UK economy slows as global worries, Brexit weighs on factories

Britain’s economy has slowed after the June 2016 Brexit vote. (AFP)
Updated 11 January 2019
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UK economy slows as global worries, Brexit weighs on factories

  • Gross domestic product was 0.3 percent higher than in the previous three-month period
  • Prime Minister Theresa May risks losing a parliamentary vote on Tuesday on the deal she has agreed with the EU

LONDON: Britain’s economy grew at its weakest pace in half a year in the three months to November as factories suffered from tough global trade conditions and the approach of Brexit, official data showed on Friday.
Gross domestic product was 0.3 percent higher than in the previous three-month period, down from growth of 0.4 percent in the three months to October and matching the consensus of a Reuters poll of economists.
Manufacturers suffered their longest period of monthly declines in output since the financial crisis, hurt by weaker overseas demand, the Office for National Statistics said.
Looking at November alone, industrial output dropped 1.5 percent on the year — the biggest fall since August 2013.
Worries about the global economy have been mounting due to concerns about a trade war between the United States and China.
Figures from Germany and France earlier this week also showed falling industrial output.
“There may well be a common theme which is hurting the factory sector throughout Europe, for example changes in the auto industry,” Investec chief economist Philip Shaw said, adding that Brexit worries were also weighing on investment.
Carmakers across Europe have suffered from a fall in demand for diesel vehicles due to pollution concerns.
Sterling and British government bonds were little changed by Friday’s figures.
The figures fit with business and consumer surveys that suggest the economy is slowing sharply after robust growth of 0.6 percent in the third quarter of the year, reflecting growing uncertainty ahead of Brexit, as well as global jitters.
Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29 and whether businesses will still be able to trade without disruption to cross-border supply chains remains unclear.
Prime Minister Theresa May risks losing a parliamentary vote on Tuesday on the deal she has agreed with the EU.
Defeat would leave open the prospect of Britain leaving the EU without any transitional arrangements to smooth the economic shock.
Compared with a year earlier, Britain’s economy was 1.4 percent larger. In November alone, it expanded 0.2 percent, compared with forecasts for a rise of 0.1 percent.
The Bank of England says the economy is likely to have grown around 0.2 percent over the fourth quarter of 2018.
Closely watched purchasing managers’ surveys have pointed to fourth-quarter growth of around 0.1 percent in Britain, according to data firm IHS Markit which compiles the surveys.
Britain’s economy slowed after the June 2016 Brexit vote, its growth rate slipping from top spot among the Group of Seven group of rich nations to mid-table or lower.
An unusually warm summer and the soccer World Cup spurred a pick-up in mid-2018 but retail sales data suggest consumers reined in spending late last year.
Britain’s services sector grew by 0.3 percent over the three months to November, while industrial output dropped by 0.8 percent, the biggest decline since May 2017.
Separate figures showed Britain’s goods trade deficit widened unexpectedly in November to £12 billion ($15.3 billion) from £11.9 billion, worsened by the highest oil imports since September 2014.


Energy Recap: The oil market wavers

Updated 4 min 14 sec ago
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Energy Recap: The oil market wavers

RIYADH: Oil prices went in different directions at the end of the week. Brent deteriorated to $67.03 per barrel and WTI rose to $59.04 per barrel, but both remain at four-month highs. 
Still, poor economic signals that added to the generally bearish mood did not manage to drive oil prices down because of the tightening global supplies that led the surprise drawdown in US inventories.
The 10 million barrels fall in US crude stocks was the largest drop since July 2018, due to a combination of strong exports and higher refining utilization. 
The reduced number of US oil rigs for a fourth week running sent drilling activity to its lowest in nearly a year.
The current level of oil prices does not reflect the market’s relatively strong fundamentals and supply tightness.
The Arabian Gulf sour crude grades have seen extensive buying activity with refiners securing spot cargoes in addition to their term cargoes.
Such high demand for the sour medium and heavy crude grades had Dubai crude in high demand.
Asian refiners are becoming increasingly concerned about the tightening supplies for the medium and heavy crude grade.
That is because many of them lack the flexibility to swiftly switch their refining systems to handle alternative light sweet crude grades that have low sulfur content. 
The market remains preoccupied with Iranian sanction waivers, which may be extended for another round of six months.
Given the tight oil market that has been further exacerbated by the sanctions on Venezuela, the second half of this year might experience further tightening.
The US is widely expected to continue extending the waivers for the key importing countries which are China, India, Korea and Japan. 
The a potential second round of waivers may not impact the market as much as last time in November 2018 when the price dropped by as much as $30 per barrel.
Helped by OPEC output cuts, the market has been stabilizing gradually even if not entirely recovering those early losses.
The current market appears too tight to be moved significantly by further waivers and should be able to absorb additional barrels — be they from Iran, Venezuela, Libya or the US.
Even with the last round of waivers, Iranian oil exports did not exceed 1.25 million barrels per day in February.

  • Faisal Mrza is an energy and oil market adviser. He was formerly with OPEC and Saudi Aramco. Reach him on Twitter: @faisalmrza