Last year was a record year for both the UK and Northern Ireland labour markets. Employment has never been higher and unemployment (for Northern Ireland) has never been lower. Given these labour market conditions one would assume that consumer confidence must be strong too? Not so. Previously having a job, or not having one, was a key determinant of whether a household or individual was in poverty. Over the last decade, however, a sustained period of below inflation wage growth and cuts to working-age welfare benefits has squeezed disposable incomes for those in work too.
November and December are traditionally the two quietest months of the year for new car sales. Last month’s sales were down almost 3% on the corresponding period in 2018. This continues the general downward trend in car sales since early to mid-2016. Looking at new car registrations year-to-date, sales fell by 2.7% during the eleven months to November to 49,457. That’s 125 fewer car sales per month relative to last year. Indeed, the latest SMMT statistics represent the weakest sales figures in seven years.
Two out of three categories of mortgage activity (first-time buyer, home mover and remortgage) posted faster rates of annual growth in Northern Ireland relative to the UK. However, these three segments of the mortgage market are moving at three different speeds.
If we consider politics over the past 10 years or so, what is clear is that there was a distinct step to the right in the UK, in the US and elsewhere in the world; the consensus around dealing with the fall-out of the financial crisis taking us in that direction. But there is evidence that we are now set for something of a left turn. And a look at the policies coming from the main UK political parties ahead of the General Election gives credence to this view.
Today’s batch of housing market figures for the third quarter could be summed up as “two up two down”. Two indicators (residential property prices and house completions) posted year-on-year growth. Meanwhile housing starts and the number of residential property transactions are on the wane.
Generation rent. House prices are always one of the most closely watched economic indicators by the general public or at least homeowners and potential first-time buyers. Although the rise of the private rented sector over the last decade means for an increasing share of society, rental prices are more relevant than house prices. Homeownership is not on the radar for as many under 40s as it once was.
Northern Ireland’s Labour Force Survey (LFS) churned out more record highs and lows of the positive variety in Q3 2019. However, looking through all the statistical noise there are still signs that suggest the labour market cycle has turned. A surge in self-employment has been accompanied by a reduction in the number of ‘employees’ working. Meanwhile the total number of hours worked and average hours worked has eased back from its highs earlier in the year. Given the marked deterioration in business conditions in Q3 and Q4 it is expected that this will increasingly become evident within the labour market in the coming quarters. Q2 2019 is still likely to have represented the peak in the total number of employee jobs as measured in the Quarterly Employment Survey.
Northern Ireland’s record breaking labour market has been in the spotlight for quite some time. The focus has been on unemployment hitting all-time lows and the number of jobs reaching all-time highs in Q2 2019. In terms of job numbers, Northern Ireland’s labour market is clearly in a good place, having recovered all the jobs lost in the recession and created tens of thousands of additional jobs too. But what about wages and earnings?
Overall, there was something for everyone in the latest deal. The backstop was binned, there will be no hard border on the Island of Ireland and the UK will be free to follow its own independent trade policy. There was some surprise that the UK Prime Minister was able to secure a deal so quickly. While the EU made some concessions, the movement in negotiations was primarily due to Boris Johnson removing some of the UK government’s red lines.
They say a week is a long time in politics and it can also be a long time in economics. Over the past seven days, we’ve had a wave of data released that tells us much about what happened in the third quarter of the year and how the local economy is currently performing.
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%.