Consumer confidence both nationally and locally is not in a great place. Clearly the ongoing “political recession” isn’t helping the mood either. The good news, however, is that inflationary pressures continue to ease with the headline Consumer Price Index rising by 2.1% y/y in December. That marks the weakest rate of consumer price inflation in almost two-years. Significantly this welcomed move is coinciding with wages rising at their fastest rate in a decade.
Falling petrol prices were a key driver behind the latest downward move. Petrol price inflation slowed from 7.6% y/y in November to 1.5% y/y last month. Back in October prices were rising at 11.5%. This trend is set to continue with an easing in energy related inflationary pressures both in utility bills and petrol / diesel costs.
Significant price cuts to gas and electricity bills are expected to be announced later this month. Similarly, home-heating oil customers should see further significant falls in the coming weeks and months. Petrol and diesel prices have already fallen by around 2% in the first two weeks of January. Food price inflation also slowed dramatically during 2018. Having started the year at 3.9%, annual food price inflation eased to 0.4% in December. What does or doesn’t happen with Brexit (supply disruptions etc) could have a major bearing on food prices in 2019.
In the near-term, CPI inflation looks set to fall below the MPC’s 2% target in January with the annual pace of consumer price rises set to slow to 1.3% / 1.4% by Q4 2019. Against this backdrop and given the growing risks of a global slowdown coupled with the near-term concerns surrounding Brexit, the Bank of England isn’t going to be in a hurry to raise interest rates. 2019 could well see the Monetary Policy Committee sit on its hands and keep its Bank Rate at 0.75%.
The Bank of England’s latest forecasts show inflation staying above the 2% target, despite rising UK rate expectations. Prices should get a further boost from the looser fiscal policy announced in the Budget. But, as ever, all those forecasts hinge on a smooth Brexit.
Stronger than expected UK inflation data increases the odds of another modest BoE rate hike next year, but the impasse in latest EU/UK Brexit talks means a BoE move is unlikely before spring 2019, at the earliest.
Today sees the release of August data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI®. The latest report – produced for Ulster Bank by IHS Markit – signalled a loss of growth momentum in the Northern Ireland private sector. Although output and new orders continued to rise solidly, rates of expansion in both were weaker than recorded in July. That said, the rate of job creation picked up, as did business confidence. Inflation of both input costs and output prices eased, but remained elevated.
Today sees the release of June data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI®. The latest report – produced for Ulster Bank by IHS Markit – signalled that the Northern Ireland private sector ended the second quarter of 2018 on a positive note, with sharper rises in output and new orders recorded. There were further signs of increasing inflationary pressures, however. Meanwhile, business confidence dipped and was the lowest for almost a year.
Rising oil prices means that, like the eponymous shark Jaws, inflation keeps coming back. Manufacturers report tighter margins and consumers face a summer of squeezed budgets. Just when you thought it was over eh!
The squeeze on living standards hasn’t gone away
In recent months an emerging narrative has been that the squeeze on UK living standards has relaxed or even ended. This refers to the pace of annual earnings growth overtaking inflation. However, real earnings growth remains modest at best. Meanwhile the squeeze continues for public sector workers on pay caps (1% p.a.) and households experiencing a multi-year freeze on working-age welfare benefits (until 2020). In light of the fact that the price of necessities including utility bills, motoring costs, rates bills and private sector rents (for Northern Ireland) are all rising at substantial rates and above the headline rate of inflation, it is premature to talk of a meaningful end to the cost of living squeeze. Continue reading
Today sees the release of April data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI®. The latest report – produced for Ulster Bank by IHS Markit – signalled a mild acceleration in private sector business activity growth, while new orders continued to increase, albeit only marginally quicker than March’s 17-month low. Nonetheless, despite subdued demand pressures, backlogs of work increased further, prompting firms to hire additional staff. In line with a strong and accelerated rate of input cost inflation, businesses reported a further marked increase selling charges.
Earnings squeeze is over
The combination of accelerating wage growth and an easing in inflationary pressures is clearly good news for consumers. In February, annual UK wage growth (2.8%) finally overtook the equivalent rate of inflation (2.7%) for the first time since the start of 2017. Following the latest figures for March this trend looks set to continue. The annual rate of UK consumer price inflation (CPI) eased to 2.5% in March – its weakest rate in twelve months. The price of consumer goods (e.g. food & clothing) inflation eased from 3% y/y in February to 2.4% in March. Conversely, consumer services inflation nudged higher to 2.5% over the same period.
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 weaker rises in both output and new orders at Northern Ireland companies. Continue reading