Chief Economist’s Weekly Brief – New rules

The new UK points-based migration system was revealed last week. It sets the same rules for immigrants from all countries and will take effect on January 1st 2021. These rules will make it harder for sectors relying on low paid workers to fill the jobs. Northern Ireland has the highest concentration of these jobs within the UK (>1 in 5). The hope is that this will lead to higher productivity due to investment in education and automation. With a record low unemployment rate, the adjustment period is likely to cause some disruption.

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Farm incomes and the need for a more sustainable model

Guest Blog by Cormac McKervey, Senior Agriculture Manager, Ulster Bank

Recent DAERA figures show that ‘Total Income from Farming’ (TIFF) in Northern Ireland fell by 25% from £386m in 2018 to £290m last year.

This isn’t a profit figure but rather the income earned by farmers as a result of their labour and the capital they have invested in their business.

It’s a significant drop and if the rest of society had to absorb a 25% hit on their income there would be uproar. But for farmers it’s a brief news story confined mostly to the farming press – and the world carries on regardless.  The £290m figure equates to the money farmers receive as direct payment under the CAP. Without the payment, the income figure would be zero.

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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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Chief Economist’s Weekly Brief – New Decade, New Chancellor…New Approach?

Name the UK chancellor not to deliver a Budget? Sounds like a Trivial Pursuit question. Sajid Javid may be the first one in 50 years but he is not the only one. Javid’s six-and-a-half months in power did not see him deliver a fiscal set-piece. But he still fared better than Iain Macleod who took ill and died within a month of becoming Chancellor in 1970. Expectations have been raised for the new occupant of 11 Downing Street to embark on a fiscal stimulus.  The economy certainly needs a boost.

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Chief Economist’s Weekly Brief – Catching

Parallels are being drawn between the coronavirus and the SARS outbreak in 2003. But the contours of the world economy have shifted over the past 17 years. China is 17% of global GDP. It was a mere 4% back then. So shuttered business, foregone spending and leisure trips, not to mention the supply-chain disruptions matter much more for the global economy. 

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Slower fall in activity amid stabilisation in new orders

Today sees the release of January data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI. The latest report – produced for Ulster Bank by IHS Markit – saw the Northern Ireland private sector move towards stabilisation amid a reduction in near-term uncertainty. Business activity fell at a softer pace thanks to broadly unchanged new order volumes. Meanwhile, firms raised their staffing levels for the second month running and business confidence was the highest since April 2018.

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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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Chief Economist’s Weekly Brief – Out

The UK has left the European Union. The transition period, during which the UK remains in both the single market and customs union, lasts until the end of the year, with trade negotiations set to start in March. In the background, the Bank of England kept Bank Rate unchanged, but lowered its forecast for the 2019 UK economy to 0.75%.

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