The annual Ulster Bank Ulster Fry Index was published today and it – shows that the price of a number of items making up a cooked breakfast actually fell in the year to the end of February, using the UK Retail Price Index (RPI).
This week is likely to see the EU grant a longer, but more conditional, extension to Article 50 than the UK Government has requested. Back in Westminster talks continue to try to find a set of proposals that can be passed by the House of Commons. Away from the politics, most economic data has been disappointing.
Today sees the release of March data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI®. The latest report – produced for Ulster Bank by IHS Markit – suggested that Brexit uncertainty pushed the Northern Ireland private sector into decline. Business activity decreased for the first time since July 2016, while the rate of decline in new orders gathered pace. This was also the case with regards to employment, which decreased to the greatest extent in almost six years.
New car sales have started 2019 the same way as last year, according to the SMMT figures for Q1, with a drop in new registrations. While the number of new cars sold in March held up relative to a year ago, the quarterly total of 16,676 was still down 3% (524 fewer vehicle sales) below the corresponding quarter in 2018.
UK PM Theresa May failed for the third time to get Parliament to ratify her Withdrawal Agreement. More indicative votes take place in the House of Commons today. The probability of cross party support for a customs union has increased, but it is still hard to see how the impasse is solved. The UK is now due to leave the EU on 12th April, but a longer extension of Article 50 looks likely.
There is an annual cycle in consumer finances. January, February and March are generally lean months for spending as wallets and purses recover from Christmas. The second quarter of the year sees preparation for the holidays, before a post-summer recovery. Spending then accelerates again, due to the end of year festivities, before the cycle repeats.
The labour market continues to be a source of positivity amidst the Brexit gloom. Northern Ireland’s employment rate – the proportion of people of 16-64 year olds working – hit a record high of 70.9%. Meanwhile the headline unemployment rate in the three-months to January 2019 is an eye-catching 3.5%. However, amongst the raft of labour market statistics the most meaningful jobs barometer was the Quarterly Employment Survey for Q4 2018. Continue reading
There has been a steady stream of negative news of late about consumer spending and consumer confidence. The latest car sales figures for Northern Ireland reveal that last month was the quietest for car showrooms in eight years. Meanwhile retail sales fell at their fastest pace in almost four years in February, according to the Ulster Bank PMI. And talk of food shortages and potential tariff-induced price rises if a no-Deal Brexit comes to pass will have done little to boost consumer sentiment. However, despite all of this, when we look at figures in relation to housing – the biggest discretionary consumer spending item of all – they appear to be at odds with everything else that is going on.