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Falling flat

According to the first estimate by the Office for National Statistics, the UK economy shrank by 0.3% in the final three months of 2012. This means that over the whole year growth was flat.

The biggest contributor to the fall in GDP in Q4 was the production industries, which include manufacturing. Output of the production sector fell by 1.8% in Q4. Construction sector output, by contrast, was estimated to have increased by 0.3%. Service sector output was flat. The chart below shows quarterly and annual growth in the UK from 2007 to 2012. (Click here for a PowerPoint.)

Latest estimates by the IMF are that the UK economy will grow by 1.0% in 2013 – well below the long-term growth in potential output (see also the last blog, High hopes in the Alps). But some forecasters are predicting that real GDP will continue to fall for at least one more quarter, which means that the economy would then be in a ‘triple-dip recession’.

Not surprisingly politicians have interpreted the statistics very differently, as have economists. The government, while recognising that the UK faces a ‘very difficult economic situation’, argues that now is not the time to change course and that by continuing with policies to reduce the deficit the economy will be placed on a firmer footing for sustained long-term growth

The opposition claims that the latest figures prove that the government’s policies are not working and that continuing attempts to bear down on the deficit are depressing aggregate demand and thereby keeping the economy depressed.

The following webcasts, podcasts and articles expand on these arguments. Try to be dispassionate in using economic analysis and evidence to assess the arguments.

Webcasts and podcasts
Video Summary: Gross Domestic Product Preliminary Estimate, Q4 2012 Media Briefing (Click here for the following Q&A) ONS (25/1/13)
Triple dip on the menu? Channel 4 News, Siobhan Kennedy and Faisal Islam (25/1/13)
Getting and spending – the key to recovery Channel 4 News, Cathy Newman (25/1/13)
UK economy shrinks by 0.3% in the last three months of 2012 BBC News, Hugh Pym (25/1/13)
Danny Alexander on GDP figures and economic plans BBC Daily Politics (25/1/13)
Osborne defends government’s deficit reduction plan BBC News (25/1/13)
Ed Balls: UK economy urgently needs a ‘Plan B’ BBC News (25/1/13)
UK heads for triple dip as GDP contracts 0.3pc The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (25/1/13)
Economist: Government may need to rethink its fiscal policy The Telegraph, Jim O’Neill (25/1/13)
Has austerity really been tried in Britain? BBC Today Programme, Jonathan Portes and Andrew Lilico (29/1/13)

Articles
UK GDP: Economy shrank at end of 2012 BBC News (25/1/13)
UK GDP shrinks by 0.3% in fourth quarter: what the economists say The Guardian (25/1/13)
New Bank of England head Mark Carney hints at big shift in policy The Guardian (26/1/13)
The Bank of England, the chancellor, and the target BBC News. Stephanie Flanders (29/1/13)
The Entire World Of Economics Is Secretly Thankful To The UK Right Now Business Insider, Joe Weisenthal (26/1/13)

Data
Gross Domestic Product: Preliminary Estimate, Q4 2012 ONS (25/1/13)
Video Summary: Gross Domestic Product Preliminary Estimate, Q4 2012 ONS (25/1/13)
Preliminary Estimate of GDP – Time Series Dataset 2012 Q4 ONS (25/1/13)
Business and Consumer Surveys DG ECFIN

Questions

  1. What are the reasons for the decline in GDP in 2012 Q4??
  2. Examine how likely it is that the UK will experience a triple-dip recession.
  3. What measures could be adopted to increase consumer and business confidence?
  4. If there is substantial spare capacity, is expansionary fiscal policy the best means of achieving economic growth?
  5. What additional monetary policy measures could be adopted to stimulate economic growth?
  6. Find out what has happened to the UK’s public-sector deficit and debt over the past three years. Explain what has happened.
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