Good news or bad on the economy? Spinning the figures.

Preliminary figures for Quarter 2 UK GDP suggest that the UK economy has been declining faster than many had expected. Does this mean that the recession in the UK will be more prolonged, or can we expect a return to growth by the end of the year? How much does the outcome depend on policy decisions taken now and what should be done in terms of quantitative easing and other policy measures?

The answers to these questions depend to some extent on the reliability of the figures, which, after all, are only preliminary estimates. Past estimates have tended to understate the level of output and growth, but could the latest estimates understate the depth of the recession? The following articles look at the figures and their implications for policy. The two articles from The Economist look at the global context.

UK economy continues to contract BBC News (24/7/09)
Recession Britain Guardian (24/7/09)
‘Shocking’ GDP figures raise fears of long road to recovery Herald (25/7/09)
Hopes of early end to recession dashed Independent (25/7/09)
Treasury defiant on growth despite gloom over GDP Times Online (26/7/09)
UK GDP: What the economists say Guardian (24/7/09)
Hamish McRae: The GDP figures were profoundly gloomy … but they were wrong Independent (26/7/09)
The shrinking economy BBC News, Stephanomics (24/7/09)
Here comes August, the cruellest month of all Observer (26/7/09)
Rebalancing global growth: a long way to go Economist (23/7/09)
Unpredictable tides Economist (23/7/09)
Gross domestic product, Preliminary estimate, 2nd quarter 2009 Office for National Statistics, Statistical Bulletin (24/7/09)
Gross domestic product, Preliminary estimate, 4th quarter 2008 Office for National Statistics, Statistical Bulletin (24/7/09)


  1. What factors will determine whether the UK economy starts to growth again by the end of 2009?
  2. Plot the quarterly growth rate of GDP from 2007 Q1. Plot two lines on the same graph: one from the 2008 Q4 estimates and one from the 2009 Q2 estimates (see last two links above). How would you explain the discrepancies between the figures?
  3. What policy measures would you recommend to the Bank of England and the government in the light of the GDP estimates?
  4. ’The deeper and longer the recession, the more will potential (as well as actual) output fall.’ Do you agree with this statement? Explain your answer.
  5. Referring to the two Economist articles, what conditions are necessary for sustained long-term economic growth?