The brightest sector in the UK economy appears to be manufacturing

Today has seen a raft of news on the state of play in the UK economy and let us start with what the consumer has been up to. The British Retail Consortium has told us this.

August provided a welcome pick-up in retail sales across channels, with Non-Food returning to growth as shoppers’ attentions turned to homewares, autumn clothing ranges and the new school term.

The BBC gives us a breakdown of the data.

The British Retail Consortium, working with consultancy KPMG, said like-for-like sales rose 1.3% in August, against a 0.9% fall for the same month in 2016.

Actually total sales rose by 2.4% which suggests that there was an opening of retail stores in some form which seems strange with the switch to online ( “from strength to strength”) that is happening. Also there was a dichotomy between the views of consumers about the future and the BRC. Here is the consumer view.

Shopper confidence has been building. 23 per cent expect to be financially better off over the next 12 months, compared with 20 per cent in the election month of June.

So an improvement albeit a small one whereas the BRC itself is much more downbeat.

Purchasing decisions are very much dictated by a shrinking pool of discretionary consumer spend, with the amount of money in people’s pockets set to be dented by inflation and statutory rises in employee pension contributions in a few months’ time.

Data from Barclaycard which claims to cover nearly half of UK credit and debit card transactions put a different spin on things.

Consumer spending growth slowed to 2.9 per cent in August, compared to a 2017 average of 3.8 per cent, as consumers rowed back across the board.

So they have seen growth but maybe not much if we allow for inflation and in the detail I noted that we seem to feel we need a drink!

Pub growth fell to single digits for only the second time this year (9.2 per cent), and spend on cinemas and event tickets flatlined (0.4 per cent) after the 24.3 per cent boost seen in July.

Also I saw this earlier and of course with a lag we tend to follow the United States in such things.

US box office -35 per cent in August, worst in 20 yrs raises Q’s about the future of cinema in the age of digital streaming!?  ( h/t @CompoundIncome )

Car Sales

This have hit a decidedly rough patch however which we have noted by the proliferation of scrappage schemes which add to the definition of “price cuts” in my financial lexicon for these times. From the SMMT.

New car registrations fall -6.4% in August to 76,433……Year-to-date market holds steady, down -2.4%, with 1.64 million cars joining British roads in 2017.

So bad news for sales however not so much for manufacturing as we mostly import the cars we lease. Europe’s trade body gave us an idea of how much last September.

The other way round, the EU represents 81% of the UK’s motor vehicle import volume, worth €44.7 billion

So a small drain for UK manufacturers and a larger one for foreign manufacturers so ironically if we continue to export as usual a possible improvement in the trade figures.

UK business surveys

The Markit PMI for services this morning had some odd combinations in it as shown below.

new order volumes increased at the second slowest rate since September 2016….. fragile business confidence

So a slowing but one which caused backlogs and increased employment?

This was highlighted by the steepest rise in backlogs of work since July 2015. Service providers responded to rising workloads and pressures on operating capacity by recruiting additional staff in August.

We have found employment to be a reasonably reliable forward indicator over the last few years or so meaning that the down reported could be an “unexpected” up.

If we move to manufacturing nearly everyone except the official figures are telling us that things are on the up.

All five of the PMI components – output, new orders, employment, suppliers’ delivery times and stocks of purchases – were consistent with a stronger performance for the manufacturing industry during August.

There was also this from another source earlier.

Britain’s manufacturers are enjoying buoyant conditions on the back of export markets going from strength to strength according to a major survey published today by EEF , the manufacturers’ organisation and accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP……  Output and orders bounce back to historic highs.

The picture is completed by a weak period for construction and particularly infrastructure spending from the PMI there. Maybe the election was an influence on the public-sector but we cannot say that for ever! However the overall picture suggested is of steady as she goes.

the latest two months’ data put the economy on course for another 0.3% expansion in the third quarter

What about flows of money?

This morning has brought news that suggests at least one company sees UK businesses attractive at current exchange rates. From the Financial Times.


Schneider Electric will contribute its own software division to Aveva in exchange for new shares in the UK company. Schneider will own 60 per cent of the enlarged company’s stock, valued at approximately £1.7bn. Existing Aveva shareholders will own the remaining 40 per cent.

However this morning we got official data saying that in the second quarter foreign acquisitions of UK companies had fallen! One area where there may be a change if ( as often happens) similar investors fall into line was this announced by the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund.

 In future, the benchmark index for the bond portfolio should consist of nominal government bonds issued in dollars, euros and pounds……….The benchmark index for bonds currently consists of 23 currencies. Our recommendation is that the number of currencies in the bond index is reduced.

These things take a long time to happen usually and some emerging bond markets will be hit but it seems that there will be a purchase of UK bonds ( as well as Euro and US Treasuries) which will be mostly a currency play.


On the surface we see that there is an element of “same as it ever was” as  the UK economy continues to grow but slowly. However underneath a fair bit seems to be changing as we see more and more reports of UK manufacturing doing well albeit that we wait to see that reflected in the official data. I have to confess I am unclear why services output is falling as backlogs and employment both rise!

The danger remains of a lower UK Pound £ pushing inflation higher but the main burst of that is fading now and if other sovereign wealth funds match Norway it may see some investing flows. On the other side of the coin even Markit seems to be trolling the Bank of England these days.

the overall level of the PMI remains more consistent with policymakers erring towards stimulus rather than hiking interest rates, suggesting the doves will continue to outnumber the hawks.




UK GDP grinds higher thanks to services and the film industry

Today brings us up to date in terms of official data on the performance of the UK economy in the first half of 2017. Whilst expectations are low rather than stellar the last week or so has brought a little more optimistic tinge to things. This started with the retail sales numbers last week. From last Thursday.

In the 3 months to June 2017, the quantity bought (volume) in the retail industry is estimated to have increased by 1.5%, with increases seen across all store types…….Compared with May 2017, the quantity bought increased by 0.6%, with non-food stores providing the main contribution.

This contrasted with the fall of a similar amount seen in the first quarter of the year which meant that we got back to levels seen at the end of 2016 or around 2.6% higher than in the second quarter last year.

This was added to by better news on the tourism front albeit for only some of the latest quarter.

For the period March to May 2017, spend in the UK by overseas residents increased 14% on the previous year to £5.6 billion………During the period March to May 2017, there were 2% more visits abroad by UK residents compared with the corresponding period a year earlier, and they spent 1% more on these visits

So whilst there was still a considerable trade deficit it did shrink a bit compared to last year as we presumably see a beneficial impact of a lower exchange rate for the pound.


Yesterday came news from the Confederation of British Industry that the manufacturing was in pretty good shape.

Production among UK manufacturers grew at the fastest pace since January 1995 in the three months to July, according to the latest quarterly CBI Industrial Trends Survey……….Output growth is expected to continue to grow strongly in the quarter ahead and manufacturers are upbeat about prospects for overall demand. Domestic orders are expected to continue growing strongly, while expectations for growth in export orders improved to a four-decade high

This was upbeat as you can see and came with positive expectations from all of employment, investment and exports. It also came with some better inflation news.

Meanwhile, input cost pressures cooled in the quarter to July and are expected to soften further in the near-term, while factory gate price inflation is also expected to be more subdued.

This poses a few questions as whilst this is to some extent consistent with the Markit PMI business survey although it was more subdued and had a fading in June. It is much less in line with the official data which has shown only a little growth up to May.


There was some good news on the production front here as well. From City-AM.

A fully-electric version of the Mini is to be built at BMW’s plant at Cowley, in Oxford, the car firm has announced.

Actually whilst good news it is more accurate to say that it will be assembled there. Also in the light of the announcement that sales of petrol and diesel cars will be banned from 2040 it was interesting to see that BMW is heading down that road to at least some extent.

By 2025, BMW expects electric vehicles to make up between 15 and 25 per cent of sales. It currently produces electric models at 10 plants worldwide.

Today’s GDP Data

Here we go.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated to have increased by 0.3% in Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2017.

So some but not a lot and it was driven by a very familiar sector.

The growth in Quarter 2 2017 was driven by services, which grew by 0.5% compared with 0.1% growth in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2017.

As I regularly point out this sector must be 80% of our economy by now as again and again it grows faster than the other sectors.

The services aggregate was the main driver to the growth in GDP, contributing 0.42 percentage points. Production and construction recorded falls in Quarter 2 2017 of 0.4% and 0.9% respectively, each contributing negative 0.06 percentage points to GDP.

This had an interesting corollary though.

Construction and manufacturing were the largest downward pulls on quarterly GDP growth, following 2 consecutive quarters of growth.

As I have noted above this is very different from the “Production among UK manufacturers grew at the fastest pace since January 1995 ” of the CBI and the growth recorded in the Markit business surveys. I note that Chris Williamson of the latter has been on the wires.

ONS say economy grew 0.3% in Q2, but & output fell 0.5% & 0.9% respectively. These likely to be revised higher.

Regular readers will be aware of my particular doubts about the official data on the UK’s construction sector although there was an interesting reply from the Mayor of West Yorkshire who said that elections always cause slow downs as people wait for the result.

The Film industry

There was good news on this front.

The second largest contributor was motion picture activities, which grew by 8.2% and contributed 0.07 percentage points to GDP growth….. Motion picture activities are a subset of the transport, storage and communications sector, which grew by 1.0%.

Actually only a couple of weeks or so ago Albert Bridge was closed for filming at the weekend and yesterday I noted filming taking place in Battersea Park. This is of course purely anecdotal but this sector has been mentioned in GDP despatches before in recent times. For more information we get referred to the BFI website which does not have the numbers until tomorrow but the ones for the first quarter were strong and perhaps provide a guide.

The total UK spend and budget of these films was £747 million and £983 million respectively, a substantial increase from UK spend of £231 million and total budget of £318 million in Q1 2017. UK spend, as a percentage of budget, was the highest since 2013, at 76%.

The only cloud in this silver lining is that we may have to start being more tolerant of some of the extraordinary statements made by luvvies, excuse me I mean economic miracle workers.


So the UK economy is grinding on in a slow way as we see the annual rate of growth fall to 1.7%. Also the news from looking at the data on a more personal level shows the minimum rate of growth possible.

GDP per head was estimated to have increased by 0.1% during Quarter 2 2017.

We also learn that the first quarter may not have been the type of statistical quirk we see regularly from the US but of course much more data will be needed for us to be sure of that.

On the more positive side this was always going to be the awkward period after the EU leave vote as higher inflation from the Pound’s fall causes not only lower real wage growth but actual falls.

Real earnings declined despite historically low unemployment. Adjusted for inflation, average weekly earnings fell by 0.7% including bonuses and by 0.5% excluding bonuses, over the year ( to May). For total real pay (including bonuses) this is the largest 3-month average year-on-year decrease since the 3 months to August 2014.

Also the film industry numbers make me wonder about the UK football premiership where the numbers are ballooning but the latest update I can find is this from E&Y.

The Premier League and its Clubs together generated over £6.2 billion in economic output that contributed approximately £3.4 billion to national GDP in 2013/14.

Surely there has been a fair bit of growth? Although of course the flow of money in then sees a flow of money out in transfer fees. Some are claiming that so far this year the defence budget of Manchester City exceeds that of around 25 countries.




The UK economy continues to motor ahead or if you prefer is on drugs

Today sees us advance on some key data for the UK economy as we receive production, manufacturing and trade data. But before we even get to it there has been a warning from France which has already opened the day with something of a conundrum.

In January 2017, output decreased sharply again in the manufacturing industry (−1.0% as in the previous month).

Whereas the Markit PMI ( Purchasing Managers Index ) told us this.

 The index was down from January’s reading of 53.6

We were told that the french economy was doing well in January. From Reuters.

“The expansion was broad-based with marked increases in output evident in both the manufacturing and service sectors, driven by firm underlying client demand. In turn, this filtered through into the labor market.”

Markit has had trouble before with France ironically for producing numbers which were lower than official estimates. But this is another issue for a series which has proved to be disappointing in its accuracy in more recent times.

UK monetary policy

This remains extremely expansionary with the Bank of England adding to its holdings of UK Gilts ( government bonds ) and corporate bonds this week. Indeed at £434.2 billion the UK Gilts part of the QE (Quantitative Easing) program has only one day left but at £8 billion so far there is more corporate bond QE to come. If we add in the £43.9 billion of the Term Funding Scheme we get an idea of the total scale of Bank of England monetary policy in balance sheet terms and that is before we note a Bank Rate set at 0.25%.

The other factor at play is the lower level of the UK Pound £ which post the EU leave vote in the UK has provided an economic stimulus equivalent to a 2.75% cut in Bank Rate if we use the old Bank of England rule of thumb. It would have created quite a shock would it not if we had somehow had the same exchange rate as before but with a Bank Rate of -2.5%!

Today’s data

Production and Manufacturing

Unlike the numbers for the French I quoted above these start brightly for the UK.

In the 3 months to January 2017, total production was estimated to have increased by 1.9%, with manufacturing providing the largest contribution increasing by 2.1%, its strongest growth since May 2010.

However manufacturing output continues to see-saw each month along with the pharmaceutical industry.

In January 2017, total production decreased by 0.4% compared with December 2016 with manufacturing providing the largest downward contribution, decreasing by 0.9%…………The monthly decrease in manufacturing was largely due to a decrease in pharmaceuticals, falling by 13.5%,………. pharmaceuticals can be highly erratic, with significant monthly changes, often due to the delivery of large contracts.

I am glad to see that our official statisticians have caught up with the view that I have been expressing on here for the best part of a year now as this recent pattern began last spring. However if we look back over the past year there is some call for a smile for spring.

Total production output for January 2017 compared with January 2016, increased by 3.2%, supported by growth in all 4 main sectors, with manufacturing providing the largest contribution, increasing by 2.7%.

The pharmaceutical sector is up some 6.1% on a year ago which is good news. But of course that only regains some of the ground which we lost.

Since then, both production and manufacturing output have steadily risen but remain well below their level reached in the pre-downturn gross domestic product (GDP) peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008 by 6.7% and 3.3% respectively in the 3 months to January 2017.

What about trade?

This is an ongoing worry for the UK economy that stretches back for around 30 years or so. Actually I recall days when these numbers were considered very important and as a young man working in the City it was “all hands on deck” when they were released. These days they do not get much of a mention especially if they are better because the financial twitter community if I may call it that do quite a bit of cherry picking. But the “same as it ever was” theme continued in January.

The trade deficit in goods and services in January 2017 was £2.0 billion, unchanged from December 2016.

It is odd that such an erratic number is the same for two months in a row but let us take a deeper perspective.

Between the 3 months to October 2016 and the 3 months to January 2017, the total trade deficit (goods and services) narrowed by £4.7 billion to £6.4 billion.

We find some cheer here in the improvement so let us probe further.

At the commodity level, the main contributors to the narrowing of the total trade deficit in the 3 months to January 2017, were increased exports of non-monetary gold, oil, machinery and transport equipment (mainly electrical machinery, aircraft and cars) and chemicals.

So the chemicals numbers are consistent with the reported growth of the pharmaceutical industry which is a relief as they do not always coincide. Also increased production and thence exports of vehicles has helped.

The latest data shows that passenger motor vehicles were the UK’s second highest exported commodity behind mechanical machinery in 2016. The value of cars exported by the UK increased by 14.8% in the year to January 2017 with export growth stronger to non-EU countries (17.9%) compared with the EU (10.0%).

Indeed if you want something hopeful take a look at this.

However one of the problems with these statistics is that they are unreliable and frequently heavily revised. For the UK this is a particular issue as the numbers for the service sector are collected quarterly at best. However this time the revisions were cheerful ones.

The trade in services balance (exports less imports) has been revised upwards by £2.7 billion in Quarter 4 2016, to a trade surplus of £26.6 billion. This reflects an upwards revision of £1.7 billion to exports, and a downwards revision of £1.0 billion to imports.

So a nudge higher for UK GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth in the last quarter of 2017 although not enough to be especially material.

Another way of looking at this is to note how few countries we do so much of our trading with.

In 2016, nearly 50% of all UK exports of goods went to just 6 countries: the United States, Germany, France, Netherlands, Republic of Ireland and China. The United States are our biggest export partner, receiving 15.7% of all UK exported goods.

The UK’s largest import partner was Germany in 2016, supplying 14.8% of all goods imported to the UK. Similar to exports, over 50% of the UK’s imports of goods come from 6 countries: Germany, China, United States, Netherlands, France and Belgium.


This morning has seen some more relatively good news for the UK economy. The pattern for production and manufacturing has been relatively solid if erratic on a monthly basis and if we add in the noted improvement to services trade there is good news here. The worry ahead is of course the impact of inflation on the economy mostly via its impact on real wages. I note that according to the Bank of England’s latest survey the ordinary person is noticing it.

Asked to give the current rate of inflation, respondents gave a median answer of 2.7%, compared to 2.3% in November………. Median expectations of the rate of inflation over the coming year were 2.9%, compared with 2.8% in November.

They seem much more in touch with reality than the 2.4% for 2017 forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility on Wednesday.

For those who follow the UK construction sector the numbers are below, but take them with not just a pinch of salt and maybe the whole salt-cellar.

Construction output fell by 0.4% in January 2017, following consecutive rises in November and December 2016 (0.8% and 1.8% respectively).

UK GDP growth continues to be both steady and strong

Today we find out how the UK economy performed in the last quarter of 2016 or at least the official version of that as the preliminary GDP report is issued. We can be sure that it will be rather different to that implied by one of our official seers as the person who signed this off ( Professor Sir Charles Bean) is now part of the OBR or Office for Budget Responsibility.

I am grateful to Professor Sir Charles Bean, one of our country’s foremost economists and a former Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, who has reviewed this analysis and says that it “provides reasonable estimates of the likely size of the short-term impact of a vote to leave on the UK economy”.

I have looked at before the woeful effort which stated that the economy would shrink by between 0.1% and 1% in the quarter following an EU leave vote so let us pick something else out.

Businesses and households would start to adjust to being permanently poorer in the future by reducing spending immediately.

Actually in spite of a weaker December household spending seems to have soared.

Estimates of the quantity bought in retail sales increased by 4.3% compared with December 2015………The underlying trend remains one of growth with the 3 month on 3 month movement in the quantity bought increasing by 1.2%.

Accordingly our good Professor has ended up looking a right Charlie and of course will fit in well at the OBR. But wait there was worse as all sort of doom and gloom was predicted for our automotive sector as well. Here is this morning’s update from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders or SMMT.

UK car production achieved a 17-year high in 2016, according to the latest figures published by SMMT. 1,722,698 vehicles rolled off production lines last year from some 15 manufacturers, an 8.5% uplift on total production in 2015 – and the highest output since 1999.

I guess Charlie has a different definition of “reasonable” from the rest of us! Up seems to be the new down for him. But wait there was more good news.

More cars are now being exported from Britain than ever before, the result of investments made over recent years in world-class production facilities, cutting-edge design and technology and one of Europe’s most highly skilled and productive workforces.

The UK Pound £

This has been a powerful driving force as I have argued all along and the establishment have ignored. It has been nice to see the UK Pound rebound to above US $1.26 over the past week or so but the truth is that it is now lower and the cumulative effect if we use the old Bank of England rule of thumb is of a 2.6% reduction in the official Bank Rate since EU leave vote night. This has given the economy a boost as I have explained in my articles on the money supply and the surge in unsecured credit. It is also why the Bank of England’s “Sledgehammer” was both relatively puny and a policy error.

This morning has brought some confirmation of the logic behind this from company results. From the Guardian on Diageo.

It is estimated to have boosted net sales by about £1.4bn and operating profits by £460m in the year to 30 June. The maker of Johnnie Walker whiskey and Smirnoff vodka toasted a 28% rise in first-half operating profits to £2.06bn and hiked its interim dividend by 5%. Diageo’s shares rose 4.8% on the news.

There was more in the Financial Times.

Jimmy Choo continued to shrug off difficulties in the wider luxury sector in the second half of 2016, reporting “solid growth” across most regions and enjoying a big boost from the weak pound. In a trading update ahead of its full-year results, the company said total revenues increased 15 per cent to £364m.

The GDP data

This was if you take the view that we have received a strong monetary stimulus from the weaker UK Pound no great surprise.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated to have increased by 0.6% during Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2016, the same rate of growth as in the previous 2 quarters.

So the establishment and media line of volatility and panic faces a reality of what has in fact been extraordinary stability! No doubt the Ivory Towers will blame the ordinary person. Indeed as we look further we see examples of well “same as it ever was”.

Growth during Quarter 4 was dominated by services, with a strong contribution from consumer-focused industries such as retail sales and travel agency services.

Whether the travel agents were seeing a flood of people departing the UK (remember when the media headlines screamed that?) or holidaymakers coming here because the lower £ makes it cheaper is not explained. However the march of the services continues. Indeed the general pattern continued as well.

UK GDP was estimated to have increased by 2.0% during 2016, slowing slightly from 2.2% in 2015 and from 3.1% in 2014.

The Service Sector

As this is our main player let us look into the detail we get.

Within the services aggregate, the distribution, hotels and restaurants industry performed strongly, increasing by 1.7%, which contributed 0.24 percentage points to quarter-on-quarter GDP growth. Retail trade, wholesale trade and the trade and repair of motor vehicles were all strong performers.

The business services and finance industries also performed strongly, increasing by 0.9% in Quarter 4 2016, which contributed 0.28 percentage points to quarter-on-quarter GDP growth. A particularly strong performer was the travel agency industry, which increased by 7.3%, contributing 0.05 percentage points to headline GDP growth.

Thus there was a hint that it was travellers to the UK boosting travel agencies but just a hint. Also let us check in on the main player last time around.

Growth in transport, storage and communications slowed to 0.3% in Quarter 4 2016, following growth of 2.6% in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2016.


This had a good quarter although the overall picture is one which seems pretty much to be following the ebbs and flows of the volatile pharmaceutical industry.

manufacturing increased by 0.7% in Quarter 4 2016, mainly due to a large rise in the erratically performing pharmaceuticals industry, after a fall of 0.8% in Quarter 3 2016;

Production flatlined but was heavily affected by this.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy advised the decrease can largely be attributed to continued maintenance to the Buzzard oil field in the North Sea.


If we look back we see that the UK economy has managed several years in a row of economic growth now. The media and establishment panic over the EU leave vote has in fact been replaced by a period of extraordinary economic stability and what is described officially as “steady growth”. In any ordinary line of work people would be disciplined for such gross mistakes but of course different rules apply to the establishment. In essence the UK economy has relied on the consumer (again) so thank you ladies one more time, and rebalanced even further towards the service sector as we are reminded yet again of the “rebalancing” in the other direction promised by former Bank of England Governor Baron King of Lothbury and the “march of the makers” of the current darling of the expensive speech circuit George Osborne.

Yet there are disturbing sounds below the surface such as the return of inflation and another ongoing issue.

GDP per head was estimated to have increased by 0.4% during Quarter 4 2016 and by 1.3% during 2016.

So it continues to underperform the overall or aggregate numbers leading to this as summarised by the Guardian.

It is now 8.7% higher than its pre-crisis peak in 2008. But on a per capita basis (adjusted for population changes), it’s only 1.9% larger.

Also let me offer my usual critique of GDP data. It is in no way accurate to 0.1% especially on the preliminary report and has been boosted in recent years by substituting a lower for a higher inflation measure ( CPI for RPI). As the gap between the two widens that becomes a bigger issue and it is currently ~1% per annum. Regular readers will be aware that there are plenty of other flaws too.






The UK economy has rebalanced towards services and away from production

Today gives us an opportunity to look more deeply into the way that the UK economy has been rebalancing in the credit crunch era and indeed before it. The concept was first introduced all the way back in 2002 by the then Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King.

The strength of consumption and the weakness of net exports have led to an imbalance between manufacturing and services………The need to rebalance the British economy is clear.

He even told us how this could be achieved.

There are four key prices that will determine the extent of the re-balancing that occurs. They are the sterling exchange rate, the oil price, real wages, and interest rates. It is these prices that will provide the incentives for the required shift in resources.

Some perspective is provided by the fact that an oil price of US $26 per barrel was considered high then ( it had risen from US $10) although there was something more familiar which was worries about wages.

For the economy as a whole, average earnings rose by only 0.9% in the year to February – the lowest figure recorded since April 1967.

But the issue here is that in essence that whilst the Bank of England had control over some interest-rates the main player was always likely to be the currency. In spite of this Governor King seemed confident.

This would permit the stabilisation and eventual reduction of the trade deficit, while maintaining low and stable inflation, and high and stable employment, at the same time as resources move from private consumption to the provision of better public services.

The trouble is that much of that could be written today! Over time Governor King became increasingly keen on a lower value for the UK Pound as an aid to his mythical rebalancing a path which his replacement Mark Carney seems to have adopted too.

Rebalancing in reverse

After that speech the UK Pound was stable overall but Mervyn King got his fall in 2008/09 and of course interest-rates are in general much much lower as are bond yields. Not all as I observed yesterday about credit card interest-rates but most. Also post the EU vote the UK Pound has seen a substantial fall. It is too early to fully review the impact of the latter but the latest UK GDP data provided a problem for the philosophy of Mervyn King.

In Quarter 3 2016, the services industries increased by 0.8%. In contrast, output decreased in the other 3 main industrial groups with construction decreasing by 1.4%, agriculture decreasing by 0.7% and production decreasing by 0.4%, within which manufacturing decreased by 1.0%.

As you can see not only did we rebalance towards the service sector in fact it gave an upwards push to GDP of 0.67% when it only rose by 0.5% so everything else shrunk. This is also a feature of the whole phase of economic growth we have seen since 2013.

Over the last 3 years, the services industries have driven GDP growth, growing by 9.7% since Quarter 1 2013.

That means that the service sector has provided around 7.6% of GDP growth through this period which does not leave much else.

The latest quarter marks the 15th consecutive quarter of positive growth since the beginning of 2013 with the level of GDP now 8.2% above its pre-downturn peak (Quarter 1 2008).

We can go further back and it provides really bad news for Baron King of Lothbury. At the start of 2002 UK GDP was 86.1 whereas at the start of 2015 it was 106.9 ( 2011 = 100) so the story starts well. A growing economy driven by production, er well no, as it went from 110.3 to 98.5 over the same time period. Some of this will be the decline in North Sea Oil & Gas which more than halved but over the same time period manufacturing shrank by 2% . But services growth has just gone on and on and on to coin a phrase, it was 80.6 back then and was 109 at the start of 2015 so the rebalancing was in reverse.

What about now?

Today’s data release gives us a counterpoint to the strong services performance in the credit crunch era.

In the 3 months to September 2016, production and manufacturing were 7.9% and 5.5% respectively below their level reached in the pre-downturn GDP peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008.

I can bring the numbers above up to date which is that since the beginning of 2015 North Sea Oil and Gas has risen, manufacturing has slipped backwards slightly. One sector has performed well pretty much whatever time period and I will let readers add their own jokes to this.

Looking over the entire period (Quarter 2 1997 to Quarter 3 2016), the water supply, sewerage and waste management  sector grew fastest, at a compound average growth rate of 0.5%

Today’s headline numbers

These were something of a mixed bag.

The monthly picture shows a decrease of 0.4% compared with August 2016. Mining and quarrying was the main sector to show a fall of 3.8%, partially offset by an increase in manufacturing of 0.6%.

Okay so maybe maintenance in the North Sea which the seasonality adjustments never seem to get a grip on partly because I am told it runs a 3 year cycle. The quarterly numbers were simply disappointing.

Quarterly estimate for production output decreased by 0.5% in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2016. The largest downward pressure came from manufacturing, which fell by 0.9%, partially offset by a rise in mining and quarrying of 4.3%.

That’s a nudge downwards but not by enough to effect the GDP release on its own.

Looking forwards there was optimism in the latest Markit PMI business survey.

The UK manufacturing sector remained on a firm footing in October and should return to growth in the fourth quarter.

Not everything is bright in services

Marks and Spencer has shown that within services there are ch-ch-changes going on as we see a rebalancing from actual stores to virtual ones. From the BBC.

Marks and Spencer has announced it will close 30 UK clothing and home shops and convert dozens more into food stores………It also plans to shut 53 international stores, including all 10 in China, half of its stores in France and all its shops in Belgium, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

It seems particularly odd to be departing China. I was always somewhat dubious about the lauding of the now Baron Rose of Monewden although to be fair those in the M&S pension scheme may have cause to be grateful he fought off take-over attempts by Phillip Green.


Another burst of shrinkflation has reached my attention. From the BBC.

Mondelez International, the company behind the product, has increased the gap between the peaks to reduce the weight of what were 400g and 170g bars………The move has resulted in the weight of the 400g bars being reduced to 360g and the 170g bars to 150g, while the size of the packaging has remained the same.

I am pleased to see that the BBC covers shrinkflation so enthusiatically these days although “triangle change” and “the look” are curious ways of expressing it. This leaves chocoholics in particular singing along with Muse.

Can’t you see it’s over?
Because you’re the god of a shrinking universe.


If we look back over the 14 years or so of the rebalancing promised by Baron King we see that in fact it was always in reverse gear. The service sector has continued what appears to be an inexorable march and production and manufacturing have shrunk. Actually the official numbers are out of date but the pull is two ways. If we take their own logic and data then the service sector must now be at least 80% of the UK as opposed to the official 78.8%.

However there is a pull in the other direction as I contacted the UK ONS ( Office for National Statistics) about how industries get classified. My concern was for example that manufacturers now outsource ever more and the same work will have been reclassified whereas reality may be little changed. After looking at the classifications it is clear to me that whilst the statisticians do their best this has clearly happened. On what scale though is hard to measure particularly as some of the official criteria are inconsistent.

The truth is that a lower exchange-rate is no panacea for this.

Meanwhile it is kind of Mark Carney and the Bank of England to help us out today on defining two subjects. Firstly how far away is the long grass? And secondly how far that poor battered can can still be kicked…

Bank of England extends deadline for major banks to meet too big to fail to 2022 (from 2020)

Meanwhile if you have a vote today let me wish you good luck!






UK GDP is an example of the march of the services and not makers

Today gives us our first full insight into how the UK economy performed in the first three months of 2016. Let me open with a sector which was turbo- charged in that period. From the British Bankers Association or BBA.

Gross mortgage borrowing of £17.1 billion in March was 64% higher than a year ago and the highest borrowing since April 2008 following a reported sharp increase in purchase of buy-to-let and second homes, ahead of the increase in stamp duty on 1 April 2016.

As you can see the pedal had pushed nearer to the metal and if we look to the future we see that we can expect a follow-on effect in the second quarter of this year.

The number of mortgage approvals in March was 20% higher than a year ago, with remortgaging up 25% and house purchase up 14%.

So it was time for the Outhere Brothers in the quarter just gone.

I say, boom boom boom now let me hear you say wayoh

The BBA itself summed up the position as shown below.

A surge in buy-to-let and second home buying ahead of the new stamp duty surcharge in April led to a sharp rise in March’s gross mortgage borrowing as people brought transactions forward.

If we look back to yesterday’s article then one of the last things we need is buy-to-let buying driving house prices even lower and I note that even the BBA is unable to avoid pointing that out.

This has fuelled a hike in house price inflation in the first quarter of this year, with the ONS suggesting in its latest report that annualised increases in house prices were 6.1%. Indeed, the ONS House Price Index points to an even larger house price increases of 7.2%.

Unsecured Lending is rising fast too

Regular readers of this website will be aware that other forms of personal lending have been seeing a boom too. For instance we have tried to peer into the data to see if we can find our more about car loans. Here is the BBA view.

However, there is evidence of a stronger pick-up in lending elsewhere; as mortgage affordability rules have worked through the system, lending has shifted to personal loans and overdrafts as well as to credit cards. The difference between credit card lending and repayments shows that consumers are taking advantage of low interest rates and building their net borrowing . The same is the case for overdrafts and personal loans.

There is a clear issue here as pre credit crunch when mortgage lending was likely to be over the rules then borrowers were “helped” by being given personal loans and the like. It seems as though that might be happening all over again and is a powerful critique of macroprudential policies. In other words whilst the sky may be clear at the altitude of an Ivory Tower down at ground level reality is foggy.

We have seen evidence of this impacting on car sales and no doubt this has also been a factor in the UK’s strong period of retail sales growth. But here the boom theme starts to fade away as we note that by the end of the quarter monthly growth had gone negative and annual growth had slowed to 2.7%.

Business lending not so good

The Funding for Lending Scheme was supposed to be for lending to small and medium-sized businesses. But as I have explained so many times that was something of a red herring to allow them to push hard for more mortgage lending. They do not put it like that but even the BBA is in agreement.

This may be because lending to the private sector overall, including businesses, is less buoyant

This reminds us of an area which is much less buoyant itself to coin a phrase.

Total production output is estimated to have decreased by 0.5% in February 2016 compared with the same month a year ago, the largest fall since August 2013. The largest contribution to the fall came from manufacturing, which decreased by 1.8%.

We are not up to the end of the quarter with the numbers ( and perhaps GDP should wait for a fuller data set) but you can see that the “rebalancing” promised by Baron King of Lothbury and indeed the “march of the makers” by Chancellor Osborne seem to have gone missing.


This is a very troubled data series and should be taken with a lot more than the proverbial pinch of salt. But it too hints at a slowing.

In February 2016, output in the construction industry was estimated to have decreased by 0.3% compared with January 2016…..Compared with February 2015, output in the construction industry increased by 0.3%. All new work was flat while there was an increase of 0.8% in repair and maintenance.

I think that the position is better than that although I may be suffering from local bias as there are plenty of cranes for me to count as I cycle past Nine Elms.

The banks

You might think that with all the help they have received then bank profits would be surging and helping the recovery. But apparently not seems to be on repeat.

Barclays has reported a 25% drop in profits for the first quarter of the year, mainly due to a weak performance in its investment banking division.

Pre-tax profit for the first three months of the year was £793m, down from £1.1bn for the same period last year.

Although I am reliably informed that if you take out all the losses then the numbers are superb! Speaking of spinning, the BBC and GDP I am troubled by this from its economics editor.

It is likely – in fact probable I would say after speaking to those close to Mr Osborne – that the Chancellor will claim “referendum uncertainty” as one of the reasons for the stuttering economy.

You see this was published in the 24 hour purdah period when those who are close to the Chancellor may well be aware of the numbers as he certainly will have known them.


In the end it all comes down to what in gang terms is the Master G of UK GDP numbers these days. The official weights remain back in 2012 at 78.6% for this sector but it must be much more like 80% now. Anyway this morning’s update gives signs of a slowing here too.

The Index of Services is estimated to have increased by 2.5% in February 2016 compared with February 2015……The latest Index of Services estimates show that output increased by 0.1% between January 2016 and February 2016. This follows growth of 0.1% between December 2015 and January 2016, which is revised down 0.1 percentage points from the previous estimate.

If we continue at around 0.1% a month then the annual growth rate will halve. Also business services and finance only rose by 2% in the year to February but of course the latest mortgage numbers are not in there yet.

The Overall Numbers

Change in gross domestic product (GDP) is the main indicator of economic growth. GDP is estimated to have increased by 0.4% in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2016 compared with growth of 0.6% in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2015.

In annual terms this translates to.

GDP was 2.1% higher in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2016 compared with the same quarter a year ago.


It is good news that our economy continues to grow and in annual terms our performance will be solid relative to Europe. However the ying to that yang is of course the fear that the slowing of the growth will continue. Care is needed as the numbers are not in themselves accurate enough for us to be absolutely sure but of course other numbers have been consistent with a slower beating of the economic drums.

Also if we ignore the official hype then the “march of the services” goes on.

Services increased by 0.6%, contributing 0.50 percentage points to Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2016 GDP growth

Yes you do read that correctly and yes other sectors did in fact shrink.

There was a downward contribution (0.05 percentage points) from the production industries; (mostly mining and quarrying but manufacturing fell 0.4% as well)……There was a downward contribution (0.05 percentage points) from construction;

Make what you will of the construction numbers as it is very unlikely that they are correct but you never know and indeed the ONS doesn’t either!

All of my past critiques of the use of GDP numbers apply here so as ever caution is the watchword and here is another thought. How do we define services? Has the definition somehow spread? I am reminded of the large exchange between it and construction around a year ago which of course was a much bigger deal for construction due to their relative sizes.



We should worry less about UK GDP variations and more about the methodology used

Today is the day we find out how well the UK did in the 3rd quarter of 2015 as the economic expansion continues. However there are immediately two issues the first of which is the assumption that GDP (Gross Domestic Product) numbers are a good guide to the economy which has more than a few problems. The second is the way that the UK feels it can produce reliable numbers only 27 days after the end of the quarter itself. Only China dashes to the publication post faster with the majority of economies taking more time and in the case of our near neighbour Ireland a lot more time. Although of course non official sources are able to release their suggestions when they like as the NIESR (National Institute for Economic and Social Research did on the 7th of this month.

Our monthly estimates of GDP suggest that output grew by 0.5 per cent in the three months ending in September after growth of 0.5 per cent in the three months ending in August 2015. This slight softening in the third quarter is expected to be temporary.

Ah temporary!

An optimistic slant on services output

These days this is the largest part of our economy as it edges ever nearer to becoming 4/5 ths of it. In fact as the current weight of 78.6% comes from 2012 it might already be true. This poses a lot of challenges and let me open with the simple measurement issues where Diane Coyle points out this.

Statistics always lag behind what is actually happening in the economy. Not only does it take time to gather and collate the data, it can also take many years to understand how to think about the economy at a time of major structural change, whether in the late 19th century or today.

Okay that seems a fair point and having suggested to the Bean Review of UK Economic Statistics that work should be done and more thought applied to our services data I agree. Diane continues on this theme below.

Increasingly, there is an awareness that GDP is not an entirely satisfactory measure, as it does not give policymakers an accurate picture of how the economy is changing. The economy that businesses and citizens are experiencing, driven by Big Data and  “software eating the world” is largely absent from official statistics.

Diane identifies what she sees as the 4 main problems with this.

There are in fact four significant problems with GDP: how to measure innovation; the explosion of free online services; the shift away from mass production to customization and variety; and the increase in specialization and extended production chains, especially across national borders.

If we take these forwards then if you are wondering about the suggested impact of the second of these let me show you.

At the optimistic end, one U.S. study estimated that free websites generated a consumer surplus for 2007-2011 equivalent to 0.75% of GDP a year, and a European study (using data up to 2011) estimated their benefit at 0.6% to 1% of GDP a year.

Whilst I think that there are problems with measuring our services output I begin to part company here as we find ourselves placing a value on something which is free. There are plenty of problems created by issues such as imputed rent where we impose prices we think we have an idea of but about  these we have very little. Imputed squared? Ironically we get nearest in the government sector as when I gave some technical advice to Pete Comley on his book on inflation he informed me that he could see very little pattern or logic in how the Government sector (inflation) deflator was calculated when he researched it. After all we could add in lots of other things which are free such as housework and gardening. This is before we have the issue that the advertising sector would double-count some of this.

In a way we find ourselves back to the recent improvements which also in my view were influenced be some double-counting of research and development.

with new definitions introduced in 2013 adding 3% to the size of the American economy overnight.

But as to the principle we need a rethink I completely agree but it will be one of swings and roundabouts not just swings! I am hopeful for areas such as Tech City around City Road in London as so many of the brightest and best from around Europe have gone there but I do not expect a “with one bound we are free” moment.

Today’s data

Firstly let me doff my cap to the NIESR who were right.

GDP is estimated to have increased by 0.5% in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2015 compared with growth of 0.7% in Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2015.

Also we see yet again that according to the official records it is a service-sector world.

Services increased by 0.7%, contributing 0.59 percentage points to Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2015 GDP growth

So they explained more than the growth we had and let me put in a cheer for mining & quarrying or essentially North Sea Oil and Gas up 2.4% (the rig maintenance cycle affected 2014) and agriculture up 0.5%. I have argued for some time that we could and should do better on the agriculture front. But that leaves us wondering about what fell? Well after the monthly updates I have noted regular readers will not be surprised by this.

In contrast, manufacturing decreased by 0.3% following a decrease of 0.5% in Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2015.

At least I suppose the rate of fall dropped as we mull the issue of whether this is the higher value of the UK Pound £ finally having an impact.


Let me remind everyone that these numbers are at best troubled and I am unsure how they keep their National Statistics status.

There was a downward contribution (0.14 percentage points) from construction; this industry fell by 2.2%.

July and August were very poor followed by an improvement in September. Brian Green of Brickonomics looks closely at the numbers and he points out that the past suddenly got a lot better earlier this year.

it appears in March there was a reallocation of a major business from the services sector to construction…….

And my guess – it is only a guess – it that it means that from now on construction will be of more than of £1 billion and more like £2 billion bigger (probably more than 1% anyway), with nothing having changed in the real world.

In line with the theme of today you may note that the services sector had to have shrunk but of course it seems to just shrug that sort of thing off.

I think I will stick to counting cranes myself.


If we look at 2015 so far then a case can be made for arguing that we have had steady economic growth of around 0.5% per quarter as 0.5% follows 0.7% and 0.4%. Looked at like that the media spinning around today being 0.5% rather than the expected (by whom?) 0.6% is irrelevant. When this was discussed at the Royal Statistical Society a sigh went around the room as everyone realised this was a media treadmill we seem to be glued to. Putting it another way Chris Dillow has done the mathematics.

Average revision to 1st estimate of GDP growth has been 0.33pp Implies 2/3rds chance that Q3 growth was 0.17-0.83%

Aren’t you glad that’s clear!

But as I have discussed above there is much to consider about GDP numbers and the problems I have highlighted today add to the ones I have looked at in the past. In some areas such as technology I am optimistic so lets us hope for better however I think that it is too simplistic to  assume and then impute prices for things which are free. Although of course Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson did tell us that the best things in life are free and they had a point.

As to improving the numbers themselves then it is time to say yes to the Artic Monkeys.

Do I wanna know?

After all hidden away we see this.

Are there some aces up your sleeve?
Have you no idea that you’re in deep?….
How many secrets can you keep?