As you can see they have jumped into a quagmire as suddenly we have numbers back to 1968 rather than 1997! What they originally meant was the largest number since we began monthly GDP about 18 months ago. The rest is back calculated which did not go that well when they tried it with inflation. Oh and let me put you at rest if you are worried we did not measure construction before 2010 as we did. Actually we probably measured it better than we do now as frankly the new system has been rather poor as regular readers will be aware.

Now I can post my usual warning that the monthly GDP series in the UK has been very unreliable and at times misleading even in more normal scenarios. Or as it is put officially.

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

So let us move on noting that the reality with data in both March and April hard to collect due to the virus pandemic is more like -15% to -25%. The 0.4% in the headline is beyond even spurious accuracy and let me remind you that I have consistently argued that the production of monthly GDP is a mistake.

Mind you it did produce quite an eye-catching chart.

Context

As we switch to a more normal quarterly perspective we are told this.

>GDP fell by 10.4% in the three months to April, as government restrictions on movement dramatically reduced economic activity

This in itself was something of a story of two halves as we went from weakness to a plunge as restrictions on movement began on the 23rd of March. There is also something of a curiosity in the detail.

The services sector fell by 9.9%, production by 9.5% and construction by 18.2%.

The one sector that did carry on to some extent in my area was construction as work on the Royal School of Art and the Curzon cinema in the King’s Road in Chelsea continued. So let us delve deeper.

Services

If we look at the lockdown effect we can see that it crippled some industries.

The dominant negative driver to monthly growth, wholesale and retail trade and repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles, contributed negative 3.5 percentage points, though falls were large and widespread throughout the services industries; notable falls occurred in air transport, which fell 92.8%, and travel and tourism, which fell 89.2%.

The annual comparison is below.

Services output decreased by 9.1% between the three months to April 2019 and the three months to April 2020, the largest contraction in three months compared with the same three months of the previous year since records began in January 1997.

Actually we get very little extra data here.

Wholesale and retail trade and repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles was the main driver of three-monthly growth, contributing negative 1.95 percentage points.

This brings me to a theme I have been pursuing for some years now. That is the fact that our knowledge about the area which represents some four-fifths of our economy is basic and limited. I did make this point to the official review led by Sir Charles Bean. But all that seems to have done is boosted his already very large retirement income, based on his RPI linked pension from the Bank of England.

Production

We follow manufacturing production carefully and it is one area where the numbers should be pretty accurate as you either produce a car or not for example.

The monthly decrease of 24.3% in manufacturing output was led by transport equipment, which fell by a record 50.2%, with motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers falling by a record 90.3%; of the 13 subsectors, 12 displayed downward contributions.

The annual comparison is grim especially when we note that there were already problems for manufacturing due to the ongoing trade war.

For the three months to April 2020, production output decreased by 11.9%, compared with the three months to April 2019; this was led by a fall in manufacturing of 14.0% where 12 of the 13 subsectors displayed downward contributions.

Construction

According to the official series my local experience is not a good guide.

Construction output fell by 40.1% in the month-on-month all work series in April 2020; this was driven by a 41.2% decrease in new work and a 38.1% decrease in repair and maintenance; all of these decreases were the largest monthly falls on record since the monthly records began in January 2010.

This gives us an even more dramatic chart so for those who like that sort of thing here it is.

The problem is that this series has been especially troubled as we have noted over the years. For newer readers they tried to fix it bu switching a large business from services to construction but that mostly only raised questions about how they define the difference? There was also trouble with the measure of inflation.

Anyway here is a different perspective.

Construction output fell by record 18.2% in the three months to April 2020, compared with the previous three-month period; this was driven by a 19.4% fall in new work and a 15.8% fall in repair and maintenance.

Comment

As we break down the numbers we find that they are a lot more uncertain than the headlines proclaiming a 20.4% decline or if you prefer a £30 billion fall suggest. Let me add another factor which is the inflation measure or deflator which will not only be wrong but very wrong too. The issue of using annual fixed weights to calculate an impact will be wrong and in the case of say air transport for example it would be hard for it to be more wrong in April. On the other side of the coin production of hand sanitiser and face masks would be travelling in the opposite direction.

We can switch to trying to look ahead with measures like this.

There was an average of 319 daily ship visits during the period 1 June to 7 June 2020, a slight fall compared with the previous week.

The nadir for this series was 215 on the 13th of April so we have picked up but are still below the previous 400+. . There was also a pick-up using VAT returns in May but again well below what we had come to regard as normal.

 There has been a small increase in the number of new VAT reporters between April 2020 and May 2020 from 15,250 to 16,460.

But I think the Office for National Statistics deserves credit for looking to innovate and for trying new methods here.

Meanwhile I think the Bank of England may be trying some pre weekend humour.

 

UK GDP growth was strong in January meaning we continue to rebalance towards services

This will be an interesting day on the political front but there is also much to consider on the economic one. We have a stronger UK Pound £ this morning with it above US $1.32 and 1.17 versus the Euro which as usual on such days has been accompanied by the currency ticker on Sky News disappearing. We also heard yesterday from the newest member of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee Jonathan Haskel. As it has taken him six months to give one public speech I was hoping for a good one as well as wondering if he might have the cheek to lecture the rest of us on productivity?! So what did we get.

Very early there was an “I agree with Mark (Carney)” as I note this.

see for example speeches by (Carney, 2019) and (Vlieghe, 2019)

The subject was business investment which in the circumstances also had Jonathan tiptoeing around the political world but let us avoid that as much as we can and stick to the economics.

First, as has been widely noted, UK investment has been very weak in the last couple of years, especially
during the last year, see for example speeches by (Carney, 2019) and (Vlieghe, 2019) suggesting that Brexit
uncertainty is weighing on business investment. Second, looking at the assets that make up investment
reveals some interesting patterns: transport equipment has been particularly weak, but intellectual property
products (R&D, software, artistic originals) were somewhat stronger. Third, regarding Brexit, as Sir Ivan
Rogers, the UK’s former representative to the EU, has said (Rogers, 2018), “Brexit is a process not an
event”. That process has the possibility of creating more cliff-edges; the length of the
transitional/implementation period, for example. Since the nature of investment is that it needs payback
over a period of time there is a risk that prolonged uncertainty around the Brexit process might continue to
weigh down on investment.

The issue of business investment is that it has been the one area which has been consistently weak since the EU Leave vote. How big a deal is it?

To fix ideas, Table 1 contains nominal investment
in the UK for 2018. As the top line sets out, it was close
to £360bn. Remembering that nominal GDP is £2.1 trillion, this is around 17% of GDP.

Regular readers will know I am troubled as to how investment is defined and to be fair to Jonathan he does point that out. However this is also classic Ivory Tower thinking which imposes an economic model on a reality which is unknown. Have we see a high degree of uncertainty? Yes and that has clearly impacted on investment but what we do not know is how much will return under the various alternatives ahead. Though from the implications of Jonathan’s thoughts the Forward Guidance of interest-rate increases seems rather inappropriate to say the least.

Raghuram Rajan

There has been a curious intervention today by the former head of the Reserve Bank of India. He has told the BBC this.

“I think capitalism is under serious threat because it’s stopped providing for the many, and when that happens, the many revolt against capitalism,” he told the BBC.

The problem is that a fair bit of that has been driven by central bankers with policies which boost asset prices and hence the already wealthy especially the 0.01%.

The UK economy

The opening piece of official data today was very strong.

Monthly gross domestic product (GDP) growth was 0.5% in January 2019, as the economy rebounded from the negative growth seen in December 2018. Services, production, manufacturing and construction all experienced positive month-on-month growth in January 2019 after contracting in December 2018.

Production data has been in the news as it has internationally slowed so let us dip into that report as well.

Production output rose by 0.6% between December 2018 and January 2019; the manufacturing sector provided the largest upward contribution, rising by 0.8%, its first monthly rise since June 2018……In January 2019, the monthly increase in manufacturing output was due to rises in 8 of the 13 subsectors and follows a 0.7% fall in December 2018; the largest upward contribution came from pharmaceuticals, which rose by 5.7%.

We had been wondering when the erratic pharmaceutical sector would give us another boost and it looks like that was in play during January. For newer readers its cycle is clearly not monthly and whilst it has grown and been a strength of the UK economy it is sensible to even out the peaks and troughs. But in the circumstances the overall figure for January was good.

Some Perspective

This is provided by the quarterly data as whilst the January data was nice we need to recall that December was -0.4% in GDP terms. The -0.4% followed by a 0.5% rise is rather eloquent about the issues around monthly GDP so I will leave that there and look at the quarterly data.

Rolling three-month growth was 0.2% in January 2019, the same growth rate as in December 2018.

This seems to be working better and is at least more consistent not only with its own pattern but with evidence we have from elsewhere.Also there is a familiar bass line to it.

Rolling three-month growth in the services sector was 0.5% in January 2019. The main contributor to this was wholesale and retail trade, with growth of 1.1%. This was driven mostly by wholesale trade.

This shows that we continue to pivot towards the services sector as it grows faster than the overall economy and in this instance it grew whilst other parts shrank exacerbating the rebalancing.

Production output fell by 0.8% in the three months to January 2019, compared with the three months to October 2018, due to falls in three main sectors……The three-monthly decrease of 0.7% in manufacturing is due mainly to large falls of 4.0% from basic metals and metal products and 2.0% from transport equipment.

Continuing the rebalancing theme we have seen this throughout the credit crunch era as essentially the growth we have seen has come from the services sector.

Production and manufacturing output have risen since then but remain 6.8% and 2.7% lower respectively for the three months to January 2019 than the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008.

Overall construction has helped also I think but the redesignation of the official construction data as a National Statistic  after over 4 years is an indication of the problems we have seen here. Accordingly our knowledge is incomplete to say the least.

Returning to the production data this was sadly no surprise.

Within transport equipment, weakness is driven by a 4.0% fall in the motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers sub-industry.

Also I will let you decide for yourselves whether this monthly change is good or bad as it has features of both.

 was a 17.4% rise for weapons and ammunition, the strongest rise since March 2017, when it rose by 25.7%.

Comment

We arrive at what may be a political crossroads with the UK economy having slowed but still growing albeit at a slow rate. There is something of an irony in us now growing at a similar rate to the Euro area although if we look back we see that over the past half-year or so we have done better. That was essentially the third quarter of last year when Euro area GDP growth fell to 0.1% whereas the UK saw 0.6%.

If we look back over the last decade or so it is hard not to have a wry smile at the “rebalancing” rhetoric of former Bank of England Governor Baron King of Lothbury who if we look at it through the lens of the film Ghostbusters seems to have crossed the streams. Speaking of such concepts there was a familiar issue today.

The total trade deficit (goods and services) widened £1.3 billion in the three months to January 2019, as the trade in goods deficit widened £2.4 billion, partially offset by a £1.1 billion widening of the trade in services surplus.

Although we got a clue to a major issue here as we note this too.

Revisions resulted in a £0.8 billion narrowing of the total trade deficit in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2018, due largely to upward revisions to the trade in services surplus.

So in fact we only did a little worse than what we thought we had done at the end of last year. Also one of my main themes about us measuring services trade in a shabby fashion is highlighted yet again as the numbers were revised down and now back up a bit.

In Quarter 4 2018 the trade in services balance contributed £1.1 billion to the upward revision of £0.8 billion in the total trade balance as exports and imports were revised up by £3.3 billion and £2.3 billion respectively.

Pretty much the same ( larger though) happened to the third quarter as regular readers mull something I raised at the (Sir Charlie) Bean Review. This was the lack of detail about services trade. I got some fine words back but note today’s report has a lot of detail about goods trade in 2018 but absolutely none on services.

 

 

Trade revisions post a warning for UK GDP

This morning has shown us that the way that the UK government deals with the private-sector has issues. From Reuters.

Interserve Plc’s (L:IRV) shares sank almost 60 percent in value on Monday after the British outsourcing company announced a rescue plan that was likely to see a big part of its debt converted into new equity, potentially handing control of the company to its creditors.

Interserve, which employs 75,000 worldwide and has thousands of UK government contracts to clean hospitals and serve school meals, said on Sunday it would seek to cut its debt to 1.5 times core earnings in a plan it hopes to finalise early next year.

I am not sure that the next bit inspires much confidence either.

Interserve Chief Executive Debbie White reiterated that the company’s fundamentals were strong and that the debt reduction plan, first raised in a refinancing in April, had the support of 10 Downing Street.

This provokes echoes of this from January.

Carillion was liquidated after contract delays and a slump in business left it swamped by debt and pensions liabilities., triggering Britain’s biggest corporate failure in a decade and forced the government to step in to guarantee public services from school meals to road works.

If we switch to the Financial Times what could go wrong with this bit?

 after moving into areas in which it had no expertise, including waste from energy plants and probation services.

It is hard not to feel that this particular company is yet another zombie that will be kept alive as another failure will be too embarrassing for the establishment. The share price is understandably volatile but at the time of typing had halved to a bit over 12 pence. This compares to the around £5 as we moved into 2016.

Also according to the FT there is something of a queue forming behind it.

The crisis at Interserve is the latest to hit Britain’s troubled outsourcing sector, with Kier, Capita and Mitie also seeking to rebuild their balance sheets. Kier, another construction and support services company, launched a £264m emergency rescue rights issue last month as it warned that lenders were seeking to cut their exposure to the sector. Kier, which employs 20,000 in the UK, emphasised that it needed the “proceeds on the group’s balance sheet by December 31 . . . in light of tighter credit markets”. It said its debt had increased from £186m in June to £624m at the end of October.

I do not know about you but debt trebling in a few months is something that is in financial terms terrifying.

Monthly GDP

This morning brought the latest in the UK’s monthly GDP reports and the opening salvo was better than what we have seen recently.

Monthly growth rose to 0.1% in October 2018, following flat growth in August and September 2018.

If we look into the detail we see that yet again this was driven by the service sector which on its own produced 0.2% growth in October. Here is some detail on this.

The professional, scientific and technical activities sector made the largest contribution to the month-on-month growth, contributing 0.11 percentage points.

However as it outperformed total GDP growth there had to be issues elsewhere and we find the main one in the production sector.

In October 2018, total production output fell by 0.6%, compared with September 2018, due to a fall of 0.9% in manufacturing; this was partially offset by a 1.8% increase in mining and quarrying.

Whether that number will prove to be a general standard I do not know but we do know production in Germany fell by 0.5% in October as we looked at that only on Friday. As for more detail there is this.

The monthly decrease in manufacturing output of 0.9% was due mainly to weakness from transport equipment, falling by 3.2% and pharmaceutical products, falling by 5.0%; 5 of the 13 manufacturing subsectors increased.

Anyone who has been following the news will not be surprised to see the transport sector lower as for example there was a move to a 3 day week for at least one of the Jaguar Land Rover factories. Regular readers will be aware that the pharmaceutical sector has regular highs and lows and recently June was a high and October a low as we wait for a more general pattern to emerge.

Maybe there was also some food for thought for Interserve and the like here.

Construction output decreased by 0.2% in October 2018

Quarterly GDP

The performance was more solid than you might have expected from the monthly data.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 0.4% in the three months to October 2018.

In case you were wondering how this happened? Here is the explanation.

While the three most recent monthly growths were broadly flat, the lower level in the base period gives a comparatively strong rolling three-month growth rate.

If we move forwards to the detail we see something that is rather familiar,

Rolling three-month growth in the services sector was 0.3% in October 2018, contributing 0.23 percentage points to GDP growth.

But this time around it was using the words of Andrew Gold much less of a lonely boy.

The production and construction sectors also had positive contributions, with rolling three-month growths of 0.3% and 1.2%, respectively.

If we start with the construction sector then this time around we start to wonder how some of the outsourcing companies we looked at above seemed to have done so badly at a time of apparent boom? Moving on to production.

Rolling three-month growth in the production industries was 0.3%, while in manufacturing industries growth was flat. Production growth was driven by broad-based increases within the sector.

Peering into the transport sector we get a rather chilling reminder of the past.

Three-months on a year ago growth for manufacture of transport equipment was negative 0.9%, the lowest growth rate since November 2009.

Returning to services we get a reminder that the transport sector can pop up here too.

 with a softening in services sector growth mainly due to a fall in car sales.

On the other side of the coin there were these areas.

Accounting contributed 0.08 percentage points to headline GDP growth, while computer programming contributed 0.07 percentage points.

Comment

We see that considering the international outlook the data so far shows the UK to be doing relatively well. An example of a comparison was the Bank of France reducing its estimate for quarterly GDP growth to 0.2% this morning. Sticking with the official mantra we have slowed overall but saw a small rebound in October. So far so good.

Less reassuring is the simply woeful state of the outsourcing sector which looks a shambles. Also there was something troubling in the revisions and updates to the trade figures which included this.

Removing the effect of inflation, the total trade deficit widened £3.0 billion in the three months to October 2018.

So we did well to show any growth at all in October but there was more.

The total trade deficit widened £5.4 billion in the 12 months to October 2018 due mainly to a £5.1 billion narrowing in the trade in services surplus.

It is nice of our official statisticians to confirm my long-running theme that we have at best a patchy knowledge of what is going on in terms of services trade, but not in a good way in terms of direction. This especially impacted in the quarter just gone.

In Quarter 3 2018, the total trade balance was revised downwards by £6.9 billion, due mainly to exports, which were revised down £5.9 billion; imports were revised up by £1.0 billion.

The goods deficit was revised downwards by £3.1 billion in Quarter 3 2018 as exports of goods were revised downwards by £2.0 billion and imports revised upwards by £1.1 billion.

This would be a rather large factor pushing us from growth to contraction but for two factors. One may wash out to some extent in other parts of the national accounts.

A large component of the revision to trade in goods in the most recent quarter was revisions to unspecified goods (including non-monetary gold).

You would think that movements in gold would be easy to account for. Silly me! Also we now get into the geek section which is that trade is in the expenditure version of the national accounts and it is the output version which is officially assumed to be the correct one. So numbers which suggest the UK may have contracted in Q3 are likely to perhaps drag growth slightly lower to 0.5% or 0.4% on the grounds that you cannot ignore them entirely as we sing along to Genesis one more time.

Too many men, there’s too many people
Making too many problems
And not much love to go round
Can’t you see this is a land of confusion ?

UK GDP growth accelerates past France and Italy

Today brings us the latest data on the UK economy or to be more specific the economic growth or Gross Domestic Product number for the second quarter of this year. If you are thinking that this is later than usual you are correct. The system changed this summer such that we now get monthly updates as well as quarterly ones. So a month ago we were told 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.

So we knew the position for April and May earlier than normal (~17 days) but missing from that was June. We get the data for June today which completes the second quarter. As it happens extra attention has been attracted by the fact that the UK economy has appeared to be picking-up extra momentum. The monthly GDP numbers showed a rising trend but since then other data has suggested an improved picture too. For example the monetary trends seem to have stabilised a bit after falls and the Markit PMI business survey told us this.

UK points to a 0.4% rise in Q2 tomorrow, but that still makes the Bank of England’s recent rate rise look odd, even with the supposed reduced speed limit for the economy. Prior to the GFC, 56.5 was the all-sector PMI ‘trigger’ for rate hikes. July 2018 PMI was just 53.8 ( @WilliamsonChris _

As you can see they are a bit bemused by the behaviour of the Bank of England as well. If we look ahead then the next issue to face is the weaker level of the UK Pound £ against the US Dollar as we have dipped below US $1.28 today. This time it is dollar strength which has done this as the Euro has gone below 1.15 (1.145) but from the point of view of inflation prospects this does not matter as many commodities are priced in US Dollars. I do not expect the impact to be as strong as last time as some prices did not fall but via the impact of higher inflation on real wages this will be a brake on the UK economy as we head forwards.

Looking Ahead

Yesterday evening the Guardian published this.

Interest rates will stay low for 20 years, says Bank of England expert

Outgoing MPC member Ian McCafferty predicts rates below 5% and wages up 4%

The bubble was rather punctured though by simpleeconomics in the comments section.

Considering the BoE track record on forecasting I think we should take this with a massive pinch of salt. They often get the next quarter wrong so no hope for 20 years time.

The data

As ever we should not place too much importance on each 0.1% but the number was welcome news.

UK GDP grew by 0.4% in Quarter 2 (April to June) 2018.The rate of quarterly GDP growth picked up from growth of 0.2% in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2018.

As normal if there was any major rebalancing it was towards the services sector.

Services industries had robust growth of 0.5% in Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2018, which contributed 0.42 percentage points to overall gross domestic product (GDP) growth.

The areas which did particularly low are shown below.

 Retail and wholesale trade were the largest contributors to growth, at 0.11 percentage points and 0.05 percentage points respectively. Computer programming had a growth of 1.9%, contributing 0.05 percentage points to headline gross domestic product (GDP).

There was also some much better news from the construction sector and even some rebalancing towards it.

Growth of 0.9% in construction also contributed positively to GDP growth.

Although of course these numbers have been in disarray demonstrated by the fact that the latest set of “improvements” are replacing the “improvements” of a couple of years or so ago. Perhaps they have switched a business from the services sector to construction again ( sorry that;s now 3 improvements).So Definitely Maybe. Anyway I can tell you that there are now 40 cranes between Battersea Dogs Home and Vauxhall replacing the 25 when I first counted them.

Today’s sort of humour for the weekend comes from the area to which according to Baron King of Lothbury we have been rebalancing towards.

However, contraction of 0.8% in the production industries contributed negatively to headline GDP growth…….

Manufacturing fell by 0.9% although there is more to this as I will come to in a moment.

Monthly GDP

You might have assumed that the June number would be a good one but in fact it was not.

GDP increased by 0.1% in June 2018

If we look into the detail we see that contrary to expectations there was no services growth at all in June. Such growth as there was come from the other sectors and construction had a good month increasing by 1.4%. I did say I would look at manufacturing again and it increased by 0.4% in June which follows a 0.6% increase in May. So we have an apparent pick-up in the monthly data as the quarterly ones show that it is in a recession with two drops in a row. Thus it looks as if the dog days of earlier this year may be over,

This leaves us with the problem of recording zero services growth in June. The sectors responsible for pulling the number lower are shown below.

The professional, scientific and technical activities sector decreased by 1.0% and contributed negative 0.10 percentage points. ……The other notable sector fall was wholesale, retail and motor trades, which decreased by 0.6% and contributed negative 0.08 percentage points.

The decline of the retail trade whilst the football world cup was on seems odd. Also there overall number completely contradicts the PMI survey for June which at 55.1 was strong. So only time will tell except Bank of England Governor Mark Carney may need its barman to mix his Martini early today as he mulls the possibility that he has just raised interest-rates into a service-sector slow down.

One consistent strong point in the numbers in recent times has carried on at least.

There was also a rise in motion pictures, increasing by 5.8% and contributing 0.05 percentage points.

So we should all do our best to be nice to any luvvies we come across.

Comment

We should welcome the improved quarterly numbers as GDP growth of 0.4% is double that of both France and Italy and is double the previous quarter. However whilst the monthly numbers do provide some extra insight into manufacturing as the recessionary quarterly data looks like a dip which is already recovering the services numbers are odd. I fear that one of my warnings about monthly GDP numbers are coming true as it seems inconsistent with other numbers to say we picked up well in May but slowed down in June. If we look at the services sector alone and go back to February 2017 we are told this happened in the subsequent months, -0.1%,0.3%-0.1%,0.3% which I think speaks for itself.

We also got an update on the trade figures which have a good and a bad component so here is the good.

The total UK trade deficit (goods and services) narrowed £6.2 billion to £25.0 billion in the 12 months to June 2018. The improvement was driven by both exports of goods and services increasing by more than their respective imports.

Next the bad.

The total UK trade deficit widened £4.7 billion to £8.6 billion in the three months to June 2018, due mainly to falling goods exports and rising goods imports.

If you want a one word summary of out recorded trade position then it is simply deficit. Although currently we are looking rather like France in terms of patterns as a reminder that some trends are more than domestic.

 

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.