The UK labour market remains in rude health, a key support for the household sector. In contrast, US and Chinese retail sales disappointed. Meanwhile, German growth rebounded in early 2019 but the economy remains fragile.
When analysing economies the world over, the unemployment rate is arguably one of the most important go-to statistics. It enables comparisons to be drawn and inferences made on the relative health of different economies. Today’s labour market statistics revealed that Northern Ireland’s headline unemployment rate fell to a jaw-dropping low of 2.9% in Q1 2019. This represents the lowest unemployment rate on record and the joint-second lowest of all the UK regions. Not only does it compare favourably with the UK (3.8%), but it is also below the likes of the United States (3.6%), the Republic of Ireland (5.4%) and Germany (3.2%). Japan is one of the few world economies with a lower unemployment rate (2.5%) than Northern Ireland.
The old saying is that the US economy sneezes and the rest of the world catches cold. This phrase reflected the old influence and dominance of America in the global economy. However, since the worldwide recession a decade ago, China has had a spectacular rise and is challenging US hegemony. Indeed, the concerns now are about the Chinese Dragon spreading its economic germs.
US/Sino trade tensions are rising. US President Trump’s announcement of new tariffs on Chinese imports has prompted threats of retaliation by China, posing downside risks to the global economy as supply chains are disrupt and business sentiment suffers. Meanwhile, UK Q1 GDP data highlights the resilience of the UK economy.
Today sees the release of April data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI®. The latest report – produced for Ulster Bank by IHS Markit – signalled that the Northern Ireland private sector moved deeper into contraction territory. Business activity, new orders and employment all fell to the greatest extents since the final quarter of 2012, with Brexit and a lack of government at Stormont impacting negatively on operations. Weakening demand led companies to raise their selling prices at only a modest pace during the month, despite continued sharp input cost inflation.
The Bank of England is more upbeat about the UK economy than three months ago, but its hands are tied by Brexit. Across the Atlantic booming employment coupled with a 50yr low in the unemployment rate looks set to keep a lid on expectations of a rate cut by the Federal Reserve.
In Northern Ireland, farming always takes centre stage during May, when all of the sector’s actors come together for the biggest show in town. Balmoral provides the opportunity to reflect on the performance of the industry since the last show and to look forward to the seasons ahead.
The US economy is the main engine of global growth, posting higher than expected growth in Q1 2019. In China, latest GDP data hints at a stabilisation in activity thanks largely to another sizeable fiscal boost. However, recent downbeat Euro area business surveys point to a continued sub-par performance in early 2019.
The EU granted the UK a further extension of Article 50, effectively pushing out the cliff edge to the end of October. Meanwhile, latest UK data was mildly reassuring, consistent with continued sluggish growth in early 2019.
The annual Ulster Bank Ulster Fry Index was published today and it – shows that the price of a number of items making up a cooked breakfast actually fell in the year to the end of February, using the UK Retail Price Index (RPI).