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Two thirds of UK firms ‘fully operational’ after COVID, survey says

Two thirds of British businesses say they are now “fully operational” after the coronavirus lockdown, up from half in June, according to a survey on Sunday.

A further 21% of the firms, polled in the first half of July by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said they were partly operational with some premises still closed.

“With businesses gradually reopening, this month’s data seems to indicate a turning point for the economy,” said Alpesh Paleja, an economist for CBI, one of Britain’s main business lobby groups.

But many firms, especially those in consumer-facing sectors, remained in “acute financial distress”, he added.

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Britain’s lockdown has been slowly lifting since May, with the last major change on July 4 when hotels, pubs and restaurants were allowed to reopen.

However, on Friday Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was postponing further relaxation, which would have helped some arts and entertainment venues, due to rising cases.

Businesses on average said they were operating at 85% of usual capacity due to social distancing, compared with 72% when a stricter rule generally requiring two metres of distance was in force.

Lack of demand from customers continued to be businesses’ most common challenge to resuming normal operations, the CBI said. More than two thirds of firms named it as a barrier to normal operations, down slightly from three quarters in June.

The Bank of England is due to set out new quarterly forecasts on Thursday, as different sectors of the economy recover at different rates from the unprecedented economic damage.

Whether the main barrier to growth is lack of consumer demand, or businesses’ difficulties meeting it, will be key to the central bank’s decisions on stimulus later this year.

Reporting by David Milliken

Source: UK Reuters

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FLA sets out recovery plan for UK economy

The Finance & Leasing Association (FLA) has published its recovery plan for the economy, Shaping the UK’s future prosperity: Recognising the opportunities for recovery.

The FLA has recommended a phased approach of short, medium and long-term measures that will position the UK to meet the government’s key objectives of achieving a net-zero, low carbon economy by 2050, enhancing economic productivity, and creating diverse and inclusive prosperity by levelling up the regional economies of the UK.

The short-term imperative is to rebuild consumer and business confidence, which begins with ensuring that lenders are in a position to lend during the recovery.

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In recognition of the fact that the assistance provided to customers in the form of payment deferrals means that the availability of new lending to help fund the recovery will be curtailed, especially in the case of non-bank lenders, the FLA has proposed several measures:

A Treasury Forbearance Liquidity Support Scheme to offer funding to lenders to deliver the liquidity they need to help to their customers.

An extension of the government guarantees for business and consumer lending until Spring 2021.

Reform of the British Business Investment (BBI) Direct Lending Scheme so that it works for a wider range of specialist funders of small the medium enterprises (SMEs) and consumers who do not have access to Bank of England support.

In the medium-term, the FLA proposed the reintroduction of the Annual Investment Allowance’s previous £1m limit, with no taper, to support businesses growth across the UK; the acquisition of new equipment would also enhance productivity and accelerate the move to more energy-efficient assets.

The FLA recommended that the long-term priority be to improve the regulatory regime so that it can provide protection in times of crisis, rather than act as an obstacle.

The FLA therefore proposed an overhaul of consumer regulation – specifically the Consumer Credit Act – to make it fit for purpose in the digital age, and to allow for the innovation of new finance products.

Stephen Haddrill, director general of the FLA, said: “The Chancellor’s Economic Statement set out a range of short-term stimuli, but these measures need to be consolidated with substantive plans for long-term growth – and all of this must start with ensuring that the UK’s providers of business and consumer finance are in a position to lend.

“This is not the case at the moment and without their input, the recovery on high streets and industrial estates will stall.

“We have set out a credible plan that puts the UK on a path to a more sustainable and prosperous future.

This is the point when businesses will be planning their next move in terms of investing in new equipment to make them more agile – the government needs to ensure that funders are in a position to support these ambitions, and that consumer finance lenders are in a position to support the demand for goods.”

By Jessica Bird

Source: Mortgage Introducer

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UK economy on course for V-shaped recovery, says Bank of England economist

UK economy is on track for a sharp V-shaped recovery thanks to a faster-than-expected rebound but “considerable” risks remain, according to the Bank of England’s chief economist.

Andy Haldane, who also sits on the Bank’s interest rate-setting committee, said the recovery in the UK and globally had come “sooner and faster” than expected.

In a webinar speech on Tuesday, Mr Haldane said the UK economy was benefiting from a rebound in consumer spending since lockdown restrictions have begun to ease.

He said: “It is early days, but my reading of the evidence is so far, so V.”

He added: “The recovery in both the UK and global economies has come somewhat sooner, and has been materially faster, than in the Monetary Policy Committee’s May Monetary Policy Report scenario – indeed, sooner and faster than any other mainstream macroeconomic forecaster.”

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But he said there was the risk of a “vicious cycle” in the economy if unemployment proves to be higher than expected and warned against a return to the mass youth unemployment seen in the 1980s.

He said: “Risks to the economy remain considerable and two-sided.

“Although these risks are in my view slightly more evenly balanced than in May, they remain skewed to the downside.

“Of these risks, the most important to avoid is a repeat of the high and long-duration unemployment rates of the 1980s, especially among young people.”

His comments come after the Bank recently said it now expects gross domestic product to tumble by 20% in the first half of the year, which is far less than the 27% it predicted in its May forecast.

But governor Andrew Bailey warned at the time against getting “carried away” by signs the recession may not have been quite as steep as it expected, with the Bank launching another £100 billion of quantitative easing (QE) to help boost the economy.

Mr Haldane was the only one on the nine-strong Monetary Policy Committee to vote against increasing QE in the June meeting.

In his speech, he said if the economy continues recovering on a similar path as lockdown measures ease further, then the loss in annual GDP could be far lower than first feared, at 8% against 17% forecast in May.

But he cautioned some of this may be down to pent-up demand, as well as the massive Government support for households and businesses through the scheme to furlough workers on 80% pay.

With nine million workers currently furloughed, he said there was a risk of soaring unemployment when the Government support measures end, which could impact the path of recovery.

Mr Haldane said he remained “open-minded” about more action to boost the economy.

Official figures also on Tuesday showed the economy shrank by more than first thought between January and March, down 2.2% – the largest fall since 1979.

Data has shown GDP contracted by a record 20.4% in April, but Mr Haldane said this was “ancient history” with the UK and global economy now fully in the recovery phase of the crisis.

Source: Express & Star

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UK economy set to return to growth in third quarter after coronavirus chaos

The UK economy’s coronavirus-induced downturn eased in June as key health indicators hit a four-month high, according to a closely-followed survey.

The UK’s economic output hit a measure of 47.6 on IHS Markit’s flash purchasing managers’ index (PMI), a four-month high.

Anything below 50 represents a contraction. But it was a stark improvement from May’s score of 30 after April’s lockdown saw the UK economy sink to an all-time low score of 13.8.

IHS Markit’s chief business economist, Chris Williamson, said it was a sign the UK looks set to return to growth between June and September.

“June’s PMI data add to signs that the economy looks likely return to growth in the third quarter, especially given the further planned easing of the lockdown from 4 July,” he said.

“June saw a record rise in the PMI for a second successive month,
confirming that the economy is moving closer to stabilising after the worst of the immediate economic impact from the Covid-19 pandemic was felt back in April.”

The pound was broadly flat against the dollar this morning to stand at $1.2462.

It follows earlier PMI showing the eurozone economy also hit a four-month high, led by France’s recovery.

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Manufacturers lead UK recovery

The manufacturing sector led the UK’s June recovery to post growth of 50.8. But the UK services industry slipped again, though not nearly as badly as it did in May. The industry posted a score of 47, compared with May’s 29.

The UK’s private sector also said confidence hit a four-month high in June as firms raised their expectations for the year ahead.

Easing of lockdown restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic helped UK economic activity improve after its April collapse.

Uncertainties loom for UK economy

But industry figures told IHS Markit underlying demand remained “very subdued”, with cutbacks in spending holding back business activity.

And Williamson warned the UK economy’s longer term prospects are plagued by uncertainty.

“Demand clearly remains weak, as indicated by a further steep decline in backlogs of orders and an ongoing fall in new orders,” he said. “Many Covid-19 restrictions and social distancing measures will also need to stay in place until an effective treatment or vaccine is available, curbing demand in a variety of service sectors in particular.

“Uncertainty over recovery prospects and job prospects also mean demand for many goods, especially non-essential big-ticket items, is likely to remain weak for many months.”

Doubt over whether the UK can strike a trade deal with the EU before the Brexit transition period ends in December 2020 is also a worry for firms.

That led IHS Markit to forecast the UK economy to contract by 11.9 per cent this year before expanding by 4.9 per cent in 2021.

‘Solid start’ to UK economy’s recovery

Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said the June data suggests a solid rebound in GDP. But he warned gains will be harder to come by as the UK economy struggles to return to normal.

“A range of daily data are consistent with output rising significantly in June, after a sluggish start to the recovery in May,” he said.

“Nonetheless, the pick-up in activity partly reflects firms working through backlogs of work that accumulated during the peak of the pandemic. In addition, firms still are cutting headcounts rapidly.

“With restrictions to suppress Covid-19 likely to impose a hard ceiling on activity in certain sectors of the economy until a vaccine is found, and low levels of consumers’ confidence pointing to elevated saving, a full recovery in GDP in the second half of this year remains unlikely.”

Pantheon Macro stuck to its base case that GDP will stand five per cent below its pre-lockdown peak in the fourth quarter.

Thomas Pugh, Capital Economic’s UK economist, added that the pace of the UK economy’s recovery was pleasing.

“The economy seems to be recovering a little quicker from its nadir in April than we had first expected,” he said. “This trend should continue in July as bars, restaurants and cinemas will probably be able to open from 4 July and a reduction in the official social distancing measure from 2m to 1m would allow those firms that are open to serve significantly more customers. “

By Joe Curtis

Source: City AM

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We must be ready for further stimulus, says Bank of England’s Andrew Bailey

The Bank of England and other policymakers must be ready to take further action to help the UK’s economy because of the risk of the coronavirus shutdown causing long-term damage, governor Andrew Bailey has said.

“We are still very much in the midst of this,” Bailey told broadcasters today.

His comments come after new data showed the UK’s economic output tumbled over 20 per cent in April, suffering the largest drop since records began in 1997 as the coronavirus lockdown brought many sections of the economy virtually to a halt.

“We hope that will be as small as possible but we have to be ready and ready to take action, not just the Bank of England but more broadly, on what we can do to offset those longer term damaging effects,” Bailey said.

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While the fall in April – when the economy spent a full month under lockdown – was dramatic, the big question was how much long-term damage this would inflict on Britain’s economy, he said.

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Bailey said the record drop in GDP was close to the central bank’s expectation for the month, and reiterated his view that some early signs of economic recovery have emerged since then.

The Band of England is expected to announce an expansion of at least £100bn in its bond-buying firepower when its Monetary Policy Committee meets next week in order to limit the damage caused to the economy by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The central bank has already spent the bulk of the record £200bn expansion to its asset-buying programme, which was launched in March.

While the BoE has reduced interest rates to an all-time low of 0.1 per cent in a bid to mitigate the economic impact of the virus, it has not been willing to follow other central banks in setting negative rates.

This decision means that the Bank’s main tool for combatting the coronavirus-induced recession is its bond-buying programme.

Speaking earlier this week, Bailey said the recession triggered by the pandemic will be “different” to others.

“If there is any such thing as a normal recession… this one will be different. There will be elements of a faster recovery, because the first stage of the recovery is literally lifting restrictions and allowing people to go out,” Bailey said at a panel hosted by the World Economic Forum.

By Anna Menin

Source: City AM

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Sterling holds near $1.27 as UK plans re-opening, short positions increase

Sterling rose against the dollar on Monday, as plans to ease coronavirus lockdowns in the UK and signs the economy may bounce back due to pent-up demand kept the currency just below the $1.27 touched late last week.

Analysts warned, however, that Brexit remains a risk for the pound – which has rallied for seven consecutive days against the dollar – as talks with the European Union fail to make progress.

The pound has risen 2.8% against the dollar this month as several economies re-open from lockdowns, weakening demand for the U.S. currency.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is planning to relax rules on outdoor dining and weddings, as well as speeding up government investment plans to limit the economic damage from the coronavirus, newspapers reported on Saturday.

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The Sunday Times said Johnson wanted to relax planning restrictions that stop many pubs, cafes and restaurants from using outside areas, and also to make it legal to hold weddings outside.

The number of British shoppers in early June indicate pent-up demand for shopping in physical stores as the coronavirus lockdown is eased, industry data showed on Monday.

Britain went into lockdown on March 23 to slow the spread of the pandemic, with all retail stores deemed non-essential forced to close.

By 0828 GMT, sterling was up 0.15% against the dollar at $1.2686, just below Friday’s $1.27. It was weaker against the euro by 0.12% at 89.10 pence.

“Sterling-dollar remains anchored around the 200-day moving average of $1.2660/65. But it seems that bar the broader weak dollar and positive risk environment, investors currently lack any major catalyst for the pound to move materially above this key level,” said Viraj Patel, FX and global macro strategist at Arkera.

“We could see the pound tread water around these levels in absence of any further positive catalysts and investors take stock of what will happen next in broader markets – especially ahead of the Fed meeting later this week. However, with Brexit headwinds also coming to the forefront of investors – the risks are mildly tilted to the downside for the pound this week.”

Johnson is willing to accept European Union tariffs on some UK goods in an attempt to win a trade deal and break the deadlock in talks with the EU, the Daily Mail reported. Britain’s chief negotiator, David Frost, had made a new offer, the newspaper said, citing sources.

According to the offer, the UK would accept tariffs on a small number of goods in return for the EU’s dropping its demand that Britain continue to follow EU rules.

Speculators increased their net short position on sterling in the week to last Tuesday, CFTC data showed on Friday.

Reporting by Ritvik Carvalho

Source: UK Reuters

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UK economy still shrinking but pace of decline eases – PMI

UK economy remained in a severe downturn in May although the pace of the slump moderated from April’s crash and some companies benefited from the easing of coronavirus lockdowns around the world, a survey showed on Wednesday.

The IHS Markit Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) combining Britain’s huge services sector and manufacturing rose to 30.0 from 13.8 in April, up from a preliminary May reading of 28.9.

The index for services alone was also slightly higher than the preliminary figure but at 29.0 it was the second-weakest on record after April’s crash to 13.4.

Companies lost orders as clients slashed spending.

“Consumer demand also remained very subdued, with large areas of the service economy still in the planning stage of restarting business operations,” Tim Moore, economics director at IHS Markit, said.

Expectations rose modestly for a second month from March’s low. But businesses dealing face-to-face with customers were extremely concerned that social distancing measures would hold them back and push up costs.

On the positive side, some companies saw new orders from the Asia-Pacific region, where the recovery is more advanced, and from new online sales efforts.

But export orders continued to fall and some services firms said they were not taking work from abroad due to severe restrictions on travel.

Britain’s services PMI does not include retailers, who have been hardest hit by store closures since the March 23 lockdown, or many of the self-employed.

Writing by William Schomberg

Source: UK Reuters

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Investment in construction can kick start the UK economy say experts

An £11.27bn investment in construction and a series of strategic decisions around new home building can kick start the UK’s economic recovery and deliver a £33bn return for the Government, according to experts at Birmingham City University.

The Build Back Better: Covid-19 Economy Recovery Plan features a blueprint for a safe return to construction, a set of recommendations to help stimulate demand for new homes and home improvement, and details on how to build essential infrastructure and train a new generation of skilled workers – acting as a catalyst for growth and delivering income for HMRC.

The plan also calls on the Government to stand by its commitment to “do everything it takes” to fight the virus and support the UK economy, by investing £11.27bn in a wide reaching programme, designed to create mass employment and produce a £33 billion return.

Written by Birmingham City University’s Dr Steve McCabe, Associate Professor at the Institute for Design and Economic Acceleration and Mike Leonard, Visiting Professor of Manufacturing and Construction and founder of the Get Britain Building campaign, the plan brings together all sectors of the construction industry for a solution-led approach.

Recommendations and observations in the plan include:

  • A phased return to work following specific guidelines can ensure the protection of construction sites during pandemic
  • Small house builders, often highly efficient and providers of local employment and procurement, must be given encouragement
  • Address fuel poverty through direct intervention by local authorities using local companies
  • Construction can offer long term skilled employment opportunities that can act as a catalyst in achieving inclusive economic growth
  • Provide incentives and highlight environmental benefits for consumers to replace inefficient and outdated gas boilers
  • 30,000 new social houses built per year for the next three years will address living standards, mobility and some shortfall
  • Proposed Building Regulation changes should be delayed in light of exceptional circumstances posed by pandemic
  • Construction must be made more attractive as a career choice to young people through regional marketing campaigns

Of particular focus in Build Back Better: Covid-19 Economy Recovery Plan are SMEs, who dominate the sector, with a suggestion that UK Plc fully engages such businesses in order to build the infrastructure and new homes the UK needs, alongside investments to deal with fuel poverty and the upgrading of existing housing stock to meet the net zero 2050 obligations.

Leonard, who is also CEO of Building Alliance, said: “History tells us that the construction industry is the tried and tested solution to drive economic recovery, not least due to the fact we manufacture the vast majority of building materials in the UK which provides resilience, skilled jobs and fast returns on investment. The upstream and downstream jobs in manufacturing, architecture, planning, engineering, distribution and construction, creates an unrivalled multiplier that can achieve inclusive growth, building back better and helping to rebalance our economy. Saving lives must remain our priority but we now have the signal to begin to safely unlock and begin the long path to economic recovery. Construction and the building materials manufacturers are now returning to work with the proper safeguards in place. We must now “Get Britain Building” and “Get Britain Working” delivering the scale of economic multiplier the county needs to bounce back stronger.”

Research carried out in 2018 by Birmingham City University and The Building Alliance calculated that building 300,000 homes a year using, as much as possible, British-made building materials and local builders, would generate an economic ‘uplift’ of more than £90 billion for the UK.

Dr McCabe added: “Covid-19 has resulted in the loss of over 30,000 lives. The Government, quite rightly, locked the nation down to reduce the spread of the virus. However, ONS data clearly demonstrates that effectively closing down the economy through ‘lockdown’ has caused profound economic shock. It’s estimated that at least £2bn a day is being lost during the pandemic. The overall cost to the UK economy will exceed £300 billion and, depending on the speed of recovery, could be significantly higher. As and when it is safe to do so, a return in construction activity as well as the building materials manufacturing supporting it will underpin a fast and effective way to begin to begin the process of recovery from what is the greatest shock to the UK’s economy in living memory.”

Source: BMJ

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UK economy will take time to return to normal after lockdown – Sunak

British finance minister Rishi Sunak said on Tuesday it would take time for the economy to get back to normal even when the government’s coronavirus shutdown is lifted.

“It is not obvious that there will be an immediate bounce-back,” Sunak told lawmakers, saying the retail sector, for example, would still face restrictions when it reopens.

“In all cases, it will take a little bit of time for things to get back to normal, even once we have reopened currently closed sectors.”

Reporting by David Milliken and Andy Bruce

Source: UK Reuters

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UK economy to recover slowly from COVID – budget office

Britain’s economy is unlikely to have a quick bounce back as it recovers from its coronavirus shutdown which could have wiped more than 30% off output last month, the head of the country’s budget forecasting office said on Sunday.

Robert Chote, chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), said April was probably the bottom of the crash as the government is now moving to gradually ease its lockdown restrictions.

“We know that the economy, probably at its worst last month, may have been a third or so smaller than it normally would have been, in terms of output of goods and services and people’s spending,” he told BBC television.

“But that should be the worst of it.”

Britain, like many other countries, has shut down much of its economy to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Last month, the OBR said Britain’s gross domestic product could plummet by 13% in 2020, its biggest collapse in more than 300 years.

Chote said a quick, V-shaped recovery included in that report was only meant to be an illustrative scenario to show the hit to the public finances.

“In practice I think you are likely not to see the economy bouncing back to where we would have expected it otherwise to be by the end of the year, on that assumption, but instead a rather slower recovery,” Chote said.

As well as the pace of the lifting of the lockdown, the speed of the recovery would depend on how cautious consumers remained and how companies adjust to changes in the economy such as more demand for online retailing and less for restaurants.

Chote said Britain would not necessarily have to return to severe public spending cuts to cope with the debt surge that will come from its response to the coronavirus crisis.

Key factors include how much permanent damage the economy suffers, the level of interest rates on public debt – which are currently rock-bottom – and how much the country wants to spend on health and other services.

“But a post financial crisis-style, extended period of austerity is not a done deal,” Chote said, adding tax increases were another option.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will not lead Britain into a new period of austerity after previous Conservative-led governments sought to fix the public finances by cutting spending in many areas of public services.

Writing by William Schomberg

Source: UK Reuters