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.
In contrast with weakness in the Eurozone the US labour market is still in rude health. November employment gains surpassed expectations by a wide margin, despite global trade and economic uncertainty. This will provide relief to the Fed, which has signalled it will pause before it provides any more stimulus to the economy.
Today sees the release of November data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI. The latest report – produced for Ulster Bank by IHS Markit – pointed to sharper declines in output and new orders at Northern Ireland companies, as Brexit uncertainty continued to weigh on activity. Employment also decreased, albeit at a relatively modest pace. Meanwhile, the rate of input cost inflation remained marked, but efforts to stimulate sales led companies to raise their selling prices at only a marginal pace.
Two out of three categories of mortgage activity (first-time buyer, home mover and remortgage) posted faster rates of annual growth in Northern Ireland relative to the UK. However, these three segments of the mortgage market are moving at three different speeds.
If we consider politics over the past 10 years or so, what is clear is that there was a distinct step to the right in the UK, in the US and elsewhere in the world; the consensus around dealing with the fall-out of the financial crisis taking us in that direction. But there is evidence that we are now set for something of a left turn. And a look at the policies coming from the main UK political parties ahead of the General Election gives credence to this view.
As the General Election campaign gets under way, three main parties revealed their manifestos last week. All of them promise a lot more public investment, especially Labour which intends to almost double the current level. Whoever wins, the economy can look forward to greater support from government spending.
Today’s batch of housing market figures for the third quarter could be summed up as “two up two down”. Two indicators (residential property prices and house completions) posted year-on-year growth. Meanwhile housing starts and the number of residential property transactions are on the wane.
Generation rent. House prices are always one of the most closely watched economic indicators by the general public or at least homeowners and potential first-time buyers. Although the rise of the private rented sector over the last decade means for an increasing share of society, rental prices are more relevant than house prices. Homeownership is not on the radar for as many under 40s as it once was.
Northern Ireland’s Labour Force Survey (LFS) churned out more record highs and lows of the positive variety in Q3 2019. However, looking through all the statistical noise there are still signs that suggest the labour market cycle has turned. A surge in self-employment has been accompanied by a reduction in the number of ‘employees’ working. Meanwhile the total number of hours worked and average hours worked has eased back from its highs earlier in the year. Given the marked deterioration in business conditions in Q3 and Q4 it is expected that this will increasingly become evident within the labour market in the coming quarters. Q2 2019 is still likely to have represented the peak in the total number of employee jobs as measured in the Quarterly Employment Survey.
The 2019 General Election is officially underway, with politicians of all colours off in search of votes. At stake is not only the future of Brexit but of fiscal policy, our response to climate change and more besides. The UK economy looks pale and weak in contrast to the frenzy of activity amongst would-be-MPs. Business surveys suggest that output stagnated in October, while the Bank of England downgraded it’s growth forecasts, prompting two Monetary Policy Committee members to vote in favour of an immediate 0.25% rate cut.
Today sees the release of October 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 remained in contraction. Business activity, new orders and employment all decreased over the month, albeit at softer rates than in September. Meanwhile, inflationary pressures also moderated.