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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Emergency, Emergency, Emergency

Rishi Sunak hasn’t yet completed a year as Chancellor but he is a crisis veteran. The word ‘emergency’ featured four times in Sunak’s speech in which he outlined the UK’s three emergencies. These are health, economic and fiscal. “Our health emergency is not yet over.  And our economic emergency has only just begun”.  

Recent developments on the vaccine front have provided a much needed shot in the arm for optimism for 2021. In turn, that has filtered through to the economic forecasts. Nevertheless, there is no economic vaccine for the deepest recession in 300 years, just painkillers.

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Cliff edges rounded but hard landing beckons

Fears of a ‘cliff edge’ end to the furlough scheme were always overdone.  Rishi “whatever it takes” Sunak was always going to do more. Treasury watchers have noted that the Chancellor, who has only been in post for seven months, has a proven track record of letting his actions speak louder than his words. He is an active interventionist Chancellor who has demonstrated an ability to adapt and provide more support as and when required. Another round of support measures / fiscal stimulus was due this autumn. With the pandemic rearing its head again, the associated deterioration in the economic outlook brought measures forward by a number of weeks. Today’s Winter Economy Plan is further evidence of a Chancellor who under-promises and overdelivers. Sunak unveiled a package of measures including a wage support scheme, an extension to the VAT cut for hospitality and tourism, and measures in relation to government loan schemes.

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Chief Economist’s Weekly Brief – Step by step

A week with cause for cautious optimism. The report card on various countries reopening show no upturn in cases in Western Europe. While a better than expected US jobs report and recovering PMIs in China provide some encouragement. But the damage wrought is extensive. It will be a long, arduous journey through recovery with the risk of setbacks along the way considerable. The rising number of cases in the southern US a prime example.

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