Chief Economist’s Weekly Brief – Clouds are gathering

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.

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Output down for sixth month running in August

Today sees the release of August data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI®. The latest report – produced for Ulster Bank by IHS Markit – suggested that Brexit and associated economic uncertainty led to ongoing declines in the Northern Ireland private sector during August. Marked reductions in output and new orders were recorded, while business confidence hit a new low and job shedding intensified. 

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Chief Economist’s Weekly Brief – Waiting for the good news

All eyes were on political theatre in Westminster last week. No-deal Brexit looks more likely. And with it some economic disruption – how much is unknown. The global economic outlook is not promising: the US and China are still locked in the trade war and the Eurozone is fighting to stave off a recession.

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Chief Economist’s Weekly Brief – Ratcheting up

US/China trade tensions are intensifying. The Chinese authorities announced $75bn 5-10% tariffs on US imports, targeting cars, oil and soya. US President Trump retaliated, unveiling further tariff rises though his stance at the latest G7 meeting was conciliatory. Meanwhile, Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell hinted at another rate cut soon.

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New orders fall sharply again in July

Northern Ireland’s private sector reported a marked deterioration in business conditions in the second quarter. July’s PMI survey suggests more of the same at the start of the third quarter as output, orders, exports and employment continued to fall last month. The rate of decline across all of these indicators did ease in July relative to June.  However, the pace of contraction in output, orders and exports remained significant with output and orders falling at a faster rate than in any other UK region.

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Firms notched up their seventh successive monthly fall in staffing levels; albeit the pace of job losses in the latest survey was relatively modest. Indeed, a number of respondents’ efforts to hire were thwarted by a lack of suitable staff. Clearly the lack of supply of workers remains a key issue in the labour market rather than simply waning demand.

It won’t surprise anyone to hear that 2019 has been a year of decline for the retail sector.  However, there are actually now some signs that the rapid decline in sales is stabilising. Given the further depreciation in sterling, cross-border shopping is likely to play a more prominent role in the period ahead.

Manufacturing has seen a sharp reversal of fortunes in recent months with the sector posting the sharpest rates of decline in jobs, orders and output of the four sectors. Last month manufacturers reported their steepest fall in output since April 2009. The ongoing fog of Brexit uncertainty is one contributory factor alongside a global manufacturing slowdown.

Elsewhere, services firms, outside of retail, recorded a deterioration in business conditions in July. Significantly, services orders have been falling at an accelerating rate in each of the last five months. Indeed, July saw orders contract at the fastest rate in over seven-and-a-half years. It is a similar story for the construction industry with orders lurching lower again for the eleventh month running.

The employment picture remains the most positive aspect of the latest survey. But it is well known that the labour market is a lagging indicator of economic conditions. Shrinking order books, Brexit uncertainty and the ramping up of tensions between China and the US provide a formidable environment for local firms. Business conditions could well get worse before they start getting better.

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Chief Economist’s Weekly Brief – BoE bucks the trend

The BoE’s latest Inflation Report downgraded its growth forecasts but continues to predict “gradual” UK rate hikes assuming a smooth Brexit. In contrast, the Federal Reserve lowered the funds rate 0.25% to 2.25%, its first reduction since 2008. US president Trump’s announcement of a 10% tariff increase on the remaining $300bn of Chinese imports and China’s retaliation adds to global trade concerns, increasing the pressure for further Fed moves soon.

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Chief Economist’s Weekly Brief – All change please, all change!

The election of Boris Johnson as the new Tory leader and Prime Minister saw a sharp pivot towards a pro-Brexit cabinet. Mr Johnson also teased with a slightly more cavalier attitude towards the fiscal purse. Meanwhile, a dovish speech from ECB president Draghi clearly signalled further easing measures soon, probably in September.    
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Business Confidence Soars in IT despite ‘Brexit Effect’

A report, which acts as a barometer for the local jobs market indicates that although job hiring is slowing slightly, the IT sector is showing no sign of a slump. Belfast remains a key location for global companies to invest and have access to a talented workforce.

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