Stagflation? The UK Economy in 6 Charts

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Around the time of last year’s autumn Budget, the Bank of England was predicting inflation would peak at 5% this year. At the time interest rates were 0.10%. Fast forward to March 2022 and there have been three interest rate rises, and the Bank itself is now expecting inflation to hit 8%, and potentially higher by the end of 2022.

Still, it thinks that the rise in the cost of living will slow in the coming years as energy prices fall back. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show February CPI hit a 30-year high of 6.2%. In today’s spring statement, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) said inflation will average 7.4% this year but could hit 9%.

A reminder: the Bank’s inflation target is 2%. Of course, the Ukraine war has supercharged the inflation dynamic and debate. The cost of living is now the biggest issue in the UK economy, more than growth, retail sales and jobs.

GDP

The UK economy made a strong recovery in 2021 from the 2020 slump, the fastest in the G7, but that came after the worst performance since 1709 during an extraordinary cold snap in Europe known as The Great Frost.

In 2021, UK GDP grew by 7.5% after a 9.4% contraction in 2020. Now the economy is just above its pre-Covid-19 levels and the OBR is forecasting a rise of 3.8% this year – much higher than the post-financial average crisis.

We’ll get the first-quarter figures at the end of April but the ONS now also produces monthly figures. A rebound in services helped GDP grow by 0.8% in January, which is consistent with the easing of coronavirus restrictions following 2021’s Omicrom scare.

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Unemployment, Wages and Tax

Unemployment is below pre-Covid-19 levels for the first time, another example of the UK economic recovery from the pandemic. Still, wages are lagging rising prices.

We only have figures in the three months to January, so we lack post-Ukraine invasion data. Payroll data is more timely, with the latest figures out on March 15. The ONS has some good news on this front: all age groups saw an increase in payrolled employees between February 2021 and February 2022.

The number of paidrolled employees rose by 5.5% compared with February 2021, an increase of 1,556,000 employees. Looking at the chart below, the steep rise in payrolled data suggests the 30 million watershed is not too far away.

Last year the talk was all about labor shortages and the effects of the furlough scheme. In 2022 the focus will be on how salaries are falling short of soaring inflation, and whether employees can leverage this new reality to get pay rises.

Tax rises are coming in April and we have a round-up of all the new tax year’s changes here. Today’s changes to National Insurance thresholds (due in July) in the spring statement have changed the dynamic again. It is thought they will help lower and middle income households in the short term. The chancellor also announced plans to cut the basic tax rate to 19% by 2024.

Growth of the Morningstar UK Index

Looking at the chart below without knowing the news, you wouldn’t think Europe had witnessed history in the making with Russia’s Ukraine invasion.

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But that’s been the way of global markets: there was a steep sell-off in late February, but it’s now “business as usual”. It helps that the UK is full of the stocks the market currently values ​​highly: energy, financial services, cash generative defensive companies. The Covid-19 sell-off looks much more dramatic than the Ukraine war in terms of chart moves.

The stock market is not the real economy, though, so while it’s sadly clear many households are struggling financially, UK plc seems in good shape.

Retail Sales

With the cost of living soaring and tax rises on the way in April, analysts are cautious for the prospects of retail this year. Throw into the mix geopolitical uncertainty, Brexit fallout and interest rates rises, shoppers may be right to be cautious.

Some caveats: the billions saved by some people during the pandemic are yet to be spent. Plus, people planning home improvement projects may bring them forward out of fear that raw materials may be even more expensive in 2023 Like the pandemic, the cost of living squeeze is likely to affect different people disproportionately – wealthier shoppers are likely to continue spending whatever happens .

There’s evidence of resilience in the latest retail figures – sales grew by 1.9% in January, double expectations. And retail sales are 3.6% higher than February 2020, the last month before lockdowns blighted the sector (although it led to a boom in online sales). Department stores and garden centers did well in January, the ONS said. The February retail sales figures are due on March 25, and they are expected to show a 7.8% increase year on year and 0.6% month on month.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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