You’re gonna need a bigger boat… or a helicopter

That was the conclusion the Chancellor has come to. Less than a week after the Chancellor unveiled a £12billion package to deal with Covid-19, Rishi Sunak unveiled another MASSIVE financial package (£350bn) on Tuesday and has vowed to do ‘Whatever it takes’. This is the famous line Mario Draghi ECB President came out with in summer 2012 to ‘save the euro’. Fiscal rules have been thrown out the window. Borrowing and public spending will surge. 

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No two shocks are ever the same…

Those who thought that uncertainty had peaked at the end of last year will have had cause to think again over the past seven days or so. The fact the word Brexit barely surfaced in discussions around Budget 2020 and other economic events over the past couple of weeks speaks volumes. We have moved to an entirely new crisis that has very much overshadowed the UK’s departure from the EU.

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Housing market – Up, flat and down

Like the labour market, Northern Ireland’s housing market has been one of the best performing parts of the local economy. One key difference, however, is the housing market hasn’t captured the record highs and lows that the labour market has enjoyed.  Following the most significant property downturn in UK history, the scars are still apparent in the various aspects of the housing market. While many of the indicators point to significant growth over the past decade, the story is one of recovery has opposed to recovered.  

Up – prices still rising albeit at a weaker rate

The latest batch of housing market statistics reveal that the recovery has succumbed to a slowdown. Property prices are the housing market statistic of choice for small talk at dinner parties.  For the past seven years the chat has been of continued house price growth. However, the latest figures from NISRA reveal that the pace of growth eased to 2.5% y/y in Q4 2019. That’s less than halve the pace of growth recorded the previous year and marks the slowest rate of house price growth since Q4 2013. Nevertheless, the rise in local property prices still compares favourably with the UK (+1.6%) and the Republic of Ireland (+1.0%).

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New decade, new language, new approach to capitalism?

One thing that has taken me a bit by surprise is the speed at which climate change has moved front and centre in economics. By-and-large, the environment and global warming were niche issues in business and financial debate. This was even the case early in 2019. But by the end of last year this had changed dramatically – helped in no small part by a Swedish teenager who I first saw addressing a crowd in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin last March. Such was Greta Thunberg’s influence in this respect that she was named Time magazine’s person of the year 2019.

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At sixes and sevens?… (UK and NI new car sales fall to six and seven-year lows respectively)

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.

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Northern Ireland’s new car sales recession continues…

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.

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Northern Ireland’s three-speed mortgage market finds a reverse gear

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.

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Left turn?

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.

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Two Up Two Down: Latest housing market statistics

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.

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