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.Continue reading
It was billed as a difficult Budget to navigate. Growing spending pressures that were in play before the pandemic have been compounded by Covid-19-related catch-up demands, including health and education. Interest rates have been inching up, too, making debt repayments a bit pricier. Throw in a brewing cost of living crisis amid building inflationary pressures and looming tax hikes, and it looked like very tricky terrain indeed. So how was the Chancellor going to navigate it?Continue reading
Flattered by furlough… a jobs rewind beckons?
Lockdowns prompted a pause in the labour market with Rishi Sunak rolling out the safety net that was the Job Retention Scheme (JRS). With the play button then hit as many sectors went back to work. In more recent times, we’ve seen a fast forward in the labour market figures, with the number of payrolls rising for nine consecutive months and hitting a record high for the third month running in August. We may well see this trend continue in September. But with the furlough scheme ending in a couple of weeks, we know it isn’t going to be a straight-line recovery from there. The Jobs Retention Scheme has flattered the jobs figures. But we’re now moving to a new stage of the recovery, a stage where stimulus is being turned off, inflationary headwinds are intensifying and the increased burden of tax rises is due to be felt from April 2022. We may well therefore see something of a rewind in the jobs data in the next few months as the labour market adapts to the post-furlough world. Don’t be surprised if we see payrolls fall back below pre-pandemic levels before the year is out. Getting back to pre-pandemic levels of self-employment and hours worked will take quite some time.
So, what is the latest batch of labour market statistics from NISRA telling us?Continue reading
Fall in furlough but bigger fall to come
Comment on today’s HMRC update for the number of jobs furloughed in Northern Ireland as of 31 March 2021.
Northern Ireland’s unemployment rate has been kept artificially low due to the arrival of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS) last year. The latest HMRC figures released this morning revealed that there were 99,400 jobs on furlough on 31st March 2021. That represented the first dip below 100,000 this year and a fall of 9,200 (-8%) relative to the end of February (108,600). Over two-thirds of these jobs were fully furloughed with the remainder partially furloughed. At the start of July 2020 there were a total of 139,100 jobs on furlough. This fell to a post-lockdown low of 65,100 at the end of September. The extension of the JRS and a return to lockdown saw the number of furloughed employments rise to a lower secondary peak of 117,700 in mid-January 2021.Continue reading
Business activity shows signs of stabilisation in March
Today sees the release of March data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI®. The latest report – produced for Ulster Bank by IHS Markit – pointed to output and new orders nearing stabilisation, while employment increased amid growing confidence for the year-ahead outlook. That said, input costs and output prices surged at record rates, while there were widespread reports of supply delays.Continue reading
Chief Economist’s Weekly Briefing – Keep the good news coming
The next step of lockdown easing in England will proceed as planned – non-essential retail, outdoor pubs and restaurants and hairdressers (a massive relief!) will re-open next week. While the data says that household savings pots are ready to lend a big helping hand! And with it the route out of the UK being a G7 economic laggard. As for those of us in Northern Ireland, there is no end of the dodgy haircut, or indicative dates for reopening, in sight.Continue reading
Sunak: the Big Extender and Big Freezer
Today’s Budget was largely as expected. Much of the content had been flagged beforehand, and then there were the big manifesto pledges that were off limits. But that’s not to say it wasn’t a significant Budget, and it may indeed be the last, or penultimate, big spending Budget. Rishi Sunak today announced £37.5billion of spending in the current financial year and the next. Apart from last year’s Budget, it is, by any historical comparisons outside of the pandemic, a huge amount of spending. What’s concerning though is that spending in future years is going to be cut at progressively larger amounts, and next April will therefore herald the start of four consecutive years of public spending cuts. On the tax front, there were further cuts or extensions of existing tax cuts in some areas but also tax rises in others.Continue reading
NI house prices rising but supply softening
This time is different. Northern Ireland’s housing market was front and centre during the last recession during the late noughties. But this time is different. While output has posted its steepest fall in a century, the housing market has been one aspect of the economy that has fared better than most. Residential property prices have defied gravity and have just completed their seventh consecutive year of annual price growth. Meanwhile housebuilders and estate agents have witnessed a ‘V-shaped’ recovery from the record rates of decline in house completions and transactions.Continue reading
Chief Economist’s Weekly Briefing – ‘Exhausted’ but ‘hopeful’
This week’s title draws on the most popular words being used to describe 2020 and 2021 according to a recent survey. Well barring the expletives! The fight against the virus has left the world worn out but this has not prevented households and businesses from hoping for a better future, even when new challenges continue to arise. So it’s a hopeful note that we end our year on.Continue reading
Chief Economist’s Weekly Briefing – Mixed feelings
It’s usually the time of year when Christmas cheer spreads far and wide. But we seem to be ending 2020 on a mixed note. Growth continues to falter and signs of deeper damage to the economy are surfacing. All our hopes are pinned on the vaccine and that we swerve a Brexit left hook.Continue reading