Northern Ireland’s labour market statistics have provided a plentiful source of positivity in recent years. Unemployment has hit lows that no economist forecasted and employment has never been higher. The latest batch of data in the Labour Force Survey (June – August 2019) reveals some more record highs (e.g. employment amongst males). However, there are a variety of indicators that suggest that the labour market is on the turn. These signs of a weakening labour market must be placed in the appropriate context; namely, Northern Ireland’s labour market has never been stronger. Indeed, Northern Ireland’s unemployment rate remains at the ridiculously low level of 2.9%, just a shade above last month’s record low of 2.8%.
Uncertainty is the word that has perhaps come up even more often than Brexit in recent times. We talk about it a lot and even about how it is increasing. But how do we measure it and how do we know if things are more or less uncertain now than in the past?
Encouraging discussions between UK PM Johnson and Irish president Varadkar fuelled optimism of a Brexit resolution. However, the thorny issue of the Irish border remains a major stumbling block. Time is running out for a deal at October’s EU summit. Meanwhile, a “partial” US/China trade deal has been agreed but hurdles remain.
Today sees the release of September data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI®. The latest report – produced for Ulster Bank by IHS Markit – indicated that the Northern Ireland private sector moved deeper into contraction, as Brexit uncertainty impacted negatively on firms’ operations. Output, new orders and employment all fell at sharper rates, while business sentiment dropped to a new record low.
It has proved difficult to replace the “infamous” Irish border backstop. It is still unclear if the PM has enough time and creativity to secure a deal before the mid-October deadline. After a historical ruling by the WTO the US has announced import tariffs on $7.5 billion of imports from the EU, effective October 18th.
The UK Supreme Court ruled unanimously that proroguing of the Parliament was unlawful. The Parliamentary session has resumed, but there is little clarity on Brexit’s form, date or on the timing of a general election. In the US the House of Representatives has started an impeachment inquiry. At the UN Climate Summit 66 countries, 93 companies and more than 100 cities announced commitments to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
Attacks on two oil facilities in Saudi Arabia led to a 6% reduction in global oil supply and a 15% oil price spike within days. Saudi Arabian assurances that oil production levels will return to normal within weeks have been greeted sceptically. Meanwhile the Federal Reserve lowered the Fed Funds Rate by 25 basis points following a round of monetary easing by the ECB. Bank of England decided to save its firepower for later.
Economics is everywhere, and over the last year we’ve seen it play out in purple on the roads of Belfast in the form of Glider Economics.
Last week started with the prorogation of the UK Parliament, the legality of which will be decided by the Supreme Court this week. Despite the political storm, it looks like the UK economy managed to stave off a recession. A series of significant new monetary easing measures were announced by the outgoing ECB President Draghi.
Stronger than expected. Two surveys for the second quarter of 2019 revealed surprisingly strong output performance for the industrial (mostly manufacturing) and services sectors. The latter signalled a 0.8% q/q rise in Q2 which marked the fastest pace of growth in output in five quarters. However, this increase simply reverses the fall in the previous quarter. As a result, Northern Ireland’s service activity has been flat for the first half of the year. Furthermore, the rate of growth on a year-on-year basis (Q2 2019 relative to Q2 2018) is a very pedestrian rate of growth (+0.5%) for the economy’s largest sector.