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The service sector continues to drive the UK business cycle

The latest GDP numbers from the Office for National Statistics contained in Quarterly National Accounts, Q2 2014 show the economy’s output expanded by 0.9 per cent in the second quarter. This follows on the back of a 0.7 per cent increase in output in Q1 2014. The economy’s output is now thought to be 0.7 per cent above its Q1 2008 peak. Yet, the data show very different profiles for the four principal industrial sectors. The service sector appears to be ploughing ahead while the rest (production, construction and agriculture) lag behind.

Chart 1 shows quarterly economic growth since 1980s (click here for a PowerPoint of the chart). It illustrates nicely the inherent volatility of economies – one of the threshold concepts in economics. The average quarterly rate of growth since 1980 has been 0.5 per cent. On the face of it, a quarterly growth number of 0.9 per cent would appear very robust. Of course, this has to been set in the context of the 2008/9 recession. UK output peaked in Q1 2008 (£414.424 billion at 2011 prices). The revised data now show that there followed 5 quarters of declining output (previously, data suggested the duration of the recession was 6 quarters). During this period output shrank 6 per cent (GDP at 2011 prices had fallen by Q2 2009 to £389.388 billion ).

Chart 1 highlights two earlier downturns. First, there is the recession of the early 1980s. We can see the 5-quarter recession that commenced in Q1 1980. By the end of this recession output had shrunk by 4.5 per cent. Second, there is the recession of the early 1990s which commenced in Q3 1990. Again, this recession lasted five quarters. By the time the economy had come out of recession it had shrunk 2.2 per cent.

Consider now Chart 2 (click here for a PowerPoint of the chart). It allows us to analyse more recent events by tracking how industrial output has evolved since 2006. It suggests an unbalanced recovery. From it, we observe that in Q2 2014 service-sector output was 6.5 per cent higher than in Q1 2008. However, a very different picture emerges for the other principal industrial types. Output across the production industries remains 9.7 per cent lower, 9.2 per cent lower in agriculture and 8.9 per cent lower in the construction sector.

In short, the British economy continues to struggle to rebalance its industrial base. The business cycle remains heavily dependent on the service sector.

Articles
UK GDP revised up: what the economists say Guardian, Katie Allen (30/9/14)
UK economy grew 0.9% in second quarter, says ONS BBC News, Katie Allen (9/5/14)
UK GDP: Did the UK economy do well after all? Independent, Ben Chu (30/9/14)
UK economy grew 0.9% Herald, Ian McConnell (1/10/14)
Economy tracker: GDP BBC News (30/9/14).

Data
Quarterly National Accounts, Q2 2014 Dataset Office for National Statistics
Quarterly National Accounts, Q2 2014, Statistical Release Office for National Statistics

Questions

  1. What is the difference between nominal and real GDP? Which of these helps to track changes in economic output?
  2. Looking at Chart 1 above, summarise the key patterns in real GDP since the 1980s.
  3. What is a recession?
  4. What are some of the problems with the traditional definition of a recession?
  5. Can a recession occur if nominal GDP is actually rising? Explain your answer.
  6. What factors lead to economic growth being so variable?
  7. What factors might explain the very different patterns seen since the late 2000s in the volume of output of the four main industrial sectors?
  8. What different interpretations could there be of a ‘rebalancing’ of the UK economy?
  9. What other data might we look at to analyse whether the UK economy is ‘rebalancing’?.
  10. Produce a short briefing paper exploring the prospects for economic growth in the UK over the next 12 to 18 months.
  11. What is the difference between GVA and GDP?
  12. Explain the arguments for and against using GDP as a measure of a country’s economic well-being.
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