Today sees the release of December data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI®. The latest report – produced for Ulster Bank by IHS Markit – signalled further reductions in output and new orders, but rates of decline softened. Meanwhile, companies increased their staffing levels for the first time in a year and confidence regarding the 12-month outlook for activity improved amid reduced uncertainty around Brexit. On the price front, the rate of input cost inflation softened again and companies lowered their output prices for the first time in over four years.
2019 was a year of heightened uncertainty. It was coming from the Brexit delays and negotiations, new resurgence in the trade wars and worsening global economic outlook. Locally, Northern Ireland notched up another year of Stormont in ‘cold storage’. 2020 has a busy brief locally, nationally and globally.
The US Fed has made the third consecutive cut to its benchmark rate to 1.5 to 1.75%, but signalled that it does not expect a further cut in December. Chairman Jay Powell said that a preliminary US-China trade deal and lower risk of a no-deal Brexit had the potential to increase business confidence. So it’s a pause for now. How long will it last?
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.
The UK Government and the European negotiating team have reached a new deal. Despite this the Prime Minister had to send a three-month extension request to the EU. However, there is still a chance that the deal will be passed into law before the 31st of October. With 11 days to go all options (deal, no deal, extension) are still on the table.
Uncertainty is the word that has perhaps come up even more often than Brexit in recent times. We talk about it a lot and even about how it is increasing. But how do we measure it and how do we know if things are more or less uncertain now than in the past?
Encouraging discussions between UK PM Johnson and Irish president Varadkar fuelled optimism of a Brexit resolution. However, the thorny issue of the Irish border remains a major stumbling block. Time is running out for a deal at October’s EU summit. Meanwhile, a “partial” US/China trade deal has been agreed but hurdles remain.
Today sees the release of September data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI®. The latest report – produced for Ulster Bank by IHS Markit – indicated that the Northern Ireland private sector moved deeper into contraction, as Brexit uncertainty impacted negatively on firms’ operations. Output, new orders and employment all fell at sharper rates, while business sentiment dropped to a new record low.
The UK Supreme Court ruled unanimously that proroguing of the Parliament was unlawful. The Parliamentary session has resumed, but there is little clarity on Brexit’s form, date or on the timing of a general election. In the US the House of Representatives has started an impeachment inquiry. At the UN Climate Summit 66 countries, 93 companies and more than 100 cities announced commitments to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
Over the last week the government’s working majority was reduced from plus 1 to minus 45. There is still no clarity on the Brexit outcome or the timing of a general election. All of this against the backdrop of a global manufacturing slow down – the UK, Germany, the USA and China all have recorded weakness in manufacturing activity. At least, America and China have agreed to resume trade talk in early October.