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Consumer spending to slow

Inflation to hit 3.1% as exports boom, says EY

Money - own picInflation is expected to rise to 3.1% by the end of this year, before easing back to 2% by the end of 2018, according to a forecast by the EY Item Club.

This is expected to have a knock on impact on consumer spending, as growth in disposable incomes is eroded.

However, the weak pound and a softer domestic market are likely to encourage higher levels of UK exports, as businesses seek income opportunities overseas, resulting in exports increasing by 3.3% this year and 5.2% in 2018.

According to the report, this rebalancing of economic activity will be accompanied by three years of relatively slow growth.

The EY ITEM Club expects GDP growth to reach 1.3% in 2017 (up from the 0.8% it predicted in October’s forecast, but down from an expected 2% in 2016) and just 1% in 2018. The MPC is predicted to hold interest rates at their current 0.25% until the spring of 2018.

 Economic impact of Brexit ‘shallow but prolonged’

Peter Spencer, chief economic advisor to the EY ITEM Club, says: “We now expect the impact of Brexit on the UK economy to be shallower, but more prolonged than we did in October.

“However, there is a sea change coming over the next three years. The fall in the pound will force the economy to be less reliant on consumer spending, leaving growth heavily dependent upon trade performance.”

Mark Gregory, EY chief economist, adds: “Whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, there are clear indications that the fall in the pound and the UK’s exit from the EU will entail a change in the structure of the UK economy.

“The onus will be on businesses to adapt to the slowing domestic economy by seeking opportunities overseas.”

Headwinds facing the consumer pick up again

The EY ITEM Club forecast says that 2017 will see a progressive slowdown in consumer spending as the engine of employment growth stalls and inflation accelerates, squeezing household incomes.

After increasing by 1.8% in 2015 and 1.4% last year, employment is forecast to rise by just 0.2% in 2017, fall by 0.2% in 2018 and remain flat in 2019. The forecast sees unemployment rising from 4.8% in the final quarter of last year to more than 6% by the end of 2018.

Household real disposable income is forecast to fall by 0.3% in 2017, recovering by just 0.2% the following year. Consumer spending growth is set to slow to 1.7% in 2017 and 0.4% in 2018 from 2.8% in 2016.

Peter Spencer adds: “Momentum in the consumer sector does not appear to have been affected by Brexit yet. However, a weakening labour market, tepid growth in wages and rising prices on the high street will squeeze household spending in 2017, in particular on discretionary items which have been doing well over the past year.”

Exports provide silver lining

The UK’s future growth is critically dependent upon a strong trade performance, according to the EY ITEM Club forecast. A more competitive trade sector means that, net exports are expected to add 0.8% to GDP in 2018 and later years. Along with the boost to the UK’s overseas income from sterling’s weakness, a stronger trade position means that the deficit on the current account is set to narrow from 4.5% of GDP this year to 3.7% of GDP in 2018 and 2.5% in 2019. 

Peter Spencer adds: “So far, exporters have taken advantage of the lower pound to increase their sterling export prices. With import prices increasing in tandem, a fall in the exchange rate tends to increase the sterling value of the visible deficit. However, the consequent surge in export profitability provides a big incentive to find overseas customers and build export capacity and expertise.”

Risks and uncertainties

Peter Spencer concludes: “The fall in the pound should help boost exports in the near term. However, trade performance and growth in 2019 and beyond will depend critically upon the exit terms that can be agreed with the EU27 and other countries.

“Theresa May has provided some clarity on the UK’s Brexit objectives. But with elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany due later this year, it will take longer to get the same clarity on the views of the EU27 and the shape of the ensuing negotiations.”


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