There’s some good news and some bad news about the UK economy. The good news is that there are signs that the recovery is gathering momentum; the ‘green shoots’ are growing bigger. The bad news is that it’s the ‘wrong type of growth’!
One of the main underlying problems of the 2008 financial crisis was that household debt had been increasing to unsustainable levels, egged on by banks only too willing to lend, whether as personal loans, on credit cards or through mortgages. When the recession hit, many people sought to reduce their debts by cutting back on spending. This further fuelled the recession.
What the government and most economists hoped was that there would be some rebalancing of the economy, with less reliance on consumer spending to drive economic growth. Instead it was hoped that growth would be driven by a rise in investment and exports. Indeed, the 25% depreciation of sterling exchange between 2007 and 2009 was seen as a major advantage as this would boost the demand for exports and encourage firms to invest in the export sector.
But things haven’t turned out the way people hoped. The recession (or lack of growth) has been much deeper and more prolonged than previous downturns in the economy. Today, real GDP per head is more than 7% below the level in 2007 and many people have seen much bigger declines in their living standards.
But also, despite the austerity policies, the economy has not been ‘rebalanced’ towards exports and investment. Exports are 3% lower than in 2006 (although they did grow between 2009 Q2 and 2011 Q1, but have since stagnated). And investment is 27% lower than in 2006. Household consumption, however, has grown by about 2% and general government consumption by around 9% since 2006. The chart shows the figures, based on 2006 Q1 = 100.
(Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)
And recent evidence is that consumption is beginning to grow faster – not because of rising household incomes, but because of falling saving rates. In 2008, the household saving ratio had fallen to nearly 0% (i.e. households were on average saving about the same as they were borrowing). Then the saving ratio rose dramatically as people reined in their spending. Between 2009 and 2012, the ratio hovered around 7%. But in the first quarter of 2013, it had fallen to 4.2%
So the good news is that aggregate demand is rising, boosting economic growth. But the bad news is that, at least for the time being, this growth is being driven by a rise in household borrowing and a fall in household saving. The videos and articles consider whether this is, however, still good news on balance.
Britain’s imbalanced economy The Economist, Zanny Minton Beddoes and Richard Davies (4/7/13)
Britain’s Export Drought: an enduring disappointment The Economist, Andrew Palmer and Richard Davies (9/2/13)
‘Green shoots’ of economic recovery in Rugby BBC News, Paul Mason (12/6/13)
Is the UK economy seeing the ‘wrong kind’ of green shoots? BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (3/7/13)
The export drought: Better out than in The Economist (9/2/13)
Exports and the economy: Made in Britain The Economist (21/1/12)
The economy: On a wing and a credit card The Economist (6/7/13)
Unbalanced and unsustainable – this is the wrong kind of growth The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (8/7/13)
The UK economy’s looking up – but no one’s told manufacturers The Guardian, Heather Stewart (10/7/13)
Quarterly National Accounts, Q1 2013 (27/6/13)
Forecasts for the UK economy: a comparison of independent forecasts HM Treasury (June 2013)
ISM Manufacturing Report on Business® PMI History Institute for Supply Management
- What are forecasters expecting to happen to economic growth in the coming months? Why?
- What factors determine investment? Why has it fallen so substantially in the UK?
- Explain what is meant by the ‘accelerator’. Is the rise in consumption likely to lead to an accelerator effect and, if so, what will determine the size of this effect?
- Why have exports not grown more rapidly despite the depreciation of sterling after 2007?
- What will determine the rate of potential economic growth in the UK economy? How will a rise in real GDP driven by a rise in consumption impact on potential GDP and potential economic growth?
- What supply-side policies would you recommend, and why, in order to increase potential economic growth?
Just how large is the UK economy and how rapidly is it growing? These were questions we asked, back at the turn of the year, in Getting real with GDP when reviewing economic data for the third quarter of 2010. We update this blog in light of the latest Quarterly National Accounts release from the Office for National Statistics.
The latest Quarterly National Accounts release estimates the value of our economy’s output during Q1 of 2011 at £375.3 million. When measured across the latest four quarters, i.e. from the start of Q2 2010 to the end of Q1 2011, the total value of our economy’s output was £1.472 trillion. Across calendar year 2010 the UK’s GDP is estimated to have been £1.455 trillion.
When analysed in terms of the total expenditure on the goods and services produced in the latest four quarters, household final consumption contributed £931 billion of Gross Domestic Product. In other words, household expenditure over these four quarters was equivalent to 63% of GDP, almost exactly in line with its average since 1948. This demonstrates the importance of spending by households for short-term economic growth. Households help to shape the business cycle.
Another important expenditure-component of GDP is gross capital formation. This is capital expenditure by the private and public sector and is estimated to have been £219.6 billion over the latest four quarters, equivalent to 15% of GDP. As well as affecting current levels of GDP, gross capital formation also affects our economy’s potential output. In other words, changes in capital expenditure can impact both on the demand-side and the supply-side of the economy. Interestingly, the long-term average share for gross capital formation in GDP is around 18% and so about 3 percentage points higher than is currently the case.
So far we have looked at the level of economic activity measured at current prices. But, what about the rate at which the economy is growing? When analysing the rate of economic growth economists look at GDP at constant prices. By doing this economists can infer whether the volume of output has increased. This is important because in the presence of price rises, an increase in the value of output could occur even if the volume of output remained unchanged or actually fell. For instance, in 1974 the volume of output or real GDP fell by 1.3%, but because the average price of our domestic output – the GDP deflator – rose by 14.9%, GDP measured at current prices rose by nearly 13.4%.
The latest ONS figures show that in the first quarter of 2011 real GDP grew by 0.5% (nominal GDP grew by 1.7%). This follows a 0.5% fall in real GDP the final quarter of 2010 (nominal GDP grew by 1.2%). Compared with Q1 2010, the volume of output of the UK economy in Q1 2011 is estimated to have grown by 1.6%.
Exports were the fastest growing component of aggregate demand in Q1, rising in real terms by 2.4%, while import volumes decreased by 2.4%. Export volumes in Q1 were 9.3% higher than a year earlier. In contrast, capital expenditures contracted sharply in the first quarter, falling by 4.2%. This follows on the back of a 0.6% fall in the final quarter of last year. This has reversed much of the strong capital expenditure growth seen during the earlier part of 2010.
We finish by looking at the growth in household spending. In the first quarter of the year real household spending fell by 0.6%. This follows a 0.2 fall in Q4 2010 and zero growth in Q3 2010. This helps to explain some of the difficulties that particular retailers have faced of late. Some context to these disappointing consumption numbers is provided by patterns in household sector disposable income. The sector’s disposable income fell by 0.8% in Q1 2011 which follows on from a 0.9% fall in the last quarter of last year. The result of this is that the household sector’s real disposable income in Q1 2011 was 2.7% lower than in Q1 2010. This was the fastest annual rate of decline since the third quarter of 1977.
Household incomes sees biggest fall since 1977 BBC News (29/6/11)
UK service sector sees biggest fall for 15 months BBC News (28/6/11)
UK economic growth revised down BBC News (29/6/11)
Service sector output slumps Guardian, Phillip Inman (29/6/11)
Household raid savings as income squeezed Independent, Sean O’Grady (29/6/11)
Poor GDP numbers add pressure on Osborne Guardian, Phillip Inman (28/6/11)
UK economy suffers blow as tepid growth confirmed Telegraph (28/6/11)
Service sector slumps deals heavy blow to economic recovery hopes Scotsman, Natalie Thomas (30/6/11)
Latest on GDP growth Office for National Statistics (28/6/11)
Quarterly National Accounts, 1st Quarter 2011 Office for National Statistics (28/6/11))
ONS Time Series Data Office for National Statistics
For macroeconomic data for EU countries and other OECD countries, such as the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and Korea, see:
AMECO online European Commission
- What do you understand by the terms nominal GDP and real GDP?
- Can you think of any other contexts in which we might wish to distinguish between nominal and real changes?
- The following are the estimates of GDP at constant 2006 prices:
Q1 2011= £330.724bn, Q4 2010= £329.189bn, Q1 2010= £325.360bn Calculate both the quarterly rate of change and the annual rate of change for Q1 2011.
- What would happen to our estimates of the level of constant–price GDP in (3) if the base year for prices was 1996 rather than 2006? What if the base year was 2011? What would happen to the quarterly and annual growth rates you calculated in each case? Explain your answer.
- Explain how gross capital formation could have both demand-side and supply-side effects on the economy. How significant do you think such supply-side effects can be?
- How important for short-term economic growth do you think household spending is? What factors do you think will be important in affecting household spending in the months ahead?
- What factors do you think help to explain the 2.7% annual rate of decline reported in Q1 2011 in the household sector’s real disposable income?
- The real annual rate of decline in household spending reported in Q1 2011 was 0.5%. Would you have expected this percentage decline to have been the same as for real disposable income? Explain your answer.