Brexit turmoil drives UK economy toward recession

Britain’s economy unexpectedly shrank in the second quarter as the country weighs up the prospect of a no-deal exit from the EU. (AFP)
Updated 10 August 2019

Brexit turmoil drives UK economy toward recession

  • Weak manufacturing and construction sectors trigger first contraction since 2012

LONDON: Britain’s economy unexpectedly shrank in the second quarter of the year on Brexit turmoil, official data showed on Friday, placing the country on the verge of a recession.

Gross domestic product (GDP) fell 0.2 percent in the April-June period, the first time the economy has contracted in almost seven years, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The data, which was worse than market expectations for zero growth, sent the pound sliding against the euro and dollar.

The latest reading contrasted with a 0.5 percent expansion in the first quarter, when activity was boosted by companies stockpiling ahead of Brexit.

Economic activity was buoyed in the first three months because Britain had initially been scheduled to leave the EU at the end of March.

“GDP contracted in the second quarter for the first time since 2012 after robust growth in the first quarter,” said Rob Kent Smith, head of GDP at the ONS.

“Manufacturing output fell back after a strong start to the year, with production brought forward ahead of the UK’s original departure date from the EU.

“The construction sector also weakened after a buoyant beginning to the year, while the often-dominant service sector delivered virtually no growth at all,” he added.

Another contraction in the current third quarter would put Britain in official recession, ahead of the nation’s expected EU withdrawal at the end of October.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson replaced Theresa May in July after winning the governing Conservatives’ leadership contest on a pledge to take Britain out of the bloc with or without a divorce deal on Oct. 31.

“The latest look at the UK economy makes for pretty grim viewing,” said XTB analyst David Cheetham.

“Given the growing threat of a no-deal Brexit that looms menacingly overhead, it would not be at all surprising if the current quarter also shows a contraction — therefore meeting the standard definition of a recession.”

The government’s official forecaster last month warned that Britain would slide into a year-long recession should it leave the EU without a deal.


Economists fear a US recession in 2021

Updated 19 August 2019

Economists fear a US recession in 2021

  • Trump’s higher budget deficits ‘might dampen the economy’

WASHINGTON: A number of US business economists appear sufficiently concerned about the risks of some of President Donald Trump’s economic policies that they expect a recession in the US by the end of 2021.

Thirty-four percent of economists surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics, in a report being released Monday, said they believe a slowing economy will tip into recession in 2021. 

That’s up from 25 percent in a survey taken in February. Only 2 percent of those polled expect a recession to begin this year, while 38 percent predict that it will occur in 2020.

Trump, however, has dismissed concerns about a recession, offering an optimistic outlook for the economy after last week’s steep drop in the financial markets and saying on Sunday, “I don’t think we’re having a recession.” A strong economy is key to the Republican president’s 2020 reelection prospects.

The economists have previously expressed concern that Trump’s tariffs and higher budget deficits could eventually dampen the economy.

The Trump administration has imposed tariffs on goods from many key US trading partners, from China and Europe to Mexico and Canada. 

Officials maintain that the tariffs, which are taxes on imports, will help the administration gain more favorable terms of trade. But US trading partners have simply retaliated with tariffs of their own.

Trade between the US and China, the two biggest global economies, has plunged. Trump decided last Wednesday to postpone until Dec. 15 tariffs on about 60 percent of an additional $300 billion of Chinese imports, granting a reprieve from a planned move that would have extended duties to nearly everything the US buys from China.

The financial markets last week signaled the possibility of a US recession, adding to concerns over the ongoing trade tensions and word from Britain and Germany that their economies are shrinking.

The economists surveyed by the NABE were skeptical about prospects for success of the latest round of US-China trade negotiations. Only 5 percent predicted that a comprehensive trade deal would result, 64 percent suggested a superficial agreement was possible and nearly 25 percent expected nothing to be agreed upon by the two countries.

The 226 respondents, who work mainly for corporations and trade associations, were surveyed between July 14 and Aug. 1. That was before the White House announced 10 percent tariffs on the additional $300 billion of Chinese imports, the Chinese currency dipped below the seven-yuan-to-$1 level for the first time in 11 years and the Trump administration formally labeled China a currency manipulator.

As a whole, the business economists’ recent responses have represented a rebuke of the Trump administration’s overall approach to the economy.

Still, for now, most economic signs appear solid. Employers are adding jobs at a steady pace, the unemployment rate remains near a 50-year low and consumers are optimistic. US retail sales figures out last Thursday showed that they jumped in July by the most in four months.