Tag: double-dip recession

In The global economy we note the mixed picture contained within the latest British growth numbers. With the first estimate of growth for Q1 of 2013 pointing to an increase in real GDP of 0.3 per cent, the UK economy appears to have missed the ignominy of a triple dip recession. However, the overall economy remains fragile with different sectors of the economy performing quite differently.

A patchy picture is perhaps the fairest assessment. This helps to explain the quite different perceptions amongst economists, business people, journalists and the wider public about the current state of the economy. Here we consider in a little more detail the growth numbers for the UK from the latest preliminary GDP estimates. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart).

The British economy is thought to have grown by 0.3 per cent in the first quarter of 2013. This follows a contraction of 0.3 per cent in the final quarter of 2012. Compared with the first quarter of 2012, the output of the British economy was 0.6 per cent higher. However, as Chart 2 helps to show, the British economy has some way to go before it returns to the levels seen prior to the financial crisis. Real GDP peaked in the first quarter of 2008 when GDP at 2009 prices was estimated at £372.7 billion. In the first quarter of 2013, GDP at constant 2009 prices is estimated at £362.9 billion. This means that the economy is still 2.6 per cent smaller than its 2008-peak. Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.

The patchy nature of British growth is illustrated nicely by the contrasting rates of growth across the different industrial sectors in the first quarter of the year. While service sector output rose by 0.6 per cent, output across the production industries rose by only 0.2 per cent and agricultural output declined by 3.7 per cent. Within the production industries, mining and quarrying output rose by 3.2 per cent, but manufacturing output shrunk by 0.3 per cent and construction output shrunk by 2.5 per cent.

Chart 3 compares the output of agriculture, the production industries and the service sector between the first quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2013. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the Chart). It shows the dramatically different experience of the service sector compared with agriculture and the production industries. While output in the service sector is now 0.8 per cent higher, output across agriculture and the production industries is almost 13.5 per cent lower. Within the production industries, output in mining and quarrying is 38 per cent lower, in the construction sector 19 per cent lower and 10 per cent lower in manufacturing. It is perhaps not surprising then that we get such different messages about the state of the economy. The devil really is in the detail.


Preliminary Estimate of GDP – Time Series Dataset Q1 2013 Office for National Statistics
Statistical Bulletin: Gross Domestic Product Preliminary Estimate Q1 2013 Office for National Statistics


UK avoids triple-dip recession with better-than-expected 0.3% GDP growth Guardian, Heather Stewart (25/4/13)
UK economy shows 0.3% growth Financial Times, Claire Jones (25/4/13)
UK avoids triple-dip recession with 0.3pc GDP growth Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (25/4/13)
Osborne claims UK economy is ‘healing’ Financial Times, George Parker and Claire Jones (25/4/13)
UK narrowly escapes triple-dip recession as GDP figures show 0.3% growth in first three months of year Independent, Ben Chu (25/4/13)
UK economy avoids triple-dip recession BBC News (25/4/13)


  1. What is the difference between nominal and real GDP? Which of these helps to track changes in economic output?
  2. How would we identify a recession in either of the first two charts?
  3. What is a double-dip recession? What is a triple-dip recession?
  4. The UK economy in Q1 2013 was 2.6 per cent smaller than in Q1 2008. What factors do you think help explain why after 5 years UK real GDP is still lower?
  5. Why if output in the production and agricultural sectors is 13.5 per cent lower in Q1 2013 compared to Q1 2008 is the economy’s total output only 2.6 per cent lower?
  6. Economic growth rates fluctuate quite significantly. Can economic theory help to explain why this is the case?

We know two things about economic growth in a developed economy like the UK: it is positive over the longer term, but highly volatile in the short term. We can refer to these two facts as the twin characteristics of growth. The volatility of growth sees occasional recessions, i.e. two or more consecutive quarters of declining output. Since 1973, the UK has experienced six recessions.

Here we consider in a little more detail the growth numbers for the UK from the latest Quarterly National Accounts, focusing on the depth and duration of these six recessions. How do they compare?

The latest figures on British economic growth show that the UK economy grew by 0.9 per cent in the third quarter of 2012. However, when compared with the third quarter of 2011, output was essentially unchanged. This means that the annual rate of growth was zero. Perhaps even more telling is that output (real GDP) in Q3 2012 was still 3.0 per cent below its Q1 2008 level.

The chart helps to put the recent output numbers into an historical context. It shows both the quarter-to-quarter changes in real GDP (right-hand axis) and the level of output as measured by GDP at constant 2009 prices (left-hand axis). It captures nicely the twin characteristics of growth. Since 1970, the average rate of growth each quarter has been 0.6 per cent. This is equivalent to an average rate of growth of 2.35 per cent per year. The chart also allows us to pin-point periods of recessions.

One way of comparing recessions is to compare their ‘2 Ds’: depth and duration. The table shows the number of quarters each of the six recessions since 1973 lasted. It also shows how much smaller the economy was by the end of each recession. In other words, it shows the depth of each recession as measured by the percentage reduction in output (real GDP).

British recessions

Duration (quarters) Depth (output lost, %)
1973Q3–74Q1 3 3.25
1975Q2–75Q3 2 1.76
1980Q1–81Q1 5 4.63
1990Q3–91Q3 5 2.93
2008Q2–09Q2 5 6.28
2011Q4–12Q2 3 0.90

We can see that three of the recessions lasted for five quarters. In the case of the recessions starting in 1975 and 2011 they occurred very shortly after a previous recession. Hence, we observe two so-called double-dip recessions.

The table reveals that the deepest recession by some distance was that in the late 2000s. As a result of this recession, UK output declined by 6.3 per cent. As the recent GDP numbers show, the UK has yet to recover the ‘lost output’ that followed the financial crisis.


Quarterly National Accounts Time Series Dataset Q3 2012 Office for National Statistics
Statistical Bulletin: Quarterly National Accounts Q3 2012 Office for National Statistics


UK economic growth less than expected Sky News UK(21/12/12)
GDP growth revised down to 0.9% Financial Times, Claire Jones (21/12/12)
Uk borrowing higher than expected as GDP revised down BBC News (21/12/12)


  1. What is the difference between nominal and real GDP? Which of these helps to track changes in economic output?
  2. Looking at the chart above, summarise the key patterns in real GDP since the 1970s.
  3. What is a recession? What is a double-dip recession?
  4. Looking at the table, rank the recessions from 1973 by the amount of lost output.
  5. Can a recession occur if nominal GDP is actually rising? Explain your answer.
  6. What factors might result in economic growth being so variable?

The story of the UK economy over the past few years has been one of bad news and worse news. With a double-dip recession having kept confidence low in the UK, positive news for the economy was seemingly a distant hope of government ministers. However, official statistics show that that in the 3 months from July to September, the UK economy emerged from recession, with growth of 1.0%.

This positive GDP figure (click here for a PowerPoint of the chart below) was undoubtedly helped by the London Olympics over the summer, which may have added as much as 0.2 percentage points to GDP, according to the ONS. Millions arriving in London and other venues, spending money on countless things. Yet, other factors have also contributed to this welcome growth. Stephanie Flanders said:

The positive ‘surprise’ in these figures is largely to be found in the service sector, which is estimated to have growth by 1.3% in the third quarter, after shrinking by 0.1% in the three months before.

Further to this, in Stephanie Flanders’ ‘Stephanomics’, she says that ‘it confirms that the last three months of this latest recession were brought to you by the Queen. Or at least, the extra Bank Holiday to celebrate her Jubilee.’ The Bank of England suggests that the Jubilee took 0.5 percentage points from official GDP statistics. So, the news so far is positive, but the economy is far from being back to its pre-recession size.

The 2008-2009 recession knocked 6.4% off the UK economy. Since then, the total growth (over the past 4 years) has reached only half of that – 3.2% and that includes the 1% figure just published. Thus, while we may be on ‘the right track’, there is still a long way to go. Economists differ in their interpretations of what this means for the overall recovery: some say that this is a sign of what’s to come; others argue that this recovery has been driven by one-off factors.

What is certain is that government policy over the next few months will be crucial in keeping the economy on the right growth path. The following articles consider the implications of this new economic data.

A special recovery BBC News, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (25/10/12)
UK GDP rises 1pc: economist reaction The Telegraph (25/10/12)
Nick Clegg warns economic recovery will be ‘fitful’ The Guardian, Daniel Boffey (28/10/12)
GDP figures set to show UK economy has exited double-dip recession The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick, Emma Rowley and Jessica Winch (25/10/12)
UK economy returns to growth with help from Olympics BBC News (25/10/12)
U.K. posts quarterly gain in GDP, lifted by Olympics Wall Street Journal, Cassel-Bryan Low (25/10/12)
GDP figures show UK emerging from recession: full reaction The Guardian (25/10/12)
UK growth signals move out of recession Financial Times, Sarah O’Connor and George Parker (25/10/12)


  1. How do we define a recession?
  2. How is GDP calculated and what does it measure?
  3. Which factors have contributed towards lower GDP data towards the beginning of this year?
  4. Which factors have helped boost GDP in the 3 months from July to September?
  5. Why is there disagreement about the likelihood of positive GDP figures continuing throughout the rest of the year?
  6. Prior to the official release of the GDP figures, David Cameron hinted at positive news. Given that the market is so sensitive, what effect might this suggestion have had?
  7. Given this positive figure, what implications does this have for the government’s quantitative easing programme?
  8. If we translate this latest growth data onto an AD/AS diagram, how would you show what has recently happened?

New data released on 25/7/12 by the Office for National Statistics showed that the UK economy shrank by a further 0.7% in the second quarter of 2012. This makes it the third quarter in a row in which GDP has fallen – and it is the steepest fall of the three. Faced with this, should the government simply maintain the status quo, or does it need to take new action?

The construction sector declined the most steeply, with construction output 5.2% down on the previous quarter, which in turn was 4.9% down on the quarter previous to that. The output of the production industries as a whole fell by 1.3% and the service sector fell by 0.1%. (For a PowerPoint of the following chart, click here.)

The immediate cause of the decline in GDP has been a decline in real aggregate demand, but the reasons for this are several. Consumer demand has fallen because of the squeeze on real wages, partly the result of low nominal pre-tax wage increases and partly the result of inflation and tax rises; the government’s austerity programme is holding back a growth in government expenditure; export growth has been constrained by a slowing down in the global economy and especially in the eurozone, the UK’s major trading partner; and investment is being held back by the pessimism of investors about recovery in the economy and difficulties in raising finance.

So what can be done about it?

Monetary policy is already being used to stimulate demand, but to little effect (see Pushing on a string. Despite record low interest rates and a large increase in narrow money through quantitative easing, broad money is falling as bank lending remains low. This is caused partly by a reluctance of banks to lend as they seek to increase their capital and liquidity ratios, and partly by a reluctance of people to borrow as individuals seek to reduce their debts and as firms are pessimistic about investing. But perhaps even more quantitative easing might go some way to stimulating lending.

Fiscal policy might seem the obvious alternative. The problem here is that the government is committed to reducing the public-sector deficit and is worried that if it eases up on this commitment, this would play badly with credit rating agencies. Indeed, on 27/7/12, Standard & Poor’s, one of the three global credit rating agencies, confirmed the UK’s triple A rating, but stated that “We could lower the ratings in particular if the pace and extent of fiscal consolidation slows beyond what we currently expect.” Nevertheless, critics of the government maintain that this is a risk worth taking.

The following articles look at the causes of the current double-dip recession, the deepest and most prolonged for over 100 years. They also look at what options are open to the government to get the economy growing again.

Britain shrinks again The Economist (25/7/12)
Shock 0.7% fall in UK GDP deepens double-dip recession Guardian, Larry Elliott (25/7/12)
UK GDP figures: expert panel verdict Guardian, Frances O’Grady, Will Hutton, Sheila Lawlor, Vicky Pryce and John Cridland (25/7/12)
GDP shock fall: UK growth in 2012 ‘inconceivable’, warn economists The Telegraph, Angela Monaghan (25/7/12)
UK recession deepens after 0.7% fall in GDP BBC News (25/7/12)
UK economy: Why is it shrinking? BBC News (25/7/12)
UK GDP: A nasty surprise and a puzzle BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (25/7/12)
Tough choices for Mr Osborne BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (26/7/12)
David Cameron in pledge to control UK’s debt Independent, Andrew Woodcock and James Tapsfield (26/7/12)
David Cameron defends economic policies BBC News (26/7/12)
The GDP number is awful – and it’s the product of the Government’s amateur policies, not the euro crisis The Telegraph, Thomas Pascoe (25/7/12)
UK recession: have we heard it all before? Guardian, Duncan Weldon (25/7/12)
US economic growth slows in second quarter BBC News (27/7/12)
GDP data trigger debate on economy Financial Times, Norma Cohen and Sarah O’Connor (25/7/12)
Does weak UK growth warrant more QE? Financial Times (25/7/12)
The recession: Osborne’s mess Guardian editorial (25/7/12)

Gross Domestic Product, Preliminary Estimate, Q2 2012 ONS (25/7/12)
Preliminary Estimate of GDP – Time Series Dataset 2012 Q2 ONS (25/7/12)


  1. What are the causes of the deepening of the current recession in the UK?
  2. Search for data on other G7 countries and compare the UK’s performance with that of the other six countries (see, for example, the OECD’s StatExtracts.
  3. Compare the approach of George Osborne with that of Neville Chamberlain in 1932, during the Great Depression.
  4. Does weak UK growth warrant more quantitative easing by the Bank of England?
  5. To what extent can fiscal policy be used to stimulate the economy without deepening the public-sector deficit in the short term?
  6. What is meant by ‘crowding out’? If fiscal policy were used to stimulate demand, to what extent would this cause crowding out?

The UK is officially back in recession: or to be more accurate, a double-dip recession.

The generally accepted definition of a recession is two or more quarters of negative growth in real GDP. According to figures released by the Office for National Statistics, the UK economy shrank by 0.2% in quarter 1, 2012, having shrunk by 0.3% in quarter 4, 2011.
(Click on the following link for a PowerPoint of the above chart: Double dip 2)

As you can see from the chart (click chart for a larger version), these declines are tiny compared with the recession of 2008/9. Nevertheless, with the eurozone economy slowing (Britain’s largest export market), and with cuts to government expenditure set to bite harder in the coming months, there are worries that there may be more quarters of negative growth to come.

So what are the causes of this double-dip recession? Are they largely external, in terms of flagging export markets; or are they internal? Is the new recession the direct result of the tight fiscal policy pursued by the Coalition government?

And what is to be done? Is there no option but to continue with the present policy – the government’s line? Or should the austerity measures be reined in? After all, as we saw in the last blog post (Economic stimulus, ‘oui’; austerity, ‘non’), the mood in many European countries is turning against austerity.

The following articles explore the causes and policy implications of the latest piece of bad news on the UK economy.

Double-dip recession a terrible blow for George Osborne Guardian, Larry Elliott (25/4/12)
Double-dip recession figures mark another bad day for George Osborne Guardian, Larry Elliott (25/4/12)
UK double-dip recession: what the economists say Guardian (25/4/12)
Feared double dip recession becomes reality as British economy contracts again in first quarter of 2012 Daily Record (25/4/12)
Britain in double-dip recession as growth falls 0.2pc The Telegraph, Angela Monaghan and Szu Ping Chan (25/4/12)
Did the eurozone crisis cause the double-dip recession? Guardian, Polly Curtis (25/4/12)
UK’s double-dip recession Financial Times, Chris Giles (25/4/12)
UK is in ‘double dip’ recession FT Adviser, Rebecca Clancy and John Kenchington (25/4/12)
Flanders explains GDP figure BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (25/4/12)
No recovery for UK: No let up for ONS BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (25/4/12)
Double-dip recession: There’s always fantasy island BBC News, Paul Mason (25/4/12)
UK double-dip recession to drag on into summer, economists warn The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (26/4/12)
George Osborne can stop the rot, but only by spending as he slashes The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (25/4/12)
Double dip has arrived – and Osborne is running out of escape routes Independent, Ben Chu (26/4/12)
Britain’s bosses tell the ONS: it’s bad, but not a recession Independent, Tom Bawden, Lucy Tobin , Gideon Spanier (26/4/12)
The Chancellor received plenty of warning Independent, David Blanchflower (26/5/12)


Gross Domestic Product: Preliminary Estimate, Q1 2012 ONS (25/4/12)
Preliminary Estimate of GDP Time Series Dataset 2012 Q ONS (25/4/12)
World Economic Outlook Database IMF (17/4/12)
Business and Consumer Surveys (for all individual EU countries and for the EU as a whole) European Commission: Economic and Financial Affairs
Consumer Confidence Nationwide Building Society


  1. Assess the current state of the UK economy and its likely course over the coming few months.
  2. Why may looking at the business surveys provide a truer picture of the state of the UK economy than the official measure of GDP?
  3. Why has the UK economy gone back into recession?
  4. Compare the policy approaches of the Coalition government with those of the Labour opposition.
  5. How important is it for the UK to retain its AAA credit rating?