Chief Economist’s Weekly Briefing – Spring healing

The onset of Spring is a reminder of renewal and growth. And so the world economy continues to heal. That positivity is reflected in the latest economic data as well as IMF’s latest outlook, which points to higher growth and less long-term damage than previously expected. Similarly, the 12-month outlook amongst Northern Ireland firms is at a 13-month high. But what confidence there is could be dented by the current political situation and negative news headlines.

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Business activity shows signs of stabilisation in March

Today sees the release of March data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI®. The latest report – produced for Ulster Bank by IHS Markit – pointed to output and new orders nearing stabilisation, while employment increased amid growing confidence for the year-ahead outlook. That said, input costs and output prices surged at record rates, while there were widespread reports of supply delays.

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Double dipping but economy set for growth this year

Living with lockdowns. Lockdown restrictions have had the effect of turning economic activity off and on. However, as the pandemic has progressed, subsequent lockdowns have been less severe on economic activity than the first. Many businesses have been able to adapt and function throughout lockdowns or pivot into new markets. The trajectory of economic output has largely followed a bungee jump. The initial fall (Q2) and rebound (Q3) will be the most extreme, but subsequent declines and rebounds will moderate.

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Chief Economist’s Weekly Briefing – Keep the good news coming

The next step of lockdown easing in England will proceed as planned – non-essential retail, outdoor pubs and restaurants and hairdressers (a massive relief!) will re-open next week. While the data says that household savings pots are ready to lend a big helping hand!  And with it the route out of the UK being a G7 economic laggard. As for those of us in Northern Ireland, there is no end of the dodgy haircut, or indicative dates for reopening, in sight.

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This will go down as the weirdest recession yet

If someone had told us a year ago that we were going to go through the deepest recession in a century and end up with an unemployment rate of just 3.7%, this probably would have been considered absurd. Logic would dictate that a double-digit contraction in economic output would create a double-digit unemployment figure. But there has been little logical about the past year – as the Sunday Times columnist David Smith succinctly described it, it has been “the deepest recession, but also easily the weirdest”.

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Chief Economist’s Weekly Briefing – Blocked

Encouraging signs of an economic recovery in the US, EZ and the UK were upstaged by a boat stuck in a canal.  Pre-COVID, the phrase “a lorry has broken down on the Westlink” struck fear into Belfast’s rush hour commuters. Imagine that lorry blocking traffic for days or even weeks. Then scale that up to the global Westlink that is the Suez canal.

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Chief Economist’s Weekly Briefing – One year on…

…from the first lockdown last spring we continue to find ourselves under partial lockdown. Have we frozen in time? The answer is emphatically not. Reports on the recovery gathering pace continues to flow in, with job adverts the latest to show a marked improvement. Locally, some manufacturing sectors (e.g. pharma) are posting record levels of output. But some of us are not so lucky. Italy has entered lockdown, again!

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3,2,1…Bungee!

As far as economic output is concerned, 2020 has been a year of extremes. Record rates of decline in Q2 followed by record rates of expansion in Q3. Lockdown restrictions have had the effect of turning economic activity off and on. However, as the pandemic has progressed, subsequent lockdowns have been less severe on economic activity than the first. Many businesses have been able to adapt and function throughout lockdowns or pivot into new markets. The trajectory of economic output has largely followed a bungee jump. The initial fall and rebound will be the most extreme, but subsequent declines and rebounds will moderate. Not surprisingly, the latest Industrial Production and Index of Services (private sector only) from NISRA revealed further declines in output in Q4 2020. These two indices account for the vast majority of Northern Ireland’s Composite Economic Index. Given the scale of the declines revealed today, it is inevitable that the Composite Economic Index (a proxy for GDP), when published next month, will post a sizeable contraction.

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Chief Economist’s Weekly Briefing – Stormont signs fiscal galacticos

The Department of Finance rarely turns heads. But last week it sent fiscal geeks delirious. While news of extended business rates relief was expected. The surprise was the unveiling of Sir Robert Chote, the former chair of the UK’s OBR, to head up NI’s new Fiscal Council. Effectively an NI OBR. In fiscal terms this is like Glentoran signing Lionel Messi. The second big signing was the IFS’s Paul Johnson to chair the Fiscal Commission looking at what further fiscal powers could be devolved to Stormont. Chapeau!

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