Hiking season has begun… time to head for the hill

We’ve become well used to price hikes with rampant inflation, but last month was marked by tax hikes with the increase in National Insurance Contributions hitting the pockets of many employees as well as employers. The attention now though is very firmly on interest rate hikes with the Federal Reserve having just delivered its first 0.5% rate increase in 22 years with more to come as the Fed seeks to tame inflation which is at 40-year-high.

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The big issues we need an Executive in place to address

If the politicians can agree to form an Executive following last week’s election, there will be no shortage of major issues for the incoming Ministers to deal with. If a First and Deputy First Minster are appointed, the next step will be the allocation of Ministerial Departments. We are well used to Health being seen as the poisoned chalice but this time around, Covid and the cost-of-living crisis will mean that there are no easy briefs. Budgets across the departments will be under extreme pressure and every Minister will be severely challenged. The Executive is often criticised for being short-termist and putting off much needed reforms for the medium to long term. In this Assembly, the risk is that short-term pressures will completely drown out the focus on progressing other, strategic needs. So, it is more important than ever that an incoming Executive is focused, cohesive, and prepared to take tough decisions. Here are some of the major short and longer-term issues they will have to contend with.

Large orange plastic pipes for sewerage system.

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Not So Magnificent Seven (percent)

Even the proverbial dogs on the street are aware that consumer prices are rising.  However, the rate of acceleration in UK CPI is still taking seasoned economists by surprise. The annual pace of CPI inflation jumped from 6.2% in February (a 30-year high) to 7.0% in March (still a 30-year high) which was above the 6.7% projected by City analysts. On a month-on-month basis prices rose by 1.1% relative to February, matching the record month-on-month increase posted last October. 

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Bread and butter issues are local and global

Within all crises, there are opportunities, and people and companies change behaviours to adapt. During the pandemic, amidst all of the bad news, there were many positive stories of people pivoting to meet the challenge. There were a wide range of heroes, and this included companies – those producing PPE, those keeping the supply chains turning in food provision, and those enabling and supporting the vital digital transformation.

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What was in and more importantly what was left out of today’s Spring Statement

The background

This Spring Statement was initially supposed to be little more than an update on economic and fiscal forecasts. However, it has been overtaken by events; namely the cost-of-living crisis which has been exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As a result, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has had to add a number of policy measures to today’s speech and to revisit some of the tax rises he announced last Autumn.

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I would do anything for a job, but I won’t do that

It used to be that people would do anything for a job. Today, it’s more like – to paraphrase the title of the late Meatloaf’s iconic song – ‘I would do anything for a job, but I won’t do that’.

Companies, particularly in certain sectors, are struggling badly to access the skills they need. This is perhaps most acute in sectors such as healthcare and food processing because job hunters are taking advantage of the jobs market being a seller’s market. They can afford to be more choosey about the work they undertake in a way they couldn’t in the past. Many are therefore opting for other industries where the salaries are perhaps higher, and conditions perceived to be less challenging.

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UK inflation hits a 30-year high

The annual pace of UK CPI inflation accelerated from 5.1% in November to 5.4% in December representing the highest rate since March 1992 (+7.1% y/y).  UK inflation had peaked at 8.4% in April and June of 1991. Consumer goods inflation (+6.9% y/y) is running at twice the rate of consumer services inflation and is at its highest rate since July 1991 (+7.0% y/y). Goods inflation is expected to breach its record high of 7.4% y/y  (Sep/Oct-90) in the coming weeks. Consumer services inflation (+3.4% y/y) remains more subdued by comparison and is at an eight-and-a-half-year high. By comparison, consumer services inflation was running into double-digits in late-1990 and 1991 and peaked at 12.1% in April 1991.  Services inflation will be closely watched in the coming months as the strength of pay settlements will feed into this measure. Wage increases will also filter through into the cost of consumer goods.  

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Winter Wonderland is soon to meet a cold, harsh spring

Given what has happened to the economy over the last two years, Northern Ireland’s headline labour market statistics are a veritable winter wonderland. Unemployment is at 3.1% – one of its lowest readings on record. Meanwhile the number of employees on Northern Ireland’s payrolls hit another record high in December and almost 20,000 above March 2020’s pre-pandemic high. Indeed, no other UK region has witnessed a stronger rebound in payrolls growth. It is a similar story with median earnings growth over the last two years. 

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The weirdest recession to date…

The so-called Global Uncertainty Index hit a record high in 2019 before the word Coronavirus had even entered our consciousness. But the last 20 or so months have completely recalibrated the parameters of what uncertainty is. In the time since, businesses have had their worlds turned upside down and back again – things that they thought would never happen, did, and things they would have absolutely expected to happen didn’t – and have also therefore had to reset as well.

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