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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A New Year so an opportune time to do a bit of a stocktake. In this extended brief we take a look back at 2017 and ahead to 2018.