UK CPI Inflation set to fall further in 2019

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.

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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.

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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%.

Slowest rise in output in 23 months

Today sees the release of September data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI®. The latest report – produced for Ulster Bank by IHS Markit – signalled a further loss of growth momentum across the local private sector. Business activity, new orders and employment all rose at weaker rates, while sentiment dropped to the lowest in the 19-month series history. Rates of both input cost and output price inflation remained elevated, but continued to ease at the end of the third quarter.

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Pricing Status? It’s complicated

To listen to consumers and the media, you would think that price is all that matters. Whether it’s house prices, holidays, the latest bargains, mobile phone contracts or even the price of a pint of beer, all people seem to focus on is the cost. And in many cases, price is indeed key. Think back to when chocolate bar companies shrunk their products rather than raise their prices, or how big a deal some retailers make out of their Boxing Day Sales and Black Friday deals. However, price isn’t always all that matters for consumers. Price, and what we’re prepared to pay, it turns out, is a complex thing.

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The £8-pint: too much froth in the economy?

Last month saw the opening of the latest landmark hotel in Belfast, a significant milestone for our hospitality and tourism sectors. But the fact that the cost of a pint in its penthouse bar has attracted as much attention as its rooms and restaurants, perhaps gives us some insight into the current performance of the Northern Ireland economy.

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Output growth quickens to four-month high

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.

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The cost of living squeeze ends….or does it?

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.

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Chart of the month: House prices – a tale of three cities

A graph charting instances of house prices being discussed at dinner parties across Belfast and Dublin would show a very large spike around 2007 followed by a deep trough in the years after the boom rediscovered gravity. Indeed, the subject became almost taboo as the downturn unfolded and residential property prices fell almost 60% from their respective peaks.

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