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.


World leaders prepare for Davos amid gloomy forecasts

Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum. (AFP)
Updated 22 min 49 sec ago
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World leaders prepare for Davos amid gloomy forecasts

  • Delegates to annual forum to include presidents of Iraq and Afghanistan

DUBAI: World leaders are preparing to head to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, amid the riskiest global backdrop in years, according to a report from the event organizer itself.

As the WEF announced the names of some of the 3,000 participants set to attend the meeting and details of the four-day agenda, it also published a gloomy outlook on international politics, economics, the environment and technology. 

Rising geopolitical and geo-economic tensions are the most urgent risks in 2019, with 90 percent of experts surveyed expecting further economic confrontation between major powers, according to the WEF’s annual Global Risks Report.

“The world’s ability to foster collective action in the face of urgent major crises has reached crisis levels, with worsening international relations hindering action across a growing array of serious challenges. Meanwhile, a darkening economic outlook, in part caused by geopolitical tensions, looks set to further reduce the potential for international cooperation in 2019,” it added.

Although political and economic worries were top of the immediate agenda for the 1,000 experts polled by the WEF, the environment and climate change are also a cause for concern, as are “rapidly evolving” cyber and technological threats, the WEF said.

Børge Brende, the WEF president, said: “With global trade and economic growth at risk in 2019, there is a more urgent need than ever to renew the architecture of international cooperation. We simply do not have the gunpowder to deal with the kind of slowdown that current dynamics might lead us toward. What we need now is coordinated, concerted action to sustain growth and to tackle the grave threats facing our world today.”

The leaders who will begin to arrive in Switzerland in the next week include Shinzo Abe, prime minister of Japan; Jair Bolsonaro, president of Brazil; Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany; and Wang Qishan, vice president of China.

With US President Donald Trump pulling out of the meeting to deal with the partial government shutdown, the American delegation is expected to be led by Steven Mnuchin, Treasury secretary, and Mike Pompeo, secretary of state.

The Middle East is well represented at the meeting, with at least nine heads of state or government from the region, including Palestine, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. Saudi Arabia will be represented by a team of senior policymakers and business leaders.

The risk report will give them all food for thought in the Alpine resort.

Asking whether the world is “sleepwalking into a crisis,” the report responded: “Global risks are intensifying but the collective will to tackle them appears to be lacking. Instead, divisions are hardening. The world’s move into a new phase of strongly state-centered politics continued throughout 2018.

“The idea of ‘taking back control’ — whether domestically from political rivals or externally from multilateral or supranational organizations — resonates across many countries and many issues.”

Macro-economic risks have moved into sharper focus, it said. 

“Financial market volatility increased and the headwinds facing the global economy intensified. The rate of global growth appears to have peaked,” the report said, pointing to a slowdown in growth forecasts for China as well as high levels of global debt — at 225 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP), significantly higher than before the financial crisis 10 years ago.

Raising the prospect of a “climate catastrophe,” the report said extreme weather, which many experts attribute to rapid climate change, was a risk of great concern. “The results of climate inaction are becoming increasingly clear,’ the WEF said.

Of the 3,000 participants at Davos, which runs from Jan. 22 to 25, around 78 percent are men, with an average age of 54. 

The oldest will be the 92-year-old British broadcaster David Attenborough, the youngest 16-year-old South African wildlife photographer Skye Meaker.