UK becomes 2nd major economy after Germany to enter recession, according to official data

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Britain’s economy entered a shallow recession last year, official figures confirmed on Thursday, leaving Prime Minister Rishi Sunak with a challenge to reassure voters that the economy is safe with him before an election expected later this year. Gross domestic product shrank by 0.1 per cent in the third quarter and by 0.3 per cent in the fourth, unchanged from preliminary estimates, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said on Thursday.

The figures will be disappointing for Sunak, who has been accused by the opposition Labour Party – far ahead in opinion polls – of overseeing “Rishi’s recession“.

“The weak starting point for GDP this year means calendar-year growth in 2024 is likely to be limited to less than 1 per cent,” said Martin Beck, chief economic advisor at EY ITEM Club. However, an acceleration in momentum this year remains on the cards.”

Britain’s economy has shown signs of starting 2024 on a stronger footing, with monthly GDP growth of 0.2% in January, and unofficial surveys suggesting growth continued in February and March.

Tax cuts announced by finance minister Jeremy Hunt and expectations of interest rate cuts are likely to help the economy in 2024.

However, Britain remains one of the slowest countriesto recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the end of last year, its economy was just 1 per cent bigger than in late 2019, with only Germany faring worse among Group of Seven nations.

The economy grew just 0.1 per cent in all of 2023, its weakest performance since 2009, excluding the peak-pandemic year of 2020. GDP per person, which has not grown since early 2022, fell by 0.6 per cent in the fourth quarter and 0.7 per cent across 2023. Sterling GBP was little changed against the dollar and the euro EURGBP after the data release.

UK recovers slowly

The Bank of England (BoE) has said inflation is moving towards the point where it can start cutting rates. It expects the economy to grow by just 0.25 per cent this year although official budget forecasters expect a 0.8 per cent expansion.

BoE policymaker Jonathan Haskel said in an interview reported in Thursday’s Financial Times that rate cuts were “a long way off“, despite dropping his advocacy of a rise at last week’s meeting.

Thursday’s figures from the ONS also showed 0.7 per cent growth in households’ real disposable income, flat in the previous quarter.

Thomas Pugh, an economist at consulting firm RSM, said the increase could prompt consumers to increase their spending and support the economy.

“Consumer confidence has been improving gradually over the last year … as the impact of rising real wages filters through into people’s pockets, even though consumers remain cautious overall,” Pugh said.

Britain’s current account deficit totalled 21.18 billion pounds ($26.70 billion) in the fourth quarter, slightly narrower than a forecast of 21.4 billion pounds shortfall in a Reuters poll of economists, and equivalent to 3.1 per cent of GDP, up from 2.7 per cent in the third quarter.The underlying current account deficit, which strips out volatile trade in precious metals, expanded to 3.9 per cent of GDP.

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